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Pop Bop "Pause and Reflect" RSS Feed (Denver, Colorado, United States)
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Once Upon a Blue Moose
Once Upon a Blue Moose
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $5.12

5.0 out of 5 stars Can You Dig It? I Knew That You Could., July 10, 2014
You know how a pianist does short pieces of music as an exercise to limber up his digits before starting to really play? That's what it seems like Pinkwater is doing in this book. It especially seems like an exercise book because this volume collects the three short Blue Moose novellas, each of which is composed of a number of Blue Moose tales and incidents. That's fine by me because it's great to have all of the Blue Moose pieces together in one volume.

Pinkwater's books for kids are full of whimsy and charm and the absurd. They almost always have very self-possessed kids as the heroes and have a lot of loopy action. His books for teens address life truths with a complete acknowledgment that life is complicated, incomprehensible and yet to be embraced fully. The teen books usually have fairly structured plots with the action circling back around until they suddenly make sense at the end.

But when he isn't entertaining children or instructing youth in his cheerfully oblique way, sometimes he has fun just wandering around.

And this is a wandering book. All three novellas are character sketches about Blue Moose. The Blue Moose arrives at Mr. Breton's restaurant and makes himself at home as the maitre de and ultimately as Mr Breton's friend. Blue Moose writes a novel; he solves a mystery; he visits relatives; he searches for a vampire moose. But Blue Moose maintains his distance and keeps mostly to himself, allowing the rest of the world to spin slowly around him while he makes hilariously cryptic remarks. Pinkwater offers some wonderful set pieces, some great throwaway lines, some graceful observations, and a considerable number of completely anarchic conversations composed almost entirely out of non sequiturs.

The beauty of Pinkwater's books, and maybe it's particularly evident here, is that they work for readers of every age. "Blue Moose" will tickle a youngster's fancy while at the exact same time entertaining the adult who is reading it with a kid. Maybe Pinkwater's encouraging kids to think like grownups and maybe he's showing adults how to think like kids, or maybe he's just showing us all how to think like him, but whatever he's doing, it works. You owe it to yourself to try one of his books, and this is one of the best to start with. You can dig it.

Please note that I finally found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Oddfellow's Orphanage
Oddfellow's Orphanage
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just, Plain, Good, July 10, 2014
You can't make a decent cake with just sugar; you need more ingredients than that. You can't make a "sweet" book with just sweet thoughts; you need more...something...than that.

This is a good, kind story book. It's like a fairy tale - with an onion headed boy, a hedgehog student, dancing bears, a comet, a circus. But it's set in an orphanage, and the characters are children who have been abandoned, lost and misplaced. In the background there is pain and sadness and some melancholy. But in the foreground there is hope and affection and protection and care and concern, and, perhaps most important, safety.

These are little miniatures of stories; in them the lost are found, the sad are comforted, the sick are healed. The orphans support and help and sustain each other. The adults guide and protect the orphans. This is a world of grace and mystery. Fall arrives. Christmas is celebrated. Haircut day is organized.

The style is perfectly balanced - fantastic scenes are described in a frank, realistic style; prosaic events are presented in a fantastic style. The stories, like the book as a whole, are warm and comfortable. There is no irony; the author does not distance herself from the simple task of creating these warm tales. Friendship, happiness and affection infuse every page.

The book isn't precious; it isn't loud; it isn't straining to make any particular point. I can easily imagine this as a favorite bedtime book, possibly helping to sustain the spirit of the adult reader even more than that of the young listener. It's that good and modest and honestly felt.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!
Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $3.04

4.0 out of 5 stars The Original Holds Up Well, July 10, 2014
These are very cool books with an interesting history. This original "Flat Stanley" appeared in 1964 and five more books were published between then and 2003. When the original author, Jeff Brown, passed away in 2003, the series was converted to the "...Worldwide Adventures" line. These new books, (there are at least ten), have been written by a variety of authors, including Sara Pennypacker, the well known author of the very engaging "Clementine" books.

Still, though, this is the original, has a cheerful family friendly 60's vibe, and has weathered the passing decades very well. In this volume we learn about how Stanley ended up flat, we experiment with Stanley as a kite, we mail him to California, and for a socko finish we foil a robbery. MILD SPOILER. Stanley gets unflattened at the end of the book, but we know he was so popular that he ended up getting reflattened for later volumes.

