MIDNIGHT FOR CHARLIE BONE by Jenny Nimmo

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Charlie Bone never thought he had any special powers.   After all, his father never had any special powers, unless you count his incredible talent as a pianist.  He was an embarrassment to the family–at least that’s what Grandma Bone believes.  She doesn’t even seem upset that her son died in a mysterious car accident.  And she has never taken an interest in her grandson.  But when Charlie starts to hear voices coming from photographs, his grandmother and great-aunts take an immediate interest, and ship Charlie off to Bloor’s Academy, a school for gifted children where those students Endowed with magical talents, like Charlie’s, get special attention.

At Bloor’s, Charlie learns that all of the Endowed are descendants of the ancient Red King, and that centuries ago, the children divided into two factions: those who chose to use their powers for good and those who chose the opposite.  It quickly becomes clear that not only are Charlie’s wicked grandmother and great-aunts on the evil side of the spectrum, but Mr. Bloor, his son Manfred, and the mysterious and disheveled patriarch Mr. Bloor are even more so.  After sneaking out of the dormitory one night after curfew, Charlie and several of his friends overhear the Bloors discussing a “lost child.”  Charlie and his friends become determined to find the child and free her from whatever imprisonment in which the Bloors have ensnared her.  Charlie also learns from his friend Gabriel Silk (whose Endowment is to see into the lives of people who have worn a piece of clothing when he touches it) that Charlie’s father may not be dead after all.

There are eight books in the Children of the Red King series.  Potter fans might be disappointed by the somewhat flat characters and the significantly lower levels of humor, action, and suspense.  But I found myself growing more attached to the characters and more invested in the plot as the series went on.  Charlie and his group of friends remind me a lot of Dumbledore’s Army from HP5, working together with their various magical talents to resist the corrupt boarding school authorities and their mean student-henchmen.  Also, some of the magical powers are pretty cool. . . .

ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer

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Artemis Fowl, Jr., is not your average twelve-year-old.  For one thing, he is the son of an incredibly wealthy crime lord and has grown up surrounded by advanced technology and bodyguards.  For another, since his father’s disappearance and the onset of his mother’s mental illness, Artemis has virtually no adult supervision, managing his own life and the family’s assets.  And most importantly, Artemis is a genius.  It is precisely his unique position on the boundary of childhood and very mature adulthood that allows him to perpetrate his latest scheme–because when he learned of the existence of fairies, he was just innocent enough to believe in them, and plenty brilliant enough to concoct a foolproof plan to extort their gold.

After stealing the Book of the People from an alcoholic sprite in Vietnam, Artemis returns to his home in Ireland to crack the fairy language and learn all of their secrets.  He then proceeds to Phase Two of the plan: kidnap a fairy and hold him for ransom, threatening to reveal their secret, underground world to the humans if the Lower Elements Police (LEP) do not comply with his financial demands.  Unfortunately for Artemis, he kidnapped Captain Holly Short, an officer in the LEP Recon division, and she just may be his match.  While Artemis uses his brilliant mind to stay one step ahead of Commander Root and the LEP technology, and his formidable bodyguard Butler keeps the perimeter secure, Holly tries to find a way to escape and take down the super-genius “mud-man.”

This book is a great blend of science fiction and fantasy, popular among upper elementary and middle grade readers (and certain nerdy librarians . . . ).  The characters are fantastic, there is a decent amount of action, and humor is blended in quite nicely.  I highly recommend this series to both eager and reluctant readers.  There are eight books in the series.

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

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Director: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 127 min

This was on T.V. yesterday, and I couldn’t help watching it!  It is one of my favorites.

Indiana Jones, the adventurous archaeologist, learns that his father (played by Sean Connery) has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail in Venice.  Indiana also receives a package in the mail: his father’s diary with his notes and clues about the Holy Grail.  Knowing his father must be in trouble, Indiana Jones and Marcus Brody, the museum curate, travel to Europe and meet Dr. Elsa Schneider, his father’s colleague.  They begin following a trail of clues in Venice and immediately incite violence and mayhem all around them.  They also swiftly come to the realization that—as is the case in all good Indiana Jones movies—the Nazis are to blame. The mission becomes a race not only to rescue Indy’s father, but to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis get their hands on it.

I really love this movie.  It’s great action with a lot of humor, especially in the banter between Indiana Jones (“Junior”) and his father.  But I do like Raiders of the Lost Ark better, mostly because Karen Allen is by far a superior leading-lady, and Dr. Scheider’s fake Austrian accent is really annoying.  If Karen Allen were in this one, or if Sean Connery were in Raiders I would be a lot happier.  But still a great movie!

