I feel there is a lack of good quality MG historical fiction that is fun and adventurous, where the point isn't to teach a history lesson, but to just have a story that sweeps you up in its magic and action. The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands fills this need.
Christopher Rowe is an apothecary's apprentice in post Restoration London. He works hard, but he has a kind master who teaches him well and allows him enough free time for adventures that often end in mischief and trouble. He can't complain about his life. All of that starts to fall apart when a series of murders occur in their small corner of London. Murders that seem to be targeting apothecaries. When Christopher's master becomes the next victim, Christopher's entire future is left unsure. Worse he finds himself a suspect. As time is running out, Christopher races to find the true murder and finds himself caught in a web of politic intrigue and ancient intrigues.
Christopher is a hero whose story it is easy to get swept up in. When the reader meets him, he is trying to convince his best friend Thomas it would be a good use of their time to build a cannon. I really enjoyed the bond between Christopher and Thomas and how they behaved very much like typical kids their age. They have the responsibilities of their time and social situation that influences their life, but they are happy, active, inquisitive kids looking for ways to lighten the intensity of their days. Modern kids will be able to find much to identify with there.
The mystery aspect of the story is well done. I felt like the discoveries Christopher made were realistic enough to not stretch incredulity, but made for an adventurous read at the same time. What he was able to do and accomplish fit his character well too. He is a bright boy and is fueled by a desire to regain control of his future. It is the world's best motivator.
This is a book that is heavy with male characters. There are girls in the story who are helpful and if there is going to be a sequel, I would love to see some of them have a bigger role and importance. However, given the world in which Christopher was moving and working, the roles the girls played made sense.
As I read, I was just so excited to be reading a fun historical mystery where that was the whole point. So refreshing.
I try to avoid books that have rape in them as a general rule of thumb. I know they are important lifelines for some peoNope. Nope. Nope. So much no.
I try to avoid books that have rape in them as a general rule of thumb. I know they are important lifelines for some people. But they do nothing good for my mental health. (And I've never experienced one. I can only imagine what it does to some who have). So all the heads up and trigger warnings on this. The rape happens off page and isn't described but there are vague flashbacks and it was still highly disturbing. That it was an incestuous rape is important to note too.
I do like what McGinnis was trying to with the idea of what makes a person mentally ill and the history of how we treated such people-and how easy it was to get someone committed-through the first part of the story. But then the book took a horrifying turn into the worst revenge plot of all time. And while how that went, ostensibly supported the ideas McGinnis was playing with it made me highly uncomfortable. And more than a little angry.
I read a galley provided by publisher on Edelweiss....more
R.J. Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Being a voracious reader, I have a lot of authors I really like, but she is included in a special group of authors whose books I would scoop up in my arms if I was escaping my house in a disaster. They are all excellent and stand up to multiple rereads. Anderson has written books about (awesome) faerys and amazing girls in a mind boggling sci-fi duology. Her latest book, A Pocket Full of Murder, is a MG magical murder mystery and it is a perfect book for me in every way possible.
Isaveth's family has fallen on hard times since her mother's recent death. Her father, a builder, lost a major job he was counting on and has fallen into despair. Her sister had to quit school to get a job in a sweatshop factory. Just when things begin to look better for the family and her father's commission is restored, a worse tragedy befalls them. When the man who had fired then rehired Isaveth's father is found dead by means of Common Magic, Isaveth's father is arrested. Isaveth knows her father is innocent, but she's not sure how to go about proving it. As she begins to investigate, she is joined by a street boy with an eye patch named Quiz who has eyes and ears all over the city and a knack for getting at information. Together they begin to try and discover the real murderer in a case that has too many suspects and disastrous consequences for both of them if they fail.
GAHHHHHH!!!!! I don't really know where I want to start with this. I have so much love for every part of this book, and my brain just keeps doing cartwheels and squealing LOVE LOVE LOVE. Trying to calm it down and act rationally is a challenge. I even waited a few days after finishing to give myself space so I could write this. But as soon as I started thinking about the book again, I got a rush of endorphins and lost control of my critical thinking skills. I will start with what I always love most, the characters, and hope my brain calms enough to cooperate.
Isaveth is smart, courageous, and stubborn. When her family is having hard times, she pulls down her mother's book of magic recipes and concocts spells to sell on the street to give them a little extra money. She has a passionate love for dramatic crystal set (radio) shows and writes fanfiction for it on any scrap of paper she can get her hands on. She is perfecting her craft. Her imagination is vast and she's bursting with twelve year old idealism mixed with the harsh realities of the life she is living. She is desperate to free her father, and her headlong rush into investigating the crime causes her to stumble into unfortunate situations at times and make rash judgements and mistakes. This includes not listening to Quiz on the occasions when he tells her to slow down and think something through.
Quiz is no stranger to dashing into dangerous situations without thinking them through first himself though. He is also a bit of an adrenaline junkie who rides down hills at breakneck speeds and is prone to getting into sticky situations in defense of those who need defending. He is adorably awkward around Isaveth at times. When he's interacting with her sisters you can see how badly he longs for a regular family and normalcy. Together Isaveth and Quiz make a fantastic team. He can go places and get information she can't, and vice-versa. He is there to give her rides when she needs them and generally back her up when she's in a tough spot. And when the tables are turned and he is in the tough spot, she does the same for him. I have all these FEELINGS for both of them, separate and together. Feelings I will never be able to properly put into words.