These books have more going for them than just the "flat" gimmick, although that is a pretty good hook. The overall feeling is one of innocent gung-ho good-guy adventure. The deadpan acceptance by everyone of Stanley's flatness has a pretty subtle positive message, which is high-lighted from time to time by Stanley's parents just so we don't miss it. The good-guys versus bad-guys angle is always clear and crisply presented. There is a lot of dry humor and just a little bit of an arch kidding of the material in the narrative. Moreso than in any of the other books there is a lot of byplay between Stanley and his mildly envious younger brother Arthur, and there are some touching scenes between them toward the end of the book; something I wouldn't necessarily expect in such an otherwise jokey story.

So, while at one level the books are sort of silly, they are written with flair and energy and touch a lot of early readers' favorite bases. Certainly this book would be a zippy and engaging addition to the library and a nice choice to try on an early reader.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


The Slime That Would Not Die #1 (Monster Squad)
The Slime That Would Not Die #1 (Monster Squad)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $4.27

4.0 out of 5 stars A Conventional Setup, Nicely Done, July 9, 2014
O.K., maybe a squad of kid monster hunters isn't the freshest idea to come down the pike, but this series has a clever enough hook, and an interesting enough squad, and a nice enough touch that I could see a younger reader diving into it.

The setup in this Book One of the Monster Squad series takes a while to come together. The deal is that third generation monster movie maker Oswald Leery's monster vision camera work has gotten so advanced that actual monsters are coming down from the screen to terrorize the populace. Our squad of four heroes is composed of the four kids who are the biggest fans of Leery's B-Monster movies and who also have relatives who were closely involved in the early days of B-Monster films. MILD SPOILER. Their task is to help round up the monsters that have escaped from Leery's movie studio/home and to destroy each monster by destroying its original film reels.

We have an interesting mix of kids - our regular guy boy narrator, a ninja type girl, a fashionista type popular girl, and a quasi-reformed bully. That's not a bad line up and is a little different from the usual. The setting in this first volume is mostly in the weird town of Riddle, (which has sort of been infected by Leery's activities), and the Leery mansion/studio, which is large, creepy and full of surprises.

The action is pretty standard, but what distinguishes this book is the author's attention to the authenticity of the characters. While they may be "types" a lot of effort is invested in allowing them to develop distinct personalities and histories, and the descriptions of the characters and their thoughts and reactions is natural, realistic and engaging. Because the reader can feel confident about investing in these characters the author has a lot more freedom to spin out less and less plausible plot developments. You're just happy to follow along with these kids and to play along with the book's premise.

So, while it might not be the most heavyweight book on the shelf this is an honestly entertaining creature feature and a very engaging entertainment. Sounds good to me.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire (Book #1)
Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire (Book #1)
Price: $4.61

4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Premise That Grows On You, July 9, 2014
The deal here is that kids who manifest supernatural characteristics - vampires, zombies, witches, werewolves, and so on - are whisked away along with their immediate families to "Scream Street" - a special secure neighborhood for dangerous paranormal creatures. As a consequence and out of necessity the kids and their families have created an odd isolated community.

Now this set up could lead to a lot of really heavy handed social commentary, but the author treats the obvious metaphor with a fairly light touch, preferring to emphasize the humanity and decency of these mistreated souls. The kids are like kids anywhere, and they band together for play, amusement, friendship and mutual protection. Not to put too fine an edge on it, you end up with an odd, quirky, cheerful sort of semi-dystopian tale.

The plot centers on our hero Luke's attempt to get the rest of his family, (as a werewolf he is the only "unusual lifeform" in the family), back to the "normal" world. He has to go on a quest to find six relics in order to open the exit from Scream Street and return his parents to the real world. That's O.K.; pretty much any work of fiction is some sort of quest. Luke is aided by a kid who isn't actually a vampire, but whose parents are, and a Mummy girl who is probably the funniest and most spirited mummy girl you'll ever find. They are surrounded by a carnival of weird, amusing, and engaging secondary characters, although most people particularly favor the the slacker surfer dude zombie.

All of this is played for laughs, although the edgy set up is always in the background adding a bit of weight to the proceedings. Some of the jokes are predictable but there are also some sly and slippery bits for older readers. There's a lot of action, although in deference to younger readers it's mostly slapstick and a bit cartoony. The upshot is that you get a book that's engaging, funny, pretty tightly constructed, and crafted to be much more than just a gross or dopey yuckfest. As I read this I appreciated more and more, as the story went on, how nicely the author had balanced the jokes, plot, characters and action - with the result being a pretty satisfying and entertaining tale. A nice find for your younger readers who want action/comedy/creatures with a bit of novelty.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Brash, Edgy and Fun, July 9, 2014
I expected this to be an engaging spooky adventure, which it was. I did not expect it to be so funny or to be as appealingly precocious and strong on character as it turned out to be.

