A Sliver of Stardust
Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015
From the dust jacket: “I am a gold lock./ I am a gold key./ However high and low you hunt,/ You’ll never find me.
“Wren Matthews outgrew nursery rhymes a long time ago. Little did she know that songs of twinkling little stars and four-and-twenty blackbirds are the key to the ancient magic of stardust—a magic that only a few people can see and use. And Wren is one of them.
“Wren has always preferred to stick to herself. But when she is invited to the faraway mountain fortress where an ancient order has long studied and guarded stardust, she doesn’t hesitate to accept.
“Soon Wren is swept up in strange dreams, buried secrets, and rumors that an old enemy is plotting his return. As she tries to master her new abilities, Wren knows only one thing for sure. There’s magic in the world—and it’s waiting for her.”
This book for youth is another one of many Harry Potter knock-offs. (Where would the world of youth fiction be without the brilliance and originality of J. K. Rowling?) The author does take a different viewpoint but the overall theme is the same – young person, aged 11-13, a bit disenfranchised from kids his/her own age, discovers they’ve been chosen to learn to use magic, off they go to a place away from parents to learn their new magic skills only to find out that some evil magic-user who everyone thought had gone away for good comes back with more evil stuff to do. And in the case of this book, Wren, like Harry, finds she has a connection with the bad guy and he attempts to use her. Hmmm. Maybe I should have said spoiler alert!!! I’m really not giving anything away – the first time the evil dude makes contact with Wren you know it’s the evil dude.
All of that similarity doesn’t mean the book is a bad book. (Are there any bad books?) It just means I’m tired of reading the same basic storyline and will have to look harder for more original books to enjoy. That said, the book ended so abruptly with a cliffhanger, I will be reading the sequel; hopefully this series will be just the two books.
So, do I recommend it? Of course – it’s a story of magic, good versus evil with a different twist involving nursery rhymes and it has a strong female main character. But beware: there is a scene toward the end of the book that was hard for me to read – it involved killing animals. The action doesn’t focus on the gory scene too long – it’s more of a byline, which makes me feel it was a bit gratuitous and unnecessary. I still think most kids will enjoy it; I, however, mostly tolerated it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 daisies because while it is a fairly good H.P. knock-off, I was able to stop reading it for 2 days before finally finishing it.
Speaking From Among the Bones
A Flavia De Luce Novel
Delacorte Press, 2013
From the back of the book: “Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sister’s diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of Saint Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s no such thing as an open-and-shut case.”
You’ve probably guessed by now that I am a fan of Flavia de Luce. She is funny, brilliant, bold and a real smart-a**. But she is also vulnerable to her sister’s vicious and hurtful attacks – so much so that she alternates between wanting to poison them and wanting to love them. She never really goes through with any of her diabolical plans, but it’s fun to read her plans for them. Her true love are poisons and she thinks about them all the time. I have to share this quote with you, it’s so “Flavia”: “Whenever I’m a little blue I think about cyanide, whose color so perfectly reflects my mood. It is pleasant to think that the manioc plant, which grows in Brazil, contains enormous quantities of the stuff in its thirty pound roots, all of which, unfortunately, is washed away before the residue is used to make our daily tapioca.”
In this book, Flavia cycles her way through the English countryside, crawls through an open grave into a tunnel that goes under the graveyard to the church and, of course, is almost killed (she rescues herself!). Through it all she keeps herself motivated even when the police tell her to stay away, when her sisters bring her to tears and her father forbids her to leave the house. The murder itself happens before the book opens, there are a couple acts of mild violence and some shocking news at the very end of the book (no spoilers!). As always, this book is for middle-grade readers of all ages, especially those who like strong female characters and cozy mysteries.
story by Lisa Wheeler and art by Ponder Goembel
A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006
I have an adorable picture book for you! This is how it starts out – “On an island/in the ocean,/ near the land of Singapore,/midst a storm of great proportion,/ fifteen cats were washed ashore.” There were 7 kittens and 8 adults – a calico tom named Mittens (who has muscles and an anchor tattoo), a Persian Blue, an angora, a bobtail, a beat-up tabby, a pair of Siamese cats, and an orange marmalade. They all must band together if they are to survive on a tiny island in the ocean. At first they look for help to rescue them and then decide they’re on their own. Will they be able to survive? Will they even be able to get along with each other?
