This is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and would...moreThis is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and would fit very well into a study of the way different cultures and countries celebrate the holiday season. I enjoyed the characters, and the adventure was a good one though the level of peril was quite low. I do find it hard to understand why any parents would leave a 12 year old home alone with a baby, but okay. (less)
This is the beginning of a new series by Brandon Mull who is particularly good at cranking out series sure to entertain MG students everywhere. This o...moreThis is the beginning of a new series by Brandon Mull who is particularly good at cranking out series sure to entertain MG students everywhere. This one kicks off to a particularly dark beginning. A group of 5th-7th graders kidnapped en masse and sold into harsh slavery in a world not their own is some serious stuff. That sense of peril never lessens making it hard to put down. The world building is interesting, and I like all the main characters. Mull has another good one on his hands with this. (less)
I think this will be a fun series and this is an interesting beginning. There wasn't anything super new or exciting to it that drew me into the story...moreI think this will be a fun series and this is an interesting beginning. There wasn't anything super new or exciting to it that drew me into the story in any special way, but it's entertaining. (less)
One reason I really love being a Cybils panelist is that I am prompted to read so many books I might otherwise not choose to read. And many of them I end up liking. Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman is one of these. While nothing ground-breaking or amazing, it is a good solid MG science-fiction novel, just the sort I love being able to recommend to kids.
Nick is new in town. His mother died in a tragic fire. His father is drifting in grief. He needs something good to happen to him. Instead he gets a bunch of weird household items that he sells at a garage sale, and then realizes have unreal, possibly dangerous properties. Most readers will be able to relate to Nick's desire to fit in and fly under the middle school radar. At the same time, Nick has an insatiable curiosity about the items and is drawn irresistibly into the sort of adventure and intrigue it's great to experience through the pages of a book. The cast of supporting characters is well done as well. I enjoyed Caitlin's varied personality and activities and how deep her feelings were portrayed. Mitch's characters also well layered and strong. The villains in the book are mysterious and dangerous. I liked how realistically dangerous they are. The are willing to go to any length to get to what they want, and don't just talk a good talk. They do nefarious things.
The plot draws the reader in and contains much adventure and intrigue. There is a lot of sneaking around, investigating behind the adults backs, and bonding over odd occurrences for the main characters. The danger is real and has real consequences. At times the action is a bit overblown, but it fits within the context of the novel. The humor is sly and understated. One issue I had was how fast the action at the end of the book moved despite the dire events that were occurring. This is one in a long line of books that have released lately in which Tesla and his inventions play a major role. As does the vilifying of Thomas Edison. It's an interesting little trend, but for many of the target audience, this will be the first introduction to Tesla they get. It is one that may prompt them to want to know more.
This book is a fun read and one that kids who enjoy adventure and sci-fi will enjoy. (less)
I have said before I don't love verse novels. Do you know what I love even less? Basketball. Not a fan. Not even a little bit. With those two things working against it, I really didn't want to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. But it's getting a lot of award buzz so I finally (rather petulantly) picked up a copy. Ahem. This book is AMAZING. I loved it. This is why we should always stretch ourselves to read even those things that we don't think are "our type" of books.
Josh Bell is my name. But Filthy McNasty is my claim to fame Folks call me that 'cause my game's acclaimed, so downright dirty, it'll put you to shame. My hair is long, my height's tall. See, I'm the next Kevin Durant, LeBron, and Chris Paul.
Josh's voice. It is so perfect. The book isn't entirely blank verse, as you can see from the above. It is a combination of several different styles and types, but what they all have in common is Josh's voice. His voice which is so real, vulnerable, confused, cocky, angry, resentful, giddy, and everything that is perfect 13 year old boy. Josh is a star basketball player, twin to another star basketball player, son of a former basketball Olympian and a middle school assistant principal, and an eighth grader. Through each poem that tells of the few months of Josh's 8th grade basketball season, the reader is given a clear picture of Josh and every detail of his life, thoughts, and feelings. Few words are used but reams of information and emotion are conveyed. I could read and read it over and over and always find new things to be in awed of. I wanted to read it again promptly upon finishing and I haven't experienced that urge in quite some time. It's blowing my mind that I experienced it over a verse novel about basketball.