Gilda is in that special category of heroine who is smart, funny, quirky and alternately insightful and oblivious. That kind of heroine can wear well or not during the course of a book, depending on the reader's tolerance of her quirks and the author's skill. Here, the book is so full of good humor and energy, and substance, that one is carried along quite nicely by Gilda and her adventure.

While we have a spooky adventure, a spunky heroine, and some manic action, this is well balanced by Gilda's longing for her deceased Dad, cousin Juliet's teen depression, and the author's willingness to go a little deeper and darker than is usual for a middle grade haunting adventure. The fact that this is handled with a deft and sympathetic hand makes it all work, and there is keen insight and a generous spirit at work here.

The result is that this is a fine entertainment, but it is also an ambitious, and successful, meditation on loneliness and loss. What a rewarding and somewhat surprising find.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Raymond and Graham Rule the School
Raymond and Graham Rule the School
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Start to a Good Series - "We discussed life's mysteries...", July 8, 2014
I read Raymond and Graham's summer camp adventure book, (Raymond and Graham: Cool Campers), and enjoyed it very much. The two fourth graders have an excellent relationship - best friends who are loyal, supportive and honest with each other, and who encourage each other in the kind of knuckleheaded mayhem unique to fourth graders. I wondered if the entire series was as rewarding, and especially if this first book in the series, which is where most people would start, fairly reflects the appeal of these two guys. I am happy to report that what you get is what I hoped for - an engaging kid buddy comedy with humor, antics, a few revealed truths, and a happy ending. The entire book is tightly constructed, precisely observed, sharply written, and filled with generous and good-humored insight.

This book is not really very plot driven. Raymond and Graham are starting fourth grade and are planning, as the oldest elementary students, to "rule the school". Needless to say things don't work out that way. After numerous setbacks, missteps and small humiliations, which they usually fix, work around, or ignore, most of the various plot strands come together and wrap up nicely at the end. (While there are NO SPOILERS HERE, it is fair to say that there are at least a dozen set pieces along the way that honestly qualify as laugh-out-loud funny.)

What really drives this book is Raymond's narration and the conversations between Raymond and Graham. Do they sound like authentic fourth graders? Of course not. They sound like the smartest, funniest, driest, most insightful and most deadpan fourth graders you could imagine, channeled through the mind and the pen of a gifted author. Raymond has enough of the feel of a real kid, and his thoughts and experiences are translated to such an authentic kid level, that you believe you are peeking into his head and eavesdropping on his conversations with Graham and with all of his fourth grade friends. That is one heck of a trick for a writer to pull off.

I would think that a young reader would immediately like Raymond and Graham, would be amused by their banter and their antics, and would absorb some of the insight and wisdom from which they have been molded. I can't think of anything more that I would want from an elementary level book. It doesn't hurt that in these books parents are understanding and supportive, teachers know what they are doing, adults generally are dependable, and virtue ends up being rewarded - all without irony or even a hit of preachiness. A nice, warm find.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


My Zombie Hamster
My Zombie Hamster
Price: $10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Four Books in One, All Good, July 8, 2014
This review is from: My Zombie Hamster (Kindle Edition)
This really is a great example of how you can mash four different middle grade genres together and come up with a funny, exciting and very appealing book. This is a family foibles book, an alternate world book, a zombie book, and an adventures of a gang of four knuckleheads book.

The family foibles are along the lines of the Wimpy Kid pattern. Mom and Dad are unique and distinct personalities and a lot of the narrative is built on our kid hero's bemused but affectionate recountings of their behavior. (His explanation that he got a hamster instead of the video game he wanted because his parents were obviously experimenting "to see what kind of adult they can create by constantly disappointing me as a child" is priceless. As is his history of failed New Year's Eve parties.)

As to the alternate world, hero kid lives in a walled city. The city is walled to keep zombies out and there is a complete world built on remote Zombie Zappers, the Zombie Squad, citizens wearing life chips that alert the Zombie Squad if anyone dies and goes zombie, and so on.

The zombie action comes in the form of a pet hamster, which was a smuggled pet that got out, got zombified and is now terrorizing the populace inside the walls while our hero tries to capture it.