The mystery is a good old fashioned mystery where there are clues that seem to lead to everywhere or nowhere, lots of suspects, and a few good twists. (Some of which I saw coming due to reasons I imagine will not be the case for the majority of the readers of this book.*) The ways in which Isaveth and Quiz find their information makes sense for the world they live in, and they are reliant on those older than them for crucial things. Isaveth's older sister plays a major part in helping them collect information. The way the mystery all came together in the end was fascinating and the resolution complex and layered, but simple to understand for the intended audience.
The world Anderson created for this book is one where society is split between nobility and those who are not. The nobility has a very specific sort of magic they use to keep the world running smoothly. Common Magic is for those not so privileged and was a hard won ability for the regular people. The city of Tarreton where Isaveth and Quiz live is divided. The common people are tired of being abused, underpaid, and unable to make decisions. Rebellion is whispered of and unrest is high. These political issues are an integral part of the story and woven into the texture of the character's lives perfectly. Religion plays a part in this as well. Isaveth's family are Moshites (very similar to real world Jewish faith) and therefore looked on as outsiders, if not dangerous dissenters. It's part of the reason her father makes such a perfect frame for murder. Anderson presents the religious and political aspects as part of everyday life important in different ways to different people and this makes the world she has built all the more realistic as a result.
I highly recommend this book to all lovers of mystery and fantasy of any age. There is something here to enjoy for everyone. I can not wait until my pre-ordered copy arrives so I can read it again. And so my daughter can read it because this is exactly the sort of book she adores.
*I saw some of the twists coming because I am a fan of the source material that was Anderson's inspiration. A HUGE fan actually. If you are completely unaware of what that source material is or anything about it, you have lots of surprises in store. I'm including this note for those of you who know what inspired this and love it as much as I do. I just want you to know that Anderson did an awesome job with that. It's a nice little treat for those of us who know and love that particular literary detective. (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, but want to, ask in the comments and I'll tell you. Not spoilers. Just what the source material is.)
I read an ARC made available from the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Pocket Full of Murder is on sale September 8th....more
I really enjoy how this series balances serious core problems of humanity with the fun of children outwitting adults and solving crimes. The racial isI really enjoy how this series balances serious core problems of humanity with the fun of children outwitting adults and solving crimes. The racial issues that are a daily hardship for Hazel when she's not at school were brought a bit more in this book. But this is mostly a more in depth look at Daisy's life, which we see through Hazel's eyes but are given a clearer view of here. Poor Daisy who has philandering mother, a weak and sad father, and an angry brother. Daisy's Uncle Felix was everything I hoped for and I definitely want to see him again in future volumes. (I would also like to see another adult character who I adored again.)...more
I love a good mystery story, but I admit to being kind of picky in my literary detectives. The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos was intriguing enough in its premise that I knew I wanted to read it.
Imogene has no memory of her mother. All she has the story fanciful story her father has told her since she was little of how they met and fell in love. Her father was a forensic pathologist and her mother was there to identify a body. When Imogene's father goes missing, he believes one clue behind with Imogene. A clue Imogene is convinced is meant to lead her to both her parents. With the help of her friend Imogene begins to look into her mother's past and follow a trail of clues that will hopefully lead her to the answers she's always pretended she didn't need.
Imogene has spent her entire life never getting too close to anyone. She convinced herself that her dad was enough. She didn't need the risk. As a result, Immogen looks at most of her relationships as mutualism. She has a pretty amazing best friend who she is judgmental and dismissive of most of the time. Until she needs her help. Imogene is incredibly selfish and self-centered. It makes her incredibly real, but also frustrating to be in her head sometimes. However, there was a lot about her I understood and appreciated too particularly regarding her relationship with books. And Podos does not allow Imogene to escape the consequences of her selfishness and has her grow from the things she learns about herself and her relationships with other people. Jessa may be a better best friend to Imogene than Imogene is to her, but I enjoyed watching Imogene realize that and see that growth. Lindi, her stepmom, also suffers from the walls Imogene has put up in her mind and heart against others. Their relationship also undergoes changes and Imogene's appreciation of her stepmother grows as the story progresses. I really enjoyed this book for these relationships in particular, but also that it was so much about relationships in general. I also thoroughly appreciated how the relationship between Imogene and Jessa's brother, Imogene's long time crush, resolved. It was a unique and refreshing thing to see in a YA novel.
Both Imogene's parents suffer from depression or a disease that influences their behavior and emotions. Not having experienced what either of them do, I can not speak to how well this is handled for their particular diagnoses. I do like how the book portrayed the need for and helpfulness of therapy and medication. It really stressed how bad it is to trust your emotions and thoughts and how important taking the meds for continued health are.
The mystery of the book is not nearly as important as Imogene's personal journey. She isn't the detective she thinks herself, but her investigation and the way the author revealed each piece of the puzzle kept me riveted and reading. My big problem with the book is the end is a little too wrapped up. I would have preferred the end without the very last chapter (which is very much an epilogue even if it's not really called an epilogue). Imogene's character development up to that point was clear. Enough was figured out and set in motion for a hopeful future. The last chapter overdid that. This made me sad as the book was incredibly well executed up to that point.
