The Hunt for Dark Infinity Book 2 of the 13th Reality Series by James Dashner

13thcover1This is the book that I got from the author at the Utah Book Bloggers Bash hosted and organized by Natasha Maw. Now I was to0 embarrassed to admit it there, but you all know that writing on a blog gives one a sense of anonymity, even when what you are writing is public. Here goes the confession –  I had never heard of James Dashner let alone the 13 Reality in my life. I mean really how do you tell an author in person I’ve never heard of you and I have a blog about books, especially a kidlit blog. Turns out though James writes in my favorite genre – fantasy. Can’t get enough of it and I am so glad I meet him and read his books. Really he is a great guy, funny, down to earth, generous and once upon a time he was a CPA, which I get a big kick out because my dad is one.

The second book came out this week and it is good. I liked the book, and the characters and again like the first one I read it in one sitting or as much as possible in one sitting with a baby and preschooler in the house. Of course there are more riddles in the book and some new characters. I must say though James’ has an interesting penchant for names. Seriously who names a character Mothball and a villainess Mistress Jane, but I loved it. The more I get into the books the more I love the fun, zany names. This time Tick, Sofia and Paul race Mistress Jane to reach Dark Infinity, a new weapon of incredible power. They jump from reality to reality trying to solve the riddles and keep the new weapon out Misstress Jane’s hands. In addition some realities are fragmenting and mysterious disease seems to be causing people to go insane. One of my all time favorite parts in the books is when Tick’s mom reveals a secret about herself and it is taking all my self control to not tell you. Guess you will have to read it to find out.

I would recommend this series to my Grandma (she is also a big fantasy fan) and that is a high compliment considering she gets my top picks as recommendations. Can’t wait for the next book.

James Dashner’s website and blog


Non-Fiction Monday Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray

wandagagthegirlwholivedtodrawAs part of the Children’s Literature Book Club, I am reading several of the Cybils finalists for the month of February and will try and post reviews of as many of the books that I can.

When I first started to read this book I was a little skeptical at first because I just wasn’t getting into the story. However, by the end of the book, I feel in love with Wanda Gag and her passion for drawing. In fact I got a little teared up while reading her story. She wrote and illustrated what is considered the first modern picture book Millions of Cats.

Wanda Gag was talented artist who would not let personal crisis, tragedy and poverty get in the way of her dream. What really made me fall in the love with the book was how she achieved her dream and at the same time took care of her family. Her father, an artist died leaving a widow with seven children and Wanda helped to make sure each child finished high school and at the same time she pursued her passion for art. Using her talents to help support the family.

Deborah Kogan Ray does an excellent job of combining Wanda’s Diary with her own words to add more details to this inspirational story. I can definitely see why this was a Cybils Nominee.

This is my favorite quote

I can’t help it that I’ve got to draw and paint forever; I cannot stop; I cannot; cannot, CANNOT. . . . I have a right to go on drawing….And we are all going though high school.

Deborah Kogan Ray’s website

I’m not sure I have the same passion as Wanda and I definitely have not had to deal with such hard things as loosing my parents and raising my siblings, etc.  I do have a passion for books, obviously, but I wonder how far I would go to keep my passion going. What are you passionate about and how far would you go to keep following your dreams?

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

The sequel to Uglies, also a NYT bestseller. I had a harder time getting into this book because of the way Pretties talk. I had no idea that a surgery could change the way that people talk so easily. I felt like I was in some cliquey Disney Channel movie or something. Then, I started to get the feel of it and started enjoying myself.


In the Pretties, Tally has received her greatest wish to be beautiful and fit in. Unfortunately, there are still crowds to please- most particularly the Crims who stay cool in Pretty Town by tricking and acting like juvenile delinquents who’ve had their devious sides toned down. Tally doesn’t remember much about the Smoke or her feelings about Uglies. She’s just caught up in the desire to be accepted.


When Tally is about to be voted in by the Crims, she notices she’s being followed by someone dressed as a Special. Her adrenaline kicks in and suddenly she sees clearly that life is different on the brain wave level here on the Pretty side of the river. And she’s not sure she wants to stay so mellow. She wants to be bubbly. I had a hard time with the term bubbly because to me it meant air-headed, but in the book it means clear-headed. Took me awhile to get that one straight.