The book is about basketball. There's a lot of basketball in it. It is also a story about brothers, change, and the power of family. But don't let anybody tell you it's not a sports book. It is. And you know what? Even if you're not a sports fan, it doesn't matter. Excellence is excellence, and this book is excellent. The basketball is essential and provides a great deal of the metaphor in the book, but it is also really, like all MG books, a story about growing up, facing change, and how one's relationships alter and are affected by growing up (particularly when members of the opposite sex are involved). Josh's twin, JB, has a girlfriend for the first time. He's less interested in basketball and doing things with Josh. Josh is angry. Their father is clearly suffering from heart problems but refuses to go to the doctor. Josh is worried. All of this is set against the backdrop of the basketball season. It's a short read, but a powerful one.
The prose is excellent in terms of imagery and evoking thoughts and feelings. For example: The gym is a loud crowded circus. My stomach is a roller coaster. My head, a carousel.. The air, heavy with the smell of sweat, popcorn, and the sweet perfume of mother's watching sons.
I could quote so much, but then there would be no reason for you to go and find a copy of your own to read which you must do. Now. (less)
I enjoyed Spirit's Key. While I was reading it, it was difficult to put down. It is one of those books that sucks you in due to the mystery,...more3.5 stars
I enjoyed Spirit's Key. While I was reading it, it was difficult to put down. It is one of those books that sucks you in due to the mystery, which is incredibly well done. The hints are given out slowly and just enough to keep you engaged and waiting for the next tidbit. I was also pleased that I was only able to half figure out what was going on. The book left a lot of unanswered questions in my head as well. I was never able to fully suspend my disbelief enough to completely buy into the fantasy element. This seems to be a problem just I have. Most others seem to be dealing with it just fine. It is a good book and a wonderful recommendation to give to kids who love fantasies and animals. (less)
I adore the Rose series. Seriously adore. They are just wonderfully fun, full of magic, and Rose is such a great character. The newest (US) installment, Rose and the Magician's Mask, lives up to the previous two and adds to them in interesting ways.
This installment picks up where the last installment left off. Rose and her friends are trying to track down the evil mastermind behind the plot in Rose and the Lost Princess. When a series of events leads them to believe he has absconded to Venice with a priceless and dangerous national treasure, there is only one solution. Road trip! Mr. Fountain must track down the artifact and the criminal. He takes Rose, Freddie, and Bella with him. Then Bill decides to stowaway too. Basically, all of my favorite characters in this series teamed up to go on a journey for a famous artifact and defeat the evil bad guy trying to take over the world via magic. It is a high fantasy quest novel wrapped up in the delightful alternate historical fantasy it has always been. It was the most perfect combination. There were even some hints given to Rose's mysterious past and how she is most likely higher born than she believes herself to be. So perfect. The beginning does start off a bit slow as a lot of the previous books are rehashed in typical kid series fashion, but once I got past that, I could not put this book down.
Rose continues to grow in her magic, as do both Freddie and Bella. They are all three growing as individuals too. Rose is showing a desire to be more bold and to figure out more of who she is an what she really wants in life. She is no longer content to hide in the shadows. Freddie is learning to broaden his horizons and give people more of a chance. Bella is learning to respect and listen to others. Bill was a wonderful addition to the magical team, even though he is not capable of magic himself. His common sense and fierce loyalty make him the perfect foil for the other three as they adventure. He has skills the others do not, and they come in handy more than once. Gus is, of course, still the best part of these books with the exception of Rose herself. He shows himself to be capable of far more than the others had previously seen and leaves them astounded in many places. There is an addition to the team in this book too. Miss Fell is a powerful magic worker, knows a lot about the world, and clearly suspects something of Rose's past. She is also one of those brilliant adults who allows the kids to go on their way being heroes with some assistance but also the knowledge that sometimes they must put themselves in danger and risk much to be those heroes.
This series just keeps getting better and better with each new volume. I am sad to see there is only one more book to go, Rose and the Silver Ghost, which will be released in March of 2015 in the US. It is currently available in the UK.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Magician's Mask will be available for purchase September 2. (less)
Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh captured my attention because I saw in the synopsis that it it told through letters, journal entries, and lists. I love books like that and don't know that I've ever read one in the MG age category.
