Dying to Meet You

by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
First sentence: “By turning this page and the pages that follow, you hereby release the compilers of this correspondence from all liability related to thoughts, ruminations, hallucinations, and dreams (good or bad) of or pertaining to ghosts, friendly or otherwise.”
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Content: So, this is a weird one: the narrator’s an older man and there’s a bit of a love story, but the skill level is beginning chapter plus it’s full of illustrations. My professor has this as a middle school-level book, and the vocabulary level is a bit high, but I’d be tempted to put it in the Beginning Chapter books (Grades 1-3) section of the bookstore.

I’ll say this up front: the best part of this book is the names. Celebrated children’s author I.B. Grumply is looking for a house to rent so he can finish the latest book in his best-selling series. He rents 43 Old Cemetary Road, which is, unfortunately, haunted by the ghost of a librarian and unpublished writer, Olive C. Spence. It also comes with a kid,  Seymour Hope, whose parents (awful as they are) have up and left him. The basic plot is this: I. B. Grumply wants peace and quiet, doesn’t believe there’s a ghost, and rages at Seymour until his convinces Grumply that the ghost is real (and cooks a mean dinner) and then they set about purchasing the house so they can all live happily ever after.

So, this was one of the books in the mystery unit for school, and I have to disagree: there is NO mystery here. It’s a ghost story, plain and simple. And it works as a ghost story. I liked the humor — the names are the best — but otherwise, this one was entirely forgettable.

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Series Books

Last week, we studied graphic novels and series books. I didn’t think these warranted their own post, so here they are…

The Adventures of Captain Underpants
by Dav Pilkey
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First sentence: Don’t know, since my copy was missing the first 14 pages…
Content: Simple sentences, lots of illustrations, and some bad puns (and underwear humor). It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I don’t know how I made it this far, with kids and as a bookseller, and not have read any of the Captain Underpants books. I mean, I knew about them and all… and even some of my girls have read them. I just never did.

(If you don’t know the plot: a couple of 4th grade kids at an elementary school hypnotize their very mean principal and turn him into the hero Captain Underpants, except he’s not very good, so they have to go save him a lot.)

My thoughts? It was very silly. There’s not much else besides silly. I can see why kids like these: they read fast, and they’re silly. Pretty much it. At least I get it now?

Ivy and Bean
by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
First sentence: “Before Bean met Ivy, she didn’t like her.”
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Content: Simple words and illustrations. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is another series I’ve sold and my kids have read, but I’ve never bothered with. It’s about how Bean, an adventurous 7-year-old, and Ivy, a more imaginative 7-year-old became friends.

I thought it was cute. Bean reminded me a lot of Ramona, especially in her relationship with her older sister, Nancy (who’s 11). Bean’s kind of rude, rambunctious, mischievous, and definitely prone to getting into trouble. She becomes friends with Ivy, who is a more creative, imaginative child, one day when she tries to play a trick on Nancy that backfires and Ivy comes to her rescue. They then combine their interests and try to place a spell on Nancy. I think Barrows captured the crazy imagination and “games” (as my kids called them) of 7-year-olds, and it made for a very delightful book.

Warriors: Into the Wild
by Erin Hunter
First sentence: “A half moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver.”
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Content: It’s got more words and characters than other series books; it’s probably better for older readers. Warriors, and all the accompanying series have their own section at the bookstore.

So, I have to admit: I’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about this series. We sell it hand over fist (so much that it, like Magic Treehouse, has its own shelf!), and so there must be something about it that appeals to kids.

But, for the life of me, I don’t know what that is. The basic plot is that in this forest there are for clans of cats, that are always at odds with each other over territory (because food is scarce) and a house cat named Rusty decides to run away and join one of the clans. I’m sure something else happens, but honestly? I couldn’t finish it.

It’s not just that the writing was terrible. (Okay, it was passable, but it got really grating after a while.) It’s that I just didn’t care about the cats. I don’t care about their hyper masculinity (and all the warrior cats were male, the female cats were called “queens” and relegated to the nursery, except for the overall leader, which just seemed like a bone they threw) and their territorialism (really? This is what kids are reading? No wonder we’re so divided. If the ThunderCat Clan and the RiverCat Clan can’t get along, there’s no hope for us!) and the monologuing… It was all just Very Bad.

Though, I suppose, if I were an 8- or 9-year-old kid, I might think differently. (I checked: none of my kids ever read these. I wonder what that says about us?)

The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Mistaken Identity

by Mac Barnett
First sentence: “Steve Brixton, a.k.a. Steve, was reading on his too-small bed.”
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Content: There are some slight intense moments, offset by humor. It would probably be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I think it could be an upper beginning chapter: there are short chapters, big print, and lots of illustrations.

Steve Brixton has always wanted to be a detective like the ones he’s always reading about. But it isn’t until  his teacher gives him an impromptu research paper assignment about American Quilting, that Steve gets  to see some, well, detective action. He’s set upon by Librarians (the bad sort) and Goons and he and his friend have to figure out who has stolen the Top Secret Codes from this historic quilt (I think… the plot wasn’t really the point of this one).

Goodness this was funny. Especially if you’ve read a lot of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books. Steve and his friend, Dana, are always getting into scrapes they have to get out of, and somehow (even though neither are terribly bright) figure out the mystery in the end. (My favorite exchanges were of the Steve: “Hey, chum” and Dana: “Don’t call me chum” variety. Every. Single. Time.) It was kind of a lame mystery — the solution was pretty obvious — but I don’t think the mystery is the point of these.

Even so, it was a ton of fun.

No More Dead Dogs

by Gordon Korman
First sentence: “When my dad was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he once rescued eight Navy SEALs who were stranded behind enemy lines.”
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Content: There is some romance (just crushes and a bit of cheek kissing) and some mild cussing. The text is pretty simple. It would be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I bet 6th graders would like it too.

