What a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it...moreWhat a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it ends in the same manner. Persecution, death, isolation and fear line the pages of this book. Think of The Thickety as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but in this story, witches are real, people are needlessly killed and the future of the protagonist remains uncertain at the conclusion. I would say the story was almost perfect, but something about how the premise drew so heavily on the Salem Witch Trials made it feel a little derivative. Otherwise this book gets top marks for its levels of mystery, suspense and horror.
Kara's family has been shunned by her village since the death of her mother seven years ago. Kara's mother was executed for being a witch, and Kara nearly meets the same fate, but something strange happens during the test to determine this, and she is exempted from death. Then one day Kara finds herself in the Thickety, the forbidden forest at the edge of the village. Filled with danger and magic, Kara barely escapes, and she returns with a book that once belonged to her mother. This is where the story begins.
Despite its disturbing premise, I think this book is probably for 4th grade and up. We give Harry Potter to children even younger than this, but because it is so beloved we often forget that story begins with death, and all of the themes I mentioned above are found throughout the series, and they grow more and more intense in scope as the series progresses. It's hard to find age-appropriate horror, and I think this fills that void. I never read stuff like this as a kid. It was way too scary for me, and I rarely seek out the horror genre as an adult. But, for kids who delight in being scared (with a side of moral dilemma), this is a treat.(less)
This was a disjointed story that wasn't altogether bad, but it wasn't exactly good either. The illustrations are fun and probably would appeal to the...moreThis was a disjointed story that wasn't altogether bad, but it wasn't exactly good either. The illustrations are fun and probably would appeal to the intended middle grade audience, but I had trouble keeping track of exactly what was going on while reading. Plot lines were introduced seemingly out of nowhere and then incidents vanished with little resolution. I also found the portrayal of the Russian characters cartoonish, which gave this book an off-color and outdated feel. "Foreigners" are not funny, and I found that distasteful. This book is definitely a realistic portrayal of how adolescents talk and act, though, and that gives some validity to including this in a collection, despite the flaws I mentioned. Characters are 11 and 12, though I'm not sure the intended audience would have the understanding level required to get some of the references and jokes, even if kids do act that way in real life. (less)
Despite being intensely outlandish and anachronistic, this story zipped along nicely. Reviewers have said this is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of...moreDespite being intensely outlandish and anachronistic, this story zipped along nicely. Reviewers have said this is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and in some cases that's true. There is an art mystery, and kids solve it. However, the similarities generally end there. The characters were tenacious and dedicated to solving the mystery of a found painting, and readers will enjoy all of the research the characters do, which somehow is not boring. I think this book is good for what it is, but it could have been vastly improved easily. Most of the issues involve utterly insane coincidences, lack of detail about certain supporting characters and illogical plot lines that don't make sense in the real world. All in all though this was a good story. It's a fun read, but that's about all.(less)
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What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This book marked my first experience with Australian YA author Jaclyn Moriarty, and I'll be seeking out the rest of her work soon. A Corner of White perfectly reflected the gulf between the lives we want and the lives we have, in a highly original manner.
Madeleine lives with her mother in Cambridge, England, the World. She previously led a privileged life of travel, parties and adventure with her father and mother, until the day she ran away and her mother decided to follow. Meanwhile, Elliot lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello with his mother. This parallel universe, reached only through a tiny crack in the World, is similar in virtually every way to our known world. Except that colors are sentient beings that can attack and kill people or cause intense levels of emotion, depending on the shade of the color. Elliot and Madeleine have both been without their father for many months and are both coping with the loss in similar ways - determined denial that takes shapes in the form of recklessness with Elliot and a propensity to imagine the past with Madeleine.
