The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman is about three kids in middle school: Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano. They don’t really seem to have much in common, until they are all drawn to the Youth Scrabble Tournament in Yackamee, Florida.

They all have different reasons to win the tournament: Duncan, to get liked; April, so her family will think of Scrabble as a sport; and Nate, to live up to his father’s dreams. I really like that part of it, where you kind of don’t really know which team to root for. The book switches between all three kids’ perspectives, giving a very neat view on the story.

One of the main plot points of the story is that Duncan has a special power: he can close his eyes, run his fingers over words, and read them.  Even though his mom warns him not to show anyone, word gets out, and Carl Slater, the mean popular boy at school, convinces him to be his partner at the school youth tournament.

The author apparently really researched Scrabble, because the book is filled with cool little Scrabble tricks. There are whole pages dedicated to two-letter words (Like aa, my favorite: a chunky volcanic rock). If you want tips for Scrabble, go to this book.

I have always liked word games, but this book really inspired me to play Scrabble more. It shows how there is a real suspense and sport to Scrabble.

Duncan, April, and Nate go through the stressful experience of learning what they really are in this great book.

-Celie

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The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood & Co., Book 2: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull is an ironic and creepy sequel to the Screaming Staircase, and tells about Lockwood & Co.’s agents, Lockwood, Lucy, and George, and how they investigate the terrifying story of Edmund Bickerstaff, and how he tried to see into the other world, the world of the dead, by using a thing he made, called the ‘bone glass’. It is a combination of seven Sources, the small doorways that ghosts and spirits can get through, so he could technically make a hole big enough to see through.

This is a dangerous job, and when Bickerstaff died, he kept the glass with him. Lockwood & Co. dig it up, and release a ton of bad things, including a ghost, a problem, a fight between Lockwood and Fittes Agencies (Lucy and the rest of the team’s main enemy) and lots of excitement.

-Iris

*Nest* by Esther Erlich

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Nest is the heartwarming and heartbreaking story following the life of Chirp, or Naomi (her given name). Chirp is in love with birds, and wakes up early each weekend to hopefully see a rare glimpse of the red-throated loon. She has a (mostly) loving teenage sister, Rachel, a sometimes annoying physiatrist father (he likes to ask his children if there is anything happening, and if they need help, they can always come talk to him about it. He is always there for them), Sy, and her dancer mother. Her mom, Hannah, works at a dance company in their town, and she lives for dancing. She has a long, willowy frame, and beautiful, sweeping brown hair. Lately she has not been getting to go to her dance company, because her leg has been having problems.

Then, the doctor tells them that her mom probably has multiple sclerosis. MS is a disease where an abnormal response to the nerves leads to the immune system attacking the nerve fibres, and the protective sheath around it, called myelin. When any part of the myelin or nerve is injured, the nerve impulses going to the brain are disrupted, and any number of things can happen after that. Chirp’s mother has been having depression, walking problems, tiredness, and mood changes. Every single one of these are symptoms of MS, and she and her family are devastated.

As her mother is getting sicker and sicker, Chirp has problems of her own. She has no real friends, and 6th grade is a big step. The brothers of a maybe-friend Joey tease her, and when she grows closer with him, she realizes that he has family problems of his own. His mother is cowardly, and his father beats him and his brothers.

Then one day, Chirp comes home from school and can’t find her mom. Rachel tells her that her mom took a fall. Her father found her and brought her to the hospital. But not any hospital. The best one in the area, the mental and physical hospital in Boston.

Days go by, and finally Thanksgiving arrives. Instead of going to their grandparents house like normal, they go to the mental hospital with a freshly baked meringue pie and two smuggled-in clam strips. They are ready to see their beautiful mom, have her lemon and lavender scent fill the room, and to have her say, let’s get home. Chirp, will you help me pick lilacs?

No. Her mother is grey and depressed, and smells of bleach. She doesn’t want to see them any longer than five minutes.