Middle School. Ugh. Who ever wants to have to do that again? For those currently in the thick of it, Always, Abigail is the perfect book. Abigail's voice is so perfectly honest and real. She comes across as genuine, vulnerable, and sympathetic. I was wondering how well the list/letter format would work in a MG. The tricky part of writing a book like that is that the voice has to completely reflect the character. The author can't sneak in or it becomes glaringly obvious. Cavanaugh avoided this pitfall nicely. As an adult reading this book, I wanted to shake Abigail quite a few times. She was being mean, cowardly, and downright silly about what she though was important. For a kid negotiating the minefield that is middle school society, Abigail will seem like a true reflection of their inner selves. She doesn't want to be a mean girl, but she doesn't want to be a social outcast. One would think a balance could be reached between those two, but it is easy to see how Abigail wouldn't see it that way. Everything feels so urgent and dramatic when you're 11. Gabby's character was also well done. The two girls truly bond, and that is seen clearly in their notes and activities. I loved Gabby's voice in her letters to Abigail, particularly that first one. She is subversively snarky and she is a brilliant foil for Abigail. The only characterization I wasn't happy with were Abigail's best friends, Allie and Cami, who she collectively refers to as Allicam. I really didn't understand why there needed to be two of them, when they were so easily conflated into one snotty unpleasant persona.
The school setting of the book is incredibly realistic. I liked how Abigail's homeroom teacher operated, and that she was rather clueless at times but also an inspiration. Far more realistic than teachers are often portrayed. I also liked how real the behavior of the kids on the bus was, and how the nothing was done to stop it. Everything in the book is very true to life. When the time comes for Abigail to make a choice, there is no cheesy made-for-TV-hero moment either. And the way she loses her temper in the slightly crazy way girls her age so often do, not really accomplishing much but making herself feel better, was the perfect touch.
I enjoyed Always, Abigail very much and can not wait to share it with my daughter (who I know will love it).
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Always Abigail is available for purchase now. (less)
This book is really slow moving and awkwardly written. I lost interest rather quickly which is sad because I wanted to like it so much. THAT SYNOPSIS!...moreThis book is really slow moving and awkwardly written. I lost interest rather quickly which is sad because I wanted to like it so much. THAT SYNOPSIS! Why is this not more interesting???(less)
I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured...moreI probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening.
I read an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter. (less)
When I saw My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros show up on NetGalley, I knew immediately that I had to read it. I love books about music, friendship, and fitting in. These are the type of realistic books that appeal to my daughter and her friends right now, and that I have no trouble selling to kids looking for recommendations. It is always nice to find one that is especially well done and is truly relatable to the kids who read it. I think My Year of Epic Rock is one of those for sure.
Nina's voice is spot on seventh grade girl. It is genuine in every way possible, as is Nina's journey of self-discovery through the rocky start of the school year. Who hasn't weathered the pain and heartbreak that comes from a friendship changing or ending due to the trials of growing up? It is a story so many people can relate to, and that a good deal of the target audience may be experiencing as they read this. Pyros does such a great job of depicting the emotions and confusion involved so well. I particularly liked this thought of Nina's: I felt like the way girls feel in songs when they sing about a boy leaving them. How come no one ever sings a song about a friend leaving you for a newer friend.? This had to hurt as much as a romance ending, right? Or maybe a guy breaking your heart was worse. In which case, remind me never, ever, to fall in love. Because losing your best friend IS as devastating if not more so, particularly at this age when everything feels like it is spinning out of your control anyway. What I really like about Nina's story, is that it is just her story. Readers may find in it that they are not alone and they may find some inspiration for making it through a similar situation, or it can be read just as an interesting look at this one girl's life and journey through middle school. Nina is also awkward, an ordinary student, makes some normal mistakes, and tries to make up for them the best way she knows how. She is incredibly easy to relate to, and yet her voice is also strong and so assuredly hers, that she comes across an actual real person in her own right. (Not so flat and lacking nuance that the reader can just insert themselves into her position.)
The cast of supporting characters is equally engaging. Nina's parents are supportive and active. They are typical parents who love, annoy, and embarrass their middle school daughter. She appreciates them for all these things. The other EpiPen members each have their own distinct personalities and contribute to the story as well. Some more than others, but as a team they are all essential. I also appreciated how the personalities of Brianna (the former best friend) and Shelly (the new super popular girl) are handled. They say some mean and snarky things as 7th grade girls are wont to do, but they are not superficially inflated into caricatures of middle school villains. I also love how diverse the cast of characters is, and how that diversity isn't remarked on, it just is.
The book is mostly a school and friendship story that uses the plot of the band to move things along a set timeline. I do like the way the band stuff was handled. All of the kids come into it already knowing how to play their instruments. When they start out, they are terrible. They actually have to work hard and practice to be able to perform. There was no magic, "hey we're suddenly awesome" moment. And while their performance goes well, it is accompanied by the awkwardness and nerves typical of a middle school talent show.