The writing is funny, whimsical and pleasant. It's breezy and invites comparisons to E. Lockhart and Monty Python. It's hard to see where this story is going for much of the novel, as far as the plot is concerned. It's easy, however, to see where the story is headed regarding the problems these teens face. Elliot and Madeleine must come to grips with the pitfalls of relationships in many forms. They learn important lessons, and the author manages to keep the story free of an after-school-special tone.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, this is the first book in a trilogy. It's a promising first start, and I'm intrigued to see where the adventures of Madeleine and Elliot lead them. But, one gets tired of the waiting game all the same.(less)
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While highly readable, I found this story to be largely unsatisfying. Holly Black is clearly a g...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
While highly readable, I found this story to be largely unsatisfying. Holly Black is clearly a great writer, who can set an appropriately scary stage just right for the intended audience. But, I feel the author sacrificed plausibility and detail for plot and mood. Doll Bones is the story of three friends on the cusp of young adulthood, unsure of where they're headed in the future and reluctant to put away childish games they still enjoy. There is also an uneasy backdrop of neglect and possibly deeper trauma going on under the surface of their troubled family lives. While this book was quick-paced and chilling (and highly original for that matter), I was dissatisfied with how Black dealt with (or didn't in this case) the family issues going on in these kids' lives. I don't expect a neat resolution in real life, so I wouldn't expect one in a book. However, Black started to draw what could have been a compelling picture of familial disharmony and left it unfinished.
I think the book was too short. If it had been a little longer, the author could have successfully fleshed out the problems of Zach and Poppy (and to some degree Alice). I was particularly interested in Poppy's story, but that was primarily because just the right amount of story was shared about her family. Her background was perhaps the most complex and traumatic, but it's merely hinted at. Where was her older sister? Why did her family one day go from happy to unhappy? And, she clearly seemed to have some kind of deeper problem that was chalked up to a desire to keep things the way they were between herself and Zach and Alice.
While the adventure aspect of the book zipped along nicely, I found it to be incredibly implausible and highly coincidental on far too many counts. Where shall I start? The boat, the boat ride, the library, the librarian... It was all too easy, and then it was over. I really like the way the author tried to showcase the anxiety associated with growing up. To a certain extent, she succeeded, and kids will likely love the story at face value. I just felt that it fell a little short in quality to consider it really excellent.(less)
This started off as a fairly decent sequel to The Big Splash, the first book in this series about middle school detective Matt Stevens. However, the p...moreThis started off as a fairly decent sequel to The Big Splash, the first book in this series about middle school detective Matt Stevens. However, the plot spun pretty wildly out of control toward the second and all out caved in on itself by the end. This spoof on hard-boiled detective novels works on one level - it's episodic and very much resembles the dialogue of a TV show. There are stock characters and fairly easy to digest situational setups. Just the same, this book took a pretty bizarre turn toward the end that really didn't work at all and will probably leave most kids a little creeped out. I wouldn't recommend this book unless a kid was desperate for a mystery.(less)
The best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the con...moreThe best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the continuing evolution of the relationship between Mary and James. (less)
Another interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introd...moreAnother interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introductory story in the set. This time Mary Quinn is posing as a boy on a construction site, in an effort to find out the truth behind the mysterious death of one of the workers. Mary is also reunited with her sometime love interest James Easton. Their bickering still packs humor, but their interactions in this story are just a little more angst-ridden than in the last book. In all, this story had an altogether heavier aspect to it than A Spy in the House. The prose also dragged a little from time to time. All the same, lots of intrigue and back alley skulking to keep readers entertain. These books are super short and super engaging, even when they lag a little at times.(less)
This highly caricatured middle grade story in the vein of a Sam Spade mystery works well in spite of its formulaic setup and knock-off style. A good b...moreThis highly caricatured middle grade story in the vein of a Sam Spade mystery works well in spite of its formulaic setup and knock-off style. A good book for reluctant readers in particular due to its primarily tongue-in-cheek nature. Some willingness to give over to the unrealistic nature of the story is required to enjoy it, but sometimes that's what a fun book is about. Seventh-grade private eye Matt has been tapped by the school's shadiest kid boss to find out who put his famous squirt gun assassin in the "outs" at their junior high. Matt reluctantly takes on the case and soon comes to find out he can trust no one!(less)
Lots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her...moreLots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her fate by a mysterious woman who offers her a chance at a different but albeit unusual life for a girl living in Victorian London. A Spy in the House utilizes all of the best aspects of a Dickens mystery while eschewing the tedium and convolution. Just enough characters to add intrigue but not too many that you can't keep track of them.