Finally, since our hero needs the help of a posse, we get his best friend, Charlie, a wiseguy take charge gal, and his two next best friends - Calvin, who's a bit dim and Aren, who's the brains of the operation.

And of course the glue that holds this all together is Matt, who has to deal with his family, explain how his city works, agonize over the zombie hamster problem, and keep his gang moving in the right direction. Matt takes you into his confidence right off the bat and his intimate and open style is winning.

One of Matt's most appealing characteristics is his exaggerated sense of calm and common sense - exhibited as the plot, his schemes, and the complications of having a zombie hamster spin more and more out of control. It is the working of the middle grade mind in the midst of chaos, (sort of like a young Buster Keaton), that I found very amusing and appealing.

The humor ranges from slapstick to clever wordplay. (Max names the zombie hamster, originally named "Snuffles", the "Anti-Snuffles". Girl pal Charlie likes "Auntie Snuffles" and will only help Max if they agree the hamster's name is Auntie Snuffles. Max agrees, but only uses "Auntie" ironically. Dim friend Calvin stares at a carton of orange juice for half an hour because it says "concentrate" on it. I just think that's pretty sharp and clever stuff for middle grade zombie humor.)

So, funny, engaging, loaded with clever ideas and puckish humor, and populated by likeable characters. A very nice find.

Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Tales of the Hidden World
Tales of the Hidden World
Price: $6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's Easy Being Green, July 8, 2014
The bottom line is that this is a fine read, but there are lots of different opinions about why that is so. Some suggest that this is a good introduction to Simon Green for those unfamiliar with his body of work. Others felt the book was an interesting summing up his work to date. Some like the fact that this is a wide ranging sampler; but some sought a unifying theme or preferred the author's longer stand alone works.

For Green fans, there is a bit of the Nightside, a lengthy taste of the Droods, a few other stories that prefigure later series and a few tales that improvise and work variations on often encountered themes. For super fans there is a note from the author at the end of each story that offers some insight into how and why the story was written.

On the other hand, if you are new to Green I'm not entirely sure this collection will offer a complete picture. The Nightside story isn't as clever, witty or satisfying as an actual Nightside book. The story of the Droods' armorer doesn't have the personality and depth I associate with each of the books. And so on.

For my part I thought some of the briefer stand-alone stories were interesting, and I enjoyed reading the stories from earlier in Green's carer to see how he had developed over time. This book offered a fine opportunity to read a short Green tale in a quiet moment. There were some surprises and some comforts, but it was mostly having a chance to dip in and out that I liked.

Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


Araminta Spookie 1: My Haunted House
Araminta Spookie 1: My Haunted House
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $5.12

4.0 out of 5 stars Cheerfully Spooky With Some Deadpan Edginess, July 7, 2014
The School Library Journal, with its typical disapproving school marm attitude, dismissed our heroine Araminta as "peevish". But since they'd probably just consider Hamlet a spoiled, indecisive mamma's boy, I was not dissuaded. I'm glad I soldiered on because Araminta's character struck me as a complete deadpan hoot. Comparisons to other books and characters are usually a lazy way to make a point, but it strikes me as fair to say that Araminta certainly bears a strong family resemblance to Tuesday Addams of Addams Family fame. I think that's swell.

She has the same dark, deadpan style, although lightened up a bit for the book's younger readers. There is more spunk and energy, and more cheerful deviltry. The book's plot revolves around Araminta's attempts to thwart the sale of her family's ancient rambling haunted house, and in the service of that plot we range all over that delightfully creepy pile. There are hidden passages, secret rooms, dark corners, deadends, abandoned wings, dark sub-basements, and so on that we get to navigate with Araminta. The denizens of this funny/creepy house are not scary - this is not a horror book. They are a little scary sometimes but mostly just cheerfully ethereal.

Araminta's schemes to frustrate the house sale never reach that obnoxious level that starts to become off-putting, and the skirmishes between Araminta and her Aunt Tabby, (who wants to sell the house), are played more for laughs than as examples of childish rebellion. The whole enterprise is just too light and airy to carry much in the way of messages.

While it seems to me that the book doesn't break any new ground, the ground it does cover is fun, and this is probably mostly due to the author's restraint and light touch. This isn't manic action stuff; it's crisp and accessible and aims for cheerfully anarchic chuckles. That works for me and I suspect it would be manageable by and entertaining for a fairly new reader.

Please note that I found this book while browsing the local library's Kindle books, and downloaded it for free. I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.


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