Book Review: HooDoo by Ronald L. Smith

HooDoo is a middle grade novel by Ronald L. Smith. Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can't seem to cast a simple spell. Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger's black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He'll just need to learn how to conjure first. Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, 

HooDoo is a solid middle grade book with a gothic or horror overtone. There are little bits of humor tossed in, along with a little historical fiction, but this is not for the easily creeped out readers. I liked the character of HooDoo, he is trying to do right by his family and find his way in the world but he is still very much a boy becoming a young adult.  He is facing the evil of the Stranger while coming to terms with himself, and learning new things about himself. The danger is solid, and there is a almost constant feeling of wondering what is coming next. HooDoo's family and friend Bunny are less well developed characters than HooDoo, but are still well written and described enough that I cared about all of them before the story was over. I will admit that it took me awhile to read this one, but I am very glad that I saw it through and finished it. I can see this being a well loved book by many of my middle grade readers.

HooDoo is an interesting and unique read. It combines the best qualities of historical fiction, coming of age, and horror reads and leaves the reader looking for a bit more. I think fans of The Night Gardener and similar books will particularly enjoy this read. 

Adult Books from a Child's Voice; Novels and Memoirs

Most adult books come from an adult voice, which is the most relatable to the targeted audience. But a new book, Room by Emma Donoghue, made me stop and think about just how effective and dramatic it can be to read an adult book written from a child's perspective. Here are ten adult books that use the voice of a child with great effect.

Room by Emma Donoghue is the book that really got me thinking about this topic. Just published in September 2010 it tells the story of Jack, a five year old whose entire world is composed of a single room and his mother with only occasional visits from a nightmare like man he only views from within the safety of the wardrobe. The world is shaken when Jack discovers that there is more to the world. This is an extremely powerful story about a mother and son who depend on love to survive their circumstances. The upcoming movie version of the book promises to be as heart wrenching as the book.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is another memoir. Readers discover the story of war through the eyes of the author, whom became a child soldier by the age of thirteen. The book tells of his flight from one set of fighters and his training and life with another. The enthralling account is accessible and extremely well written by a young author and an appropriate read for adults and teens.
Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the
Cultural Revolution by Moying Li is a compelling memoir. The book is Moying Li's own coming of age story during China's Cultural Revolution, a dark and complex time in her country's history. This book gives readers a deeper appreciation to the value of learning, reading and home.
Lowboy by John Wray is both suspenseful and comedic. Sixteen year old Will is a paranoid schizophrenic off his medication and on the run. Will uses the subway get around and firm in his belief that he is the only person that can save the world from complete destruction. There are moments of complete desperation and some of great hope. Lowboy is an exploration of sex, violence and youth in contemporary America. It is an unflinching tale as seen by one boy's haunting and extraordinary vision.
Maybe A Miracle by Brian Strause is both funny and heartbreaking to read. It brings readers along on an emotional journey through the American heartland with sights that are both familiar and out of the ordinary. Seventeen year old Monroe saves his younger sister from drowning, but she remains in a coma. As the well wishers visit miracles start to happen. Media and believers rally around as the family struggles, but Monroe is sarcastic and biting except for when he lets his guard down.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson is told as memories for a man ready to fade from the world. He reminisces and shares his memories of his childhood and life with the readers. The true beauty of this novel is occasionally lost to readers because of the wandering, slow pace. However, the book is well worth the read and is remarkable in its handling in father son relationships.
Sold by Patricia McCormick is the story of Lakshmi, whose family is desperately poor. However, her life is still full of simple pleasures. When the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all the family's crops, Lakshmi's stepfather sends her away to take a job to support her family, but discovers that she has been sold into a life of prostitution. Despite the heavy topics this exceptional novel is suitable for teens and adults.
The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson tells the story of a small West Indian society is introduced to Hollywood's most famous swashbuckler carried to their shore by a storm tossed boat in 1946. May is one result of Errol Flynn's instant love of Jamaica, but not one that he would acknowledge. Her life and struggles will her journal pages, along with the discoveries she makes about her mother's life, before and after her birth.
The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig is a ghost story with a twist. It is a very suspenseful and poignantly funny take on the Hamlet story. Eleven year old Philip is charged with the task of killing his murderous uncle by his father's ghost, and he needs to do it fast. While this might not sound funny, there is a strain of humor that follows Phillip through the challenges of daily life, saving his father's soul and keeping greedy Uncle Alan from getting everything his father loved.
The Stolen Child: A Novel by Keith Donohue was inspired by a W.B. Yeats poem, which tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild. The Stolen Child is a modern fairy tale told by the child Henry Day and his double in this take on the ancient myth of changelings. Fantasy and the common feeling of being an outsider carry the reader away. 

