The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men

Other than the fact that I had to listen to some of the dialogue bits twice to understand what the Wee Free Men were saying in the audiobook (because they speak with a very thick Scottish brogue), I loved this book!  Tiffany Aching is a young witch who has to rescue her young brother, Wentworth, from the clutches of the evil Queen of Fairyland.  Though Tiffany doesn’t actually know any magic, her teacher/mentor, a witch named Miss Tick, reassures her that having a keen eye and an attention to detail is often more practical than magic.  After witnessing her attack on a monster, using only a frying pan, the Wee Free Men [aka the Nac Mac Feegle] decide they would like to help Tiffany on her quest.  And, while it sounds awesome for Tiffany to have a band of men to help her out, you have to consider that these particular “men” are six inches tall and best known for their sheep-stealing, drinking, and fighting.  If you enjoy fantasies and/or stories that make you laugh out loud, you should definitely check this one out.

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

What We Found in the Sofa

River was orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, and he’s also shorter than he should be because his legs’ growth plates were fractured in the crash.  He now lives with his aunt and pretty much only has two friends — Freak and Fiona.  Freak has plenty of problems of his own, thanks to his alcoholic father.  And Fiona is popular enough that she pretends not to know River and Freak when other people are around.  To make matters worse, they live next to a place the local newspaper calls “Hellsboro” — the area surrounding the old Rodmore Chemical plant where an underground coal-seam fire makes the land uninhabitable.

After all of that, I can understand if you’re hesitant to believe that this is a great/often funny middle grade book, but it really is!  My son and I actually laughed out loud fairly often as we read this story.  How is that possible?  Because it doesn’t focus so much on the depressing stuff; that’s all more of a footnote, really.  The story centers around all the craziness that happened after they found a rare crayon in a sofa by the curb in front of the Underhill Mansion.  If you want a funny story about cell phones, genetically modified foods, flash mobs, and brain control (presented as a nice blend of realistic and science fiction), I suggest you check this one out.

Witness by Nora Roberts

The Witness

Elizabeth Fitch always did exactly what she was supposed to – except for the day that she didn’t, and that changed everything forever.  While her mother was out of town at a conference, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth rebelled for once and used fake I.D. to get into a club.  One thing led to another . . . and then she witnessed a mob murder and was running for her life.

Twelve years later, Elizabeth goes by another name, works from a super secure home, and minds her own business.  The trouble is, the small town she has just moved to is nosey about newcomers, and getting noticed could blow the cover she has cultivated for so long.  An engrossing read.  One of Nora Roberts better books – which do vary in quality.

Impulse by Steven Gould

Impulse

Cent [short for Millicent] is a 16-year-old girl who, despite being homeschooled in the remote Canadian wilderness, has seen more of the world than many people will see in a lifetime.  She sometimes takes off at a moment’s notice to go shopping or surfing halfway around the world, but her parents don’t own a private jet or helicopter.  In fact, the helipad on their property is so overgrown with weeds it’s barely recognizable.  How do they get there, then?  They jump.  All they have to do is concentrate on where they want to go and they can teleport themselves.  Though unable to jump herself, Cent has always been brought along by one of her parents.  Until one day, while snowboarding without permission, when she nearly gets caught in an avalanche and accidentally learns how to jump herself.  Cent gets excited by all the possibilities her jumping has opened up to her… but it terrifies her parents.  Not only do they have the usual parental worries of their daughter getting hurt in the usual ways, but they’re also worried that Cent could wind up kidnapped by the scientists who once held her father captive in an attempt to discover how jumping actually works.

Lunatics by Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel (audio – read by the authors)

Lunatics

Lunatics is the story of two men bound together by the forces of fate, a mutual dislike for each other, and soccer.  Author Alan Zweibel is the voice of Philip Horkman, who is a syrupy, overwhelmingly politically correct pet shop owner and occasional referee for a 10-year-olds’ soccer league.  Dave Barry’s Jeffrey Peckerman is an obnoxious, egotistical, and self-centered plumber whose daughter was called offsides in a game officiated by Horkman.  Peckerman confronts Horkman, and the two begin a wild chase from New Jersey into New York City where their actions cause the police to believe they might be terrorists. They stow onto a cruise ship and begin a voyage which will thrust them into separate conflicts involving Cuba, China, Mogadishu, Israel, and Palestine.

Their unintentional intervention into world events turns them from wanted criminals into cult heroes in a matter of weeks.  An eventual loss in a run for the Presidency ends their brief period of fame, and both characters return home to try and restore themselves to their former lives.  At the end of the book, we find Peckerman going to an eleven-year-olds’ soccer game that his daughter is playing in.  Peckerman will not like the referee.

I’m a fan of authors reading their own works.  I think they can add nuance to their characters that a hired reader may not impart.  In Lunatics, Barry and Zweibel punctuate each syllable with gusto.  A great book for a long car ride.

A Very Grimm Series [A Tale Dark & Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion] by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark & Grimm

It’s no secret that I read to my children all the time… I’m a former teacher who became a librarian, so books and reading are kind of my thing!  When I report that my son loved a book or a book series, some people take it with a grain of salt.  They say, “But he loves everything!”  Well, he kinda does… And that’s OK.  For the people out there who haven’t yet convinced their children how awesome books and reading can be, though, THESE BOOKS might be a breakthrough!  Not only does Adam Gidwitz trust that many kids can handle the gory old versions of the Grimm fairy tales, but he also understands just how often to give little reassurances and asides [as the narrator] to take the edge off for kids who might get a little nervous about what is going on in the story.

Here are a few things you need to know before reading these books:

1) You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, since each book has different main characters — though you may want to read A Tale Dark and Grimm before The Grimm Conclusion, because the latter references the Hansel and Gretel’s stories in the former.

2) If you plan to read these stories out loud, you may want to establish a separate “narrator” voice, so the listeners can tell when the narrator is interjecting without you having to say so every time.  (Especially because it happens A LOT!)

3) These books are HILARIOUS… in a dark and disturbing way.  My son has inherited my sick sense of humor, so he and I often found ourselves cracking up so hard that we had to put the book down and just laugh [or risk losing our place].  We were even scolded a few times because my daughter was trying to sleep and we were being too loud!  😉

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno

This review will be short and sweet –  I was very disappointed with this book as I have read and enjoyed Dante’s Inferno.  I listened to it as an audiobook and stopped listening halfway through as I found the book to be too tedious to continue.  Life is too short to read/listen to a book I don’t like anymore!  PS – In my estimation Angels and Demons was his best book!