This is a novel I will be recommending to the kids I know who love these sorts of books, my own daughter being top on my list. She will definitely enjoy it. It is certainly one I would recommend having on hand in a school and classroom libraries. It is written in a way that the 4th-5th graders who want to read (and there will be lots) will be a able to, and at the same time middle schoolers will enjoy it and relate as well. (less)
There are quite a few stylistic elements here that tend to annoy me a great deal, the episodic nature of the plot, how it just sort of ends with no re...moreThere are quite a few stylistic elements here that tend to annoy me a great deal, the episodic nature of the plot, how it just sort of ends with no real closure, and the tropes that are often overused in MG realistic fiction. The fact that I liked it as much as I did despite these things says a lot about the quality of the writing and character development in the book. Albie is an excellent every-kid narrator. The whole concept of being an "almost" is one so many can relate to and his voice is absolutely perfect. He tells his story exactly the way a child in his situation would (which is why the episodic plot makes sense even if it's not my favorite thing to read) and his observations are spot on and conveyed exactly like a fifth grader would do it. One of my favorite parts after a classmate calls Albie a "retard" and the principal makes an announcement that the word is "outlawed" at the school: But Darren Ackleman doesn't call me "retard" anymore. Moron. That's what he called me on Thursday. Moron. Numbskull. Bozo. Idiot. Stupid little rat. Marblehead. Freak. Dum-dum. Hopeless. Lamebrain. Crybaby. F-minus. Dummy That's what he called me on Friday, and every day since. Dummy. Dummy. Dummy. Darren Aclkleman doesn't cal me "retard" anymore. But I think maybe it's not words that need to be outlawed.
Last week was the week for reading books I hadn't read yet by my favorite authors. Frances Hardinge is definitely one of my favorites. While I don't always love each individual book, I always appreciate them for the works of art they are. The Lost Conspiracy (Gullstruck Island-UK) is one of those books that swept me away on a tide of beautiful imagery and left me clinging to each page ready to know what happened next.
The Lost Conspiracy is a book that does so much right it is hard to no where to begin. The setting is beautifully treacherous, an island with jungles, volcanoes, dangerous aquatic animals, and cut off from any other part of the world. Harginge brings the island to life in vivid colors, sounds, and feelings. As Hathin and Arilou journey throughout, the reader goes with them and experiences it with them.
Hathin is an amazing heroine. Her entire existence is based on serving her sister. It is what her entire life has always been for. She is Arilou's quiet unobtrusive shadow. People barely even realize she is there most of the time, which works out well for her because it allows her to observe and then manipulate the situation to go where she needs it to go. This life has developed her mind into a strategic, sharp instrument for getting what her sister and her people need. These skills serve her well as her world is blown apart by a conspiracy, and it is up to her to save her sister, herself, and all the Lace people of the island. There is a strong cast of supporting characters that surround Hathin from beginning to end, changing and multiplying as the story goes on. Each of these are intriguing in their own right and fully realized (I don't think Hardinge knows how to write characters any other way), but this story is Hathin's story. She deserves all the credit and glory due her for every hardship and triumph.
The plot is complicated and twisty involving centuries of myth, misunderstanding, and miscommunication. Hardinge has created a razor sharp look at colonialism and its affects with this story. The Lace are one group of the island's indigenous people. It has been a couple hundred years since the settlers came and while they intermarried with many of the other tribes, the Lace remained separate. This is mostly due to an unfortunate incident that involved kidnapping and sacrificing settlers to the volcanoes. Through the history of the island and the current politics tearing it apart, Hardinge depicts perfectly how a clash of cultures, a misunderstanding of tradition, and the easy way prejudices can be used to ignite hate, fear, and violence can cause a ripple affect that is felt and used for generations. I like that while there is clearly a villain, there is also a lot of horror that occurs because ordinary people allow themselves to be manipulated, carried away by a mob mentality, or simply don't stand up and do what's right. I like the shades of gray in that, something else Hardinge is typically good at depicting.
Some favorite quotes that show Hardinge's command of language and her themes: There was a shout of laughter at the idea of the little Lace girl kidnapping the burly towner and taking him away to sacrifice. It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it. Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be remark like a punch in the gut but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave and body would stop them because it was all only a joke...
And so ended the conference of the invisible, in the cavern of blood and secrets, on the night of the mist.
"You see," Therrot added in what was probably meant to be a comforting tone, "revenge doesn't need to be face-to-face. Maybe you're not made for sticking a knife in someone...but would you feel the same way about planting a little fistful of leaves and roots?" Hathin tried to imagine herself using her sickle to dig root space for a sly, slow killer. The idea did feel different, but she was not at all sure it felt better.