A good book for girls who like historical fiction but feel alienated from the narrow lives the female characters often had to endure. This story shows all of the gritty underside of Victorian life while still remaining fun.(less)
This was good. A little shaky in the beginning, primarily related to setting up the elements of the mystery. Once you get into the third chapter or so...moreThis was good. A little shaky in the beginning, primarily related to setting up the elements of the mystery. Once you get into the third chapter or so you finally start piecing everything together and it becomes really fun.
Celie from the Lumatere Chronicles is the main character in this short story, which is a pretty typical mystery. No genre-bending here, though it's very good for the style. A creepy castle on a remote island and a bunch of suspicious characters, along with Celie serving as a spy for her homeland, make for the major plot elements. Sent to spy on a neighboring kingdom, Celie also gets caught up in a murder that takes place in the castle where she's staying.
Meanwhile, she has to solve the mystery alongside the castle's distant and prickly steward. Their back and forth is pretty run of the mill, but still entertaining. This story could have worked even better if it was longer I think, but the author seemed set on writing a quickie. I recently read on her Web site that another Celie adventure is coming down the pike though, so that should be interesting. I wouldn't mind reading about Celie's spy adventures in an episodic format. She was a likable character, with just enough nuance to keep you interested.
Those wondering how much of this story will play into Quintana of Charyn will probably be disappointed. While the action in Ferragost does affect the outcome of that novel, it's nothing to get excited about. This is an isolated work for the most part. You won't see Celie for more than a minute or two in Quintana, and the inhabitants of Ferragost don't make an appearance. Still, very quick reading that works for its intended purpose. It won't blow you away, but it was worth reading.(less)
Fun, engaging older YA book that replicates all of the entertaining aspects of Dickens while also dropping all of the tedious ones. This is the kick-o...moreFun, engaging older YA book that replicates all of the entertaining aspects of Dickens while also dropping all of the tedious ones. This is the kick-off in a four-part series set in Victorian London about Sally Lockhart, an orphan trying to solve the mystery of her father's death. Fun characters, though occasionally there are too many to keep track of. Sally was cool, though she could have had a little more depth to her at times. Same with the rest of the cast. However, they were all either likable or fun to dislike, so it was fine.
Concerned about the portrayal of Chinese culture in this story. True to how authors of the time would have portrayed Chinese people, but all the same it was stereotypical and negative.
Sally was done well - she takes an active role in her own destiny and doesn't conform to the typical Victorian portrayal of seeming either angelic or like a slag with no in-between. I'll probably get to the rest of the series eventually, but there's no pressing need to do so with this story.(less)
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In spite of coming off a little too clever for its own good and also being somewhat poorly const...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
In spite of coming off a little too clever for its own good and also being somewhat poorly constructed, I found myself wanting to read the next volume in this series. Who Could that Be at this Hour is an obvious nod to movies like the Maltese Falcon (this book even has a coveted figurine in it) and books like Thin Man (note sub-librarian Dashiell Qwerty). At times the adherence to the classic noir style was fun, but at other times this hemmed-in approach came off as formulaic and dry. I also did not appreciate the random references to certain classic children's books that only much later came to mean something that was kind of unnecessary. I have never read any Lemony Snicket stories; apparently this is a thing for him. The references didn't seem to expand the story, and all the constant asides from the character were distracting, though occasionally funny. I did like many of the characters, who were fun and quirky.
I'm not sure how to explain the premise of this book, because I don't quite get it myself: 13-year-old Lemony Snicket has just graduated from some kind of private-eye school for kids, and he is now completing an apprenticeship to an adult in his secret organization. He and the mentor S. Theadora Markson are sent to a small seaside town to investigate the theft of a statue of the legendary Bombinating Beast (here's where the Maltese Falcon enters). No one can figure out why it's so valuable, but it seems everyone wants it - young, old and unidentifiable. The mystery isn't solved by the end of this book, but the action moved along quickly enough that I'm willing to give this doubtful story a second chance in the sequel. There will be four books in this series.
I can unequivocally say I liked the color scheme, the illustrations and the font. Those things can really add something to a story. I also liked the mysterious Ellington Feint, a girl desperate to find her missing father and who will do anything to get him back. I also enjoyed Snicket's interactions with the journalist in training, Moxie Mallahan, who carries around a typewriter wherever she goes in hopes of finishing her stories.
