Bodeen, S.A. The Gardener. New York: Fewel and Friends, 2010. Print.
Mom: Describe the two main characters in 2-3 adjectives each:
The Dude: Mason is big, smart, and brave. Laila is odd, vulnerable, and intelligent.
Mom: Why do you say she’s odd?
The Dude: She threw a football player over a fence! And she blurts things out that seem both random and creepy.
Mom: Where does the story take place?
The Dude: In a small town in Oregon and in the Portland Metro area.
Mom: I liked how the writer worked in details like MAX (the lightrail system) and Powell’s Bookstore. In 2-3 sentences, tell me what happens in the story?
The Dude: Mason finds Laila in a coma, and when she wakes up, terrified, he and his best friend, Jack, help her escape. But when Mason and Laila go to a research lab to find some answers, the truth is more shocking than they could’ve guessed.
Mom: How believable is it.
The Dude: Not very.
Mom: Why not?
The Dude: It’d be too noticeable to have a factory like that. The FDA would come.
Mom: What would Mason say about genetic testing?
The Dude: I think he’d be okay with looking at blood to see what diseases people might get, but I don’t think he’d like changing anyone’s DNA, even if it made people healthier. He wouldn’t want to be messed with like that.
Mom: Considering what you know about the world and what you read in the book, do you worry about food shortages in Earth’s future?
The Dude: Nope. We’ll figure it out before it gets too bad.
Mom: A terrorist group gets a hold of the factory, and it’s up to Mason and his now teenage son to get the experiments back-- hopefully without destroying any of them. Okay, that’s not the plot for a sequel, as far as I know. I made it up. But really, if another Greenhouse book came out, would you read it? Why or why not?
The Dude: Probably. The first book was pretty good.
Mom: How many stars?
The Dude: ˜˜˜˜1/4
Mom: Hey readers-- here’s your chance at the action: we’re giving away a copy of THE GARDENER! “How do I get in on this?” you ask. Easy-peasy! Leave us a comment to say you want to enter the contest (don't give us your address- we'll work out the mailing when we announce the winner). Old followers who comment will get two extra entries. New followers who comment will get one extra entry. Leave us a link to your post about the contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter, and you get another extra entry. Entries must be received by November 29, 2010 by midnight, PST. So, simple enough, right? Spread the word, friends. And read on, Dudes and Grrlz!
Disclaimer: Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, sent us a free, uncorrected proof of this book. Our other reviewed books so far have come from our own shelves or from the public library. We did not get paid to review this book, but we did receive a free copy.
Shan, Darren. Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2000. Print.
Mom: What’s the hook of the story? What gets things started?
Dude: The back of the cover.
Mom: That’s not what I meant, although the cover on ours is pretty cool, all shiny and foil-embossed. What I meant was what’s the first important thing that happens?
Dude: One of the main character’s best friends steals a flyer from his brother. It’s for a freak show that’s coming to town.
Mom: My favorite act would’ve been the Snakeboy. What about you?
Dude: The Wolfman.
Mom: Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this one’s also got a first person narrator. But this time, it’s the author, himself, like an autobiography. This confused me a little at first, actually, especially because he starts off by saying, “This is a true story.” Did this seem weird to you?
Dude: No, he’s just trying to get you interested.
Mom: Anyways, give an adjective or two to describe Darren Shan’s personality.
Mom: And for two other important characters:
Steve “Leopard” (Shan’s best friend): “Hot-headed and persistent”
Mr. Crepsley: “Modest and manipulative”
Mom: Except for the freak show, this town seemed like average Normalville. Could you even tell what country it took place in?
Dude: Yes, I think it’s probably Britain.
Mom: I can’t give too much of a spoiler here, but Darren makes a really, really bad decision that changes his life forever. If that leads us to a theme for this book, what would it be?
Dude: Suspense / horror.
Mom: No, that’s it’s genre, the type of book. What’s the writer’s main point?
Dude: Shan learns why you shouldn’t steal. There’s repercussions if you do.
Mom: This book is part of a series. Would you read the next ones? Why or why not?
Dude: I’d read the others. I liked the first one.
Mom: The story had some definite gross-out factors. I, for one, DO NOT LIKE SPIDERS!! Ugh. Gives me the shivers just thinking about one of the freak show acts. Did the gross stuff ever get to be too much for you? Do you think it’s more of a page-turner or turn-off for readers?
Dude: I don’t think it’s either of those, really.
Mom: I can touch my tongue to my nose. What’s your own personal freak show act?
Dude: Eating good food. Sleeping.
Mom: If I could make up my own new and improved freak show act, I’d be able to hypnotize people with my eyes. I saw a hypnotist show once, and it was EXCELLENT! If you could make up an act (like trapeze artist, lion tamer, etc.) what would you do?
Dude: Bring back the dead.
Mom: On a scale of 1-5 stars, how would you rate this book?
Mom: Last but not least, what flavor pudding would go best along with this book?
Final note: We’re reading a Preview Copy of THE GARDENER for our next review and we’ll have a special contest giveaway!