Book Review: The Great Carp Escape by Irish Beth Maddock

The Great Carp Escape by Irish Beth Maddock is a picturebook. For siblings Beth and Paul, growing up on a lake is fun However, when they discover the scaly, moustached carp, they become afraid and avoid the area the carp frequent. When a flood brings about a life-or-death situation for the creepy looking carp, they need to overcome their apprehensions about the carp and help save them before it's too late.

The Great Carp Escape starts with a nice connection siblings Beth and Paul have with nature and the world around them. The pair play together well and with the world around them. quickly I discovered that this is a Christian picturebook as the children and their father mention the ugliness of the carp, and how God created it and still loves it despite its appearance. When the carp's lives are threaten the family works hard to save them and come to see past the appearance of the fish. I liked the message, but think that the quotation of scripture and pushing of the Christian theme will limit the audience. It is a message everyone could stand to learn and enjoy.  the illustrations were well matched with the story, but did not stand out as amazing or very interesting. They did their job, but did not add a whole lot to the book.

The Great Carp Escape is a nice Christian picturebook about respecting nature and all of God's creatures. I think works well for what it is, but does not stand out in a good or bad way.

Book Review: Swashbuckling Scoundrels: Pirates in Fact and Fiction by Arie Kaplan

Swashbuckling Scoundrels: Pirates in Fact and Fiction by Arie Kaplan is a solid introduction to the history and mythology of pirates, including those of the modern day. The book explores the world of pirates, both as real-life figures and as fictional characters. It takes on the reality of piracy and debunks some romanticized pirate myths and legends.

Swashbuckling Scoundrels: Pirates in Fact and Fiction is a solid start to the fact and fiction surrounding the popular topic of pirates. The history and myths surrounding pirates throughout history and the present day are covered. I like that the popular stories of modern day surrounding pirates is included along with the reality of both modern and historic. I think readers that love pirate stories and are looking to start researching the reality and connection between the two with find a lot of value with this book. The book is well researched and written, both informative and interested for middle grade and older readers. Readers that simply love pirates will also enjoy it, however if they have already read more than a few books on the topic there is not much new information here. 

Swashbuckling Scoundrels: Pirates in Fact and Fiction is a great introductory book about fiction and non-fiction pirates. The information is well presented and offers an interesting read for those beginning their research on the topic, although the inclusion of movie and current pirates offer some less repeated information. 

Book Review: Forgotten Bones; Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey

Forgotten Bones; Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey is the nonfiction book that details the accidental discovery of a cemetery at a construction site, and the archaeological work that resulted.  

This particular story begins in Albany, New York, in 2005. Workers were putting in new sewer line when a backhoe driver dug up a skull. After police declared the skull wasn't connected to any recent crimes, a team of archaeologists took a closer look. They determined the skull was from an African American who had died more than one hundred years earlier. Suddenly the construction site turned into an archaeological dig. Scientists excavated more bones and realized that they had located a long-lost slave cemetery. Slavery had been legal in the northern United States, including in New York State, in colonial times, but the stories of these slaves are largely unknown. This site became just the third slave cemetery ever to be excavated in the North. The book explains how archaeologists pieced together the truth about these once forgotten bones, and what they learned.

I found Forgotten Bones; Uncovering a Slave Cemetery to be engaging and interesting. I found the details of the discovery, recovery, and museum work involved to be engrossing and important. I like that the author included the history of slavery and the details of the two previous excavations in the North. the timeline of the discovery and everything hat we have learned because of it was laid out in a way that was both understandable for middle grade readers and adults, while also being interesting and inspiring further research (at least on my part). I think the combination of scientific knowledge, respect for the remains worked with, and the history revealed are combined in this book in a impressive balance. 