The Mystery of Hollow Places is a book I definitely recommend to those who enjoy good character stories and puzzles.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. The Mystery of Hollow Places is on sale January 26th....more
I thought this book was just a rehashing of book one, but the voice and tone was more grating and wearisome than charming this time around. I had suchI thought this book was just a rehashing of book one, but the voice and tone was more grating and wearisome than charming this time around. I had such high hopes too because I LOVED The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. I thought that this series was only going to get better. Alas, that was not to be. ...more
I really liked this! As far as mysteries go, it wasn't spectacular. It was incredibly easy to discern who the culprit was and exactly what m4.5 stars
I really liked this! As far as mysteries go, it wasn't spectacular. It was incredibly easy to discern who the culprit was and exactly what motive was behind their actions. BUT. I don't care. Because I loved Amelia's voice. She is intelligent, capable, independent, and adventurous. I enjoyed the irony in her narration as well. The reader knows far more than Amelia does and it adds a lot of humor to the book. I also really liked the romance. It is my favorite type: hate to love and full of banter and denial. Fun....more
I love murder mysteries and boarding school stories. Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens delivers brilliantly on both.
It is the 1930s and Deepdean School is a place where wealthy young ladies are sent for education and betterment. Hazel Wong is one such young lady. She is from Hong Kong, and her father sent her to England to be schooled because of his own enjoyable school boy day there. Soon after her arrival, Hazel is befriended by Daisy Wells the daughter of an English Lord. These two girls make up their own secret detective agency after Daisy spends a summer immersing herself in Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christy, and Dorothy Sayers. The girls content themselves with minor mysteries until one night Hazel stumbles on the dead body of their Science Mistress, Miss Bell. The body disappears mere minutes later. Now the girls have a murder to investigate with no body, multiple suspects, and few clues. In the days that follow, the girls uncover more secrets about their school and the people who reside their then they ever dreamed, but they also uncover some important truths about themselves.
Hazel and Daisy and their dynamic reminded me quite a lot of Ananka and Kiki in the Kiki Strike series. Daisy is the charismatic trickster who has her fingers in several different pies and agents to do her bidding. She pretends to be a very different person than she actually is in order to manipulate the people around her and get what she wants. Hazel is the controlled, steady, sensible one who relies more on book knowledge. She tells the girls' story as the secretary of the detective society. As the book is told from Hazel's first person perspective, I found myself sympathizing with her more. This is also due to her struggle to fit in and be seen as just one of the girls when she is from such a very different place. Hazel's desire to be just like everyone else and the way she belittles her different looks has a very realistic tone to it particularly for this historic time period. Her allusions to how the teachers view her culture and how inaccurate their view is, also lends a realism to her voice. Hazel is also the more cautious of the two girls and has far more common sense. In contrast Daisy comes across as impatient and obnoxious, often taking advantage of Hazel, belittling her, and not listening to sense when she ought. But she can also admit when she is wrong and humbles herself when it is needed. Together the girls make a great team. Daisy brings Hazel out of her shell, and Hazel forces Daisy to be more sensitive and thoughtful.
The mystery is exactly the sort I like. There are a lot of suspects, but they are limited to the people within the school. I was kept guessing and wondering, just as surprised by the girls at the outcome. The school itself is a great setting. It's a realistic look at the social strata, power plays, and politics of a such a school in the worlds of both the students and the adults.
I adored this first installment, and am looking forward to reading others in the series. The second book is out in the UK. I'm hoping it will follow here quickly.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Murder is Bad Manners is on sale April 21st in the US. It is already available in the UK under the title Murder Most Unladylike....more
It is sad that Space Case by Stuart Gibbs didn't get a better cover. I can seeing it getting skipped over without a second glance, and that would just be sad because it is actually a fun science-ficition murder mystery.
Dash Gibson is a "Moonie" one of the first residences on the moon. His parents are both scientists working on the space station there. The government lured their family there with promises of adventure and historic fame. They would be pioneers. Dash feels hoodwinked. Life on the moon is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and is uncomfortable to boot. Dash wants nothing more than to return to his life in Hawaii. He misses his friends, the ocean, having toilets that flush normally, and fresh food. But things in the space station become more interesting when one the resident doctor dies while on an unauthorized moonwalk. Dash immediately suspects foul play. He overheard a conversation the doctor had the night before where he was excited to reveal a recent discover. Dash's concerns are smoothed over and he is told to keep quiet until a mysterious security official approaches him in secret and asks for help investigating. Soon Dash is convinced he's right about the doctor's death being murder. Unfortunately Dash's investigations have attracted to notice of exactly the wrong person.
This is an interesting sci-fi twist on the murder mystery at a house party story. The inhabitants of the space station are trapped. There is nowhere for them to go. A murderer on the loose is definitely not a comforting though. This is why so many people want to silence Dash. The actual investigation is one I found to be highly probable. I can see the Dash and his friends being able to do the things they did in this story and follow the clues to their outcome. I also felt that the scientific aspects were well done and what I imagine would be possible in the not too distant future. I liked how sterile and uncomfortable life on the moon was because that's also realistic.
