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)
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. (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)
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)
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)
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 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)
Originally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is a new acquisition at my local l...moreOriginally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is a new acquisition at my local library that caught my eye. I checked it out despite the crazy amount of ARCs I currently have to review and was excited when I found a slot where I could actually slip it into the schedule. It is a heartwarming story of family and identity and I'm glad that I found it.
Violet is a typical MG age girl. She longs for a kitten, fights with and loves her family, enjoys spending time with her friends, and likes to ice skate (but is not overly ambitious about it or talented at it). All this makes her an easily accessible character for any reader. Her voice is strong and pulls you into the story right aways, making her sympathetic even if you have no way of identifying with her particular struggle. I found the way Woods set up Violet's conflicted feelings and struggle with her heritage to be believable and subtle. She does this by presenting different scenes where aspects of Violet's daily interactions, the prejudices and questions she has to deal with, are revealed clearly. Her frustration with it is palpable. This just makes her all the more relatable and her situation seem that much more important and real.
The plot is a slow one. This isn't a book with a lot of action. It is about a girl figuring out her place in her family and the world, and focuses more on character. What is nice, is that Woods doesn't drag it out. She keeps the prose, while beautifully worded in places, from being too philosophical or didactic. She tells her story in such a way that a reader in the target audience can maintain interest despite the lack of intense action. There are places where I found the prose to be a little awkward, particularly in certain conversations. Yet there are places where true brilliance shows through in the prose too.
This is a perfect book to give a reader who likes realistic fiction, particularly stores about friendships and family. (less)
Steve Sheinkin is the master at non-fiction. I love how he builds the reader's outrage over the injustices suffered and sympathy for the sailors slowl...moreSteve Sheinkin is the master at non-fiction. I love how he builds the reader's outrage over the injustices suffered and sympathy for the sailors slowly and thoroughly before he even gets to the details of the explosion, "mutiny", and trial. As always his pacing is brilliant and his details and facts well chosen and presented in an enthralling way. I had no idea this had ever occurred so I'm also appreciative of him writing this book so I could learn about it. (less)
This is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the story...moreThis 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).(less)
Half a Chance is a short fast read, which is good because not a lot happens in the book. It is one of those slow books about a summer at a lake with b...moreHalf a Chance is a short fast read, which is good because not a lot happens in the book. It is one of those slow books about a summer at a lake with bird watching and a grandmother who is slowly losing her memory. It is also a book about friendship, family, and photography. All of these elements combine well. The characters are portrayed very simply and without a lot of depth but they are relatable. Nothing about the book stood out as being special or something to take note of though. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
If Endangered had not been a National Book Award Finalist a couple years ago, I may...more4.5 Stars
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
If Endangered had not been a National Book Award Finalist a couple years ago, I may have never discovered Eliot Schrefer and that would have been sad, because I love his writing. I just don't tend to gravitate toward books like Endangered and his latest, Threatened. As I said in my last review, I don't do survival stories, especially if they have anything to do with animals, so the fact that Schrefer is able to keep and hold my interest and, more importantly, make me care and feel every bit of these tense situations is a testament to the fine writing in these books.
In Endangered Schrefer took us out of our comfort zone and into war torn Congo. That book has a protagonist who grew up in the US giving readers at least some connection to the life she had. Seeing Africa through the eyes of someone with a similar paradigm made the story seem more comfortable, at least starting out. In Threatened Schrefer takes this last bit of comfortable connection to US readers away, and it works beautifully. Luc is an AIDs orphan working to pay off his dead mother's hospital debt to a moneylender. The story is told in first person from by him and a couple sentences was all it took for me to fall completely into the spell of his voice and story. I have no concept of Luc's reality. I've never seen most of the things he describes and I can not come close to imagining the life he lives, which is why I appreciate this book. It is a window into a world I will probably never in my comfortable life even glimpse. Luc is someone I felt like I knew even after a few brief pages though. His voice pulled me into his world and I felt as though I was right there with him. Schrefer has a real talent for making you feel a character's emotions and experiences. It isn't just Luc's world in Gabon that the reader is pulled into though, it is also the world of the chimpanzees in the jungle, or as Luc calls it "the Inside". And here is where the writing really impressed me because I never thought I could come to love a group of chimpanzees and see their individual personalities like I did the ones in this book. When I say I am not an animal person, I honestly mean I don't think about them unless they're right in front of me for some reason and then my attention is brief, so that I found my self growing attached to fictional apes is a testament to the skill of the author telling their story. From adorable baby Mango to her fierce older brother Drummer to the patron of the clan, I found myself by turns fascinated by, concerned for, and troubled with their lives. The man who brings Luc into the jungle goes by the name of Prof and he is also an intriguing character. The small details of his life that are revealed make him into a nuanced and deep character. His intentions are good, his methods are not always. Of course all of the information on the other characters is coming from Luc and his voice has so much power that he made me feel the doubts, hesitations, loyalties, and tenderness he was feeling towards all of them.