My one complaint is that it is a little long. Hardinge's books often are yet usually I can't think what would be cut out. Here I did feel there was a lot of detail in the middl portion that could have been pared down or combined to make the pacing better. This is one small detractor for me in a book that is full of amazing elements. Hardinge is a fantastic storyteller and if you haven't read this or her other books, you definitely need to pick one up. (less)
The Thickety is an interesting fantasy world with a fast-paced and engaging plot. Kara is a strong sympathetic main character and the life she lives i...moreThe Thickety is an interesting fantasy world with a fast-paced and engaging plot. Kara is a strong sympathetic main character and the life she lives is not easy. I can't really love this book for reasons that are such a personal bias that I don't even feel it is important to share them, but I can see how it would appeal to a lot of young readers.
*REVISED REVIEW: After a recent conversation with a friend, I have decided to drop this book's star rating. While there was much I found problematic with it originally, I realize now that I glossed over something I should not have. This is why I love the book and blogging community. Because discussions with friends help me find strengths in books I had not previously seen, and they also open my eyes to my own privilege and how I could allow a serious issue to slide by without commenting. The villain in this story is a girl born with a disability, a disability that she uses to manipulate other and be generally mean, spiteful, and specifically plot awful things toward the protagonist. While her environment can be blamed for how she turned out, the way she is portrayed ties her disability too closely to the evil machinations of her mind. Also, the word "cripple" is used to describe her, which is not acceptable in anyway.
Do I understand that evil and cruel intentions are something that people with disabilities can have? Of course! I'm not naive. However, kids with disabilities see themselves so little in books as it is. When they do have the opportunity to see themselves in a book, do we want them to see themselves as the villain? That is worse than them being the sympathetic sidekick (looking at another popular MG book from this year). We need more books like Handbook for Dragon Slayers where these kids get to see themselves as the heroes.
This combined with the issues I already had means I can't endorse this book in any way. Upon further thinking of the book, I've also decided that the writing isn't of the quality enough to save it from it's weaknesses. (less)
Zane and the Hurricane is an interesting look at the events of Hurricane Katrina from a boy not from New Orleans but who was visiting his great grandm...moreZane and the Hurricane is an interesting look at the events of Hurricane Katrina from a boy not from New Orleans but who was visiting his great grandmother who lived in the Ninth Ward. It covers all the main points that need to be covered: the evacuation notice, the levees breaking, the chaos at the Dome, and the lawlessness. For some reason I felt emotionally detached from it all though. The story did not impact me in the same way Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere , the other Hurricane Katriana MG novel that came out this year, did. This is a great pick for more reluctant readers as it is shorter though. (less)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson is the THIRD collection of poems in novel length I've read and enjoyed this year. I may have to revise my "I hate verse books" stance if this keeps up. It's been a very good year for them.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a collection of poems about her childhood Woodson wrote. It begins with her birth and goes through about 5th grade and chronicles her early years in South Carolina and her elementary years in New York City. Both southern and northern city girl, Woodson's poems reflect her desire for a home and place, but the pull of two and not really belonging fully to either. As she was born in 1963, the book is set agains the backdrop of Civil Rights, Black Panthers, and Vietnam. There are difficult themes and scenarios explored, but all through the view of her child's eyes, making them easy for child readers to relate to and understand. In giving the world her story, she has opened a window on the time period, but also given us all a window into how a child perceived it. It is excellent and very well done.
What struck me most about the poems was Woodson's use of imagery. The places she is are so well described you feel like you are actually there. Her talent for imagery and description extends itself to the people around her so that I felt like I actually knew them and could picture them plainly in front of me. The book made me cry and laugh. I do think it is a little long, but since it is poetry it is still a rather quick read.
The long list for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature was released this week and it is no surprise that Brown Girl Dreaming is on it. (less)
I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again.
Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.
The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.
If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too).
Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.
Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) (less)
I am still making my way through Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. I probably wouldn't have read The Homeward Bounders for a long time to come as it's currently out of print in the the US (except as an e-book) if it weren't for a conversation on Twitter I had with Sage Blackwood in which she said she heard some consider it to be a metaphor for life as a military kid. My interest level rose exponentially and she was kind enough to send me an old used library copy to read. (Much thanks for that.)
This book, like all of Jones's books, has had many covers. I'm using the latest UK cover because I really like these covers for her books.