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)

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Director: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 135 min.

This film is based on the life of eminent mathematician John Nash.  It took a number of Oscars and Golden Globes in 2002 and well deserved them. The acting, writing, and directing were all wonderful.

John Nash has a brilliant mind, but his social skills are somewhat lacking.  He mumbles when he talks, avoids eye contact, and analyzes every situation–from pigeons in the park to women in bars–in terms of mathematical patterns.  His ability to see these natural patterns will lead him to his “equilibrium theory,” which has had a great impact on a number of scientific fields, especially economics.  As he completes his doctorate at Princeton and continues to a faculty placement at M.I.T., he gathers a small following of friends, colleagues, and admirers which will become a strong support network for him later in life.  Among them is his student Alicia de Larde who quickly becomes Alicia Nash.  But John’s brilliant work in mathematics brings him attention he did not anticipate.  Recruited by a mysterious government agent for an anti-communist code-breaking project, John finds himself swept up in a world of secrets, conspiracy, and danger.  As his secret life causes his behavior to grow erratic, Alicia begins to fear for her husband’s health and sanity.

The screenwriters take some liberties with the real story–glossing over a few periods of Nash’s life in order to make the John-Alicia love story more prominent, but those decisions serve the film well.  It is a great story, great cinematography, and great acting.  I enjoyed it immensely.

APPALOOSA by Robert B. Parker

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Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch don’t just enforce the law.  They are the law.  When they pass through a town that’s been having problems, they take over the justice system and clean the town up as sheriff and deputy.  They’ve done it again and again.  It’s a clean, easy system for Cole and Everett.  When they come to Appaloosa to take care of a renegade rancher, they assume it will be the same.  But they didn’t count on Allie French.

Gunfights, bandits, love triangles, kidnappings, and betrayals add adventure to a book that is, at its heart, a study of honor and friendship.  This was my first time reading a Western, and I have to say, I loved every minute of it!  Parker creates a sense of atmosphere and place through spare language and deliberate punctuation.  The pace is slow and laid-back and the tension of verbal confrontations leaps off the page.  If you like fast-paced books, this will probably frustrate you.  But if you like Westerns, or would like to try a Western, this one is really well written and a fun read.  I highly recommend it.  It is the first in a series.

I, FREDDY by Dietlof Reiche

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Freddy the Golden Hamster was born in captivity in a pet shop, and his great grandmother often told him of the Golden Hamster Saga—the desire of every Golden Hamster to reach Golden Hamster utopia in the Middle East.  Freddy’s brothers and sisters may be content to wait for this utopia until the Eternal Hibernation, but Freddy is determined to find happiness on his own.  He is determined to escape.  After learning a few endearing tricks from watching monkeys on the nature channel, he endears himself to little Sophie and her dad, Gregory, and finds himself on his way to a new home.  Once there, however, he realizes he has a new problem to worry about.  Gregory and Sophie are great, but Mom is his mortal enemy.  Freddy continues to use his great intellect to dodge problems, to learn to read, the escape from his cage, and to communicate with humans.

This is the first of Freddy’s adventures in the Golden Hamster Saga.  He is a funny, clever narrator and a lot of fun to read.  These books are on a 3rd-4th grade interest level.

If you liked I, Freddy, you might also like Mousenet or Babe, the Gallant Pig.

THE BONE COLLECTOR by Jeffrey Deaver

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Lincoln Rhyme was once the greatest forensic investigator the NYPD had ever seen.  That was before the accident that left him paralyzed and bedridden—only able to move one finger.   Although he once delighted in the intellectual puzzle of criminology, Lincoln Rhyme now desires only one thing:  his own death.   But when the NYPD asks for his help tracking down a serial killer with a strange fascination with human bones, Rhyme cannot resist taking a crack at the bizarre case—especially as it becomes clear that this serial killer is leaving clues specifically for Rhyme himself.  Energized by the mystery and his new partnership with the incredibly strong-willed and clever police officer Amelia Sachs who serves as his “arms and legs,” Rhyme postpones his assisted suicide and takes up the race to find the pattern behind the serial killer’s madness before he can claim another victim.

This mystery is a fast paced thriller with emphasis on the forensic aspects of detective work.  The characters are compelling and while enough information is provided for the reader to piece the mystery together, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Don’t read this book if you are squeamish; the serial killings are described in detail.  But if you like a good mystery thriller, I highly recommend it.  It is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series.

If you like forensic thrillers, you might like books by Tess Gerritsen.