To be fair, my rating would be a 2.5 but the fact that this series has so much that would normally recommend it to me that the fact that I'm lukewarmTo be fair, my rating would be a 2.5 but the fact that this series has so much that would normally recommend it to me that the fact that I'm lukewarm on it says something, I think.
In this series, two kids stumble upon a magical discovery that allows them to step into the miniature Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute and travel through time. In the final installment, Jack and Ruthie realize they are not the only travelers while simultaneously bumping up against some potentially problematic loopholes in the magic that could have fire consequences if they're not careful.
With miniaturization, time travel, and the making good on the after-hours -escapades-in-a-museum dream so many of us Mixed Up Files...fans gave had, it seems inconceivable that these factors would not add up to a win. Unfortunately the main characters come off as flat yet familiar as Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse books, and there is a certain slightly teacherly undertone to any of the history-related scenes you can't quite shake that adds to that Magic Treehouse-grows-up feel. The kids feel a little Pat and pigeonholed to me and have a slight formality to their speech and behavior towards each other and adults that reminds me do much of The Boxcar children and other similar series books from that time. Even when the kids are acting against an adult's wishes I have a hard time finding them believable as troublemakers. Also, the magic rules of the world are a bit too arbitrary and contradictory for my taste. I like having a system to my magic, a philosophy, and there felt like there was too much going on here, making it feel like the author was evolving it on the spot to meet her narrative needs as convenience allowed.
For a more interesting take, I'd recommend the Grimm Legacy. For a more humorous take, I'd recommend the Mr. Lemoncello books by Grabenstein.
Otherwise, for MT fans, this seems a very natural next step, or for Boxcar Children-loving parents that are looking for a tame read with a bit of mystery....more
The third in the Grimm Legacy series, this book is (appropriately?) the darkest by far, and the one the most removed from the New-York Circulating MatThe third in the Grimm Legacy series, this book is (appropriately?) the darkest by far, and the one the most removed from the New-York Circulating Material Repository, which is involved only peripherally for longer than than you might expect.
Sukie's family has fallen into hard times following the untimely passing of her older sister Kitty. To regroup and save money, the family takes up residence with her mother's elderly cousin Hepzibah in her dust-ridden mansion. With her sister's protective ghost in tow, Sukie soon finds herself at the heart of a family mystery and discovers a new talent after a chance encounter with the NYCMR's Elizabeth Rew at a flea market. In order to get to the bottom of her family's past, she will need Elizabeth and the Repository's help--but the key to the mystery may not provide the answers she expects.
Like the other books in the series, the concept is far more satisfying than the characters themselves. The artifacts are as intriguing as ever, and the ambience has a nice eerie quality reminiscent of the Graveyard Book in parts, but Sukie as a character is so wrapped up in her grief, so accustomed to living in the shadow of her sister, that she's almost unknowable as a character herself. Andre Merritt makes an appearance, serving his role as the obligatory callback to the Repository pages we've met in the earlier books, but he also can't seem to escape his brother's shadow, and feels like a retread. Sukie's nemesis-turned-ally's behavior is inexplicably arbitrary, working hard to establish chemistry that doesn't necessarily add up. It's a little problematic, but maybe something can be said for the mystery and adventure of this installment that I barely noticed that the Poe Estate is weirdly nearly devoid of artifacts that are actually from Poe. In a way, the fact that the Poe Estate seems to be more of an homage to Poe than a direct connection is kind of perfect for a book whose underlying mystery and ghost story is an homage to a tapestry of many gothic classics. If Shulman can create a bridge for someone to be motivated to explore Hawthorne, Hardy, or Poe somehow---that's pretty cool, and honestly...if she writes another, I would definitely read it. This is almost the closest thing kids have to the world of Thursday Next, even if this does take itself a bit *too* seriously for its own good at times....more
When I had my son, I bought him this treasury for his library, remembering how much I loved these stories when I was a child, and it remains one of myWhen I had my son, I bought him this treasury for his library, remembering how much I loved these stories when I was a child, and it remains one of my favorite books in our collection. The saturated colors, the warm, diverse and naturalistic ambience of the neighborhood his characters inhabit, the brilliant way Keats captures childlike curiosity and discovery through Peter and his friends, and the timelessness of the stories. As a children's librarian, I feel like these pretty much epitomize the concept of "core collection" books. ...more
Having read (and wholeheartedly loved) Signing Their Lives Away about the signers of the Declaration, there is something unavoidably anticlimactic aboHaving read (and wholeheartedly loved) Signing Their Lives Away about the signers of the Declaration, there is something unavoidably anticlimactic about going into this one with an identical formula and tone (and even some of the same players). Even so, I couldn't help but enjoy it. Kiernan's somewhat irreverent, though arguably thoroughly researched pocket biographies of these great men who were also greatly fallible is a treat--gossip you can consume with a clear conscience--because it's history! There's also something strangely very moving to me as these pieces come together to form a larger picture, to see how this squabbling group of very human humans came together to compromise, in spite of a lot of strong feelings and personal agendas, for the sake of keeping the country together at a precarious time in our history. Reading this now, at another sort of precarious time in our political climate, is an important reminder that flawed leaders, division, and dissent are as much a part of our history as anything else, and our differences do not have to add up to disaster. It's a nice balance of dry humor/gentle snark and admiration, not so unlike something out of one of Sarah Vowell's many enjoyable books.