I really liked this second book of the series even though I obviously am a little obtuse when it comes to ‘cool’ talk. Tally would so think I belonged in Crumblyville with all the middlies if I lived in this book. Luckily, I can shave off a few years in my imagination and ride along as a sidekick pretty easily!


The dieter in me loved the calorie purger packs that you could just down if you’d over-eaten to stay thin. Magic weight-loss control in a little bitty packet. Too bad it reeked of eating-disorders. I’ll bet there have been readers who have struggled with this disorder who have so wished for some of that, and been a little ticked that it didn’t exist. The author indicated that hunger pangs could keep you bubbly and seemed to think that was a sufficient reason to misuse the calorie purgers. I disagree and am not sure I appreciate this aspect of the book. It answers a lot of questions though about how the Pretties can be so irresponsible with their bodies and yet still conform to the Pretty standard. On the other hand, it is just another example of irresponsibility. Apparently the responsibility- ability comes with the next operation- you know the one that turns you into a grown-up.


So, writing this review, it just hit me that this might not be a good book or series for that matter for people struggling with eating disorders. It just becomes too easy to think about being beautiful and staying thin. Talk about temptation for anyone struggling with this difficult problem.


I am looking forward to reading the next book. As I told a friend- this isn’t like the typical second book in a series where you can’t wait to get to the third one because the second one is driving you crazy with how contrived it feels. 1st and 3rd are usually the best. This series, surprisingly breaks the mold. I can’t wait to read the next one- Specials!

The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner

13th-realitycoverarc_small3I was waiting to do my review of The Journal of Curious Letters before the second book was about to come out and yikes the time went  by and The Hunt for Dark Infinity is less than two days away from it’s debut. My husband also read both books so I could say I was waiting for him to finish to do the review, but really we finished a while ago and for some reason I thought it was coming out in March.  So here I am still trying to write the review with less than 48 hours to go. Actually make that less than 24 hours to go since I ran into some problems with wordpress last night and couldn’t post this. The Hunt for Dark Infinity will post tomorrow.

Now I got the arc of The Hunt for Dark Infinity from Mr. James Dashner himself thanks to Natasha at Maw Books. She hosted the first Utah Book Blogger’s Bash and James was nice enough to come to the party. I enjoyed meeting him and I have to say this is the first time I have meet an author before reading his book. Ironically, he talked about how knowing an author can change how your read their books.

Generally pick up a book in a series and oftentimes I’m not too picky about what order I am reading the book in. I figure if it’s good – I’ll go back and read the others, but since I got the book from the author I thought I should make an effort to read the series in order. I will say that after reading the first book, it is definitely worth reading the other books.

Here is a list of things I like about Journal of Curious Letters

1. The main character is Atticus (Tick) Higginbottom and unlike so many characters in this genre, he is not orphaned (Harry Potter, Eragon, Series of Unfortunate Events) or his parents are missing or ill (Artemis Fowl). So it was nice to see a kid with both parents in his home. He receives a mysterious letter signed M.G. telling him that many lives are stake and even worlds and he has been chosen to help save those people. All he needs to do is solve a series of riddles/clues that will be arriving, which will tell him what he needs to do.

2. Tick is close to his dad  and cares about his family especially his younger sister. I like that, it seems like a lot of media likes to portray sibling rivalry and parents as idiots.

3. Tick is smart good grades, chess, likes science and math. Also the victim of a bullying, but he tries not to let that bother him.

4. I thought this book might appeal to those who like logic puzzles as Tick is presented with a series of riddles to solved – often involving math. I have to admit here when I read the first one I panicked and worried that I would have to solve them myself – I think it reminded me too much of Math class. Really though the puzzles grew on me and don’t worry Tick does the solving.

5. I like that Tick has friends from a variety of backgrounds. Tick has two friends he meets online who received the same letter. Sofia from Italy smart and not to messed with type of girl and Paul an African American from Florida, surfer and virtuoso pianist.

6. Of course no book is complete without a villain and Mistress Jane is the villainess in this story and she dresses all in yellow, which for some reason I really liked.

I could go on, but really you should read the book for yourself. I would highly recommend this book for people who like a good adventure and especially if you like fantasy or science fiction. This would also be a good book to talk about math and science because it definitely is part of the plot – physics, math and logic puzzles.  I couldn’t put it down and finished it in one sitting.