Dash is a great hero. He is smart, sarcastic, and willing to take risks. At the same time, he is a typical kid, one who is just learning that he doesn't always want to go along with what the adults have to say. He has a quiet rebellion beginning to stir in him that the target audience for this book will be able to identify with. As a result of living on the moon, he does have a fair amount of independence and maturity, but his parents are very much all up in his business all the time. Typically in stories like this, parents are conveniently shuffled to the side. Not so in this book. Dash is tripping over his constantly. I liked that. We are seeing more involved and engaged parents show up in MG speculative fiction and that's a trend that needs to continue. Dash's closest ally in his investigations is a newcomer his age named Kira. She is the perfect foil for Dash. Adventurous, a boundary pusher, definitely not tripping over her father at every turn, she is a lot of things Dash isn't and they balance each other well.
I do hope that there are going to be more of these. Good murder mysteries for MG readers are a hard find, and this one is delightful. ...more
So many people who I share reading tastes with loved this book, but I just couldn't get into it at all. It's hard for me to put a finger on exactly whSo many people who I share reading tastes with loved this book, but I just couldn't get into it at all. It's hard for me to put a finger on exactly what wasn't working for me, but I was bored and avoided it for days so just gave up. ...more
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,3.5 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. ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this, and it had nothing to do with the mystery, which was rather predictable, or the execution of the plot, which is sometimes mI thoroughly enjoyed this, and it had nothing to do with the mystery, which was rather predictable, or the execution of the plot, which is sometimes muddled. No. All my enjoyment of this is wrapped up in the characters, who I love. I have often said, I can forgive you a lot in plotting and setting, if you give me characters to love. Flavia is just such a terrific heroine. Precocious, a genius even, she is still very much her age. While she sometimes runs circles around all the grown ups in her life, she is still vulnerable and overlooks the things a child would easily overlook. I just loved everything about her, her manipulativeness, her snark, her fierce need for vengeance, and calm execution of revenge. She's a little sociopath, but a lovable one.
I liked this scene from when she found the almost-dead body: I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn't. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were breathed upon by death. Then the utter stillness. I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
And boy does she embrace it. I just love that about her. She attacks life with such vigor and has an insatiable curiosity and is completely unapologetic for who she is.
I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.
I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series as well. ...more
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. ...more
To be fair if younger me had read this, it may have blown my mind. Older me has too much experience with psychological thrillers and genre tropes of sTo be fair if younger me had read this, it may have blown my mind. Older me has too much experience with psychological thrillers and genre tropes of such so I had the entire thing figured out by the end of the first chapter. ENTIRELY. Even the author's attempts at misdirection didn't shake my confidence that I was right. And I was. I do think that this is a failure on the part of the writer to craft his story with the proper amount of suspense. Also, I don't like be bashed over the head with symbolism. I don't enjoy it when writers condescend to their readers as though they are not smart enough to grasp thematic elements and symbolism without the author's help. So that annoyed me too. The plot is certainly full of intrigue, paced well, and has many edge-of-your-seat moments. This is clearly Dekker's strength as a writer, though I was rolling my eyes at how safe and sanitized it all was.
I may have been able to give this three stars if I hadn't been so enraged by the last couple of pages and the character of Jennifer. I could not believe the choices she was making and where Dekker implied all of that was going. Talk about having a female character who exists only in relation to what she can do for the male lead. ...more
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 II 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. ...more
Any time I find a fantasy that does something new and different I am excited. When the new and different is also done well andOriginally posted here.
Any time I find a fantasy that does something new and different I am excited. When the new and different is also done well and is an engrossing read, it is even better. I found such a book with The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. I am the first to say that this won't be a read everyone will enjoy, but I sure did.
Chalk drawings: who would have thought they could be used in such a way? In The Rithmatist Sanderson has created a world in which chalk drawings can be brought to life and used for nefarious purposes. Like eating a person until all that is left is a mangled messy corpse. A concept like that could have turned quickly into the ridiculous, but Sanderson's writing keeps that from happening. This book is a page turner filled with mystery, intrigue, and a quest to find a killer whose weapon is CHALK. (I'm still not over the creativity of that.) There is a definite creepy element to the chalklings, but the true horror in this book comes from the feelings of fear and panic the people trapped by them experience. Sanderson brings his characters to vivid life and describes what they are going through in a way that the reader feels s they do.
I adored Joel. He is focused, brave, intelligent, and a complete nerd. He loves Rithmatics and dedicates all of his free time to studying theories and defense moves. He is not a Rithmatist himself, but longs to be one. Unfortunately he was not chosen so must watch the Rithmatists from a distance and help in any way he can. Fortunately, a Rithmatic professor at his school takes an interest in him and brings him on as a research assistant in the case he is investigating. During this time Joel befriends Melody, a Rhithmatist who needs remedial attention. Her chalkings have amazing abilities, but her defense circles are weak. Together these two make a fantastic team. They are brilliant foils for each other and their friendship developed in exactly the perfect way. Melody is a bit odd and her favorite chalklings to draw are unicorns. I loved that about her.