I think Forgotten Bones; Uncovering a Slave Cemetery is a wonderful, informational text that middle grade and older readers will get a lot out of. The book is engaging and offers important insights. readers that are interested in history and/or archaeology will find the read particularly engrossing.

Book Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book in The Cinder Spires series by Jim Butcher. The audiobook is narrated by Euan Morton.

The official blurb reads, "Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory. And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…"

The Aeronaut's Windlass is much more than the blurb leads you to expect. The story is written through multiple points of view, and while Captain Grimm is very important and a major player in the story there are also guard cadets Gwen Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn who each have their own significant back stories and roles to play. There is also Gwen's cousin Guard Lieutenant Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster,  the young female Etherialist Apprentice Folly and her master, and last but far from least Rowl of the Nine Claws- a cat and Bridget's protector. Each character is multidimensional and faces their own trials as well as the mutual effort to protect their home from invading marines.  There is a good abount of world building, even more character development, and still more action. There are air abattles, street fights, fires, battles against powerful creatures and unknown forces. There is magic, technology, and good old fashion bravery at every turn. Very much a solid read that one can sink their teeth into, and very much something from Jim Butcher.

The Aeronaut's Windlass is a thick and impressive venture. Butcher manages to cover all the world building without overwhelming the reader. The amount of information about the Spires and society of the world introduced is covered pretty neatly. It is the number of characters and the depth of each that might be a little overwhelming to readers. However, as characters and their interactions are what makes a book for me, I was thrilled with the overall effect. To top that off there are so many battles and struggles, including those of sheer will, that never let the tension lessen. I am very much looking forward to the continuation of this series, though I hope Butcher keeps up his quality of the Dresden Files series as well.

Romances that Have Gone to the Dogs; Love and Our Four Legged Friends

All animal lovers know that pets have a lot to say about their owner's lives, even though they cannot say a word. In these contemporary romance novels canine companions play a major part in helping their owners live happily ever after.

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie is a particular favorite of mine. Nina Askew is newly divorced and in search of a puppy, a perky puppy to cheer her up. And celebrate being able to do all the things her former husband vetoed. Somehow she ends up with a sad looking basset hound named Fred. He has a face she cannot resist. Thanks to canine intervention she meets her downstairs neighbor Dr. Alex Moore. There are sparks but Nina is stuck on their age difference, lucky for her Fred, a friend, and some bad dates get her to reconsider the match. The book is a fun and light read.
The Nerd Who Loved Me by Vicki Lewis Thompson is another favorite of mine. Harry Ambrewster is an accountant with a big-time attraction for showgirl Laine Terrell. Harry comes to the rescue when Laine needs a babysitter for her son Dexter, but things go wrong quickly when Dexter's abusive father shows up. Harry takes Laine and Harry to his mother's condo where a cast of wacky characters and one rambunctious dog join in the fun. This is a laugh out loud contemporary romance which is part of Thompson's Nerd series.
Take a Chance on Me by Susan Donovan is about animal behaviorist Emma Jenkins. She has struggled through a divorce, death of her best friend, and the adoption of that friend's daughter. Undercover investigator meets Emma in search of answers to a hairless dog named Hairy's strange behavior. Later he returns to find clues to solve a murder, since the dog was the sole witness. The mystery aspect is a little weak, but the story is still comic and spicy.
The Perfect Match by Kimberly Cates is about Rowena Brown, a free spirit looking to find acceptance and place she fits in. Rowena owns a pet store in a small town and has the uncanny knack for matching up pets with the right homes. Unfortunately one match does not work out quite the way she plans. A troublesome dog does not bond with the local sheriff, who already knows him from previous experience, though his daughters bond with the furry criminal. He does not want the chaos of the huge, criminal dog or eccentric Rowena could bring into his life. However, circumstances bring them together and the sheriff's heart does soften, just not toward the dog.
Beware of Doug by Elaine Fox is about Lily Tyler and her bulldog Doug. When stalker fleeing pilot Brady Cole moves into her Virginia duplex he is warned about Doug's man hating tendencies. Brady tries, with entertaining results, to befriend Doug in order to get closer to Lily. This is a fun romantic comedy. There are several laugh out loud moments and some views of the action from Doug's perspective. This book will make you eager to discover all of Fox's romance novels full of canine capers. 

