Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: 'The Puppeteer's Apprentice' by D. Anne Love

✰✰✰½ As the scullery maid at Dunston Manor, an eleven year old girl called Mouse struggles to survive. Orphaned at birth, Mouse is used to a life of constant work, hunger, and abuse; it’s the only life she has ever known. Mouse has nothing, not even a proper name. Many times she has dreamed of running away, but she has always returned. Always…until one day when it all became too much. Beaten and accused of stealing, Mouse starts to run and doesn’t stop. Having never set foot outside of the manor before, Mouse has no idea where she is going. As luck would have it, she is rescued by a group of travelers, who all too soon go their separate ways.

One day Mouse is enchanted by the most wonderful performance. The puppets are magical, colorful, and almost seem alive. Believing her destiny is to make the puppets dance, Mouse hatches a plan to hitch a ride on the puppeteer’s wagon. But Mouse soon discovers that the life of a puppeteer is filled with hard work, practice, and danger. While young Mouse struggles to find the determination to pursue her dream and create a life, her beloved puppeteer has a secret to hide that could put them both in danger. Mouse’s adventure of a lifetime takes her on a journey filled with startling revelations and secrets; mayhap Mouse will even find a real name for herself someday.

The Bottom Line: This is a charming tale about a plucky young girl determined to find her way in the world. As she struggles to learn the trade, Mouse grows up from a scared little girl into an independent, strong, young woman. Along the way she learns about friendship, determination, and believing in oneself. This short and enjoyable read is recommended for girls in grades 5 – 8 who enjoy reading historical fiction with strong female characters. A few scenes contain some violence.

If you like The Puppeteer’s Apprentice by D. Anne Love, be sure to check out The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman.

Details: The Puppeteer’s Apprentice by D. Anne Love. Hardcover published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division) in 2003. 185 p. ISBN: 978-0-689-84424-9

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms' by Lissa Evans

✰✰✰✰½ Get ready for a magical adventure in England. When Stuart Horten and his family move to his father's sleepy little hometown of Beeton, little does he know that he is in for the adventure of a lifetime. While his parents are very tall, Stuart is small for his age. He is 10, but looks 8. It doesn't take long for Stuart to learn that his great-uncle, "Teeny-Tiny" Tony Horten, was short too. But good things come in small packages, and Stuart learns that Tony was a magician. Unfortunately, Tony disappeared during World War II and was never heard from again.

Soon after moving to Beeton, Stuart finds eight threepenny bits and a cryptic note in a magic money box. It seems that great-uncle Tony had left behind his magical workshop. According to the note, if he's the right sort of boy to find it, he can have it. So with nothing in particular to do, Stuart sets out on his bike to discover great-uncle Tony's lost legacy. However, when dealing with magic and magicians, things aren't always straight forward. The clues are scattered around town, but each clue has a price - a threepenny bit. To complicate matters, great-uncle Tony's old house is scheduled for demolition soon. Not only is Stuart running out of threepenny bits, but he's also running out of time. Add to that a set of identical triplets, April, May, and June Kingley, who live next door and are budding journalists, and the mystery seems overwhelmingly unsolvable. With the odds stacked against him, Stuart presses on, but realizes he will never be able to do it all alone. That's when he finds help in the most unexpected person.

The Bottom Line: This new series is fast-paced and easy to read. Kids will relate to Stuart as he struggles with his height issues and tries to fit into a new place. After all, making new friends is never easy especially when your parents are bit eccentric. As he tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his great-uncle, Stuart uncovers a variety of clues hidden in puzzles. Readers will enjoy solving the puzzles with Stuart and following the clues to a magical end. Along the way he actually learns about friendship, trust, and persistence. This enjoyable read will appeal to both boys and girls in grades 4 - 6 who are interested in mysteries and magic. Additionally, the author manages to sneak in new vocabulary words without slowing down the story. Simply fantastic!