The Homeward Bounders unfolds slowly. For the first part of the novel Jamie is all alone simply telling his story about how he came to be a Homeward Bounder and the way the worlds work. As he tells his tale little things about Them (the players) are revealed, and what is revealed is rather chilling. They have no regard for lives. They are ruthless in pursuit of the game they are playing. The game they are playing is us and our lives. And the lives of countless other beings in countless other worlds. We are all pieces on a giant board game helped along by computers and players (the identity of who is a brilliant reveal). Who hasn't wondered about that at some point in their life? This is the sheer genius of Diana Wynne Jones, taking the things everyone ponders and expanding on them and turning them into a brilliant story. Jamie is thrust out of his world after discovering the game. A "discard", he is forced to wander the worlds in search of home. He is alone for a great deal of his search and that loneliness comes off the page and affects the reader. Finally Jamie is able to find some companions. Helen is special in her world, but has been exiled because she also discovered too much. Joris is a demon hunter apprentice, a slave with so much devotion he was dragged into life as a Homeard Bounder by a demon he refused to let go. These three are misfits and they form a strong if somewhat squabble team. A team that doubles when they are able to convince some actual non-Bounders of what is going on. But of course, this can't last forever. They are not going to allow them to remain together without a fight. I really enjoyed Jamie as a character all alone, a wander traveling the worlds. And I loved his interactions with the family he cobbles together from the people he meets. Helen and Adam are particularly fun to watch him with.
The Homeward Bounders is tragic, far more so than a lot of Jones's books are. It is a sort of tragic that is full of purpose though. The trials are not for nothing and the people suffering them learn to adjust, though it leaves scars and yearnings they will never shake. Yes, I can see why some people have likened it to life as a military brat. There were some sentences that made me cry because, yes, they do describe the feelings you have, the feeling that home is a place out there somewhere if you could only just find it, but deep down you know you never will because you missed that chance. That your life is out of your control. That you form attachments only to have them ripped away from you so why bother forming them at all anymore. There is something utterly profound in the conclusion of the book that relates as well. The lack of choice the Bounders have about how long they stay in one place (but they do know approximately how long it will be) and their lack of choice in where they end up next speaks to it as well. Whether Jones did this intentionally or not, I can't help but wish I had this book growing up.
The Homeward Bounders is not a book everyone is going to like, but it is perfect for me. I think it is one of Jones's best actually. It doesn't have the charm and quirk of Chrestomanci, Howl, or Derkholm, but it still has a sly and ironic humor that keeps it from being too tragic. And in the end it really is a beautiful story that is brilliantly crafted.(less)
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 h...moreAdam 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. (less)
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.(less)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.
This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is.
The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.
The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE.
Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling.
The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general. (less)
Am I the only one who reached the end of Wednesdays in the Tower and was outraged by where it ended? I doubt it. (I actually know I'm not because I saw the look on my daughter's face when she got there.) Well, for all of us who have been waiting to know what on earth was going on and how that was going to resolve itself, the wait is finally over. Thursdays with the Crown is here.
If you haven't read the first two Castle Glower books, read those before reading this.
I have loved this series so much from the very beginning. It has all of the elements I want in a fantasy: intrigue, adventure, siblings. Throw in baby griffins and a magical castle with secrets and I'm as happy as can be. This volume maintains all the charm and fun of the first two books, while adding another level of intrigue and mystery in the land where Castle Glower originated. Here there is still a war going on that the griffins are caught in the middle of and Celie and her companions get bound up in it as well. In order to get back home they must unlock the secrets of the castle and join forces to figure out what's gone terribly wrong in the land it came from.
Celie continues to be a delightful and interesting heroine. She is less of an active force in this adventure as she and her siblings and friends find themselves with not enough information to be in a position to take much action. But when those opportunities present themselves, Celie rises to the occasion as always. I enjoyed watching the interactions between her and the other characters and the changing dynamics between some of them. There are a few new characters that are added as well. Then there are the other griffins, which are a wonderful bonus!
I think anyone who has enjoyed the first two books in the series will be delighted by this one. It ends in a way that makes me think this series is over, but I certainly wouldn't mind having more.
ETA: YES THERE WILL BE MORE! The lovely people at Bloomsbury informed my on Twitter today that this is not the end. There is much rejoicing in the Painter home from both Bit and me at the news.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, via NetGalley. Thursdays with the Crown has a release date of October 7th.
Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin is a perfect read for budding mystery enthusiasts who may not be quite ready for Sherlock Holmes. I was drawn to this book not only because of the mystery, but also because of the father/son dynamic that the synopsis promised.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Darkus and Alan both bear a strong resemblance to iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. Darkus is socially awkward, but mature and super polite. Both he and his father have a strong observation skills, and Darkus is particularly good at deducing through rational thought. Alan is a bit off his game having been asleep for four years. This gives Darkus an advantage over his father making him the hero. Kids love it when this device is used in their books, and Gavin does a good job with it. At the same time Darkus and his father have a continuously developing relationship that is interesting in itself. Alan was an absent workaholic prior to falling into his long sleep, and he firmly believes that keeping his distance from his son is the best thing for him. In the years his father has been asleep, Darkus decided to become as much like him as possible in order to impress him when he woke up. Alan is impressed, but also chagrined, chastened, and a bit incredulous. Alan is not at all a likeable character. At one point he even says, "She was distracting, Doc. As female counterparts often are." This is an attitude that shines through his entire life, including his dealings with his ex-wife. Darkus fortunately doesn't seem swallow his father's anti-women in the business sentiments. The girl in question here is Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, who is a marvelous character. She needed to be in the book more, and will hopefully be featured more prominently as the series continues.
The mystery is a fun one featuring a mysterious book that is causing people to commit heinous crimes. Alan believes a sinister organization is behind it all. As the case continues, it becomes clear that something with a lot of muscle and little conscience is behind it all. It is one of those mysteries that is a race agains time. It is an engaging read. I know several of my students will be highly interested in it.
One thing I really liked was that the Britishisms were not Americanized. THANK YOU!
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Knightley & Son is available for purchase now. (less)
With a title like The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, the cover, and the synopsis, there was no way I wasn't going to read this new book by Julie Berry despite not always liking her previous titles. Well, I liked this one quite a lot. It is so much fun.
This is the second MG book I've read this year involving a mystery over a short period of time in a house with many residents. I LOVE these sorts of books. If this is a new trend, I'm all on board. Keep them coming. All the members of the Scandalous Sisterhood are wonderful characters. They each have their own very distinct personality and voice. Berry wisely uses a descriptor before each of their names, but that becomes unnecessary after the first third of the book as they are not at all hard to tell apart. Their ringleader Kitty was my favorite, as I'm fairly sure she's meant to be, but all the girls are likeable in their own ways while also having enough flaws to make them human. There is a large cast of characters. In addition to the girls there is an entire town's worth of people from the minister to the doctor to the hired help to the old Admiral who is a neighbor to the mysterious young men in town with whom the girls must contend. With all these and two dead bodies, the girls are quite overwhelmed. One can see how they arrive at the decision to hide the murders, and at the same time, see how it could never possibly work. The book takes on a humorous tone because the reader gets to watch as the girls lose control and everything inevitably unravels.
The mystery is actually quite good. There were aspects of it that I figured out, but others took me completely by surprise. There is one glaring plot inconsistency that bothered me, but I'm willing to overlook due to how much fun the rest of the book was. It isn't always fast moving despite the dead bodies and the humor. There is a lot of sitting around and discussing what's to be done and who knows what. This is the sort of book that requires a patient reader who doesn't mind waiting for the pay-off. The humor is subtle but there are some truly hysterical scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it.
The age for this is definitely upper MG and would appeal to YA audiences too.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Roaring Book Press, via NetGalley. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place has a release date of September 23rd. (less)
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge was one of the books I had to read for the YAMG Book Challenge. It was the only book potentially destined to come my way in the brackets that I had not previously read. Why? Because it has not been published in the US yet. And this is a TRAGEDY.
This is the story of Neverfell, a wide-eyed, sheltered, compassionate, cheerful, inquisitive girl who longs to explore and see the world outside the front door she has been locked behind as long as she can remember. Characters like this usually drive me insane. There is so much goodness in her. An unbelievable amount of goodness. I normally can't stand this, but Neverfell caught me and held me and made me love her. And even though I knew she was heading for a host of awful discoveries that were going to change and disillusion her, I found I didn't want them to change her. She is naive and far too trusting. There were moments when I wanted to jump in the book and knock her upside the head, but her naiveté is so genuine and believable. She has no reason for cynicism or distrust. She was never taught the possible cruelties of the world, and her world is cruel indeed. Where she is, no one can show the emotions they feel in their facial expressions. Except for Neverfell. People pay to learn how to make expressions and tailor them for the appropriateness of a moment, so they are never genuine. Except for Neverfell. She is the perfect tool and in constant danger as a result. She utterly refuses to see this and stumbles through life with a warm generosity that ordinarily makes me want to walk away from a character and never look back. In this case I wanted to shelter her and help her, meaning I was very much able to relate to one of the other characters in the story she comes across. One more cynical and not quite trustworthy. There is more to Neverfell though. Part of her curiosity is a result of her scientific mind. She is an amazingly talented mechanic. She is also fiercely determined and, it turns out, capable of being sneaky and ruthless herself which made me like her even more. (I know. I obviously have issues.) Everyone thinks she's mad, but really her mind just works differently. So much is made about her appearance, but it is really the way she thinks and feels that throw the people around her off. She is different. Other. And that means she is to be feared or used. Both at the same time occasionally.