They drive home, stunned, but then, a couple days later, her father says they have found a possible cure. They are very excited, but then Chirp’s father tells her that they will have to use a small electrocution, and the only side effects might be a tiny bit of memory loss, a day or two. Rachel freaks and refuses to let their father agree. He does let the doctors do it, and then they come home from school. Their mother is there. She is perfect. Almost. Some things are wrong. Suddenly she is obsessed with cleaning, and making lists. Then Rachel asks her if she liked the lemon meringue pie they made her, and she doesn’t remember. Before the MS hit her, she would go out with Chirp to see the spring emerge. Now, she says that it hurts her eyes.

‘ “Oh, my God,” Mom says. She covers her face with her hands. She doesn’t remember. She doesn’t remember us giving her the pie. “Some memory loss isn’t uncommon after all shes been through.” Dad says… “I’m so sorry, girls,” Mom says. Now shes crying… My mouth feels gross, like I’ve been swallowing marsh water.’ pg. 208

Everything seems to be alright, but one day her father comes into school and tells her to come with him. Her mother left a note on the counter, that she didn’t want to make this hard on them, but she couldn’t live like this, so she was sorry and she was at the pond. Her mother died, committing suicide right after her family got her back from her death-like state of depression.

Days after the funeral, Chirp sees Joey in front of her house. He says they can go “away”, so away they go. First they go to the old broken down house that Joey goes to when he is angry, then they go to Boston on a bus to see the Swan Boats.

Then what they did catches up to them, and they call Chirp’s dad. He picks them up, and they go home.

-Iris

*The Twistrose Key* by Tone Almhjell

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The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell, tells a story of a young girl named Lin (Lindelin) who used to live in a beautiful farm called Summerhill, but when one of her parents got a job somewhere else, she moved to an old, creaky, scary house on the coast, where some of the house is held up by posts in the water.  She knows something about this house is strange, so when she gets  a package with the name Twistrose scraped into the paper with what she thinks was a knife, she immediately starts to investigate.  The package contains a strange key called Twistrose, and a plain cellar key. The Twistrose key is a beautiful key with dripping thorns carved on it, and it is very sharp. She goes down into the cellar and finds a strange root formation on the wall of the cellar, where a hole looks as if it would just fit the Twistrose key. When she turns the key, she is pulled into the strange world of Sylver, where any pet who has truly been loved goes after it dies. She meets her long-lost pet bank vole Rufus there. She arrives when the Wanderer Star is in the sky about Sylver.  The Wanderer Star is a special star that stays above Sylver for nine hours, and at the end of those nine hours, one of the Winterfyrsts (that’s a rare family who are humans but are made of ice and have their souls in a magic globe) must perform the hardest spell of their kind and keep the protecting spells of Sylver alive so Sylver doesn’t get taken over by Nightmares.  Nightmares are evil spirits that are made of the worst fears of children, and if there wasn’t protecting spells on Sylver, they would come and kill all the Petlings (the pets who live there).  But Isvan Winterfyrst, the last Winterfyrst, has mysteriously disappeared, and they are pretty sure that the Nightmares have kidnapped him.

It turns out that Lin is a Twistrose, a human that can go between Sylver and the human world, and Sylver is only in dire need when a Twistrose has been called.  If a Twistrose completes its task, a statue is made of them, and it is put in Eversnow Square.  Lin is determined to complete her task, which is saving Isvan Winterfyrst and making sure he can complete his spell. The characters in The Twistrose Key are very realistic and you can relate to them easily even though the world is completely fantasy. This book is kind of Narnian, and if you like books about secret worlds and hidden doors, this is a very good book for you.

There is a song in the book called “the Margrave Song” about an evil villain who is controlling the Nightmares.  At the end of the book there’s sheet music for the song, and if any of you play music, it’s a very interesting song. I copied it into violin music and it is kind of strange but pretty.

Photo on 11-9-13 at 10.47 AM #2

-Celie 🙂

The Companions Quartet series by Julia Golding

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The Companions Quartet is an amazing series about a society called the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures.  Their main goal is to protect and keep the mythical creatures secret.  Each person in the society has a companion creature of a mythical creature, and that means they can bond with them and talk with them and understand the mythical creature.  One of the main characters, for example, Col, is a companion to Pegasi.  His companion creature is Skylark, a very young Pegasus who is also just starting his training.