The chalk drawing involves a lot of math and theory and Sanderson goes into a lot of detail about this, which is why this may not be the best book to hand just any reader. But for readers who enjoy puzzles and strategy games, it is a perfect fit. I was riveted from beginning to end and can not wait to read the next book in the series. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominatedOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominated for the Cybils and that would have been tragic. This book has so many elements I love to find in a fantasy story and Webb brings them all together so well.
Rose is wonderful. I love how simple and practical she is. All she wants is to earn a decent living and be proud of the work she does to earn it. When she begins to show signs that she has the ability to do magic, she wants no part of it. She just wants to be a regular girl. She is a courageous and righteous though, and when children begin disappearing and she is required to use her magic to solve the mystery she jumps at the chance. Rose has an equally wonderful supporting cast backing her up, from the rest of the household servants to her master's snooty apprentice and spoiled brat daughter. She even has the help of a magical cat named Gus, who is one of the best talking animal characters ever. I am impressed by how well Webb drew all these characters. I felt like each had a distinct personality and I really knew them. It is not easy to do that in the space of a short book with such a full plot, but she did it.
The story is delightful in every way. Taking place in an alternate Victorian England, the book includes the orphan with special abilities, a magical mystery, and a truly awful villain. I enjoyed that Rose was not plucked from the orphanage because of her magic. I like that she was chosen because her "special" talent was hard work. Lucky for her she ended up in the household of the King's most trusted alchemist so she is able to learn about her powers more. The villain's goal is not a surprising one, but the methods employed to achieve it are not for the easily sickened or grossed out. I enjoyed the real sense of danger this added to the story. It kept it from being too sweet, and made the stakes higher.
This is not a long book and the language is such that readers at the younger end of the MG audience will enjoy it, and it works well for older readers too. It certainly worked perfectly for this one. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due toOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due to my overwhelming dislike for quirky southern books, particularly ones that take place in the state I've lived the most years of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it overcame almost all my qualms. It was with no hesitation at all that I picked up a copy of the follow up, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, at ALA Midwinter. It has all the charm of the first book and does it all even better.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has so many aspects I look for in a good story: mystery, an old house to explore, old secrets, family history, friendship, and strong characters. Mo's voice, already the greatest strength of Three Times Lucky, is even stronger and more assured in this book, as though Turngage grew completely comfortable with her character and let her take completely over as she was writing. I appreciate how true to their age Mo, Dale, and all their classmates are. I recognize the kids I know in them. I further appreciate the friendship between Mo and Dale and how solid it is. As they are dealing with the fall out of the events in the last book, particularly Dale's father being in jail, this is brought out fully. Mo and her big mouth make all sorts of mistakes, but Dale forgives her (eventually). Mo is learning too, which is always a wonderful aspect of characterization to see. She actually realizes when she has gone too far sometimes, and even manages to hold herself back at points. The kids relationships with the adults in the community are highlighted well too. They are working on a history project where they have to interview an older member of the community and this brings in history, but also demonstrates the importance of these generational relationships and knowing your own story. I like how Mo firmly feels a part of this community and family created around her. She still writes to her upstream mother, and she still has moments she wonders about where she comes from, but mostly she is living where she is. Harm is a new student and character introduced in this book. I throughly enjoyed the addition he made to the Mo/Dale dynamic, how he changed it. It was an interesting look at how jumping to conclusions about a person is an injustice, and how friendships can grow and change to incorporate new people and relationship dynamics.
The mystery aspect of this story fascinated more in than in the last too. As a kid, I loved stories that explored the past of a certain place and how it connected with current characters lives. I still love those stories as an adult, and this one is executed well. It focuses mostly on the kids and their immediate problems, and the mystery itself focuses on children. The ghost is the same age as the characters making it infinitely interesting to readers. As an adult reader, I would not have minded if the ghosts in the title had been completely metaphorical, but I know my students would not agree. If they are promised a ghost, they want a ghost. And Turnage delivers a wonderful ghost, complete with chilling disembodied laughter, freezing spells, flickering lights, slamming doors, and visions of scenes past. Yet the story isn't creepy so even sensitive readers can enjoy it. It is full of humor and the charm that is Mo herself. The imagery is perfect. Descriptions are short and snappy yet full of wonderful similes that readers will understand, be able to picture perfectly, and find amusing. The writing is jus top notch.
I can't wait to book talk it. I have so many pages marked with passages that I love and that will be sure to capture interest.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Kathy Dawson Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing will be in stores on February 4th....more
I was a huge fan of The Screaming Staircase when it came out last year and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Whispering Skull. Stroud bI was a huge fan of The Screaming Staircase when it came out last year and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Whispering Skull. Stroud brings his talent for eerie creepiness, mystery, and snarky humor to this latest edition and it is so much fun.