The jungle setting of the book is eerily beautiful. Schrefer's vivid imagery brings the place to lush hot life. I found myself swatting at imaginary bugs and feeling like things were crawling on me more than once. While not exactly pleasant, I am impressed by how immersed I was in every aspect of the book. This is a story of the relationship between man and his environment and the creatures who share that environment. Schrefer does an excellent job at highlighting the similarities between humans and chimpanzees and through this highlighting the dangers facing the chimpanzees in the wild. Never does the book take on a didactic or self-righteous tone though. All this is told through Luc and ultimately it is the story of him finding a family he loves and wants to protect. I think this is summed up perfectly in a quote spoken in the book by the Prof: "You know, when you think about it, all survival stories that end happily are also family stories."
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic, at ALA Midwinter. Threatened is on sale February 25. (less)
I'm not going to say Sloan can't write well, because she can. There were several times while reading this book that I found myself smiling at her word...moreI'm not going to say Sloan can't write well, because she can. There were several times while reading this book that I found myself smiling at her wording and a couple of times I laughed out loud. But. I had the same issues with this book I had with I'll Be There. There is a lot of telling in this book. So much. There are pages that are nothing but exposition and that just doesn't work for me. I feel so distanced from the characters. And again, there are so many of them and everything they think/feel is explained to me. Not shown in a way that makes me experience it, but told. As though I'm getting it from a second hand source and that is not how I enjoy books. I think I can just conclude that Sloan and I are not a good writer/reader fit.(less)
There is not a lot of MG historical fiction about the McCarthy Era so this is a nice book to be able to have available for kids to read. I liked how t...moreThere is not a lot of MG historical fiction about the McCarthy Era so this is a nice book to be able to have available for kids to read. I liked how the book showed the community fears and reactions of the time,but did it through a child's eyes and with a child's perception of the world. I loved how Hazel so fervently believed in what she learned about the Red scare and she took these lessons and thoughts to heart. I felt her reaction was completely genuine for some one her age. I did think the book was quite a bit longer than it needed to be to tell the story it was telling. It dragged in many places. (less)
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 Th...moreOriginally 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. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Jinx was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I fell in love with the characters and the world...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Jinx was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I fell in love with the characters and the world they inhabited. It is always a bit scary when you go back to characters and a world you love so much in a sequel. Exciting too though. And lovers of Jinx, Simon, and the Urwald have nothing to fear from Jinx's Magic. Sage Blackwood outdid herself in this one.
If you haven't read Jinx yet, go and do that NOW. Then come back and read this.
In book one Jinx went from being a child to an adolescent. His independent streak is growing, he rolls his eyes a lot at the adults in his life, and he is questioning many things. He is still a boy who is confused by many things in life and needs help. He wants to know the people who care for him are still around. He is exactly everything a thirteen year old boy should be. I enjoyed watching his character grow more and how he interacted with the people around him. The first part of the story involves Jinx getting Reven out of the Urwald as he promised he would. Reven continues to be conniving, manipulative, and obnoxious and I loved when Jinx finally had enough. Elfwyn plays a role in this story as well. I really enjoy what is happening with her character and am eager to see where it will lead.
I continue to adore Simon oh so much, particularly in his relationship with Jinx. Jinx looks up to him so much, but is also annoyed with him. He wants Simon to allow him to do what he needs. Simon has other ideas about what is needed. The push and pull between these two is so utterly genuine that any one who has ever grown up and had to deal with the changing dynamic with their parents will get it completely. Simon is often telling Jinx in various ways to "drop his attitude". Jinx's attitude's not going anywhere. And every conversation between these two is funny and yet filled with emotion too. Sophie also returns in this book and is still lovely and wonderful. I hope we see even more of her in the next book.
Two new characters are introduced as well. Jinx meets both Wendell and Satya in Samara. They are his friends when he desperately needs them even though he doesn't completely trust Satya. Wendell is my favorite of the secondary character in the book now. I enjoyed his outlook on life, his loyalty, and his courage.
The story continues from where the first book left off. The Bonemaster breaks free of his bonds, Reven and his "kingdom" are a threat to the Urwald, and the trees keep telling Jinx things he doesn't understand. Also some troublesome elves make a mysterious appearance that does not bode well for our hero. Half of the story takes place in the Urwald where Jinx is contending with the demands on the Listener, Simon, and the Bonemaster breaking through his wards. The other half takes place in Samara where Jinx is contending with learning as much as he can while also navigating the political intrigue and secretive workings of the Temple. The Urwald and Samara are very different and both are described so well. The imagery Blackwood uses and how well thought out the world-building is makes me feel like I'm actually there. I could not put the book down. Every page had some piece of information, some wonderful piece of dialogue, or some adventure to keep reading on until I was finished far too fast. It was one of those experiences where I turned the last page, sighed because there was no more to read, and then hugged the book.
To say that I'm excited for the third book would be an understatement. Of immense proportions.