Which brings me to the themes in the book. Through Neverfell and the people she comes in contact with, those who want to use her, those who want to protect her, and those who end up working with her, Hardinge paints a picture of a society we all can recognize because we live in it. Despite the world of Carverna being distinctly different from our own, it is exactly like our own. The twisted political maneuverings, the exploitation and intentional subjugation of those that can be forced to work, the falseness of society, and the power of belief in a system is brought out in every word on every page. But it is not at all forced. It is rendered through the contrast of Neverfell and the world around her, thorough her desire to do good and her ability to spark the same in others, through the details in the world building. It is all brilliantly woven together.
Then there is the writing, which is as top-notch as it gets. Beautiful imagery, evocative descriptions, and soul searing emotion are all on display. The world of Caverna is one I could feel, see, taste, and smell. The twistiness of the writing mirrors the twistiness of the world, leaving the reader slightly confused and light-headed in places, exactly as I imagine life in Caverna would be. I felt at times like I was being smothered under the weight of it all just as Neverfell was. I wanted her to get out from underneath that mountain and feel the sun and wind and rain. Hear birds sing. I expect good writing when I sit down with a Frances Hardinge novel, but feel she outdid my fairly high expectations with this one. Some examples: No, despite her best efforts she was a skinny, long-boned tangle of fidget and frisk, with feet that would not stay still, and elbows made to knock things off shelves.
There were many who called the Court a jungle, and with good reason. It had a jungle's lush and glittering beauty. The people who dwelt in it, in their turn, were not unlike jungle creatures...There are many dangers in the jungle, but perhaps the greatest is forgetting that one is not the only hunter, and that one is probably not the largest.
He felt a shock, as if her faith was a golden axe and had struck right through his dusty husk of a heart. The heart did not bleed, however, and in the next moment its dry fibres were closing and knitting back together again.
A Face Like Glass has a lot of political intrigue and complexity to it as well. It demands a lot of its readers, whether adults or children. And I love that. Books intended for a child audience who don't talk down to them or underestimate them are the best books there are. It never shies away from the harder more difficult truths it is trying to convey, but simply puts them in a package a child can see, understand, and accept. And running through all of the darkness and hard truths is brightness of hope. This book is everything that I love and it will have a place on my bookshelf forever. (less)
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is an ambitious fantasy with an intriguing concept.
The Glass Sentence is pretty much all about the world building. The world is complex. Complex in a way that the author felt the need to be extraordinarily detailed in its description. In fact, I found myself getting lost in the details and explanations and long dialogues about how things work. Not lost in a good way. I confess it. I was bored in several places. The world is fascinating in many ways. I was immediately intrigued by the Great Disruption and how it created different eras in different parts of the world so that it was difficult for international cooperation to work because no one was in the same era. The idea of all the different sorts of maps and their powers and legends was a bit much though as were the lessons full of dialogue where they were explained. So much exposition. So much info-dumping. Both of these things are somewhat necessary in a large scope fantasy world, but then again an author with a deft hand can convey reams of information with few words. Megan Whalen Turner has spoiled me I suppose, but I have little patience for books where the author feels their knowledge of the world and all of its small parts is so important that every minute detail needs to be shared with the reader in order for them to understand the story. I skimmed a lot here and got the story just fine.
The plot minus all the exposition is a good one if a tad predictable. (Predictable for an adult reader, probably not for child readers.) The politics, the mystery, the journey, and the working with maps is all a lot of fun. There are creepy bad guys, helpful pirates, and hidden things that must be found. It is a story where the kids take center stage without grown up supervision or interference for most of it. It would have been thoroughly engrossing if not for the details. Oh so many details.
What suffered the most from all those world building details? The character development. This is what made the book only average for me. I may have overlooked the amount of world building minutia if the characters had managed to crawl out from under it to shine. But for me they didn't. They are your basic caricatures of fantasy characters seen a thousand times with little development an no arcs.
I can see myself recommending this book to patient kids I know who love fantasy with intricate world-building, but it fell far short of being a favorite of mine. In a year where so many amazing MG fantasy novels came out and told amazing stories within fewer pages, this can't stand out for me. (less)
The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.
Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing.
For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be.
I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall.
As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle.
I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me. (less)