In the six months since the first novel ended, Lockwood, George, and Lucy have made good on the reputation they established in the first book. They have been busy banishing ghouls and continuing to build their business. The plot of The Whispering Skull begins with a bet with their rival team at the Fittes Agency and springboards them into an even more intense and circuitous mystery than their last. There is a mysterious artifact that has disappeared into the London underworld that kills those who look at it, and it seems to have a startlingly hypnotic effect on George. The criminals who want the artifact are also killing for it, and the mysterious skull in the jar has finally decided to start talking to Lucy once again, its interest awakened by the mystery it knows too many details of. The mystery here was rather easy for me to solve, as with the first, but also like the first that was okay with me because it is all about the journey the characters take to get at the answer. The setting of this book is expanded as the team goes out across the city of London. There is quite a lot of adventure, danger, fighting, and narrow escapes as Anthony, Lucy, and George strive to solve the mystery before the evil object takes another life and it's one of their own.
I enjoyed the way the characters grew and expanded in this book. After his performance in the first book, I was particularly happy to see Anthony falter a couple of times in this one. He made some mistakes and his thinking was wrong and off the mark on a couple of occasions. I was worried after the first book Stroud may turn him into one of those characters never allowed to fail, but he fills him in a little more in this book. Secrets Lockwood wants to bury come to light in this book too which I think is probably the set-up for the next book. It's fascinating and how it's revealed shows a lot about the growth of his character and his changing relationship with Lucy and George. George was given more of a role in this book too, a chance to be more than just a stock character to foil Lockwood and Lucy. Lucy's talent is growing and becoming something more and she has many mixed feelings about this. Her character, despite being the narrator, was the one I felt grew and filled out the least. I'm hoping that will change with the next book.
What makes this slightly better than the first book is the sly humor that is woven in it to it. I think it is so much more amusing and that the comic is there as relief against the drama in a much better way here.
Anyone who enjoyed the first book is sure to enjoy this one as well. I'm pretty invested in all theses characters now and am in this series until the end for sure.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley. The Whispering Skull has a release date of September 16th. ...more
Originally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey has been on my TBR since it came out. SadlyOriginally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey has been on my TBR since it came out. Sadly, other things keep coming up. When its sequel, The Magician's Tower, was nominated for the Cybils I decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway. At least I would know if it could stand on its own. It can and it is such a fun story I am now looking forward to reading its predecessor even more. (Come January.)
I adore a good fun mystery, and that is what The Magician's Tower is first and foremost. It is also an adventure full of riddles and, of course, a fantasy. All things prepared to make me have quite a bit of fun with a book. And did I ever have fun reading this one. The competition is set up in an interesting manner and watching as Oona attempts the feats and tries to solve more than one mystery at the same time is thrilling.
Oona is a wonderful main character. She is persistent, brave, clever, and also possessing of a remarkable amount of common sense. And when her common sense fails her she has a talking pet raven to remind her when its gone missing. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between these two characters. Oona's rival in the competition, Isadora, is a bit over the top, but that is what makes her character fun and a perfect foil. She was frightfully annoying, as she is intended to be. Oona's cursh on Adler is sweet and perfectly described for the intended age group. I quite liked the villain as well, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not able to figure every piece of this mystery out before the reveal.
I enjoyed the mixture of genres and am delighted to have found another book and series I know I can get my students, many of whom also love both these things, interested in. ...more
Kate Milford is one of my favorite authors, and I don't think her books get the attention and love they so deserve. She writes unique stories with such care and attention to detail. Greenglass House is different from her previous two novels in setting and plot, but no less excellent in its execution, unique voice, and brilliant storytelling.
Greenglass House has so many elements I love: an old house that needs exploring, guests trapped in an Inn with a mystery happening, intrepid children who embrace their imaginations and save the day. And it's Christmas. What more could you ask for? I can not stress enough how much this book seems just tailor made for me. Every single aspect of it is one that I love and Milford's writing is so clever here. The book has a rather nostalgic feel to it, but not in an old tired way, rather the same way the Penderwick books feel nostalgic to adult readers but kids still love them. I think Greenglass House will have a similar effect on both groups of readers. Milford builds her mystery slowly. In the tradition of all the great mystery writers she introduces each player one at a time giving the reader a glimpse at who they are and setting them in their places on the chess board of her story. The house itself even feels like a character as Milo shows each guest to the room they will occupying as they are all snowed in the week before Christmas. Not everyone is who they claim to be, none of them are honest about why they are there, and one of them is actually dangerous. All are connected through the house in some way and it is the house that has brought them all together. When Milo finds a strange map and then it is taken from him, he and Meddy team up to try and uncover the mysteries which are numerous and are leading them to uncovering buried truths of the past. This requires exploring the house, questioning the guests, and in a stroke of brilliance on Milo's part, having them each tell a story to entertain the others at night as they are trapped by the snow. These stories help Milo and Meddie piece together the mystery and reveal fascinating details about everyone's past. I enjoyed how this showed the interconnectedness of everyone and forged a community amongst the guest that would never have come about without it. The stories in themselves are fun too.