Wallace Wallace (the poor guy getting stuck with parents who named him that!) ALWAYS tells the truth. Mostly it’s because his father was a horrible liar (well, exaggerator/storyteller) who eventually left his mom, and so Wallace decided to never do that. Unfortunately, his truth-telling doesn’t always come off well. In fact, in seventh grade English class everyone was required to read a “classic” — the made up Old Shep, My Pal — book and do a report on it. Wallace’s report, because he won’t lie: the book was awful. And please, no more dead dogs.

That report lands him in detention with the English teacher, who is also directing a play — an adaptation of, you guessed it, Old Shep — and so Wallace can’t go to football practice and instead ends up at play rehearsal. And, of course, advocates for changing the play. It’s more complex than that; it also involves pranks and Wallace being set up, and everyone not liking him, and a small middle school romance, but that’s the general picture of it.

I hadn’t ever read Gordon Korman’s books before, but I’d heard that he was funny and he gets kids. Well, maybe this was just dated — it was written in 2000 — which is often a problem with contemporary realistic fiction. But whatever the reason it really fell flat. The plot was silly (supposedly funny?). I guessed who the prankster was (was I supposed to? Or was it supposed to be a big reveal?) before the characters. I thought the kids were brats (maybe all middle schoolers are). And I just didn’t find it funny. But, humor is subjective: not everyone finds the same things amusing. So, I can forgive that. I can see how kids would eat this up: what I found annoying as an adult, they could relate to. And so I can see how it has value, even if I didn’t like it much at all.

Aru Shah and the End of time

by Roshani Chokshi
First sentence: “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them.”
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Release date: March 27, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some complex names, a little violence, and hints of crushes, but I’d give it to anyone reading the Percy Jackson series. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we saw Rick Riordan, and he was talking about his imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, one of my husband’s concerns is that the writers of these books on this imprint will just basically be telling Percy Jackson stories, superimposed on people of color and their mythologies.

And, after finishing Aru Shah and the End of Time — with its Hindu mythology — I can say that’s partly true. Aru Shah felt like a Percy Jackson book: a girl finds out she’s the daughter of a god (in this case, Indra, the god of Thunder), goes on a quest with a new-found friend and a sidekick to save the world (from the demon The Sleeper, which has awoken) , in a book full of humor, pop culture references, and non-stop action. So, yeah, in a sense that’s true. But Aru Shah is also wholly its own thing. Aru is more conflicted than Percy ever was: she, inadvertently sets off the crisis she has to save the world from, which fills her, not unexpectedly, with guilt. And while the quest part feels the same, there are notable differences: primarily being the mythology; there are a ton of stories in Hindu lore, and while I’m not familiar with all of them, I do know some, and I liked the spin that Chokshi put on them. I liked that Aru and her friend Mini’s relationship was complicated: they were reincarnated souls of former brothers, which makes them sisters, though they have different god fathers and different families in the human world. It gave a deeper, richer layer to their relationship, which I really enjoyed. Everyone in the book seemed more complex and mulit-faceted than I was expecting, which was nice.

In short, while this does feel familiar, and will to anyone who has read the Percy Jackson books, Choski has also put her stamp on the stories, which is a refreshing, welcome thing.

Audiobook: Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris
Read by the author.
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Listen on Libro.fm
Content: There was a lot of swearing. It’s in the holiday book section at the store every year.

Okay, yeah, so I’m starting the year off with a DNF. It’s not that I don’t like David Sedaris. I do. (Sometimes.) I like him a lot better on audio than in print, so I was hoping that this one would come off better listening to it. And the first one, his Santaland Diaries, kind of did. I didn’t really laugh (his humor is often too mean for me), but I was amused. But, by the third story, the Christmas letter where everything goes wrong, I was thinking that satire really isn’t my thing. I’ve learned this before; i just take things way too literally to be amused by satire. But I guess I thought maybe this one would be different. It wasn’t, though.

I had to abandon it to listen to a Cybils book, and was thinking I’d get back to this one. But, the holidays are over, I’m enjoying (for the most part) the other book, and I have no desire to listen to the other two stories in this one. So, I’m calling it a DNF and moving on.

Audiobook: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection

Verily a New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return
by Ian Doescher
Read by: Full cast
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Content: It’s Shakespearean English, but it’s also basically the movies. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

So, when I talked to my dad on his birthday, he gushed about these, especially on audio. And you know: he was right. They’re a LOT of fun, especially on audio.

The premise is thus: Doescher got approval from Lucasfilm to take the scripts (alas, they were the updated scripts so Jabba shows up in the first one) and then he worked them into a Shakespearean format: language, play structure (each book is 5 acts, which is a very Shakespearean thing), etc. It was actually kind of impressive! There were subtle differences: R2D2 didn’t just beep and whistle; he had asides where he commented on the action around him (Doescher said in the afterward to Jedi that R2D2 was the fool of the play, and I could see where he was going with that, though R2 had more lines in the first movie), and we got asides from pretty much all the characters. It felt a bit jarring at first with some of the characters (like, Han, for instance), but eventually, I became used to it and enjoyed it.

And it really was like listening to the movies. Doescher got rights to the music (yay!) and there were sound effects. And I know the movies well enough (I think it’s for those people who do know and love the movies) that I could picture what was going on while the play was going. (Though, I missed the “I love you!” “I know.” in Empire, but that’s because it wasn’t scripted.)

Oh: and stick around for the Afterwards. Doescher talks a bit about his methods and how he decided on different types of forms for each character (Yoda’s in haiku!), and a bit about the process working with Lucasfilms. It was an absolutely delightful book to listen to.