Details: Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans. Hardcover published by Sterling Children's Books in 2012. 272 p. ISBN: 978-1-4027-9806-1

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: 'Queen of Hearts' by Mary Engelbreit

✰✰✰✰ In this Ann Estelle story, Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and Ann Estelle is busy making her valentine box. Valentine's Day is Ann Estelle's favorite holiday. She loves the candy hearts and boxes of chocolates, but most of all she loves making things. As a class project, everyone is busy decorating boxes, but, of course, Ann Estelle wants her box to be special. What will it take? Feathers and lace? Glitter and flowers?

Ann Estelle's box is the best in the class, but when it's time to pass out the valentine's she realizes that she has forgotten something. What could it possibly be? Ann Estelle feels just awful, but the quick thinking little girl comes up with a plan. How will she get herself out of this predicament? Read the book and find out why they call Ann Estelle the Queen of Hearts.

The Bottom Line: Mary Engelbreit is one of my favorite illustrators, and the Ann Estelle series is just darling. This is the third book in the series, and it focuses on friendship and sharing. The illustrations are classic Engelbreit and feature plenty of festive pinks, reds, and purples. Little girls in grades Pre-K - 2 will adore Ann Estelle as will fans of Engelbreit in general.

Details: Queen of Hearts written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-008182-1

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: 'Sweet Hearts' by Jan Carr

✰✰✰½ Kids will delight in following a little panda bear as he secretly hides paper hearts for Valentine's Day. There's a heart for mommy, one for daddy, another for baby, and even one for the dog. Thoughtful little celebrations of love appear all over the house, but who will guess who is behind it?

The Bottom Line: This sweet little rhyming tale of  a little panda's gifts of love will make kids smile. Illustrator Dorothy Donohue's paper collages are charming and cheery. This picture book is recommended for kids in grades Pre-K - K. The author has even included directions on how to make your very own paper hearts. Sweet Hearts would also be a fun choice for story hour since a craft idea is included.

Details: Sweet Hearts written by Jan Carr & illustrated by Dorothy Donohue. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8234-1732-8

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: 'Speaking from Among the Bones' by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ It is early springtime in Bishop's Lacey, and 11 year old Flavia de Luce is in search of adventure. At her young age, she has already solved four mysteries, but she's itching for another one to solve. She doesn't need to look far. It just happens to be the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Tancred, the patron saint of the local church. As the townspeople gather for the excavation of St. Tancred's tomb, Flavia insists on being front and center. However, before the ancient bones can be unearthed, a fresher corpse is discovered. Luckily, Flavia is on hand with her keen sense of observation.

In her quest to flesh out the murderer, Flavia uncovers several town secrets and surprising information about Harriet, the mother she never knew. Meanwhile, the future of Buckshaw remains questionable. The grounds are deteriorating, and Flavia's father is more preoccupied than ever. To complicate things even more, this time around Flavia has some new competition in the race to solve the murder. Will she figure it out before everyone else or has she finally met her match? The last 100 pages (including the cliffhanger ending) will leave you breathless.

The Bottom Line: As the fifth book in the series, Speaking from Among the Bones is an engaging read. Flavia and her sisters are growing up; thus, Flavia is starting to experience some preteen moods and awkwardness. It's a good thing Flavia has another mystery to solve to keep her mind focused. As always, Flavia takes to her state-of-the-art chemistry lab when she needs to sort things out. In addition to solving a murder, there are several subplots to keep the reader interested. Plus, new characters are introduced to keep the series fresh. With an ancient crypt, family secrets, and graveyard tunnels, Speaking from Among the Bones proves to be darker and more complicated than the previous mysteries. Highly recommended for both adult and young adult mystery fans who enjoy cozies set in the English countryside. The Flavia de Luce mysteries are always a fun diversion from the ordinary.

Details: Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House Publishing Group) in 2013. 400 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34403-6 Note: I received an advance uncorrected proof from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.