Book Review: The Galaxy Pirates: Hunt for the Pyxis by Zoe Ferraris

The Galaxy Pirates: Hunt for the Pyxis by Zoe Ferraris is a middle grade to young adult novel and the first book in a new fantasy trilogy. On the night Emma Garton's supposedly boring parents are kidnapped, she is forced to face the truth: they've been lying to her about many things, including the Pyxis, a mysterious amulet that holds the key to saving another world—and worse, they aren't even from planet Earth. To find her parents, Emma and her best friend, Herbie, must leave Earth and enter the Strands, the waterways of space, where huge galleons ply the intergalactic seas. But a journey through the constellations won't be easy, not with evil Queen Virgo and every scoundrel in the galaxy determined to find them.

Hunt for the Pyxis is a novel of high action and solid world building. I liked the concept and the majority of the execution. The idea of the constellations being worlds which people can actually sail to, and the variety of conflicts and magics at work were all well done. I found myself intrigued and interested in learning more about the different locations, their inhabitants, and how the Strand and Memory Water worked. I found the characters to be a little flat though. While they seemed interesting and kept me reading, I felt like they were a little too predictable- they acted a little too perfect for the roles they had. They were not quite stereotypes, but at no point was I surprised by their actions or reactions. I prefer my characters a little more quirky and unpredictable rather than slightly flat and easy to understand. I did still enjoy the ride, and the fact that there was a certain level of resolution for the end of the book. However, there was a little dig at the end, a lingering sentence to ramp up the need to read the next book, that I felt was a bit unnecessary.

Hunt for the Pyxis was a good and entertaining read. It did a good job of world building and setting the stage for further adventures. It was not a perfect book, but one worth reading for those that like action, fantasy, science fiction, and/or pirates.

Book Review: What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma is a picturebook from the parents who brought us the web sensation "Dinovember" comes photographic proof of what toys do at night. Kids have always thought about what would happen in their toys came to life. One creative pair of parents decided to find out. Every November, writer and social media master Refe Tuma and his wife, Susan, work into the night to bring their four children scenes from the secret lives of their toys; specifically the nighttime antics of their plastic dinosaurs. The dinosaurs wreck bathrooms, destroy vases, rock out, encounter terrifying hot irons, even do the dishes with hilarious, magical results. This book offers the story about how the dinosaurs behave, why, and what not to do if it starts happening in your house. the photographs and text come together nicely to ignite imaginations and humor readers of all ages.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night is a picturebook that I greatly enjoyed. I had seen stories about these parents, and the trend that they started (there are many parents out there doing this or similar things now).  I always get a kick out of the imagination and inventiveness they use to create these plastic dinosaur tableau's. I love the photographs and admit to being daunted by the amount of work this team put into placing the dinosaurs and coming up with stories to match. I think some younger or more sensitive children might find the idea and execution of some of the scenes a little troubling. When my oldest was younger he would have needed the light on in his room and had trouble sleeping with the idea that the toys in his room were wandering around the house and up to mischief, while my youngest would have been upset that they were not including her in the fun.

I would recommend What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night to families that might consider joining in the fun, or that take part in similar things like Elf on the Shelf and so one. I am frankly afraid to share this one with my kids, because I do not have the energy to do this sort of crazy fun. I highly appreciate those that have the creativity and willingness to entertain us all along with their children.

Book Review: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Cassandra Morris

A Snicker of Magic is a children's novel written by Natalie Lloyd, and the audiobook is narrated by Cassandra Morris. Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. When Twelve-year-old Felicity arrives in Midnight Gulch, she thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere; shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears, but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster. Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town, and her mother's broken heart.

A Snicker of Magic is a coming of age story, Felicity needs to learn to trust herself and her abilities, as well as face her fears. While she finally feels she has found home, she still worries that she will be uprooted, that she will embarrass herself in a big way, and that she will forever be followed by the word lonely rather than home. Her mother, and many others, have

A Snicker of Magic is a sweet and heart warming story. I liked the variety of characters in Midnight Gultch, and their quirks, But, I will say that in listening to the story with my kiddos in the car we all got a little antsy for the ending before it was ready. It was still an interesting and entertaining book, but I think it could have been a little more condensed.