I read an ARC won in a giveaway from the author. I also received an e-galley from the publisher, Harper Children's, on Edelweiss. Jinx's Magic comes out on January 7.(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have never read a multi-author series before and was wondering what it would be like so to...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have never read a multi-author series before and was wondering what it would be like so took the opportunity to request the second book in the Spirit Animals series, Huntedby Maggie Stiefvater, when it came up on NetGalley. I read Wild Born by Brandon Mull earlier this year. I feel like Hunted is a better book and enjoyed it more.
This is not a book you want to jump into without having read the first. The world building and characters are dependent on information given in Wild Born. This means the same reliance on cultural stereotypes that bothered me a bit in the first book remains, but the characters are developed a bit more in this volume. All four kids are trying to move as best they can into the roles they have been thrust into. They also need to learn to work together which constitutes the greater challenge. Abeke feels like the others don't trust her, and in many ways they don't, particularly Meilin. Rollan tries not to rely on anyone and therefore keeps everyone at a distance. Conor is besieged by doubts of his ability to what is asked of him and his worthiness for his role. Meilin is impatient and ready to move on, constantly worried about the danger her homeland is in. A new character is introduced named Finn, an older Greencoat who can not fight. He is their guide on the treacherous journey to gain another of the Great Beast's Talismans. I really enjoyed his addition to the story and hope we see more of him in the coming books.
Hunted has a different feel from Wild Born. The book concentrates more on Conor and his relationship with the people he has left behind. While it has a similar quest, to find a talisman, the quest goes and ends very differently. In this second installment more meat is put onto the bones of the basic story and the experience is richer as a result. I did find myself frustrated by the end. I feel like it invalidated all that led up to it, making none of it worth it. I think this is similar to how the characters will feel and watching them go forward and try to work together from this point will be interesting. I'm definitely read to read book three when it comes out in March. It will be called Blood Ties and is written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.
I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. Hunted will be available January 7. (less)
I may have found this book more charming and less annoying if it had not immediately followed my reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sometimes readi...moreI may have found this book more charming and less annoying if it had not immediately followed my reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sometimes reading order makes a difference, but I don't think it would have changed my mind too much. I have very little tolerance for the small southern town full of quirky novel, and this small fictional southern town happens to be near the southern city I live in. The plot is slow and not very much happens. It involves a lot of individual old stories coming together as one and this is not executed as well as it could have been. The book is saved from being completely disastrous by Felicity's character who is sympathetic and works hard to become who she wants to be. I will have no problem recommending this book to my students, but I didn't enjoy it much and I could think of a whole list of books I would rather give them first. It will appeal to kids who like words and language and don't mind slower plots. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Sky Jumpers by Peggy Edleman is a futuristic novel for MG readers with a different sort of t...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Sky Jumpers by Peggy Edleman is a futuristic novel for MG readers with a different sort of twist. I found the world to be an interesting one and the story a perfect one to recommend to young readers.
The world and concept of Sky Jumpers is one I found particularly interesting. It is post-apocolyptic but takes place in a community that is working hard to move forward with hope and rebuild what they can. This is not the typical outlook for these type of books and I appreciated that difference. The people of White Rock work communally and have competitions for inventions meant to inspire creativity and jump start their new civilization. There is still danger to be found in the way the bombs from World War III changed the atmosphere and in the bandits that roam around stealing whatever they can from the settlements that remain. The bandits in this book are dangerous, but quite possibly not dangerous enough to be realistic. For a MG book aimed at young readers this works though. The danger is real but not too horrific.
I also enjoyed the characters Edleman created. Hope is dealing with insecurities because she doesn't feel she fits into the society that has been created. She can not invent things like the others in her community. But she is brave and she knows how to strategize and those are skills that are just as necessary. Her two best friends, Aaren and Brock, complement her and round out the team nicely. Brock is a bit more two dimensional than the other two but I'm sure that will change as the series progresses.
The plot is a engaging and action filled. I was a little thrown at first by the passage of time and how the first part fast forwards days then weeks, but soon the book stuck to a more stable rhythm. This is one of those stories where the kids have to save the day when the adults can't and those are always fun.
I will certainly be reading the next book in the series when it comes out and will recommend it to my students. (less)
This is an interesting combination of historical fiction and myth. The Norwegian folktales are woven into the story in Astri's head. They are the stor...moreThis is an interesting combination of historical fiction and myth. The Norwegian folktales are woven into the story in Astri's head. They are the story she tells her self and her sister to keep herself sane and grounded. There is no true fantasy element in the story itself. It is a historical fiction novel. I found this a tad disappointing as I wanted a fairy tale retelling. i did really like Astri's character. She is bold, courageous, and not above doing hard things to change her life. She has her wits about her. I also liked how she was torn about her more difficult decision and what it meant about who she is as a person. I didn't like how once I had adjusted to this being straight up historical fiction some magical realism was thrown in toward the end. (less)
I am not a fan of The Series of Unfortunate Events so this was not the right book for me from the start. I just don't like the style of them. I know I...moreI am not a fan of The Series of Unfortunate Events so this was not the right book for me from the start. I just don't like the style of them. I know I'm in the minority here and I can't even tell you WHAT it is about it that bothers me so much. I just know it does. (less)