All in all, kids will probably like this story in spite of the fact that I think it's a little too impressed with itself. Oh well. Sometimes a book can still be fun in the end.(less)
This was alright. Formulaic and tedious despite the fact that I did find some moments to be genuinely funny. However, I'm not going to lie - the funny...moreThis was alright. Formulaic and tedious despite the fact that I did find some moments to be genuinely funny. However, I'm not going to lie - the funny moments weren't exactly laugh out loud ones. The main problem with this book is that even though it read very quickly it was very dry. The narrative was far too winking and tried too hard to be witty and insightful. It had a kind of "See? That's me being funny right there" kind of tone. Some plot elements went nowhere, and I was particularly disappointed in what I saw as a lack of interesting development in the story of the original Will Halpin. The doppelganger aspect could have been unusual and psychologically layered. It just sort of came to a flat, predictable conclusion. The Scooby-Doo stuff (in this case Hardy Boys) was annoying after a while. I don't like Scooby-Doo elements in stories unless they're subverted in some way. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time until someone utters the phrase: "And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids." That aspect all came together far too easily. Clue after clue in the mystery of who killed Hamburger Halpin's classmate just fell into the laps of Halpin and his friends. I also found myself responding to Halpin in a fairly neutral manner. He just didn't grab me. I could have stopped that story at any point and felt OK with not knowing the ending. And what's the deal with the weird cover for the hardback edition? (less)
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A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A funny mystery that utilizes the conventions of gothic novels while still managing to subvert them. Kami is an outsider in the village of Sorry-In-The-Vale for several reasons - the main one being that she's never been shy about telling people that she has spent her entire life talking to a boy named Jared who exists only in her head. This has given her some grief growing up as you could imagine, but she's perfectly content to be herself and doesn't especially question why she's been hearing this guy's voice in her head since she was born. In fact, Kami is strangely confident in herself for the most part and has taken it upon herself to head the small English village version of the Scooby-Doo gang.
Kami runs her school paper, and her first assignment is to find out why the town's mysterious founders the Lynburns have suddenly returned after a 20-odd-year absence. The perfect sources for this investigation show up immediately, when cousins Ash and Jared Lynburn turn up as students at her school. Naturally, the Jared mentioned above eerily resembles the one she has heard in her head. What the two of them will do now that they are forced to confront the real existence of the other is simultaneously hilarious and yet also awkward and sad. Sara Rees Brennan takes what amounts to a fairly simple paranormal setup and gives it some depth worth discussing. The social awkwardness of teen relationships is magnified here by the happiness and excitement juxtaposed with the oddity and claustrophobia of having someone know what you're thinking and how you're feeling all the time. Rather than jumping past the uncertainty of wondering what another person is thinking, having Jared and Kami unable to escape each other just seems to make figuring out their new relationship to each other more difficult. I thought that was great.
The gothic part of the story comes into play with a string of mysterious murders with a Satanic bent that start popping up after the first few chapters. Everyone in this small town is a suspect, and even Kami's own mother is hiding something from her. The Lynburns' creepy old castle and the woods that seem to engulf people at the drop of a hat add nice touches to the side of this story that is a sendup of gothic tropes. It's also a nice touch having a new part of the book begin with a quote from 18th- and 19th-Century literary celebrities like Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Frost.
What I liked about this story is that Jared and Kami spend the first book in this series literally at arms length. Their newfound realness is fascinating and yet also horrifying to both of them. Most YA books would and have gone the route of creating a ridiculous, co-dependent, instantaneous relationship between the two of them. Kami and Jared are certainly very close, but they had no choice. Now having met, Kami begins to see the negative side of having someone pretty much know your every move whether you want it that way or not. Jared meanwhile does a good job of playing the part of a Byronic hero, moody and sneering and co-dependent. However, he has his funny side too, and he's not alienating.
Definitely looking forward to seeing how this story takes shape over the next book. The mystery was engaging as well, and for the most part I felt everything came together logically. This isn't a deep, mind-altering read, but it was pleasant and done well.(less)
Reading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most p...moreReading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most part. The pacing was great, though occasionally marred by ultimately pointless meditations on the current events of the day. All this talk of miners' strikes and IRA bombings didn't really impact the personal war going on between MI5 agent Serena Frome and writer Tom Haley. This book was so meta in its framework that the constant onion-like nature of the narrative unnecessarily made your head spin over nothing. Occasionally funny and also fascinating, but Sweet Tooth ultimately had too many flaws to succeed.
I can't say much about this without blowing the plot, but the outlook of this story was so self-indulgent and yet also so self-loathing and malicious that I kind of wanted to vomit a little. Didn't care for the Scooby-Doo turn of events - readers will see. As it turns out, the world Serena operates in as an MI5 employee is rather boring. It's dingy at the Leconfeld House headquarters, and it really sucks being a spy. You might think Serena is simultaneously worthless and yet also too good to be true. There's a reason why, though the exact intent behind this leaves me skeptical.
What I found to be the most interesting part of the book was the fact that the spying that actually went on amounted to the characters' desire to be watched in a sense. Rather than being voyeurs, in a strange way, they wanted others to turn their gazes on them. They wanted validation and purpose for their actions and lives, never mind the fact that they mostly let life happen to them except in certain cases. Boredom, a desire for distraction, general malaise, loneliness - England was failing pretty hard in the early '70s, and this book tries very hard to illustrate a national individual moral bankruptcy. There's some sense of good intentions, but not really in the end. In fact, the true nature of the story is so winking that it's hard to fully believe that what you thought was happening is in fact the opposite. I'm not convinced.
Did any of this make any sense? I hesitate to elaborate on the off-chance that someone doesn't see the end coming. Ian McEwan was far too impressed with himself with this one.(less)
A slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature...moreA slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature written all over it in the vein of stories like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremain. Avi mixes hefty amounts of period vocabulary and language with real historical figures to successful effect. Sophia Calderwood becomes a spy in the home of British General Clinton in hopes of avenging her brother's death at the onset of the war. It is there that she learns of a plot between a British officer who boarded in her family's home when she was 12 and a famous Continental general. Torn between duty to her country and her brother's memory and her lingering childhood feelings for the charming enemy officer who once lodged in her home, Sophia must decide which side she is on as the time draws near for the plot to be executed.
A little heavy on historical detail at times, but overall the reader can learn a lot about the period without growing so bored as to put the book down. Sophia is an admirable and realistic heroine, who behaves fairly authentically for a girl her age; she ages from 12 to 15 by the end of the story. The ending was a little dramatic, and I had trouble believing in the depth of some of Sophia's feelings, but on the whole, this was a riveting tale of espionage. And, the spy is a girl - a great hook to use during a book talk!(less)
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A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenom...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A fascinating story that sheds light on a turbulent time in Irish history, as well as the phenomenon of bog bodies. Fergus McCann's brother Joe is doing time in a Northern Irish prison for collaborating with terrorists during the Troubles - a brutal period in Irish history that culminated in violent deaths on the sides of Republicans and Unionists alike. Joe and the other prisoners in his bloc are undergoing a hunger strike as part of a protest, and this decision not only puts strain on Joe, but also his family.
Fergus doesn't have hardcore political affiliations. He believes in a united Ireland, but he believes more in getting out of a war-torn world and becoming a doctor, as long as he can pass his graduation exams.
From the outset of the story, the mood is gloomy, depressed and tense. Fergus and his uncle Tally begin the story illegally harvesting peat, so they can sell it to people as fuel for heating homes. During their illicit endeavor they happen upon the long-dead but well-preserved body of a girl. The story of how the girl came to be in the bog merges well with the draining goings-on of Fergus' family issues and the political strife of the times. The writing and the atmosphere were great. The story felt timeless, but still managed to include elements from the era (the early 1980s) without seeming dated. Everything felt very remote - a consequence of the mood of the book - and yet the story evoked the right emotions when necessary.
One complaint I had involved the lack of detail in some instances - particularly in reference to the character Cora, who I thought got a bit of a raw deal in the end as far as her portrayal went. Sometimes things passed by with characters, but not enough time was lent to the characters' motivations. However, the surreal nature of the story more than made up for this flaw, and I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. Strangely, this seemed like a story that would resonate more with adults even though I found the tone and style appropriate for teens. I would recommend this book to both audiences. (less)
This is the sequel set in a prequel series about the teen years of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - an intriguing idea that effectively delivered on its...moreThis is the sequel set in a prequel series about the teen years of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - an intriguing idea that effectively delivered on its premise in This Dark Endeavor. Such Wicked Intent takes place about three weeks after This Dark Endeavor finishes. Victor's twin Konrad has died despite Victor's and his friends' attempts at saving his brother's life through desperate and unsavory means. The first book in this series focused on a rational set of people's descent down a dark path through the frowned-upon pseudo-science of alchemy, which was an excellent way for these characters to justify their behavior given the circumstances. Such Wicked Intent is entirely a paranormal novel, with the characters abruptly and desperately descending into the spirit world in an attempt to bring Konrad back from the dead.
I found this book as readable as the first one, though I enjoyed the storyline less. This Dark Endeavor had some elements that resembled the paranormal, but Such Wicked Intent goes straight for the otherworldly, which I enjoyed less. That's more a matter of taste, though. I found some plot elements also moved too quickly, which for me left some elements unexplained. Some of the characters' actions, while somewhat explained later, also felt like they didn't have adequate prior basis.
But the story was still very entertaining and intriguing, and I'm still interested to see where things go from here.(less)
I skimmed this over one evening after work so I could read the third one sooner than later. I read a short summary of this book online but didn't want...moreI skimmed this over one evening after work so I could read the third one sooner than later. I read a short summary of this book online but didn't want to outright skip the book because I thought I would miss large details. I didn't see the need for many of the obstacles presented in this book. Why bother? This book was more plot-driven and made as little sense in the end as Beautiful Creatures. However, I'm curious about the ending. Despite all of its problems, I'm interested to see how all of these plot threads are resolved. As for the whole "we can never be together" thing, a member of book discussion I run at my library made a cogent point about this series when we discussed it recently - either shit or get off the pot. That's hilarious and very apt. And the thing is... you never just leave it with the characters stuck on the pot in these kinds of books. Teens don't like it and neither do adults for that matter. So... in all of the strange nonsensical twists and turns in this series that I've seen so far, I guess I'm waiting to see how the authors get these characters to shit.... sorry for the imagery, but let's be real here.(less)
This book started out pleasantly with some fun, subtle humor. Stuart's parents were delightfully eccentric, particularly the father who was constantly...moreThis book started out pleasantly with some fun, subtle humor. Stuart's parents were delightfully eccentric, particularly the father who was constantly seeking new words for the crosswords he created as his job. The story appeared to come off as a fantastical mystery, with Stuart finding out his great-uncle had a curious magic act in the 30s. Now long gone, Stuart sets out to find out what happened to the magic act and Tony himself, who vanished one day without a trace. I enjoyed the occasional jokes, but I found the story itself to be pretty boring. I lost track of the ultimate arc about halfway through but kept reading because the book is so short. Not a thrill.(less)
Excellent book that stands the test of time! This is the sequel to Over Sea, Under Stone and it was a great second installment. While this book only c...moreExcellent book that stands the test of time! This is the sequel to Over Sea, Under Stone and it was a great second installment. While this book only carries over one character from the previous story, the new cast is excellent. Will Stanton has traits with universal appeal for children and reminds me quite a bit of Harry Potter. This series actually shares many qualities with that one, and you can see that J.K. Rowling was probably inspired by and influenced by this series. Brilliant use of setting and great writing that foreshadows what's to come without coming off as over the top. A perfect quest story without the quest - in the traditional sense anyway; Will never leaves his neighborhood! I loved how Susan Cooper used aspects of traditional folklore and mythology to build her own story. The language is descriptive but appropriate for its intended age group. Lots of room for discussion in a classroom setting, and a perfect pairing for those interesting in reading something similar after finishing Harry Potter.(less)
A creepy little beginning without coming across as disturbing. Roo's father has been murdered after one too many adventures with the wrong side of the...moreA creepy little beginning without coming across as disturbing. Roo's father has been murdered after one too many adventures with the wrong side of the law, leaving Roo to be taken in by a rich uncle she has never met. A self-sufficient child, Roo doesn't need friends or family and mostly just wants to be left alone. I liked this kid's personality. She was tough without seeming hard, and even though she didn't at first have time for most people she still managed to see the good in her father despite his poor choices, though she wasn't surprised by his end and says so in a matter of fact manner. This is a short little book inspired by The Secret Garden.
I haven't read that children's classic, but I know the gist of the story, and this book uses some of its plot points without coming across as a ripoff. It's more like a nice, more modern extension. The setting is excellent. Roo's uncle lives on an island, in a house that was once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children. Not all of the children made it out, and this is noted just enough to give the reader a sense of creepiness without seeming macabre or grisly. There are strange sounds in the house, even strange sights, and Roo is left second-guessing herself about the things she thinks she sees and hears. The people of Cough Rock and the surrounding islands are somewhat eccentric but not so much that you don't take them seriously. They are never caricatures.
The style of writing feels contemporary but also evokes the past. A sense of the surreal is present throughout, and some aspects of the story are left unresolved for the reader. This allows for some interesting discussion. This was a quick little book that I really enjoyed, but at some points I almost would have liked it to be longer. I wanted to know more about the strange boy who lives on the river and even more about the story behind Roo's father. It's nothing that gnaws at you and even adds another nice layer of mystery to the book, but I almost wouldn't mind a sequel. Good book to pair with the Secret Garden to see what was different and what was the same.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Wow did this book fail to endear me to it in any way. The kid was probably one of the most woode...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Wow did this book fail to endear me to it in any way. The kid was probably one of the most wooden, non-present narrators (and that's saying something since it's more or less supposed to be the author). And that old lady, she had her moments, but I'm getting tired of stories about lunatic old ladies changing the lives of impressionable young kids. Historical fiction was done pretty well actually, and for that reason it's not a complete loss. However, it still could have been done better.
The town of Norvelt is dying, literally. The people keep dying off, but no one seems to be moving in. And when the houses are left behind, they are instead shipped to a different town named after Eleanor Roosevelt, as this one is.
This story meandered around and around, and mostly just provided readers with small snippets of history, and developments regarding Jack's bloody nose. The narrator was really annoying, and I have to say I'd be tempted to make this kid's nose bleed, because he liked to whine quite a bit (personal hate).
Pointless mystery thrown in at the end that was not deal with at the level of seriousness it should have been. I like dark humor, but this didin't even really have that. It was just thrown in after pages and pages of obituaries about the dying old people of Norvelt.... There were so many other books the Newbery Committee could and should have chosen this year. (less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's more of a 3.5 star read that I really enjoyed at som...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's more of a 3.5 star read that I really enjoyed at some parts, others I had some issues with. This blog post about Daughter of Smoke and Bone really illustrates my feelings about it: (view here) and that's why I'm left with giving this book less than four stars.
This book is so not the kind of book I like to read, which I admit is partly why I have some problems with it. I can't help but think that the themes the author explored in this story would have had more resonance if she didn't enfold the narrative is this epic war between angels and devils, alternate worlds and main characters that are basically creatures. I also think at certain parts that had the writing not been so good that I would have laughed at how a scene was depicted relative to the world the author created. I mean, we have half-human, half-animals all over the place, people having serious, life-altering conversations while in mid-air... It's just all so..... dorky.
Here's a rundown of what this is all about... Karou is a 17-year-old art student living in Prague. She has a mysterious existence, which routinely alienates her friends. However, she can't really enlighten them about herself because Karou doesn't actually know the truth of her background. She was raised by demons in a store that sells wishes in exchange for teeth, and she often serves as the errand girl who travels the world to pick them up for one of her caretakers. Karou's questions about how and why she came to be in this situation are never answered by her caretakers, and because she is caught between two worlds she never fully feels apart of either and is often lonely. This is Karou's life until one day while on an errand she runs into an angel named Akiva who tries to kill her because of her association with demons - the angels' enemies.
The descriptions of scenes and the pacing were spot-on in this book until about the last third, when the author just slams things to a halt with a massive information dump. That's a description I borrowed from the blog post above, because it's just too accurate. The back story really helps flesh out the mystery of who Karou is, but the forward momentum of the action just stalls and never really recovers. Once you return to the main action, there's almost nothing left to grab hold of before you reach the end.
This story expresses very real feelings of isolation at some points and then is overwritten in others. Karou is a great character, who rises above the fantasy elements of this story as a real teen with real problems and a real voice. She's vain, petty, lonely, defiant, snotty, sad, emotional... in essence a teen. But then occasionally the author gets kind of dramatic and you have to skim over those passages to remember that there are moments of real authenticity here. Akiva is a bit of a YA type - miserable, self-loathing, desperate. He's not a bad character - just not as well-drawn as Karou. Their story feels more born of authorial machination than real interpersonal growth. And yet, I'm not going to lie, you do get caught up in it because of the writing.
This book, though it contains great moments of action, is mostly setup (and a good one at that). I'm curious how things will go for Karou in the second installment. This story was basically a mystery adorned with fantasy elements. The next book in the series seems to be headed more toward basic fantasy quest. Not sure. I would be interested to see a book with a larger perspective from Akiva, to determine whether he's more than a YA personality type. I'm eager to see what happens despite the potential pitfalls this book could encounter because of the great moments that were present throughout a lot of this book. (less)
Read this in a few hours after work. It's a really quick read told using current media as a storytelling venue. The original Dracula was told using le...moreRead this in a few hours after work. It's a really quick read told using current media as a storytelling venue. The original Dracula was told using letters, diary entries, news articles, etc. This story is told through Web pages, text messages, e-mails and Internet news articles. It's your basic horror-thriller. Engaging, unique (comes with an interactive mobile app) and the characters actually have some appeal despite the narrow venue provided for development for them. The original, from what I remember, had Jonathan Harker as the main character and teller of the story. In this version, he provides some of the exposition, but the author gives you a twist and makes Harker's girlfriend the hero. Fun little book. (less)
Good middle grade series of short story collections edited by John Scieszka. Lots of big-name authors kids will know and love. This is a good way to g...moreGood middle grade series of short story collections edited by John Scieszka. Lots of big-name authors kids will know and love. This is a good way to get reluctant reader boys to start reading, by offering a set of short stories they can easily get through in small sittings. I've heard researchers say that boys tend to stop reading once they hit the upper school-age and middle grade level, so this is a good series to keep them interested. There are a lot of books and series designed to keep girls interested (and that's great), but this is a sorely needed set for boys too.(less)
Tried summarizing this story last night right after finishing it, and I kind of knew it was a crap review. Looking at my summary again, I'm committing...moreTried summarizing this story last night right after finishing it, and I kind of knew it was a crap review. Looking at my summary again, I'm committing to my opinion and trying again...
So. This was the best in the series so far. The pacing of these books got better as they went along, and this one had a lot of action. In this story, Raisa has returned to her homeland after a year in exile, living in hiding. But her journey is hazardous in a lot of ways. For one, people try to assassinate or kidnap her probably about every 75 pages. I may be overestimating here, but I don't think so. She also has to deal with being an object of political power as she prepares to become queen. People are vying for her land, resources and title for their own gain. They all hope to do this by either killing her or marrying her. She can't really trust anyone but a handful of people.
Which leads me to the other main character in this book. Han knew Raisa in the previous books under an assumed name with a false identity. She confesses her true identity to him in this story, but now he feels betrayed and unsure of what his relationship is to the queen-to-be. Through cunning, secrets of his own and his ultimate desire to have Raisa for his own, he ingratiates himself into the daily life of the palace and operates under motives no one is really sure of so as to protect himself and Raisa.
This book really allowed the characters to grow. They are faced with hard choices and must decide for themselves what it means to be an adult. Even though this story throws the characters into situations most teens will never experience, it gives readers a window into understanding maturity and ethical dilemmas through the lens of characters they can relate to. Despite thrusting the characters into the roles of queen, spy, military captain, assassin and more, these teens experience the same feelings, thoughts and desires as their readers, though perhaps a bit amplified given the situations they are thrown into.
I can't ultimately give this book five stars because in the end I just don't like high fantasy. The pacing in all of these books (even this one) is still too slow to give them that extra push required to just blow me away. I also can't stand complex world building. I'd rather writers just skipped details about complicated naming systems, long descriptions of setting that ultimately have no bearing on character development, etc. One thing about this fantasy that was atypical was there was no stilted, weirdly formal and also extremely hyperbolic speech from the characters. Just because it's a fantasy doesn't mean you have to say things like, "by the blood of my 25th ancestor I'll cut out your heart if you walk within 25 feet of my best friend..." (obviously an exaggeration but you get the drift). Looking forward to the last one!