Milo is the central character and,while all the characters are drawn well, he is the one that connects everyone and pulls everything together. He is a typical kid looking forward to a few days of peace to begin his winter vacation. The Inn doesn't normally have guests before Christmas. He even does all of his homework on the first afternoon so it will be out of the way. When the guests begin to arrive, he is less than pleased. While he does what his parents require of him, it is with enough reluctance and temper that it strikes the perfect chord for a child his age. Milo is of Chinese descent and is adopted. This is another thing about his character that is really well done. He loves his parents, but he wonders about his birth parents too. He sometimes goes as fas as imagining he was still with his birth parents in a family that looks like him. At other times he even imagines what his life would be like if someone else had adopted him. He feels so conflicted and guilty about these fantasies. I really loved how Milford used this to make him relatable and also into something more than a cliche' of a character. Milo's struggles with adoption are real but not dramatic or a huge issue. In order to solve the mystery Milo and Meddy adopt role-playing characters and this too was a lot of fun. Milo is skeptical at first but soon embraces the idea that he can imagine himself to be whoever he wants with the skills necessary to do what must be done. He is surprised to find he is actually able to take on his character so well. Meddy is more shy and withdrawn, always hiding from the other occupants and only talking to Milo. She is his silent shadow and her role is to observe and collect information, which she does very well. They are a great team and wonderful foils for each other as they work to uncover the mystery.
Milford has combined the best elements of mystery, history, folklore, and reality to weave a wonderful tale that is both thoughtful and adventurous. The action is not page-turning exciting, but the way Milford writes kept me hooked and wondering what would happen next. The language and imagery is so well done, and this book would make a great read aloud, particularly during the month leading up to Christmas. I plan on rereading it myself during that time. Greenglass House has shades of both Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens, but is wholly its own story and told in such a way that it will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Clarion Books, at ALA Midwinter. Greenglass House is for sale on August 26. ...more
I really enjoyed this book at first. It is a classic who-done-it mystery in which there are multiple suspects and no real clear evidence. Yet the bodiI really enjoyed this book at first. It is a classic who-done-it mystery in which there are multiple suspects and no real clear evidence. Yet the bodies keep piling up. I loved the portrayal of small British village life. I was thoroughly enjoying the character of Richard Jury and thinking this would be a book (and series) I could really get into do despite the sometimes overwrought use of figurative language. (Seriously, the similes in this are way over the top.)
There is insta-love. The hero takes one look at a girl and decides he is madly in love with her. Never mind that she can actually be considered a suspect. Never mind that she is known to be close to two other people who are also suspects. No. He is in love. And why? I couldn't really tell since the girl hadn't spoken a word when he decided this, but it is implied she in some way reminded him of a former lover. Nice. Jury immediately gets all grumbly and jealous over her interactions with other men. My liking for his character dwindled fast. The overwrought similes in the writing became more annoying when tied up with this, and the last half of the book left a bad taste in my mouth as a result. Sigh. I so wanted to like this one. ...more
A fun good old fashioned mystery. Some of the attempts at humor fall a little flat and the dialogue is a tad awkward in places, but I enjoyed the charA fun good old fashioned mystery. Some of the attempts at humor fall a little flat and the dialogue is a tad awkward in places, but I enjoyed the characters and story. I will certainly read the next one in the series. ...more
I have a lot of friends who love this series so I feel really bad that I didn't like this book at all, so bad I thought, "I could give it two stars. II have a lot of friends who love this series so I feel really bad that I didn't like this book at all, so bad I thought, "I could give it two stars. It wasn't that badly written." Yet one star means didn't like it and I didn't like. I have reasons:
1. Totally called it. I knew who the murderer was from the first scene that person was in and figured out the motive shortly after. Now that in and of itself is not enough to turn me off a book. If I believe the amount of time it takes the characters to figure it out makes sense, I'm good. And with Julia it did. There is no reason any of that should have been on her radar. I'm less impressed that Nicholas didn't even seem to flirt with the notion. He has seen more of the world and had more experience. Really, the thought should have crossed his mind. Which leads me to...
2. Nicholas is fairly useless as a character. He is supposed to be this great agent. He makes his living off of investigating things. He does absolutely no investigating in this book. All the important clues are stumbled on by Julia. He contributes an arsenic test and a few field trips to question some people-to no avail I might add. Most of the time he is "indisposed" or "out of town". What he does contribute is a perfect brooding stare, snarly dialogue directed toward Julia, and some obligatory I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shirt scenes. None of which endeared him to me. Also he's there to save Julia in the end when she needs him, which of course she does because...
3. Julia is not exactly possessed with an overabundance of critical thinking skills. Au contraire. The book kept telling me she was smart. All the people who knew her kept stating it. I kept waiting for evidence of it to show up. Example: She finds a crucial clue to the case in her own private study, in her own private book. She has a couple of days to ruminate on this before showing it to Nicholas. She is utterly shocked when he presents the notion that this means the murderer is most likely someone in her own household. She had days to think it over. This is only one example, there were other times I was blinking at Julia's inability for deep and nuanced thinking. But she must be intelligent because the author kept insisting on it. After all she had a great education because...
4. Julia's family believes in fully educating women. Is this a bad thing? No. They are also completely okay with people having same sex lovers, performing merciful abortions, and are loving and helpful to gypsies. They are open minded and accepting of all the things. Now if this were a contemporary series all this together would not be a problem but...THIS IS VICTORIAN ENGLAND. I will say the context in which these are included is believable for the time period. If ONE of them had been present, I would not have been skeptical. But all of them together? No. This is a 21st century family living in Victorian times.
