Word Up, Nerd Up

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review: Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 23•12

Sleight of Paw (A Magical Cats Mystery)

Sofie Kelly

Obsidian (Penguin USA); mystery, fiction

Release Date:  September 6, 2011

Small-town librarian Kathleen Paulson never wanted to be the crazy cat lady. But after Owen and Hercules followed her home, she realized her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her-her cats have magical abilities.

When the body of elderly do-gooder Agatha Shepherd is found near Kath’s favorite local café, she knows Owen’s talent for turning invisible and Hercules’s ability to walk through walls will give the felines access to clues Kath couldn’t get without arousing suspicion. Someone is hiding some dark secrets-and it will take a bit of furtive investigating to catch the cold-hearted killer.

A well-crafted book will introduce a theme and carry it out to the end. It appears as though the theme in this book was “no edits”.  The book is riddled with errors, including the main character being served a “peace of pie”.  I understand that mistakes may slip past the most diligent eyes, but a professionally produced book should not have page upon page of errors. This isn’t Great Aunt Joan putting together a family history, it is a publishing giant asking the public to part with their hard-earned dollars.

Beyond the glaring errors, the book was acceptable.  I wouldn’t call it good, but it wasn’t horrible.  I do not think the “magical cats” are presented in a very believable way.  I would have found it much more enjoyable if the cats had just been smart and adventurous, rather than having them walk through solid walls for no apparent reason.

The mystery kicked along nicely and was fairly easy to solve.  There was just one piece that I could not figure out, and lo and behold, it is not revealed at the end! I’m sure it will come out in future installations of this series, but I doubt I will still be interested.

My verdict:  Skip it.  I could give it a lukewarm recommendation if it wasn’t full of errors, but it is, so spend your money elsewhere.

review: Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel by Steve Cotler

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 21•12

Cheesie Mack is Cool in a Duel

Steve Cotler (author), Adam McCauley (illustrator)

Random House BFYR/juvenile fiction, humor

Release Date: June 26, 2012

Cheesie Mack is back in a summer camp adventure with terrific camp friends—and terrifying camp enemies!

Cheesie and Georgie are back, and this time they’re off to the greatest summer camp in Maine. As the oldest of the Little Guy campers, they’ll get to make the campfires and choose the sports teams. It’s sure to be their best summer yet!

Then disaster strikes. Cheesie and Georgie are put in a cabin with the Big Guy campers, including Cheesie’s archenemy, Kevin Welch. Now the youngest—and smallest—of the Big Guys, Cheesie has no choice but to use his brains to fight Kevin’s brawn, so he challenges the bully to a Cool Duel. The adventure that follows includes a toilet on a wall, a headless skateboarder, a garter snake mustache, and the scariest ghost story ever told. Will Cheesie survive to start middle school?

Ronald “Cheesie” Mack is an 11-year old boy with a penchant for writing books, big words and self-promotion.

Like most 11-year olds, his favorite pastime seems to be annoying his older sister “Goon” (known as June to everyone else).  Unlike the 11-year olds that are usually depicted, he is happy, well adjusted and his family is completely normal.  He worries about being liked, but manages to take teasing in stride.  When he makes a mistake, he actually feels bad about it!

I don’t know where this kid came from, but I want to see more of him!

My verdict:  Read it! I think kids will instantly connect with Cheesie’s easy narrative style and outgoing personality.  His adventures are just exciting enough to keep a reader interested and tame enough to keep a parent calm.  The accompanying website will keep kids interested (and learning) long after the book ends.



review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (Main St. Book Club)