The illustrations are absolutely adorable and the story is told via rhyming poetry. The print is large enough for early readers to enjoy; there are so larger words that may be difficult at first but every reader needs their vocabulary expanded!
I loved this book – it’s got everything you could want – cats, cats and more cats – plus kittens!; an adventure at sea; a lesson on how to get along with the ones around you and that family doesn’t always mean the folks you were born to!
I pulled these images off the internet – they aren’t very good quality – but let that encourage you to check the book out at your library!!
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
A Flavia de Luce Mystery
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, 2010
From the inside front dust jacket: “Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders….finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads. … Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets. Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations of the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Bronte’ sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is … the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help.”
After reading the first book in this series (The Sweetness as the Bottom of the Pie) I wasn’t too sure I’d read the rest – there was a lot of chemistry in the book and I’m not big on chemistry. But I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did. Set in 1950s rural England, this book is full of charm and wit – and a good mystery that had me guessing until the end. This is the 2nd book but could easily stand alone. There are a brief mentions of the incidents in the previous book but thankfully, this book doesn’t stand on those shoulders. I love how Flavia talks to herself, offering encouragement along the way (“Bravo, old girl! You can do it!”). At home she has to contend with her older – and meaner – sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne), a mostly absent father, and the emotional-ghost of her long dead mother.
There are two murders, one in the past, one happens within the current timeline, but the details are neither gory or gruesome. There is some talk of illicit affairs, an unwed pregnancy, and the cultivation and partaking of “Indian hemp” (cannabis) – which I found very surprising but not offensive – at least to my sensibilities. This book is targeted toward middle grade readers but anyone can read it and enjoy trying to figure out the mystery.
If your middle-grader is looking for a good mystery with a brilliant female protagonist, this is the perfect book! Chemistry lessons included for free!!
Toto the Tornado Kitten
Illustrated by Carol Ruzicka
What a sweet book! It brought tears to my eyes – especially when Toto looks out the window and misses his old home in the woods and his mother. Sometimes I can see my cats looking out the window and wonder if they miss the Wild, too.
Here’s the gist of the lovely picture book. Toto is born to a very pretty mom and has siblings and they all live in a field and in some woods and are very happy. Then one day a big storm called a ‘tornado’ – that’s sort of a ginormous funnel-shaped cloud that hops and skips around on the ground. There’s lots of wind surrounding it and wherever it touches down it destroys everything. Well, this tornado came through the woods where Toto lived with his family and tore the woods up and the poor kitten ended up in a tree! He was eventually rescued, nursed back to health and found a new, forever home with humans. True story!!!
The illustrations are sweet and painted in expressive colors. The print is large enough for the earliest readers but it also makes for a good story time book. Children need to start out early learning how important it is to be kind to animals and this book is a good way to start that lesson.
Oh Toto! Where Did You Go?
Illustrated by Carol Ruzicka
In this book Toto is now an adult kitty and one day he decides to go on a walkabout to visit friends. He has catnip tea for breakfast, visits the bank to make a donation to the local shelter, the firefighters at the local fire station, a nursing home, an elementary school, a tv station and more! He has such a full day and finally realizes that home is best.
This book’s story is written in ryhme which makes it extra charming. The illustrations are beautifully detailed so that they convey the story without reading. Very pretty.
We loved both books and that 100% of the proceeds of the books goes toward animal rescue shelters, including the Animal Rescue League of Boston. Toto has his own Facebook page which is HERE.
As a result of his rescue, Toto became famous and travels from place to place meeting and greeting humans and teaching them to be kind to animals.
Rating for both books: