I don't know how I missed this when it first came out, but I'm glad to have discovered a new book that I can recommend to the kids I know who loves stI don't know how I missed this when it first came out, but I'm glad to have discovered a new book that I can recommend to the kids I know who loves stories with dragons and magic. ...more
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a thrilling tale of mystery and adventure set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. Having lived in Asheville and visited the house several times, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read this. (Also it's MG fantasy, always a bonus for me.)
Serafina lives in secret in the basement of the Vanderbilt's spacious vacation home. She has lived there most of her life. Her father worked on the house as it was being built and is the mechanic who runs the massive generator and keeps the electricity going. Serafina is the chief rat catcher, slipping through the halls of her massive home secretly and quietly. She is light on her feet, sees well in the dark, and is quick enough to catch the vermin and keep them out. Serafina knows she if different and strange. Her father insists she stay hidden. But all that changes when one night Serafina witnesses a horrible crime. A little girl, a guest in the house, is fleeing from a cloaked predator who seems to consume her whole in his cloak before Serafina eyes. She soon learns that the young Clara is not the first person to go missing. In a daring move, Serafina decides to investigate the matter herself and meets the young nephew of the Vanderbilts, Braeden. The two children investigate the matter together. They know Braeden is the next victim and Serafina is determined to keep him, the only friend she has ever had, safe. To do so, she must face the evil that is stalking them and confront the truths about herself and her mysterious past.
Serafina is a bold and decisive heroine who doesn't always follow directions, but does what she believes to be right and good. The story focuses on the mystery of the cloak, who is wielding it, and what exactly it does, but through this we also get to see Serafina's inner struggles. She wants to fit in but knows she doesn't. She is desperate to understand who she is and where she comes from, but is also afraid of the answers she might find. I liked how the relationship between her and Braeden developed. Both children are loners and so their friendship is not as unrealistic as it otherwise might be for a barely servant and member of the family to have. Braeden's character is not as defined or nuanced as Serafina, but he has an interesting backstory and serves his purpose in the book well.
Beatty beautifully sets the scene for Serafina's tale. He does an excellent job of describing the house and the surrounding land and forest. How dark, forbidding, and dangerous the forest can be gives the story an eery feel. Added to this is the intense harrowing events that keep the reader flipping pages to see what happens next. The action is intense and there are scenes that involve blood and gore. The peril feels very real and the stakes for Serafina are high. It is an intense yet fun read, perfect for summer. There is a good balance between scary and humorous, but this is definitely a book for kids who are comfortable with creepy stories and aren't afraid of the dark.
As an adult reader, I found the end to be a little too perfect and a bit saccharine. This was particularly disappointing to me as I really enjoyed the book up until that point. There seemed to be a definite difference it quality of the writing as everything was tied into an extremely neat and tidy bow. Children readers will probably not have this issue as much, and I can see this becoming a favorite for many. It's definitely a must have for upper elementary classroom and school libraries.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Serafina and the Black Cloak is on sale July 14th....more
Anne Nesbet is one of those authors who always surprises me. Her book like they will be one thing, but they have so many fascinating layers. The Wrinkled Crown is my favorite book she's written yet.
Linny has been tethered to Sayra all of her life. From the moment it became obvious Linny had a talent for music, she was put at Sayra's side to keep her safe. To keep her from even picking up a Lourka and allowing her talents to be realized. In the town of Lourka if a girl even brushes against a Lourka accidentally before her twelfth birthday, she is spirited off by mysterious voices to the Away. Linny and Sayra have developed a special bond, and they have secrets. Sayra allows Linny to run free in the woods. Linny unable to resist the call of music uses these times to craft her very own Lourka. Sayra feels she's failed Linny and wishes that Linny's fate would be hers. When that is what happens, Linny feels guilty but also determined to be the one to rescue her friend. In addition to music Linny possesses another gift: she never gets lost. She can find her way anywhere. With her Lourka on her back, Linny sets out to find a way to save her friend. Even if it means leaving her home and traveling to the Plain-a place no one from Lourka has gone to and then returned from. She is reluctantly accompanied by her father's apprentice, Elias who has his own motivations for rescuing Sayra. The Plain is not a welcoming place though, and soon Linny and Elias find themselves at the center of a political battle. Linny appears to everyone to be The Girl with the Lourka, whose return everyone is eagerly awaiting so that she can right the wrongs of the world. There are people who wan to exploit her and people who want to make her disappear.
The Wrinkled Crown is first and foremost a book about relationships. Friends, sisters, mother/child, ruler/subject, it covers just about everything (except romance). Linny is at the center of most it. She is a determined girl who is sometimes thoughtless and impulsive, but always willing to work hard to reverse the mistakes she makes. Most of the other characters are not as well developed as she is. I got a strong sense of Sayra from the few pages she's in, but she is absent for most of the book. Elias is funny and a good foil for Linny, but I didn't feel he was as well rounded as Linny is. The characters all work together well to form a cohesive whole for the story though. There is more than one antagonist Linny has to face as she make her way through the Plain and people try to use her as an ends to their own means. These characters are shown to have strengths and flaws, but to be ultimately selfish in their goals. This is a contrast to Linny whose only wish is to saver her friend and go home. I liked how there were minor characters who helped her out in small ways as well. The unsung heroes who did little things to move her where she needed to be.
There is an interesting twist on genre in the book. While it is very much a fantasy novel with a quest and an apparent chosen one (this is deconstructed a bit), it could also be classified as Science Fiction. The most fascinating aspect of the book to me is that the strongest theme is magic versus science. Faith versus intellect plays a huge role too. Linny with all of the magic she brings from the wrinkled hills, loves maps and the science too. She is a part of both worlds. The book is about finding a balance between the two. They are at war with each other, but do they have to be? This is by far my favorite part of the story.
This is an excellent tale of friendship and perseverance that will appeal to lovers of fantasy quests and music.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Wrinkled Crown is available November 10th. ...more
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire is a Napoleonic war spy adventure on Mars that includes pterodactyls and dragon corpses. As nonsensical as that may sound, it all works together perfectly and is so much fun. I added this book to my TBR originally because I'm a big fan of the author's wife, Stephanie Burgis, and I also consider her a friend. But my love for this book was won all on its own merits. This is just so much my aesthetic. With every page I had something new to grin and get excited about. This was the best possible book for me to begin my 2016 reading year.
Edward could have been having a better time on his holiday from school. He could have been enjoying himself at an aristocratic friend's estate. But he came home because his family needs him. There is no way they would make it through the year alive if he wasn't around to keep an eye on things. When the son of his father's best friend (an honorary cousin) crashes into Edward and takes up residence, Edward's summer goes from bad to worse. Everyone knows Cousin Freddie is an idiot, but his arrival kicks off a string of events that leads to the kidnapping of Edward's parents and eldest sister. The evil Sir Titus needs Edward's father to find a lost dragon tomb. Once the tomb is found, Sir Titus has no reason to keep his hostages alive. Knowing they have limited time and few options, Edward, his sisters, and Freddie take off in pursuit to rescue their family and put an end to Sir Titus's evil treasonous plans.
Edward is such an endearing hero. He sees himself as the practical one in his whacky family of absent-minded geniuses and frivolous socialites. He is a boy who dreams of adventure and becoming a spy. He longs to be appreciated for his talents and acknowledged for the important role he plays in keeping the family functioning. He is very much a 12 year old and he learns so much about himself and his family over the course of his adventures. Edward's younger sister Putty has inherited their father's technological genius, is completely uninterested in wearing dresses or being proper, and is the perfect foil for Edward. She is courageous and quick thinking and Edward needs her just as much she needs him. Edward's older sister Olivia is outwardly proper and studious, but has masses of hidden depths her siblings hadn't even seen before they started a perilous journey with her. Any one who follows this blog regularly knows sibling stories are one of my favorite things in the world, and this one is done exactly right. Then there is Freddie. I won't say a whole lot about him for reasons, and even this one little thing is a tad spoilery: I could sum up my feelings for him with a never ending string of heart eye emojis.
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a steampunk alternate history. In the world Samphire created, pathways were discovered between earth and mars that allow ships to travel between the two planets in a few weeks time. When this wondrous discovery is made, what do the nations of earth do? Colonize it. Of course. Because if Imperialistic forces had the power to do that we all know they would. There is a heavy British Empire presence and also a large Chinese section of Mars. It is 1816 and the British Empire is attempting to hold back Napoleon on Earth. Napoleon is busy attempting to launch his ships to Mars. The world is an intensely interesting and layered place. The politics and historical aspects push the plot, but don't overtake the adventure aspects and the characters, who are the heart of the story. However, there is a lot to notice in how the ancient Martians are treated, how the colonialists interact with them, and the attitude many seem to have toward the past and the excavating of the dragon tombs. There are many interesting parallels between the British fascination with Egypt at the time and the fascination with the Marian emperors and their dragon tombs.
The plot of the book is sure to please any reader who loves adventure and spy stories. The villains are willing to go to any length necessary to secure their ends, even if it means hurting children. The peril is very real and there are also the fantastic creatures that inhabit Mars that the heroes have to contend with. There are a lot of elements coming together to make the story, but Samphire threads them all together perfectly. The steampunk elements, Martian world, politics of war, spies, and archeology all come together to make a brilliant fully satisfying read. I could not put this book down.
In so many ways this book seems tailor made for my loves, that it is hard for me to fathom how a person might not like it. It's one of those books I will be trying to get everyone to read and I absolutely can not wait for the next one. (This has a satisfying end, but I know there is going to be a next one. YAY!)
I read an ARC received from the author. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is on sale January 12. ...more
It is sad that Space Case by Stuart Gibbs didn't get a better cover. I can seeing it getting skipped over without a second glance, and that would just be sad because it is actually a fun science-ficition murder mystery.
Dash Gibson is a "Moonie" one of the first residences on the moon. His parents are both scientists working on the space station there. The government lured their family there with promises of adventure and historic fame. They would be pioneers. Dash feels hoodwinked. Life on the moon is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and is uncomfortable to boot. Dash wants nothing more than to return to his life in Hawaii. He misses his friends, the ocean, having toilets that flush normally, and fresh food. But things in the space station become more interesting when one the resident doctor dies while on an unauthorized moonwalk. Dash immediately suspects foul play. He overheard a conversation the doctor had the night before where he was excited to reveal a recent discover. Dash's concerns are smoothed over and he is told to keep quiet until a mysterious security official approaches him in secret and asks for help investigating. Soon Dash is convinced he's right about the doctor's death being murder. Unfortunately Dash's investigations have attracted to notice of exactly the wrong person.
This is an interesting sci-fi twist on the murder mystery at a house party story. The inhabitants of the space station are trapped. There is nowhere for them to go. A murderer on the loose is definitely not a comforting though. This is why so many people want to silence Dash. The actual investigation is one I found to be highly probable. I can see the Dash and his friends being able to do the things they did in this story and follow the clues to their outcome. I also felt that the scientific aspects were well done and what I imagine would be possible in the not too distant future. I liked how sterile and uncomfortable life on the moon was because that's also realistic.
Dash is a great hero. He is smart, sarcastic, and willing to take risks. At the same time, he is a typical kid, one who is just learning that he doesn't always want to go along with what the adults have to say. He has a quiet rebellion beginning to stir in him that the target audience for this book will be able to identify with. As a result of living on the moon, he does have a fair amount of independence and maturity, but his parents are very much all up in his business all the time. Typically in stories like this, parents are conveniently shuffled to the side. Not so in this book. Dash is tripping over his constantly. I liked that. We are seeing more involved and engaged parents show up in MG speculative fiction and that's a trend that needs to continue. Dash's closest ally in his investigations is a newcomer his age named Kira. She is the perfect foil for Dash. Adventurous, a boundary pusher, definitely not tripping over her father at every turn, she is a lot of things Dash isn't and they balance each other well.
I do hope that there are going to be more of these. Good murder mysteries for MG readers are a hard find, and this one is delightful. ...more
Pathfinder is a fun book and works well as the beginning of a new series. There are a lot of adventures, great magic, and brave characters. I do feelPathfinder is a fun book and works well as the beginning of a new series. There are a lot of adventures, great magic, and brave characters. I do feel like I may have enjoyed this slightly more if I had read Sage's Septimus Heap series. I felt like there were a lot of inside jokes and information I was missing and always felt removed from the story as a result. While Tod's story and character were vastly interesting to me, enough time was spent on the characters from the other series that I didn't really feel as engaged as I might have. ...more
The Arctic Code is the first book in a new MG sci-fi series by Matthew Kirby. I tend to like Kirby's books and the way he writes character relationships. The Arctic Code is no exception and has an exciting fast-paced plot to pull readers along on the adventure.
In a not so distant future, the Earth is experiencing an unexpected Ice Age. The ice sheet has taken over, forcing most of the surviving inhabitants toward the Equator. Energy is a coveted resource and the UN has given a great deal of power to a company called GET. Eleanor is a girl living in Arizona while her geologist mother works on finding a new energy source in Alaska. Eager for adventure, Eleanor is often doing things that most consider unwise. When her mom goes missing after sending Eleanor files of information with the warning to keep it all a secret, Eleanor stows away on a plane headed for Alaska to discover what has happened to her mom. Upon reaching Alaska, Eleanor discovers that mysterious sites are appearing on the ice sheet and GET is enforcing all sorts of new and menacing rules. Eleanor and her new friends, sons of another missing scientist, decide their best bet is to head into the frozen wasteland themselves to find their parents. What they end up finding, will change their view of the world and lead to a whole new set of troubles.
I don't typically like futuristic doomsday type of books whether post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or earth in peril. I also typically don't like survival stories. I wouldn't have picked this up at all if it hadn't had Matthew Kirby's name on the cover. (The cover does grab the eye and make you curious on its own though.) Despite the presence of two things I tend not to enjoy, I did enjoy this book. Kirby set up his story very well, and it is mostly a fast paced, edge of your seat adventure. (There is a scene in a science class early on where there is a lot of information given in the form of a lesson, but even that is executed well as Eleanor herself is bored. Well played.) Eleanor's every step is shadowed by fear. She knows GET is not entirely honest, and she doesn't want them to get a hold of the files her mom sent to her. And her meeting with the CEO and his minions later on only makes her more determined. There is also a fear of death, because survival in the harsh climate is no small matter. In Alaska the air is so cold breathing it in might kill you. Then the story morphs from being a perilous futuristic adventure to a sci-fi thriller with some fascinating twists. Not all of the elements of the plot are handled as completely as I want. Eleanor has an ability that isn't entirely explained. I'm sure it will be in future volumes, but for this as a stand alone it made her seem like a little too special in comparison with everyone who couldn't do this thing.
Eleanor is an excellent heroine despite this unexplained specialness though. And not simply because she is special. She is reckless, impatient, and rebellious. She is also brave, loyal, and incredibly smart. I do like that the reader gets to thoroughly know her as Eleanor before the reveals in the end. The opening scene has her creating snow using a fan and water at her school construction site while planning to sled down a dangerous incline from a partly finished building. She ends up getting arrested with two of her friends. Fortunately for the 12 year olds, no charges are pressed. But it is a perfect way to show everything Eleanor is to prepare for her actions as she recklessly hops a plane with a stranger to Alaska. That stranger is a pilot named Luke who wants no part in being responsible for a 12 year old girl, but given no choice he embraces his duty admirably. Luke is a good guy, but also a complicated one. I found myself really wanting more of him and hope that will happen as the series progresses. The other characters aren't developed quite as well, but Finn and Julian, the boys who set out with Eleanor into the frozen wild, have distinct personalities and interactions with her.
One aspect of the novel I particularly enjoyed was the fraught relationship between Eleanor and her mom. There is a lot of love there but also a lot of hurt and misunderstanding. This is the sort of relational writing Kirby excels at.
I'm eager to see where the next volume in this series takes the stories and characters. I know this will be an easy sell to kids. Kirby's books usually are.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. The Arctic Code is on sale April 28th....more
The cover for The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry pretty much sells itself. Hold this up to a bunch of upper elementary kids and watch their eyes light up with anticipation. To seal the deal all you need to say are three magic words: Pirates. In. Space. Now try not to get knocked over. This book is all kinds of fun, but also has some more serious elements tossed in that make it so much more than it first appears.
The Hashoone family are privateers licensed by their home government on Jupiter to take Earth merchant ships as prizes. They mostly live aboard their ship, the Shadow Comet. Twelve year old Tycho Hashoone is a member of the bridge crew along with his twin sister, Yana, and his older brother, Carlo. Their mother is the Captain and their father is the First Mate. Their grandfather, the former Captain, does a lot of curmudgeonly grumbling about how things aren't like the good old days of pirating while his daughter tells him to be quiet. When the Shadow Comet captures a ship that has a mysterious and suspect diplomat from Earth on it, they take the ship home and allow the court to decide if its fair game or not. Soon they realize that one ship is only one layer of a conspiracy by Earth that involves an old enemy and a dangerous mission to find out what is happening to Jupiter ships and their crews that are disappearing.
There is a lot of adventure and mystery in Hunt for the Hydra. The book has all the elements one could possibly want in a book about pirates in space. There are space battles, close calls, intrigue, shadowy figures doing shady things, and ships to capture. In all of this there are underlying themes of diplomacy, the politics of war, slavery, and humanity. There is also the interesting question of how different is a pirate and a privateer? Where does one draw the line? The Hashoone's grandfather is not quite as ethical and honorable as his daughter. Where does that leave him? On the side of the good guys? Are there any good guys? It is a lot of thought to pack into a 200 page book of adventure, but Fry does it well. We are left wondering a lot about this futuristic world in which there were space colonies of earth all over the galaxy, some kind of rebellion that gave them the right to rule themselves, and now a war between some of the former colonies and Earth.
What is the most interesting part of the book for me is the dynamic between the three siblings. Tycho is definitely set up as the hero of the book. The book follows his perspective and thoughts. He is not the best at anything. His brother is the better pilot, and he is quite full of himself as a result. His sister has her own special talents, and has an attitude to go with it that includes challenging her mother, the Captain, far too often. The interesting thing about them is only one of them will be able to take her place. They are in active competition for the role of Captain of their family's ship, and they know it. This does an interesting thing to the sibling dynamic, which is always fraught and full of competitiveness to begin with. These kids aren't just competing in their own minds, their parents have set up a computer log to track and rank everything they do on the ship from simulations to actual battles. Talk about pressure. They have no ideas what the logs say, and their parents don't tell them. This family has some serious issues as a result of this, but they also clearly love and care for one another. They have each other's backs and work together (the kids have a hard time with that from time to time thanks to the competition, but make improvements as the book continues). It's a really fascinating character study.
And again, I'm impressed with Fry's ability to do all of this and the heart pounding action in 200 pages. Bit pretty much snatched this out of my hand the second I was finished with it. I wasn't kidding about the appeal to kid factor at play here. If you have a young lover of adventure stories in your life, this is a book to add to your home, school, classroom, etc....more
Valiant by Sarah McGuire has so many elements I love in a book: fairy tale elements, a brave yet flawed heroine, a determined hero, kingdom politics, and a land in peril. There was so much I enjoyed about the book. (Not the least being I actually read a book I liked! After weeks of hating everything.)
Saville has always known her father loves the fabrics he sews as a tailor more than he's ever loved anything or anyone else including her. She resents those fabrics, her father's trade, and the life they've led her to in Reggen. She is determined to escape as soon as she can. When her father has a stroke shortly after their arrival, Saville sees her opportunity for escape disappear. In order to save them from destitution, Saville makes a dangerous gamble disguising herself as a boy and gaining a commission from the King himself. But Reggen is a city on the verge of disaster. Reports are coming in of an army of giants razing towns and leaving no survivors, led by a dangerous human Duke claiming he is the rightful Emperor. Saville is skeptical until her young errand boy finds himself captured by two scouts larger than the oak trees they stand next to. In a daring game of trickery, Saville convinces them she has greater strength and finds herself the champion of the city-a position that comes with it the hand of the princess. When the King and his advisors discover her true identity, she is kept at the palace half prisoner and half assistant to Galen Verras, the cousin of the king and only person in the castle actively working on a solution. Together Saville and Galen make startling discoveries about their foes and make great sacrifices to save the city and the people they love.
Saville is my favorite type of heroine. She is brave, smart, hard working, and loves with all of her heart. She is also scared, impetuous, and hurt by her father's attitude toward her. I love how she came up with such a daring plan to save her and her father, but was actually not all that great at pretending to be a boy. I also adored how she was unable to suppress her compassionate nature and was moved to help people even when it might have been wiser for her to retreat. Galen is a wonderful complement to her. He is also intelligent, brave, and hard working. He can sometimes be too cautious though and this balances well with Saville's utter lack of caution at times. I enjoyed his complicated relationship with his royal family members as well.
The supporting characters are interesting and add a lot to the story as well. The king, the princess, and the young boy Saville saves (Will) all have important roles to play and are layered characters. There are also fascinating dynamics at work in the camp of the giants. The villains are little one note and predictable, but given the fairy tale style of the story that works okay.
Saville's story gripped me from the beginning. It was interesting to see her character react to the challenges she faced as each new life altering event occurred. Once she was in the castle, things slowed down a bit. I did like the slow development of the relationship between Saville and Galen, but felt this part of the novel dragged overall. The end sees the excitement reach new heights though and I adored how it all resolved.
On the whole this is a fun book which is why I enjoyed it so much. The sentence level writing is not the best at times. There are a lot of unnecessary run on sentences and stock phrases that tend to drive me crazy used. (Including the ever annoying: "I released the breath I didn't even know I'd been holding.") Still this is a great book to give fans of fairy tales, adventures, and for those who like a dash of romance.
I read and ARC made available by the publisher, Egmont, at ALA Midwinter. Valiant is available for purchase now....more
I love "Beauty and the Beast" in all its variations and have a difficult time passing up retellings of it. When I discovered Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen, I was elated that it was not only a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, but also gender swapped. A girl beast. Family secrets. Magical forest. Creepy castle. Check all my favorite things off right there, and Hellisen does some interesting things with her story.
First: Two thumbs way up for the cover designer on this one. It is beautiful.
Sarah has spent her entire life moving. Her mother seems to be running away from cold. Her father seems desperate to keep her mother happy. Until one night when her mother stops running with them and runs away from them. There's nothing her father can do to stop it. In the days that follow Sarah notices her father turning in more and more, becoming a little wild around the edges. Then he takes her to live with the grandparents she never knew she had and Sarah discovers secrets and lies twisted through her family's history. They are cursed. Cursed to turn into beasts when they fall in love, unless the person they love loves them back. But the curse, born of jealousy and hateful revenge is more twisted than any fairy tale Sarah has ever read. It doubles back on itself and entraps everyone into a hideous future they can't break free from making her realize stories may not always have a happily ever after.
Sarah is so determined. She is determined to help, to fight, to break the curse, to never fall in love, to remain true to herself, to save every member of her family. She tries so hard. She fails at so much of it. Yet she keeps getting back up and trying again and again. Her determination wavers occasionally but it never dies. It drives her. She is the ultimate heroine as a result. Sarah is active in her own story. Many parts of her life are beyond her control, set into motion long before she was born and propelled by forces out of her control. Despite that, she makes her own choices and works within the parameters of the curse to enforce her own will. I loved that so much. I think that it is important to have books where we see a bit of failure but not for lack of trying, and then also get to see how the characters deal with that failure. How they try to make the best of the situation given them. Sarah's relationship with almost every other character in the book is tragic in some way, but she fights for all of them as much as she fights for herself, and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also really enjoyed what Hellisen did with the character who inflicted the curse in the first place. She is a horrible person, but Hellisen gave her depth too. I think the way the situation between her and Sarah resolved was absolutely perfect. I think the conclusion for every person touched by the curse was done exactly right.
Beastkeeper does what the best retellings do and thoroughly twists the tale and adds new dimensions. What Hellisen did with the original story is intriguing and profound. The fear of loving someone beastly, knowing that you are the only thing keeping them from being a hideous shadow of themselves-that's a terrible burden to carry. What might it possibly do to a person? I was throughly impressed with the how intricate Hellisen made the curse, and how completely and utterly it trapped every single person connected to it in the most terrible of ways. I love that she was unafraid to go to the darker places the story required and that it isn't all sunshine, daisies, and happily ever after in the end. There is tragedy. There is uncertainty. But there's also hope.
I loved everything about Beastkeeper and highly recommend it.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. Beastkeeper is available for purchase on February 3....more
Fantasy boarding schools are nothing new. They weren't even new when Harry Potter was published. But certainly trending and hot right now are Fantasy boarding schools where a fairy tale tradition is somehow incorporated into the world-building. Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson is the latest such book and is a fun inventive take on the concept.
A young girl completely lacking memories of her past except a few snatches here and there, not knowing even her name, is in an enchanted forest with naught but an advertisement stating all people, even those of common blood, may apply to be cadet Princesses and Knights at Pennyroyal Academy. Unfortunately she ends up in the house of a witch. Fortunately a knight candidate is on hand and they manage to rescue each other. Arriving at the school, the girl is given the name Cadet Eleven, Evie to her friends, and embarks on her education to become a Princess. But being a princess is a different reality than many were expecting. For it is the destiny and occupation of a princess to fight witches, a reality that is terrifying as a band of powerful witches is sweeping over the countries destroying one after another. As the reality of the war she has stumbled into is made clear to Evie, she needs to make some tough decisions about the road ahead. A task that becomes even harder as she is faced with her resurging memories, a most unpleasant fellow cadet, and the strange effect she has on one of the knight cadets.
I quite enjoyed the world of Pennyroyal Castle. Of all the fairy tale boarding school books to come out recently, this is definitely my favorite. It doesn't have the internal logic problem of Ever After High or the multiple issues I had with The School for Good and Evil. At Pennyroyal girls are trained to be princesses to fight witches. (Except in Evie's year there is a groundbreaking boy princess candidate.) Boys are trained to be knights to fight dragons. The school runs like a military academy with fairly godmother drill sergeants. The princesses frequently yell the four traits every princess must have to succeed in the war against witches: Courage. Compassion. Kindness. Discipline. I love all of it. The classes, the challenges, the obstacle courses, the partnerships with the knights: all of it creates a very real world and an interesting one at that.
Evie is an excellent heroine, though one it is tough to connect with at first as she has no memory that includes no name and is rather quiet and reserved. There is enough mystery there that I was engaged from the start. And Evie's growth through the book is wonderful. There are times when switches and revelations happen a bit too abruptly. So abruptly it forced me to reread several pages. However that is a minor complaint in the face of the delightful characters and unique setting. Evie's friends, a few fellow princess cadets and the knight cadet she meets at the beginning (Remington) form an excellent team and are wonderfully supportive of each other. I thought the relationship between Remington and Evie had exactly the right amount of romance for a MG book, enough to keep fairy tale lovers happy, but not overwhelm those who don't wish for that aspect in their books yet. I kind of adore Remington as a character too and am very much looking forward to future installments of this series.
The plot mostly revolves around Evie figuring out who she is and setting up the world. It has several lovely twists, a couple I guessed but most I did not. It is just a lot of fun and recommend it to anyone who loves fantastical boarding schools, magic, and fairy tales. ...more
Adam Rex has a great sense of humor and he is able to wrap up a lot of wonderful social commentary into it. This book is a prime example of how well hAdam Rex has a great sense of humor and he is able to wrap up a lot of wonderful social commentary into it. This book is a prime example of how well he does that. It is funny, heartwarming, and full of adventure. I loved the interactions between all the groups of people and the main characters, Gartuity and J. Lo, are fantastic. I did feel it was a little too long, but that is a typical complaint of mine with Rex's novels and one my students never seem to share. ...more
I read John David Anderson's Sidekicked last year and throughly enjoyed it. I was on the committee that shortlisted it for the Cybil's. I liked the shades of gray in the story and the attempt to look at the good and evil combined in each person. The companion novel, Minion, has all of this and I liked it even more.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
There are those moments in your life, you know, when the last screw is tightened and the green light flashes and you realize that your whole worldview is a loose thread dangling from the blanket you've wrapped so tight around you. And somebody's gotten ahold of that one thread and is starting to pull. And most of you wants to tug back. To stay warm. To stay safe. To keep things as they were.
And then part of you wants to watch it unravel. Just to see how far it will go.
You will find this on the first page of Minion. I knew I would love this book from the moment I read this because it just nails it perfectly. Who hasn't felt this way at least once in their life? And who amongst us didn't experience this or something very similar to it in our early teens. It perfectly sums up that whole time of your life. It makes this book, and its main character, Michael, relatable. The book is all about Michael. Minion doesn't have as much action sequences as Sidekicked did, though they are still there. This is more about Michael figuring out who he is and where he stands in the world. He has been involved in many criminal activities. His best friend is a henchman for a crime boss. His father supplies questionable inventions to the same crime boss. Michael assists both of them. But Michael has some very strong opinions on the world and how he wants to live his life in it, and when confronted with hard choices and obstacles, he proceeds with a determination and bravery that is commendable if not always perfectly right.
Like Sidekicked, Minion is not a typical super-hero tale. It is even less of one really. The super-hero and his sidekick make very few appearances in this. Anderson has highlighted an interesting concept in doing that. What makes a true hero? Who are the everyday heroes in life? The ones that try to do what is right even when it is hard? These questions are all explored and Anderson does it in an interesting and fun way.
You do not have to read Sidekicked to read Minion. They are set in the same world but are two entirely separate stories with different characters. Both are good, but they are different. I do think most readers who enjoy fantasy and super-hero stories will be happy to read either one.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. Minion will be on sale June 24th....more
For fans of the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, the latest installment, The Magic Thief: Home, is a much anticipated and highly welcome addition. It also has the potential to draw in new fans as a new chapter in Conn's life and the city of Wellmet begins. Whether readers are old fans or newly experiencing the magic for the first time, every reader of this book is in for a fantastically twisty tale of magic, mayhem, discovery, and intrigue.
Conn is a bit out of sorts since finishing with the magics of Wellmet, returning home, and having his magicalicus swallowed by a small dragon he calls Pip. Who is he? Where does he belong? What is he meant to do now? The magics in Wellmet are similarly out of sorts, competing for the power of the town. Conn is the best one to deal with the magics as he understands them best, but when he is in such turmoil himself, embroiled in another spree of crime, mystery, and intrigue he has to solve, it is difficult to stay focused. I loved the way the magics reflect and contrast Conn's own character. He is wild, not meant to be locked down, and hates being manipulated, but at the same time wants a purpose and stability. He thrives on danger. Of course, everyone who loves Conn just wants to protect him. Ro and Nevery feel the best way to do this is to make him the ducal magister but Conn is having none of that. Conn's stubbornness is familiar to older reader's of the series, as is his friends' exasperation with him. It has a different feel in this book though and is not just he same old story as the original trilogy. They've all grown a lot and are facing a new reality. Conn is starting to realize he needs help from time to time and relying on others is okay. The others are starting to realize trying to manage Conn is a lost cause, and one by one they fall to trusting him to do what must be done and do it well.
One of the great strengths of this series is how it highlights character and relationships so well, but does it simply through showing them in the context of a fast moving, exciting, and twisty plot. It is so subtle and yet you can not read these without coming away feeling connected to all these characters and seeing their strong connections to each other. I love the friendship between Conn and Ro, and how it is just a friendship. (Please, please, let that continue to be the case. And there are hints that it will continue to be the case, thank goodness. I like the direction of those hints a lot.) I love it when books can show a good male/female friendship that is nothing more than that. (Yes, they do exist!)
The story finds Conn yet again trying to prove he is not the gutter-boy thief he once was, but it is interesting that there are actually very few people who assume he is. There are some, as there will probably always be, but for the most part, he is trusted by those around him. The story is from his point of view, yet it is clear that he is still reacting to how people used to see him automatically rather than how they are reacting to him now. Conn's talents and spotted past are essential to unwinding the knot of magic and criminal acts being visited on Wellmet. This leads to some dangerous situations and a couple moments of peril that had me visibly trying to restrain myself from reacting since I was reading the book in public. All my emotions were fully engaged and that made for some fraught moments for my poor heart.
Fans of this series definitely do not want to miss this latest installment. It very nicely lends itself to new readers too. The necessary events from the previous books are included in clever ways that new readers will know what is going on, and old readers won't be bored reading a lot of information they already know. (It's also a nice refresher for those who may have forgotten.) At the same time, this is a new phase in Conn's life and the story reflects that. It isn't a continuation of the old story so much as the beginning of the next part of Conn's story. I do think new readers of the series will find themselves unable to resist going back and reading the first three.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Magic Thief: Home will be available September 16....more
This is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the storyThis is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the story of the unearthing of the Terra-Cotta soldiers protecting the tomb of Emperor Qin. Co-author Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China during this time and brings her real life experiences to life in the tale of Ming. I really appreciated this part of the story. The fantasy element comes in when the first soldier found, Shi, comes to life and tells young Ming stories of the Qin's rule, the raids of the Mongols, and the building of the Great Wall. All of this is also fascinating. There is an interesting comparison here between QIn's rule and the rule of Mao. Through Shi the authors were also able to include all the folklore and superstition involving the tomb of Qin. While Shi coming to life and telling his story doesn't bother me, I do have issues with the liberties taken in the unearthing of the tomb itself. The story elevates the fictional character of Ming as a hero who gets the credit. This is a great book to educate about a time period few Americans know anything about and does it in a fun and active way. The language is a little stilted and awkward in places with some info-dumps, but is still an engaging read. This would work well paired with The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu (which I prefer)....more
Fans of Norse legends and fantasy that incorporates that, Frostborn by Lou Anders, the first book in the Thrones and Bones series, is for you. It is a fun, adventurous MG fantasy with wyverns, frost giants, barrows, and one very large dragon.
Karn is the youngest child but only son of a hauld. One day all the responsibilities of the family farm will be his to be bear including the bothersome and boring art of trading. All Karn wants to do is work on his Thrones and Bones game, a strategy game similar to chess. He often plays himself working out new and inventive ways to win. Unfortunately, Karn isn't paying enough attention what is going on around him and doesn't realize that real life is a strategy game all its own, where someone has marked him as a pawn to be moved off the board. Tricked into awakening an old dead king trapped in a barrow, Karn is forced to flee for his life into the mountains. Thianna is half human and half frost giant. She is at constant war with herself, discontent with her weaker human half. Growing up on the mountain with her fellow giants, she always felt less than she should be. When Thianna discovers something that belonged to her human mother, she unwittingly draws the attention of teh very villains who sent her mother fleeing into the mountains in the first place. Betrayed by a nemesis, Thianna must flee her home in order to protect it. Karn and Thianna had met and spent time together on a trading mission with their fathers. Fleeing for their lives, they meet up again and join forces to survive and defeat their foes.
Both Karn and Thianna have strong characters and their development happens in a believable and wonderful way. They find the power within themselves they need to do what must be done, coming to terms with the things that were holding them back, and learning so much. This is woven organically into the story of their adventure. I loved their friendship and how it developed over time. This too was realistic. They start out wary of each other, as most children are and break the ice with rough play. Karn and Thianna are different, but respect each other's differences and honor each other's strengths. It's a partnership that works well.
In the course of their adventures Karn and Thianna encounter trolls, a massive city burning (and eating) dragon, and the mysterious wyvern riders who will do anything to capture the object that Thianna holds, not to mentions the draugs (zombie soldiers of barrow king) who are after Karn. These adversaries are a nice balance of funny, frightening, fiercely cruel, and, in the dragon's case, all of these things plus witty and intelligent. It gives the story a nice feeling of peril while balancing that with a lighter tone. There is a lot of fighting and perilous scenes, and the pace is quick. It is hard book to put down and vastly entertaining.
This is a perfect read for young fantasy fans, particularly ones who like fantastical creatures....more
I am going to be honest, I'm not one of Jennifer Holm's biggest fans. Don't get me wrong, I book talk her books, put them on recommended reading lists, and buy them for my daughter (who is a huge a fan), but her writing style is not my particular cup of tea. I was really surprised then to find myself enjoying The Fourteenth Goldfish as much as I did.
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a story about life and how it is in constant flux. At the center of that story are Ellie and her grandfather, Melvin. Ellie has just started middle school, a time in one's life when it never becomes more clear that life is all about change. Her best friend has moved on to a different group. Everything is different and she is constantly having to adjust. Into all this change comes her grandfather in the form of a 13 year old boy. He wanted to find a way to roll back time. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As Ellie is caught in the first truly great phase of change in her life when everything is new, her grandfather is caught in a desperate bid to stop time, life, and all that change.
The science and the sci-fi element is not nearly as important to the story as the relationship between Ellie and her grandfather. Through their shared time together as Melvin once more has to negotiate middle school, Ellie learns a lot about herself and science. She also discovers more about her grandparents and her mother by watching the interactions between Melvin and her mom. The Fourteenth Goldfish is truly a story about family, growth, identity, and life exactly like all of Holm's historical fiction is. But this time I think she does it all so much better. That may be because the one thing that drives me crazy about her other books is the juvenile actions and attitudes of all the adults. Here Melvin does sometimes act juvenile, but it is understandable given his situation. The other adults conduct themselves the way adults ordinarily do, making it easier for me to read. I think Melvin's true age plays into this some too as he is desperately trying to regain something that can not be regained. The moment Ellie realizes this is a beautiful one and the most poignant moment of the book. Holm did an excellent job with the themes in this book and bringing it all together.
I am sure this will be a huge hit among kids, even more so than her historical fiction as readers will be drawn to the intriguing concept and the weird thought of being the same age as your grandparent. My daughter read my ARC and loved it, reading off lines every other page and giggling non-stop.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. The Fourteenth Goldfish goes is available August 26th. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott is the first in a new fantasy adventure series called ThOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott is the first in a new fantasy adventure series called The Copernicus Legacy. Perfect for lovers of quests, spy stories, and secret societies it is a wild crazy ride around the world.
Wade loves math and astronomy. His dream is to follow in his father's footsteps and make them his career. His step brother, Darrel, loves music and food and dreams of being a rock star. Wade's cousin Lily loves her the Internet and using her phone to document everything. Lily's friend Becca loves books and studying anything she can get her hands on. She's definitely a genius as she can speak several languages and is on her second reading of Moby Dick at the age of 12. The four work really well as a team. Wade and Becca are the puzzle solvers, the ones with the background knowledge to unlock the secrets to the code they've been given. Darrel and Lily handle most of the more practical parts of the mission. Their characters really don't go deeper than the surface. The relationships likewise. Becca and Wade clearly have crushes on each other. Lily and Darrel have one of those relationships that could clearly go there one day. Wade and Darrel are best friends as well as step-brothers. The interactions between the characters are fairly limited to the quest and solving the riddles. There is a lot of talking at each other about stuff, but little real dialogue. It works for the type of story this is, but left me frustrated as I wanted to know the characters better in order to care what happened to them. Wade's father is also a key player, and this is where my credulity couldn't stretch far enough to buy into the idea. While I thoroughly enjoyed having a fantasy novel where a parental figure was not only present but involved, I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't have those kids on a plane back home. Kid readers won't have a problem with this. They love stories where kids get to be heroes. As a parent, I couldn't stop wondering what he was thinking or of what Becca's (who he has really no legal right to be doing anything with) parents would think of it.
The concept of the novel is a good one. There are several riddles to solve, a race across the globe, and some very real danger. People are killed and the villains will stop at nothing to get what they want. What they want is not made entirely clear until about two thirds of the way through the book. The reader discovers what is going on as the heroes do. Despite all of the chases and danger there were large parts of the novel that are simply exchanges of chunks of information. Information about Copernicus, his work, the Guardians, the cities they are in. All of it is informative and in dialogue, but can be lengthy at times. It took me longer than it should have to read what is really a short book.
This is a great book to give to kids who love books like Kate Messner's Capture the Flag series and N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials. In my opinion this book is not the same caliber as either of these but it does fall into a reading range somewhere between those two levels.
I read an e-galley made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books. The Forbidden Stone is available for purchase now. ...more
Jonathan Auxier has a way with words. That was evident with his debut novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, and his latest offering, The Night Gardener, proves it beyond doubt. Atmospheric, mysterious, and chilling, it is a book whose words don't just beg to be read, they demand it.
This is a review of an ARC received by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Molly has a way with words and stories. She weaves her words together to create tales that are almost magical in their power to make others believe her and want to do as she says. Kip is talented with gardening. He loves the plants and tends them well. Together they are an intrepid team telling the type of story I love most, a sibling story. Within the house live another set of siblings, Alistair and Penny. Alistair is an unpleasant gluttonous bully. Penny is a little girl longing for someone to love her, play with her, and tell her stories. Kip and Penny, the younger siblings in each set, are easy to love and root for. As a reader, I felt a desperate need for neither of them to be injured in any way. Kip is hardworking and simply longs to be like other children despite his lame leg. Penny is exuberant and full of life and energy. Watching what the house and its secrets are doing to her is not pleasant. Molly and Alistair, the oldest two, are a bit harder to fully embrace. Alistair is meant to be unpleasant. He is there as a foil, mostly for Molly, who, while likeable, has plenty of flaws. The most serious of which is her inability to separate story telling and lying. She is also exceedingly stubborn and does not want to listen to anyone's counsel but her own. I think she will be relatable to child readers, as will Kip and Penny.
I also really liked how the adults are active and present participants in the story as well. The Windsor parents are even more caught up in the house and its secrets than the children are and are in need of help and rescue. Hazel, the old story teller, is also an important part of the story, and I like how she was there for information and guidance but didn't interfere with what the children were accomplishing.
On one level The Night Gardener is a creepy tale about a mysterious old house and the malevolent force at work inside it. The plotting and pacing are done just right to pull readers in and keep them in, caught up in the story, on the edge of their seats wondering what is going on. It is exactly the right level of creepy too. Kids who want a book to creep them out and will expect exactly that after looking at the cover, will not be disappointed. As the eerie mysteriousness of the plot unfolds it is Auxier's brilliant use of imagery and the cadence of the writing that holds one spellbound. This would make a superior read aloud, but it is also beautiful read silently. This is not just a creepy story for the sake of having a spine-tingling read though. (Although that's always good fun on its own.) It is a story of family, courage, greed, selfishness, forgiveness, despair, love, hope, and redemption. And justice. (I really liked that element.) And all of that is layered in with the characters and action so seamlessly. The characters live it and the reader sees and feels it. Most of all, it is a story about the power of story and words. Auxier uses each and every one of his carefully to bind the reader to him, just as Molly does with hers. I love this realization Molly comes to at one point: "I think I figured it out. Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her a story helps folk. Helps 'em do what? she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And the lie does the opposite. It helps you hide." That is this story in a quote.
I would caution care and knowledge of the reader when giving this to younger kids reading MG books. There is enough darkness and horror to frighten the sensitive, but I think it is exactly the right amount for the majority of MG readers. The amount they long for and need, balanced with a great deal of hope and triumph as well. It is basically everything I love and look for in a book.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Amulet Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Night Gardener goes on sale May 20th....more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominatedOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominated for the Cybils and that would have been tragic. This book has so many elements I love to find in a fantasy story and Webb brings them all together so well.
Rose is wonderful. I love how simple and practical she is. All she wants is to earn a decent living and be proud of the work she does to earn it. When she begins to show signs that she has the ability to do magic, she wants no part of it. She just wants to be a regular girl. She is a courageous and righteous though, and when children begin disappearing and she is required to use her magic to solve the mystery she jumps at the chance. Rose has an equally wonderful supporting cast backing her up, from the rest of the household servants to her master's snooty apprentice and spoiled brat daughter. She even has the help of a magical cat named Gus, who is one of the best talking animal characters ever. I am impressed by how well Webb drew all these characters. I felt like each had a distinct personality and I really knew them. It is not easy to do that in the space of a short book with such a full plot, but she did it.
The story is delightful in every way. Taking place in an alternate Victorian England, the book includes the orphan with special abilities, a magical mystery, and a truly awful villain. I enjoyed that Rose was not plucked from the orphanage because of her magic. I like that she was chosen because her "special" talent was hard work. Lucky for her she ended up in the household of the King's most trusted alchemist so she is able to learn about her powers more. The villain's goal is not a surprising one, but the methods employed to achieve it are not for the easily sickened or grossed out. I enjoyed the real sense of danger this added to the story. It kept it from being too sweet, and made the stakes higher.
This is not a long book and the language is such that readers at the younger end of the MG audience will enjoy it, and it works well for older readers too. It certainly worked perfectly for this one. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due toOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due to my overwhelming dislike for quirky southern books, particularly ones that take place in the state I've lived the most years of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it overcame almost all my qualms. It was with no hesitation at all that I picked up a copy of the follow up, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, at ALA Midwinter. It has all the charm of the first book and does it all even better.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has so many aspects I look for in a good story: mystery, an old house to explore, old secrets, family history, friendship, and strong characters. Mo's voice, already the greatest strength of Three Times Lucky, is even stronger and more assured in this book, as though Turngage grew completely comfortable with her character and let her take completely over as she was writing. I appreciate how true to their age Mo, Dale, and all their classmates are. I recognize the kids I know in them. I further appreciate the friendship between Mo and Dale and how solid it is. As they are dealing with the fall out of the events in the last book, particularly Dale's father being in jail, this is brought out fully. Mo and her big mouth make all sorts of mistakes, but Dale forgives her (eventually). Mo is learning too, which is always a wonderful aspect of characterization to see. She actually realizes when she has gone too far sometimes, and even manages to hold herself back at points. The kids relationships with the adults in the community are highlighted well too. They are working on a history project where they have to interview an older member of the community and this brings in history, but also demonstrates the importance of these generational relationships and knowing your own story. I like how Mo firmly feels a part of this community and family created around her. She still writes to her upstream mother, and she still has moments she wonders about where she comes from, but mostly she is living where she is. Harm is a new student and character introduced in this book. I throughly enjoyed the addition he made to the Mo/Dale dynamic, how he changed it. It was an interesting look at how jumping to conclusions about a person is an injustice, and how friendships can grow and change to incorporate new people and relationship dynamics.
The mystery aspect of this story fascinated more in than in the last too. As a kid, I loved stories that explored the past of a certain place and how it connected with current characters lives. I still love those stories as an adult, and this one is executed well. It focuses mostly on the kids and their immediate problems, and the mystery itself focuses on children. The ghost is the same age as the characters making it infinitely interesting to readers. As an adult reader, I would not have minded if the ghosts in the title had been completely metaphorical, but I know my students would not agree. If they are promised a ghost, they want a ghost. And Turnage delivers a wonderful ghost, complete with chilling disembodied laughter, freezing spells, flickering lights, slamming doors, and visions of scenes past. Yet the story isn't creepy so even sensitive readers can enjoy it. It is full of humor and the charm that is Mo herself. The imagery is perfect. Descriptions are short and snappy yet full of wonderful similes that readers will understand, be able to picture perfectly, and find amusing. The writing is jus top notch.
I can't wait to book talk it. I have so many pages marked with passages that I love and that will be sure to capture interest.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Kathy Dawson Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing will be in stores on February 4th....more
Originally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey has been on my TBR since it came out. SadlyOriginally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey has been on my TBR since it came out. Sadly, other things keep coming up. When its sequel, The Magician's Tower, was nominated for the Cybils I decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway. At least I would know if it could stand on its own. It can and it is such a fun story I am now looking forward to reading its predecessor even more. (Come January.)
I adore a good fun mystery, and that is what The Magician's Tower is first and foremost. It is also an adventure full of riddles and, of course, a fantasy. All things prepared to make me have quite a bit of fun with a book. And did I ever have fun reading this one. The competition is set up in an interesting manner and watching as Oona attempts the feats and tries to solve more than one mystery at the same time is thrilling.
Oona is a wonderful main character. She is persistent, brave, clever, and also possessing of a remarkable amount of common sense. And when her common sense fails her she has a talking pet raven to remind her when its gone missing. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between these two characters. Oona's rival in the competition, Isadora, is a bit over the top, but that is what makes her character fun and a perfect foil. She was frightfully annoying, as she is intended to be. Oona's cursh on Adler is sweet and perfectly described for the intended age group. I quite liked the villain as well, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not able to figure every piece of this mystery out before the reveal.
I enjoyed the mixture of genres and am delighted to have found another book and series I know I can get my students, many of whom also love both these things, interested in. ...more
When I first saw the cover and description for The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham, I knew it was a book I had to read. It is a great MG Fantasy that combines folklore, ruffians, and adventure to tell a fun a story.
I read an ARC provided by publisher in exchange for a fair review.
In many ways The Luck Uglies is a familiar story. It is typical of its genre in theme, setting, and characters. I enjoyed this aspect of it. I knew what I was getting and what to expect, and while what it does is nothing terribly new, it is done incredibly well. And most readers in the target audience will not have read as many fantasies of this type. They will thoroughly enjoy discovering this type of book through The Luck Uglies.
Rye is an adventurous girl who does not always make the best decisions. She is a child though and the often ridiculous things she does make perfect sense in her young mind. I could see a lot of my daughter in her while I was reading, and this will be a book I think she would love. Rye has two best friends, one boy one girl (of course) and a wonderful mother and little sister. This is a family story as much as it is anything else, and those are always great reads. Combining a good family story with action, adventure, and some monsters to terrorize a village always makes for a fun read.
The Bog Noblins are an eery monster, fierce and scary. They eat animals and people, viciously tearing them apart in the process. Durham does not shy away from the gory horror of this and there are some cringe worthy scenes that most kids are going to love. The Bog Noblins aren't the only evil lurking in Village Drowning. In fact, they aren't event the worst of the evil. There is also the dastardly Lord of the village, who is not hesitant to sacrifice his people to save his own life. Durham explores some interesting themes through this.
The Luck Uglies is the first in a trilogy, but I didn't know that when I read it. It is a complete and full story in and of itself and can be read as a stand alone.
This is an excellent and fun book, one that I will be delighted to hand to my students who I'm sure will love it.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Luck Uglies will be available for purchase on April 9. ...more
Merrie Haskell is one of those authors that always surprises me. I have gone into each of her three books expecting one thing, and getting something entirely different. Is The Castle Behind Thorns a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty"? Yes. But it is a throughly unique and different take on the story. And I adored it.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
This is a quiet tale, one that unfolds slowly. Sand spends a large part of the opening completely alone, isolated from the world in the castle trying to figure out a way to survive. He is inventive, clever, and hard working. He is also lonely and talks to himself. These chapters didn't seem to move at all slowly to me though. The language is so beautiful and Haskell is building the mystery even as she allows the reader to get to know Sand and what he is about before she brings in the other central character, the magically awakened princess. Perotte awakens remembering she was dead. Not asleep. Dead. She pulls herself into the light of day and Sand's path, and the two of them, after a rocky start, begin to piece the castle and her story together. Perotte comes off as a spoiled and indulged brat at first, but her behavior quickly changes as she realizes how unfair she is being. As the weeks pass her and Sand develop a deep friendship and connection. But there are parts of Perotte's past she wants to keep locked away and not remember. Unfortunately she needs to confront them if they are ever going to defeat the magic of the thorns and get out of the castle.
The story here is wonderful. I love political intrigue and there is quite a bit of that, but most of all it is a tale of friendship, perseverance, and the power of forgiveness. What I loved about the forgiveness aspect is that it is not about the power to affect the forgiven, but the forgiver, that release that comes from letting your anger and bitterness go so that it no longer consumes you. The way Haskell wove this into a thoroughly original retelling of a fairy tale makes this my favorite "Sleeping Beauty" retelling of all time.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss. Castle Behind Thorns goes on sale May 27th. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have said it before: I don't love animal stories. I was pretty excited about The True BlueOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have said it before: I don't love animal stories. I was pretty excited about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt despite that, and not only because I heard wonderful things about it from others. No. It was because of the raccoons on the cover. See, I've always had a thing for raccoons. They were my favorite animal growing up. They began my love with rascally thieves really. And this book features a pair of adorable rascally (rascally adorable?) raccoon brothers.
Bingo and J'miah were just as wonderful as I had hoped. Appelt gave them endearing personalities and maintained their raccoon nature perfectly at the same time. I loved how they were so different and yet the bond of their brotherhood was strong enough to keep them together through all of their adventures. In addition to the raccoons, I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Sweetums the cat. I wish there had been more of Sweetums. He didn't get nearly enough page time. The humans in the story were not as likeable for me. I can't believe I am saying this, but I would have preferred this story without them. (What is wrong with me? I may need to lay down.)
The swamp setting was well done. I could feel the humidity, the annoying mosquitoes, and hear the sounds of the night. I felt like I was there.
The style of the writing is brilliant in many ways. It flows well and Appelt used a variety of sentence structures to give the story a perfect rhythm. This will make an outstanding read aloud. One troubling aspect for me was the narrator talking to me. I understand why that was done given this has the feel of a spoken folk tale. But still. Nothing is going to through me out of a story faster than that. I was also annoyed by the use of the term "we". I could never quite figure out if the narrator was referring to me in that we or if they were using it in the royal sense.
This is a fun tale and great to give to the young animal lovers in your life. (Or to read aloud to them, because really truly it will make a spectacular read aloud.)...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I will admit it: sometimes I see things on NetGalley and think cute cover, MG fantasy, I wanOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I will admit it: sometimes I see things on NetGalley and think cute cover, MG fantasy, I want. And don't even read the synopsis. Particularly if the book is from a publisher whose books I typically like. Such was the case with Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Then I began reading and discovered it was a retelling of "The Snow Queen". And it was good.
As a heroine, Ophelia shines. Her greatest strength is that she is a normal little girl. She has no particularly special talents. She enjoys science and is curious. But for the most part she is just a quiet little girl with asthma who is mourning the death of her mother. When she stumbles on the Marvelous Boy and he requests her help to save the world, she scoffs. But she remembers her mother, who wrote stories of the dark and fantastic. Her curious mind won't let her leave well enough alone. And she becomes a heroine. I love stories like this, a story any person can imagine themselves in. Kids love these sort of stories too and will have no problems finding a part of themselves in Ophelia. She is in every way an ordinary ten year old girl. The Marvelous Boy is mysterious. His name is hidden to give him a way to return home. He has waited 300 years in captivity for Ophelia to turn up and help him. His back story is told by him to Ophelia within the mainframe of the story. His story reads like a traditional fairy tale and does involve quite a bit of exposition, but is told in short bursts so as to maintain the interest of the reader.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a quick read, with a tight plot. Foxlee keeps the story moving at a quick pace. All the action occurs within three days, other than the Boy's story. As a retelling of "The Snow Queen" the novel excels in many ways. Ophelia has a series of quests she must go on in order to free the Boy. These all occur within the confines of the museum curated by a woman who is cold and remote. During these quests Ophelia encounters help she never could have imagined and is attacked by various minions of the Snow Queen, causing her to be intimidated at times but she never gives up. The one big difference is the motivation of Ophelia. Since she only just met the boy, she is motivated by her curiosity, their developing friendship (rather than a longstanding one), and the love she feels for her father and sister (who is in danger). I would have liked a little more closure in the relationship between Ophelia and the Boy, but other than that it was a fully satisfying read.
This book is going to be an easy sell. With interest in "The Snow Queen" rising due to the movie Frozen, it won't be hard to get kids interested. Once they start reading, they will stay interested because the story will pull them in. It is also a book that will make an excellent read aloud for kids in younger grades.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy will be available on January 28. ...more
Kate Milford is one of my favorite authors, and I don't think her books get the attention and love they so deserve. She writes unique stories with such care and attention to detail. Greenglass House is different from her previous two novels in setting and plot, but no less excellent in its execution, unique voice, and brilliant storytelling.
Greenglass House has so many elements I love: an old house that needs exploring, guests trapped in an Inn with a mystery happening, intrepid children who embrace their imaginations and save the day. And it's Christmas. What more could you ask for? I can not stress enough how much this book seems just tailor made for me. Every single aspect of it is one that I love and Milford's writing is so clever here. The book has a rather nostalgic feel to it, but not in an old tired way, rather the same way the Penderwick books feel nostalgic to adult readers but kids still love them. I think Greenglass House will have a similar effect on both groups of readers. Milford builds her mystery slowly. In the tradition of all the great mystery writers she introduces each player one at a time giving the reader a glimpse at who they are and setting them in their places on the chess board of her story. The house itself even feels like a character as Milo shows each guest to the room they will occupying as they are all snowed in the week before Christmas. Not everyone is who they claim to be, none of them are honest about why they are there, and one of them is actually dangerous. All are connected through the house in some way and it is the house that has brought them all together. When Milo finds a strange map and then it is taken from him, he and Meddy team up to try and uncover the mysteries which are numerous and are leading them to uncovering buried truths of the past. This requires exploring the house, questioning the guests, and in a stroke of brilliance on Milo's part, having them each tell a story to entertain the others at night as they are trapped by the snow. These stories help Milo and Meddie piece together the mystery and reveal fascinating details about everyone's past. I enjoyed how this showed the interconnectedness of everyone and forged a community amongst the guest that would never have come about without it. The stories in themselves are fun too.
Milo is the central character and,while all the characters are drawn well, he is the one that connects everyone and pulls everything together. He is a typical kid looking forward to a few days of peace to begin his winter vacation. The Inn doesn't normally have guests before Christmas. He even does all of his homework on the first afternoon so it will be out of the way. When the guests begin to arrive, he is less than pleased. While he does what his parents require of him, it is with enough reluctance and temper that it strikes the perfect chord for a child his age. Milo is of Chinese descent and is adopted. This is another thing about his character that is really well done. He loves his parents, but he wonders about his birth parents too. He sometimes goes as fas as imagining he was still with his birth parents in a family that looks like him. At other times he even imagines what his life would be like if someone else had adopted him. He feels so conflicted and guilty about these fantasies. I really loved how Milford used this to make him relatable and also into something more than a cliche' of a character. Milo's struggles with adoption are real but not dramatic or a huge issue. In order to solve the mystery Milo and Meddy adopt role-playing characters and this too was a lot of fun. Milo is skeptical at first but soon embraces the idea that he can imagine himself to be whoever he wants with the skills necessary to do what must be done. He is surprised to find he is actually able to take on his character so well. Meddy is more shy and withdrawn, always hiding from the other occupants and only talking to Milo. She is his silent shadow and her role is to observe and collect information, which she does very well. They are a great team and wonderful foils for each other as they work to uncover the mystery.
Milford has combined the best elements of mystery, history, folklore, and reality to weave a wonderful tale that is both thoughtful and adventurous. The action is not page-turning exciting, but the way Milford writes kept me hooked and wondering what would happen next. The language and imagery is so well done, and this book would make a great read aloud, particularly during the month leading up to Christmas. I plan on rereading it myself during that time. Greenglass House has shades of both Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens, but is wholly its own story and told in such a way that it will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Clarion Books, at ALA Midwinter. Greenglass House is for sale on August 26. ...more
have been a huge fan of N.D. Wilson's book since I read his first, Leepike Ridge. I pre-order his books as soon as I can and devour them all. I was so excited when I discovered he had a new stand alone, the first since Leepike Ridge, coming out this year. Then everyone else (who doesn't read their ARCs in order of publication date, or at least doesn't get as behind as I sometimes do) started singing its praises and my excitement and expectations increased. Basically, I had astronomical expectations for this book going into it and it managed to surpass them.
This is a review of an ARC from the publisher.
Boys of Blur is a story of brotherhood, rivalry, football, family, and Beowulf. Yes, Beowulf.
Charlie has a past that haunts him and also fills him with hope and purpose. His mother left his dangerously violent father when he was only five. Charlie remembers the fear and what it was like to be running from him. He has a step-dad now though who is everything that is wonderful and encouraging and an adorable little sister. As the story opens, Charlie's past and present are colliding. Back in the town where both his father and step-father grew up, and where both men currently are working, Charlie is facing a present that is both haunting and hopeful too. This story is about him finding the courage to face the things that frighten him, let go of the things eating at his soul, and learning to run with the best of them-not away from things but toward them. He is a character who pulls at the reader and draws them into the story. His step-second-cousin, Cotton, who claims him as just a cousin, welcomes him to his new home and teaches him a bit about the town and the running. The two boys bond like most boys do: running and getting into trouble together. I really liked this aspect. The cast of other characters are wide and varied. This is a short book, less than 200 pages, and yet the entire town comes to life. Each character has a distinct voice and that includes all of the adults. I particularly liked Mack, Charlie's ex-football star step-father. I also appreciated how the storyline with Charlie's real father was handled.
This sounds like fairly typical MG contemporary realistic fiction at this point, but it isn't. Because there is something not quite alive but not quite dead wreaking havoc in the flats. Old rivalries are tearing the town apart. The little jealousies, bitter musings, and grudges people have cradled in their hearts are taking over their whole souls. Everyone is turning on everyone else. Charlie and Cotton discover it is due to an ancient evil trapped beneath the muck and swamp lands waiting for her time to take over the halls and bodies of men. Soon the boys find themselves having to face this evil and decide what to do about it. They are brave and foolish. Just as 12 year old boys are. And it all works together so well. The plot is a reworking of Beowulf, the evil being the mother who is birthing man devouring monsters. She wants to burn the world. It is up to Charlie to stop it. I really appreciated how he had so much assistance though. This is one thing Wilson always does well in his books. In a world of MG and YA novels where adult supervision and assistance are glaringly, sometimes ridiculously, absent, Wilson never abandons his young protagonists to fight their monsters alone. There are always strong, capable, and loving adults there to help.
The themes explored in this novel are sweeping in scope. For such a short, quick read, the book is brimming with symbolism and thematic greatness. What makes a family, what holding on to the negative aspects of life does to a person, when to stand up for right, having courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and knowing what it is you are living for (so you can know what it is you are willing to die for) are all pulled into Charlie's story. Themes Wilson explores in most of his books, but they all are worth exploring repeatedly and he does it so darn well. There is also a great deal of diversity in the book, a thing we need more of and is always nice to see. Charlie is white, his step-dad is black. I loved how this wasn't a big deal, it just was. They make some jokes about it, but they're jokes that clearly come from a place of comfort and familiarity with each other. A knowledge that they are family no matter.
The imagery and descriptiveness of the book are pretty much perfect. As I read, I felt like I was right there with the boys. I could feel the stifling heat, the burning, the pain. And the words just flow together so well: The bicycle pegs swayed beneath Charlie's feet. He felt strange moving so quickly while standing so still, like a man on a chariot. Gravel crunched beneath the tires and Cotton's shoulders rocked under his hands. Moonglow loomed on the horizon. or maybe it was the sky-kiss of distant lights. Charlie's skin prickled as night air parted around him. Every bit of him was hungry to feel and to remember. Florida darkness washed over him, and Charlie Reynolds filled his lungs with it. Maybe he didn't belong in this place, but he belonged in this moment. It smelled like rich earth and hidden water. It smelled like fire.
And if all of this weren't extraordinary enough, Wilson managed to write a small town story that is not over flowing with quirkiness. THANK HEAVENS.
This line is probably my favorite though because it pretty much sums up the south: Football and church don't cancel for nobody.
Boys of Blur is a book that will be an easy sell for any reader, reluctant or book devourer. Football, monsters, boys who are heroes, the fast pace of the writing, and overall shortness are going to make it a hot commodity. If you know a child buy it for them. If you work with children buy more than one to have on hand. My students love Wilson's books and this is going to send some of the boys into a state of pure bliss. I may get trampled when I book talk it.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, at ALA Midwinter. Boys of Blur is available for purchase on April 8th. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand is one of those books that I added tOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand is one of those books that I added to my TBR, but felt no urgency to read. Then one day I saw it on display at the library and thought: now's as good a time as any. But soon I was swamped with other things to read and I may have returned it unread if Shelver hadn't read it and started talking about how wonderful it is. So I kept it around, renewed it twice, and finally found the time to read it two days before it was due back. Yes. It is one of those reads that had me wanting to smack myself for not reading it sooner.
Victoria is not a likeable little girl. She was probably even less likeable to me due to the cringe-worthy way she had of reminding me of the more unpleasant aspects of my personality. Still, I love a character you can't help but like despite their unlikeableness, and Victoria is certainly one of those. She is an ambitious type-A perfectionist, who wants to conform the world and people around her to her standards. She is also a questioner though, and this is what makes her a hero. She will not settle for easy answers. She must know the truth at all costs. Lawrence, on the other hand, is one of those boys who is brilliant in a lazy way. (And we all know how much I love those.) He is exactly the sort of boy Victoria needs in her life. One who will disrupt her order, and make her see that it's okay to laugh too loudly and not always be perfect. Which is why her life is devastated when he disappears. Their dynamic is a special one, familiar to be sure, but special. I enjoy how Legrand made it complicated the way boy/girl friendships are when your 12. It was wonderful how they needed both of their strengths to win the day too.
The plot and setting of the book dazzled me the most though, and it isn't every day that I say that. This book is creepy. The wrongness of the town, the home, and Mrs. Cavendish seeps into every word and page leaving the reader feel an impending sense of doom the further in you get. The children make some seriously disturbing discoveries about what goes down in that house too. And then there are the bugs. Shudder. Yet it manages to maintain a humorous balance that keeps it from being too outright horrifying. As I was reading I couldn't help but think of the kids I know who would love it and imagine their reactions. It is going to be a hit with my students I'm sure. In many ways it reminds me of Roald Dahl minus a lot of the issues I find problematic with his books. I also think it's better written.
Anyone who enjoys being entertained with creepy (and slightly gross) horror that's not too over the top who love this book. I sure did. ...more