5. Finally: Nicholas's big "secret". I really hated this element. Why? What on earth was the purpose of this really? It seemed it was just a convenient way to have him out of commission for half the novel and then able to rescue Julia in the end. Also so he could angst and have reason to talk himself away from Julia. Lame.
Needless to say I will not be reading any more of these. They are clearly not meant for me....more
This is a fun mystery that involves old family secrets and following clues to hidden treasure. It is one of those books that I think will be an easy sThis is a fun mystery that involves old family secrets and following clues to hidden treasure. It is one of those books that I think will be an easy sell to kids, but not necessarily one all kids will stick with to the end. I did like the way the mystery unfolded, and it had a lot of humor in it. There is a villain and some mild danger, so nothing too scary. It could easily by enjoyed by more advanced younger readers as well. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love mysteries, particularly ones that appear to add in a touch of the fantastic, so I wasOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love mysteries, particularly ones that appear to add in a touch of the fantastic, so I was excited to read North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler, which I received an e-galley for.
Mia is a girl that will have a wide appeal to child readers as well. Kessler made her sound like a 12 year old. The book is written more like how a 12 year old would write a story than what a 12 year old girl's thoughts would look like. It is simple, not layered thinking, and there are lots of exclamation points! Again, not particularly my cup of tea, but kids will like it.
Definitely pick this one for kids in your life who love mysteries mixed with fantasy. I will be suggesting it to Bit, it's a book that will be just her thing.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. North of Nowhere is available for purchase on August 6....more
I usually enjoy Erin Dionne's books more than I did this one. I think my disappointment was magnified because I had my hopes rather high for this oneI usually enjoy Erin Dionne's books more than I did this one. I think my disappointment was magnified because I had my hopes rather high for this one and was mostly unimpressed. I can see kids loving it though. It has that sort of kid adventure movie feel to it. Kids versus the mobsters, and the kids actually have a chance of winning. The danger never materializes quite like it would in reality. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I could have liked Moxie herself, but I was rolling my eyes by the end of the first chapter. I'm so tired of main characters who are supposed to be unique and special because they like older music and buy vintage clothes. This is so overused that there is nothing unique or special about these characters. It feels like slapping a vintage t-shirt on a character and giving her a playlist her parents would have listened to are acceptable replacements for actual character development. I do like that she was a Math lover though. ...more
Last year I read the first book in Mindee Arnett's Arkwell Academy series, The Nightmare Affair, and I fell in love with the fun premise and combinatiLast year I read the first book in Mindee Arnett's Arkwell Academy series, The Nightmare Affair, and I fell in love with the fun premise and combination of mystery and fantasy. I was so excited to read the second volume, The Nightmare Dilemma, and I wasn't disappointed. These books are so much fun.
(This is a review of an ARC received from publisher in exchange for a fair review.)
The story opens with Dusty being called to dream feed on a fellow student who has been gravely injured. While breaking the Will was the right thing for Dusty to do at the time, it has created a chaotic atmosphere at the school and in the wider magical world. Kinds are attacking each other and violence abounds. Dusty and Eli are asked to use their dream sessions to figure out who is behind this violent attack. The mystery in this novel is not about figuring out who is behind the attacks, but figuring out what is going wrong in Dusty and Eli's sessions and why Dusty is having a recurring dream herself about a mysterious plinth with a word she feels compelled to discover. There's a lot going on in the story as Dusty and Eli's evolving (or not as evolving as she would like) relationship is a major issue as well. Despite the number of pieces in the story, Arnett fit them together well and perfectly. I never felt that it was too much or that anything was left undone. The villains in the piece are not surprising, but they are not intended to be either. This is a mystery of how/why, not who, and there are some surprises regarding Dusty and Eli's dream seer relationship that are surprising. The entire book is a page turner, and every page is a joy to read. I simply adore the combination of mystery and fantasy that Arnett has in these books.
The characters are another aspect that will keep returning to this series. Dusty continues to be impulsive, rash, and heedless of danger though she is working on all three of these. Her intelligence and bravery shine through as well. Eli is a perfect foil for her in every way, and I adore the way they balance each other and work together as a team. Also Eli is just a pretty amazing guy. The further development of Selene, Lance, and Paul worked really well in this story too and I also liked how the adults were shown to have more sided and nuances.
The romance is something else that makes these fun. Dusty and Eli are more than just a great dream seer/crime fighting team. They have great chemistry too. The interaction between them is far more angsty in this book than the first though. For a long time their relationship remains undefined and that is frustrating to Dusty (and me!), but soon a secret is revealed that shakes the whole thing up. I sort of could have done with out that. It ratchets the angst factor through the ceiling and I have a feeling will be the central focus of at least the next book, if not more. I can see the point behind it though, and am interested to see where Arnett takes it. I will go along with her for the ride, but honestly I wouldn't mind if these books were just Dusty and Eli solving crimes and occasionally making out in their free time. But I am not a member of the target audience either. I think they will eat this up.
I am definitely in this series for the duration. I'm already eagerly awaiting the third installment.
I received an ARC via the publisher, Tor Teen. The Nightmare Dilemma is available for purchase on March 4. ...more