What to read next? There's so many books out there, it can be hard to decide. While my son and I plan on reviewing CIRQUE DU FREAK: A LIVING NIGHTMARE after this, we would love to hear from you on what you're reading and what you'd like us to feature. So leave us a comment. And writers, if you have your own book you'd like us to consider, ARC's would be great. We promise to return them, and we'll send you a copy of the review before we post it. Interviews? That could be fun, too. Trailers? We'll post 'em, sure.
Brewer, Heather. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print.
Mom: Right off the bat, I’m going to tell readers you’ve read three of this series. I liked this first one, & I do plan on reading more. What captured your interest with them?
Dude: That Vlad’s life pretty much sucked. He had try to act normal all the time. And bad stuff is always happening to him.
Mom: As a vampire, the main character has some special abilities. I liked that the writer still made him, personality-wise, like a teenage boy. Describe him a little.
Dude: Yeah, it’s cool that he can levitate and read minds. Well, physically he was pretty pale and rather skinny. Personality-wise he‘s a little sarcastic, but he doesn‘t let it go too far. He’s quiet but friendly to people he knows well.
Mom: For side characters, his best friend, Henry, is clear-- the guy all the girls drool over. Then there’s his substitute teacher, Otis Otis. I like the little details the writer gives for him, like the top hat. The only side character I can’t visualize is his aunt, Nelly. I’d say she’s thoughtful because of what she says and what she does for Vlad, but I can’t picture what she looks like. Do you know what I mean?
Dude: Yes, I definitely know what you mean because the author gives very little adjectives concerning Vlad’s aunt Nelly.
Mom: The writer wove in references to the original DRACULA all through the book, but I really noticed it with the names of towns, like Stokerton. Kind of clever. What I liked even more, though, was the concept of Elysia, the vampire community that exists alongside the real world. Like the “corporate headquarters” Vlad visits at the end of the book. If vampires invented Play station, who invented Wii?
Dude: Well, that’s rather obvious. It was the werewolves, of course.
Mom: Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say that I enjoyed the plot, how stuff that seemed to be unrelated fit together in the end. What do you think?
Dude: I think that you’re right; in the end almost everything fit together, but the things that didn’t fit together yet will get solved in the books to come.
Mom: Though it is a vampire story, it’s also about a teenage boy. What did you think about the “normal” part of the plot?
Dude: That the “normal” part was greatly affected by the non-normal part of the plot. For example, he gets picked on by these two bullies, Bill & Tom, so he gets back at them by reading Tom’s mind and using his secrets. Maybe it’s not a nice thing to do, but I might do it, too, if I were Vlad.
Mom: So, here’s another way of thinking about theme. Look at what the main character learns. What did Vlad learn about himself in the book? Does it relate to real people?
Dude: Vlad learned that not all vampires are blood sucking freaks, but most of them are. In terms of real life, some people are nice and others aren’t. You can’t tell by looking at them; you have to figure it out for yourself.
Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. New York: Amulet Books, 2007.
Mom: Greg Hefley is the narrator and main character. If he went to your school, would you be friends?
Dude: We probably would because he’s usually a pretty cool dude, when he isn’t dorking out or taking advantage of his friends.
Mom: Rowley is the next most important character. How would you describe his relationship with Greg?
Dude: Greg mostly manipulates Rowley into doing all of the dirty work. At first, Rowley didn’t care much but then Greg pushed him too far, but I won’t ruin it for you.
Mom: Greg says middle school is the “dumbest idea ever invented” because kids like him have to go to school with “gorillas who need to shave twice a day.” Is it really as bad as that?
Dude: No. He doesn’t really get picked on that much at school. He gets bullied more by his older brother at home.
Mom: Middle Grade books are sometimes criticized for relying on gross-out humor. One gross-out element in this story, the “cheese touch,” totally cracked me up because it reminded me of all the superstitions we had when I was in school. What did you think about the disgusting stuff in this book? Was it the biggest source of humor?
Dude: The cheese touch is the main one, but there’s also Fregley’s booger.
Mom: Aside from school, Greg’s home is the other main setting. The family relationships with the three brothers reminded me of your best friend. What do you think?
Dude: Yep, the little brother’s always trying to get attention by doing weird things like whining that Greg’s trying to make him eat an orange-sized spider, which is of coarse not true. The older brother, Roderick, pulls pranks on Greg all the time. My friend’s big brother isn’t quite as mean as Roderick, though.
Mom: What do you think of Greg as a story-teller? How honest is he?
Dude: I think Greg exaggerates at times, but otherwise he probably tells the truth.
Mom: What do the pictures add to the book?
Dude: They make the characters more comical, and they give you a better idea of perspective, since Greg looks smaller than some of the other kids.
Mom: To me, plot was the weakest element of the story. There were lots of little complications, but no major problem for Greg to solve. The closest, maybe, was the trouble about the safety patrols. For me, usually a book has to have a big conflict to keep me reading, but not so with this book. I kept turning the pages anyway. Do you agree or disagree?
Dude: He didn’t face any big dangers, but I’d say another big conflict was with the Halloween teenagers. That had a little danger to it.
Mom: What do you think was the writer’s main point in the book?
Dude: Kids shouldn’t take advantage of their friends. Oh, and that Greg is very misunderstood.