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The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson

As Santa prepares for his big night, readers are treated to a lovely, quiet story full of magic and wonder. Gloriously illustrated by Jon Muth (Zen Shorts, City Dog, Country Frog) this is the perfect book to read to little ones as Christmas approaches. What I love about this story is not just the sense of anticipation that permeates every page, or even Santa's mustache, which is rendered charmingly by Muth; it's the idea that Santa is just a normal guy, thoughtfully doing his job. And that one night a year, that totally normal guy does something very special. The focus is not on the presents, but rather on the preparation necessary to make so many people so very happy. Sure to be a future Christmas classic, be sure not to miss The Christmas Magic this year.

--Reviewed by Maggie, Books Inc. Children's Department Director

How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Doctor Seuss

I know this seems like a pretty obvious pick, but it's been a long time since I've actually picked up this book re-read it. It is still just as great as you remember and my 4 year old nephew just can't get enough of it! Out of all the Christmas stories out there I really like this one because in the end even though the Grinch stole everything the Whos were still happy. No Santa or presents needed, just family and friends!
 
--Reviewed by Melanie, Books Inc. Berkeley

If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen

 How did Van Dusen know what my dream house looks like? Oh yeah, it's because he's awesome! I felt this story was even more fun than "If I built a car" though both carry a fun rhythm that is perfect for reading aloud! The kids at my storytime really got into this book. You could just see the little wheels turning in their heads imagining this great manor. A racetrack room?! Are you kidding me?! Yes Please! 

Reviewed by Courtney, Books Inc. Burlingame

A Double Feature!

 The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash

Talking birds with hats! Air pirates! Sword fights! This very handsome hardcover edition with engaging ink and watercolor illustrations by the author will make a fine gift for a backyard naturalist who loves stories of swashbuckling derring-do. Comparable to Brian Jacques' Redwall series with language accessible for a 9 year old, the coming-of-age/ bird-out-of-the-nest aspects of the story will appeal to older kids and the whole family will enjoy the high adventure. There is a clever balance between imaginative, unique world-building and accurate ornithological details. As a lifelong scholar of fantasy literature and an avid birdwatcher, this book seemed especially written for me, but I hope other readers will share my appreciation of this cunning blend of Roger Tory Petersen and Robert Louis Stevenson. (Ages 8-11)

 

 

 When Charlie McButton Lost Power by Suzanne Collins

Yes, that Collins, of Hunger Games and Gregor fame; turns out she can turn out a pretty good rhyme too. The story has a bunch of important lessons, but it doesn't get preachy or saccharine sweet and we appreciate family fun time that has nothing to do with screens or gadgets. When Charlie's house loses power he loses control and lands in time out, but our hero makes some discoveries about himself and annoying his baby sister so everyone lives happily ever after. (Ages 3+)

Reviews by Chris, Compass Books SFO 

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

I met this amazing man just a couple of months back, and I was just elated. Doctorow's new techno-geek novel is set in London, where Trent McCauley has just gotten in trouble with the Man. His crime? Downloading films illegally in order to make his own films by splicing scenes from different movies together. Trent's world, set slightly farther in the future, is a world where we may be living, and everything requires the Internet in order to live. With the Internet shut down, his father can no longer work, his mother can't receive her benefits, and his sister will have a tough time passing high school. Guilty and beyond upset, he runs away and meets his destiny in the form of a dapper gentlemanly beggar named Jem. Time passes and Trent learns the ways of living off the street with Jem and the Jammie Dodgers. Eventually, with this ragtag group of homeless folk, Trent realizes the only way to get his life back is to make the government give it back -- for good. Recommended for the clever people who like figuring out backdoors for computer programs and the like. Recommended for ages 13+

Reviewed by Robbin, Compass Books SFO

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

 

This ferociously inventive and satirical novel is set in a 21st Century Britain divided into dozens of squabbling principalities called the Ununited Kingdoms. Magic openly exists in this world, once it was the driving force of civilization but over the centuries it has dwindled. Long ago the greatest wizard ever forced the powerful and terrifying dragons to live on special reservations bounded by force fields that disintegrate any human interlopers. The Dragonlands are pristine natural areas kept free of farms, freeways, and factories, and in return people can go about their routines without being gobbled up by giant flying reptiles. All thanks to the mighty wizard Shandar, the like of whom we shan't see again.

Nowadays the greatest magic practitioners of the age have to hustle odd jobs like finding lost keys, enchanting moles out of a garden, or rewiring a house without having to cut into the walls. Kazam Magical Arts Management is an agency that arranges these jobs and handles all the paperwork for the notoriously disorganized wizards. Forms have to be filled out for even the smallest spell. The punishments for ignoring this modern bureaucracy are very old-fashioned-- burning at the stake. Kazam is currently run by Jennifer Strange, two months away from her sixteenth birthday but extremely bright and competent. She is a foundling; there is a whole industry that contracts orphans in indentured servitude until their eighteenth birthday. Jennifer could have done worse than being in charge of a bunch of highly temper mental magic-users who all live with her in a big converted hotel filled with all sorts of quirks and enchantments. It certainly never gets boring.

Things get a lot less boring when some of her precognitive clients and other soothsayers in the Kingdom of Hereford predict the coming death of the very last dragon. With the demise of the fearsome and unseen dragon Maltcassion the hundreds of square miles of Dragonland will be up for grabs. More tantalizing still, there are predictions of a coming Big Magic, which no one can explain but has all the kingdoms in a tizzy. Jennifer and her friends at Kazam are swept up in the greedy plots of politicians, corporations, and the media. She will meet all sorts of weird characters, benign and menacing, and uncover her own destiny.

Jasper Fforde has amazed us with his brilliant Thursday Next novels and the Nursery Crimes. He loads his pages with astounding imagination and gleefully lampoons the status quo. Jennifer Strange's world comes alive with lots of odd details. The Last Dragonslayer is the first in a series for younger readers. It came out in the UK two years ago and I am looking forward to reading the further brainy and funny Chronicles of Kazam.

Reviewed by Chris, Compass Books SFO

My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzalez

 

When I open Gonzalez’s My Colors, My World, I feel myself getting lost within her worldbrought to life by her vivid artwork.  Maya, her main character, narrates life living in the desert, at first, monochromatic with sand blanketing her environment.  Yet with a little purple bird by her side, she teaches us to open our eyes to the accentuated intensity of natural colors such as pink sunsets, her red swing, and the green cactus growing outside her house.  By reading the parallel text, young readers will be inspired to celebrate the beautiful colors of wherever they live.  (Ages 5-8)

Reviewed by Jamie Dela Cruz, Books Inc. Market Street 

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

How excited (a word here meaning, "jumping up and down while trying to stay steady enough to read a book") am I about this!?

If you have forgotten what it's like to read a Lemony Snicket novel, Who Could That Be at This Hour? is here to remind you. A new novel set in the same universe of  The Series of Unfortunate Events not only means new mysteries and new characters, but also new insights into old questions (and naturally, new questions about old insights). This book concerns the adventures of a young Lemony Snicket who, geared with "an unusual education" and a natural curiosity, begins solving the mysteries of a town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea.  In typical Snicket fashion, the narrative is charming, playful, and bittersweet, weaving witty humor with tones of anticipated sorrow.  As in The Series of Unfortunate Events, the narrator is Snicket himself and his simple language but elegant (and at times somewhat profound) ideas, make this another remarkable novel. 

P.S. You may have guessed that the answer to the first question is "very." In that case, you would be correct and I suspect you too could have a very successful future with an "unusual education" in a town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea. (Ages 9+)

Reviewed by Kelly, Books Inc. Laurel Village

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