Connie is the main character, and she has a very rare ability called being a Universal. She can bond with every single mythical creature, and she can talk with domestic and non-mythical creatures too. She is kind of a nerd and is well-liked by most of her classmates until she comes to live with her aunt. She didn’t know her aunt at all and was getting annoyed by all the society meetings she (her aunt) was going to, because at that point she didn’t know about the society.  But when she finally got admitted into the society after many problems (read it and you’ll find out), she finds out that they are fun and scary and a bit life-threatening.

The main “bad guy” is a shape-shifter called Kullevro.  He wants to wipe humanity from the face of the world, and to do it, he needs the Universals’ help.  It turns out that every Universals’ main companion is Kullevro, which means that Connie can’t kill him and she can’t kill him without bringing a great loss to themselves (it will make themselves depressed, unhappy, and unable to function). Each book in the series is themed on a different companion company; the companies are two and four-legged creatures, also called Two Fours, the Elementals, which are creatures of fire, wind, air and water (things like wood sprites, water sprites, fire imps, and weather giants, and rock dwarves), the Sea Snakes, which are reptiles and marine animals,  and winged creatures.  Skylark is a winged creature, for example.

These books are very well written and have a big theme on environmental damage to our earth, and they talk a lot about how we’ve impacted animals through what we’ve done and how animals have responded to this.  You realize that Kullevro is right, in a way, that humans need to be revenged for all they’ve done to animals, and animals have done nothing to pay us back.  It makes you realize how much stuff we’ve done to the earth and how we need to stop doing it.

We’ve also read Julia Golding’s other series, the Cat Royal series.  It is just as good and we recommend you read it too!  It is about a girl named Cat Royal who lives in the theater of Drury Lane in London.  It is not fantasy but but satisfying in the time it is placed and how she fights back the stereotypes of girls.  The first book in that series is called The Diamond of Drury Lane.

-Celie and Iris 🙂

Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library

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We both loved Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein.  It was incredible! The plot is: Kyle Keely figured out that if you won the essay contest with the prompt of “What I’m Excited About for the New Library” (there’s going to be an amazing new library in town), you get to go to a one-night lock-in at the library, before everyone else, to explore its wonders. Mr. Lemoncello is a really famous game-maker, and he decided that kids needed a library in town if they wanted to learn anything, when the old library got torn down.  So he made a super-secret gigantic library where none of the workers were able to see what the others were working on.  The library was made on the old Gold Leaf bank, which was the most incredible building in the old town.  It was gigantic, and had a 200-pound vault door which was nearly impossible to break into.

His librarian, Miss Z., set up a game where in 24 hours, all the contestants have to escape from the library without using the front door or the fire escapes. The lock-in was described as just, you bring a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a sleeping bag and you spend the night in the factory.  But at the beginning, there was a contest for who gets to sleep in Mr Lemoncello’s suite in his super-luxurious four-poster bed with a private bathroom (instead of on the floor in some hallway). There were different clues and things you could do to get levels up, like if you completed a different kind of random puzzle, you would get a super-duper clue which would get you closer to the answer.

On the bus, Kyle’s friend Akimi tells him about the essay, which he didn’t know about before.  He really really wanted to win the essay contest.  He wrote a one-sentence essay on the bus (that’s all he had time to do), but he knew he wasn’t going to win.  His essay was, “Balloons. There might be balloons.” But it turns out that Mr Lemoncello himself is judging the contest, and he is super-eccentric.  While Lyle has a chance, when he gets back from school, he emails another better essay to Mr Lemoncello– but Mr Lemoncello does not accept emails. Kyle is super-dismayed.  In the end about twelve kids win the contest and get to compete.  Could Kyle still have a chance?

The book is very well-written and funny. We think it is very much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the way that you have to win the “golden ticket” to go to the chocolate factory or do the lock-in.

-Iris and Celie 🙂