James Dashner’s blog and website.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

murfarosbeautifuldaughtersI love fairy tales! Just something about being able to escape into another world and talk of magic, love and adventure and of course it’s a bit nostalgic, some of the first books read to me were fairy tales.  I am always on the look out for new fairy tales, or retold versions of fairy tales and I loved Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – another Cinderalla story.

Mufaro’s two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha are indeed very beautiful – lovely skin and hair. However, Manyara is kind in front of her father, but when he is not around  she is cruel to her younger sister Nyasha. Nyasha is kind and gentle in private and in public. The King of their land announces that he will marry the most worthy and beautiful girl in the land and so every girl who is eligible is to come to the great city where he will select his bride. Manyara, attempts to keep her sister from going and then when that fails she leaves early hoping that by arriving first she will be chosen to be queen.

What I like most about the illustrations is that Steptoe basis his art on the actual flora and fauna of Zimbabwe and his work really draws you into the story. Vibrant birds, animals and flowers transport you to Africa. The tale is based on book written by G.M. Theal, first published in 1895 entitled Kaffir Folktales. According to Theal the story was told by people living near the ruins of a city in Zimbabwe. Modern archeologists believe the ruins were once a large prosperous city with a thriving trade center.

I highly recommend this book and in many ways I like this fairytale more than the Brothers Grim version of Cinderella.  In the European version of Cinderella  the stepsisters are ugly on both the outside and the inside implying that only those who are beautiful can be kind and good. However, in this book Manyara is beautiful only on the outside – inside she is cruel and selfish. I really like that concept and I liked that the King was looking for the most worthy and most beautiful and in that order. Implying that what is on the inside matters more than outward appearances. This book has a different version of physical beauty, it is not the stereotypically buxom, blue-eyed, blond barbie type. Physical beauty has many faces. I remember reading a biography of Maya Angelou, where as a child she wanted blond straight hair so she could be beautiful and I have read similar stories from other African American women. So I think this book has a definite place in children’s literature and I want to add it to my fairy tale collection.

I thought this book would be appropriate to feature during Black History Month, so much of African American history, at least the way it is traditionally presented in schools, is about slavery and the horrible hardships suffered by those in bondage. I am Not saying that  slavery shouldn’t be taught because clearly it is a major part of United States history. I simply wanted to recognize other parts of African heritage that didn’t focus on slavery, but rather focused on the beauty and richness of African American roots.

To learn more about John Steptoe see this link. Here is an excerpt from Harper Collins Children’s Author Biographies

While all of Mr. Steptoe’s work deals with aspects of the African American experience, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters was acknowledged by reviewers and critics as a breakthrough. Based on an African tale recorded in the 19th century, it required Mr. Steptoe for the first time to research African history and culture, awakening his pride in his African ancestry. Mr. Steptoe hoped that his books would lead children, especially African American children, to feel pride in their origins and in who they are. “I am not an exception to the rule among my race of people,” he said,

John tragically passed away at the age of 38. Thank you John for sharing your passion and beauty with us.

What is beauty or how do we share it with those around us?

The Whirlwind by Carol Matas

I read this book in a whirlwind created by multiple other books I was/am reading at the same time. It was out on the counter one day and my oldest passed by, glanced down and did a double take.

“Mom, what’s this book about?” he wanted to know. “Is it about soldiers?”

I could tell that he was getting impressed with dear old mom and her interest in historical fiction. We had a nice little discussion about this book which really does have to do with soldiers, the Nazi kind. Ben Friedman’s Jewish family has fled Nazi Germany and finally arrived in Seattle. It seems that only Ben remembers how quickly the tides can turn against people.

When his only friend at school, a child of Japanese immigrants tells him that his family is being forced to leave their home and move to a squalid camp just because they are Japanese. Ben feels it all beginning again. Rage wells up inside hime and he tries to convince his parents to flea. Canada seems like a good plan to him and when no one listens to him, he runs away.

Ben soon finds out that Canada is even more hostile to Jews and Japanese than America is. Forced to face his fears, he realizes that no matter what people take away from him he is still free to choose his own actions. When he chooses to stop living in fear and look for the good around him, he is amazed that there is so much to appreciate.

Ben suffered, I think from post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is a difficult thing to deal with and one of the many realities of war and conflict. I think the author did a great job of getting inside the head of someone who had suffered great injustices; bringing to the fore the tragedies that occur when people are afraid.