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 19•12

How Green Was My Valley

Richard Llewellyn

Touchstone Books/literary fiction

Release Date:  1939

How Green Was My Valley is Richard Llewellyn’s bestselling — and timeless — classic and the basis of a beloved film. As Huw Morgan is about to leave home forever, he reminisces about the golden days of his youth when South Wales still prospered, when coal dust had not yet blackened the valley. Drawn simply and lovingly, with a crisp Welsh humor, Llewellyn’s characters fight, love, laugh and cry, creating an indelible portrait of a people.
As I am currently finalizing details for a trip to Wales, I was very pleased to see How Green Was My Valley pop up as a Main Street Book Club selection.  What better way to get in the mood for Wales than to bury myself in Llewellyn’s vivid descriptions of the countryside and the cadence of Welsh spoken English?
The narrative is just delicious.  There is really no other way to describe it– you can feel and taste the words as they roll across your mind.  That said, there might be just a bit too much.  I understand the need to express the rhythm of daily life, but I feel like that could have been done without quite so much repetition. 
Huw’s family is large and the Welsh names are onerous, so I often found myself backing up to re-read a passage and check that I was picturing the correct person. Coupled with the dialect, it made for a slow, but wholly enjoyable, read.
Although the book features miners in South Wales, the story is universal and perhaps a bit forward thinking.  Published in 1939, Llewellyn makes frequent mention of the environmental damage done by the mining operations and society at large.  His melancholy take on diminishing nature speaks loud and clear in a day and age where each day finds another field dotted with housing tracts or paved over to create a parking lot.  He may have only intended it to be a story about a young boy growing old, but it is much more.
My verdict:  Read it.  This is a beautiful story and well worth your time, even if it could stand to shed a few pounds.  Do yourself a favor and flip to the back of the book for a list of pronunciations before you begin to read.
**If you came hear from Twitter, the phrase “Mwynhau eich dydd!” means “Enjoy your day!”**

review: Dragonwell Dead (A Tea Shop Mystery) by Laura Childs

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 16•12

After being a bit disappointed with Childs’ Cackleberry Club series, I decided to return to Theodosia Browning’s Indigo Blue tea shop through Dragonwell Dead.

Through some twist of fate, Theodosia always finds herself in the middle of a mystery.  As a matter of fact, it is a wonder that she has any friends left, as they seem to drop dead on a fairly regular basis.  Plucky fighter that she is, she forges ahead to solve the mystery, all the while running her insanely busy tea shop and serving on various charitable committees around Charleston.

This is not the kind of mystery that keeps you up until the wee hours of the morning, unwilling to put down the book.  It is not high literature that will create enduring characters for generations to study.  It is a light, engaging story that begins with a mystery, takes the reader on a few adventures and ends with the main character having an “a-ha” moment to reveal the bad guy.

The only complaint I have with this book– the recipes.  Although they have beautiful names, the recipes are very, very basic.  I have no doubt that a real tea shop serving those recipes would not stay in business for long! “Lavendar Egg Salad” with absolutely no mention of lavendar, except in the title? Did anyone read the recipes before the book went to print? Don’t confuse this book for a cookbook- it is not.

My verdict:  Read it, if you enjoy light mysteries.  The well paced story gives you just enough action to stay interested, but not so much action that you need a flowchart to keep up with the subplots.  This title does a particularly good job of bringing South Carolina to life for the reader.  The steamiest part of the book is the tea, so don’t be afraid to share it with teens and tweens.

review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Written By: Word Nerd - Jun• 14•12

The Night Circus: A Novel

Erin Morgenstern


Release Date:  September 13, 2011

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

I believe that the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is poor advice.  Choosing my next read by an interesting cover has served me well and The Night Circus is no exception.  Popping into the library to pick up my next book club read, the stark black, white and red cover caught my eye and with just a cursory glance at the description, it was in my stack to check-out. (Yes, I did go in for one book.  I came out with five and I didn’t even go beyond the front desk!)
As appropriate for a book about a mysterious circus and the magic that sustains it, I was instantly mesmerized.  The electricity is almost palpable as the tension builds and you cannot fathom any satisfactory outcome.  The characters are so richly and realistically rendered, you almost feel as though you have known them for your entire life.  The description of the circus itself is nothing short of amazing, leaving me with a desperate longing to spy those black and white tents in a field near me.
My verdict:  Read it! I do not normally re-read books, but I will make an exception for The Night Circus.  I feel like there is so much in the story, I am afraid that I missed something…and, if I didn’t, it is still worth another trip to the circus.