Telling stories of the past is the best way to prevent mistakes from becoming a viscious cycle. I can’t count the number of times I’ve brought up books in conversation (The Hiding Place, Night by Elie Wiesel, Hanzi the Girl Who Loved the Swaztika to name a few) that I think are vital in educating against the same genocide and senseless waste that occurred during the greatest conflicts in our recent history, and people have never even heard of them. How do you think we keep important stories from being forgotten?

I won a giveaway, crocuses and other things that make you happy!

howieicanreadI actually won a give away for Howie I can Read Series over at Tara Lazar – Writing for Kids While Raising Them. I am very excited because it’s from Aaron Zenz author/illustrator and the genius dad behind Bookie Woogie. Where he and his children read and review books together and then create some awesome art to go with each book. Holly and I are huge fans of his and we have talked about Bookie Woogie before in our monthly spotlight. Thank you Tara and Aaron!

Right now I am feeling pretty happy, my family is healthy (we just got better after being sick for 2 weeks),  I have lots of great books I have been reading and some coming in the mail. On the other hand I really, really, really want it to be spring. Cabin fever has struck and I want to be outside digging in the ground. I have been looking at my trees and shrubs for signs that spring is coming and checking my flower beds for signs of early bulbs poking their heads up through the ground. Guess what I saw today, on February 17th, with snow coming down – a lone yellow crocus! I felt so much joy and giddiness from seeing just one flower. I even made my daughter come out and see it in her pjs. Hopefully I will see more especially since ‘the gopher’ is still digging up our yard.

What makes you happy?

Non-fiction Monday – Nic Bishop Frogs

nicbishopfrogsNic Bishop is a gifted nature photographer and writer. Not only that this book received the Cybils award on Valentine’s day for non-fiction picture book and I can see why. It is stunning, the pictures even breath-taking and yes I am saying that about pictures of frogs. My five-year old loved this book and was extremely fascinated with the Glass Frog and the poison dart frogs. She informed me she would save her baby sister from one if she ever saw one, but not to worry she wouldn’t touch it with her bare skin. . . not even her pinky toe.

Now any picture book can not stand on pictures alone and Nic Bishops’ text will not disappoint you. Lots of fun facts and information about the life cycle of frogs. You will learn the difference between frogs and toads, that some frogs eat rodents and why frogs need to live near water.

Nic Bishop’s website

Now my sister and I will be featuring Nic Bishop Spiders for our Doublescoop, which is when we review a book together,  for next month. The pictures are also incredible, although I won’t say breathtaking. . .maybe breathless, especially if you are bit scared of spiders.

Cybils Awards

Today, Valentine’s Day is the day the Cybils winners are announced. I was very excited because I had read several of the finalists for graphic novel middle grade, non-fiction picture books, and picture book categories. So without further delay here they are.

Easy Readers

I Love My New Toy
written by Mo Willems

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Middle Readers

The Graveyard Book
written by Neil Gaiman

Young Adult

The Hunger Games
written by Suzanne Collins

Fiction Picture Book

How to Heal a Broken Wing
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
Candlewick Press

Graphic Novels

Elementary/Middle Grade

Rapunzel’s Revenge
written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by Nathan Hale
Bloomsbury USA

Young Adult

Emiko Superstar
written by Mariko Tamaki
illustrated by Steve Rolston

Middle Grade Fiction

The London Eye Mystery
written by Siobhan Dowd
David Fickling Books

Nonfiction MG/YA

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir
written by Cylin Busby
and John Busby
Bloomsbury USA

Non-Fiction Picture Book

Nic Bishop Frogs
written and illustrated by Nic Bishop
Scholastic Nonfiction


written by Naomi Shihab Nye

Young Adult Fiction

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The
written by E Lockhart
My sister and I are very excited to see Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale  as the winner for the Middle Reader Graphic  Novel category. Of course we are huge fans of  as you can see from our review of Rapunzel’s Revenge and my subsequent Rapunzel’s Penance post.  I read all the graphic novels in this category and was happy to see that the judges agreed with me. While I like the other nominees, Rapunzel’s Revenge was the best (but you know I’m sure I have no bias).

Another book that made me happy was Nic Bishop Frogs. Seriously amazing photographs and the text is excellent, full of interesting facts. I want to buy this book. By the way his Spiders book is also really good and for our Doublescoop next month we will be reviewing Nic Bishop Spiders.