I think this book could be a nice counter-point/antidote to some of the more rah-rah idealized bios out there---and much more palatable to the middle-grade reader because the figures feel real--a lot more like unfiltered photos as opposed to slick Sullivan-esque grand portraits, which makes these men feel a lot more relatable to a modern reader....more
Sam's insatiable need to become an incredible drummer can't be stopped. Except for the fact that she doesn't own any drums, her struggling family hasSam's insatiable need to become an incredible drummer can't be stopped. Except for the fact that she doesn't own any drums, her struggling family has no money for lessons, and word is, she might just be the weakest link in symphonic band's percussion section at the moment. Well...even John Bonham had to start somewhere. Luckily anyone with enough perseverance to teach themselves drumming on a desk and a stack of books may just be hard-headed enough to find a window of opportunity, IF that same hard headedness doesn't sabotage things at school and home enough to derail everything before she has a chance.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read to me for many reasons. I loved that music in this book was talked about with a genuine and believable passion and wasn't just a plot gimmick or about someone wanting to be famous. It was also thoroughly refreshing and empowering to have a story about a female protagonist in middle school that was really purely about her goal and her finding her identity without getting tied up with boyfriends or crushes or friend drama. Although her friendships play some roles in the book and are tested in different ways it feels more nuanced and interesting than you usually see. I liked how not everything had to be explained to death--that there was scope for speculation with the friendships with how they began and how they evolved to be where they are at this point. I also liked how Grosso steered away from some of the trope scenes/images that you might have expected from this kind of underdog sort of story. Sam's obstacles are real, even just having a book really deal honestly with the financial side that kids and their families have to face even with school band was important, I think--and it's not an easy or even a purely happy journey for her all the way, but it's also not Whiplash. As a reader, you at least have an inkling that even if not everything might work out, no one is going to end up shattered or damaged at the end. There's an underlying momentum of optimism and hope, but even so, Grosso doesn't tie up everything in a neat little package either. For all that optimism, not all problems can't be drummed away or magicked away with the power of music--and I like that this is acknowledged.
Such a great accompaniment (and possibly an antidote?) to all the stories about boys in bands who want to make it, and possibly because Grosso is also a musician himself, it's nicely informed with some nice musical references that will hopefully drive some less musically experienced readers to Google at least, or even better(be still my librarian heart) an actual library....more
A crime occurs off stage, and the reader discovers the complicated series of events leading up to the incident through the eyes of two teens, damaged,A crime occurs off stage, and the reader discovers the complicated series of events leading up to the incident through the eyes of two teens, damaged, but not broken by the trials and tragedy they've experienced in their lives. That's one way to tell the story. There's also quite a bit about finding your true family (which may not be biological) and forgiveness and how people choose to deal with adversity and loss. Heavy stuff. Mostly it works, with quite a few moments of genuine poignancy. The back to front storytelling and (at times) unreliable narrators brought to mind We Are Liars but without even a hint of the underlying entitlement/privilege that seeps into that story. The ragtag Kids of Appetite of the title don't have much besides each other and whatever they can steal or bargain for. They've also seen some unthinkable things but don't have the luxury to distance themselves from them---they have to push forward and find a way to survive.
Mist of the characters were compelling and good, and without giving too much away, I enjoyed the quest angle that was worked in. The biggest criticism I have is that at times I felt like there was so much suspension if disbelief that had to take place it took me out of the story sometimes. All of the interrogation scenes seemed like a cross between Good Will Hunting and a bad scene from Law and Order. The dynamic between the kids and their police didn't feel at all like something that could or would actually be allowed to happen. The preternaturally wise and eloquent beyond his years Vic, and the phenomenal good luck of the Kids having a network to provide them with virtually endless supplies of free good and shelter sometimes stretched the limits of credibility too, but all in all. I dug it. It also taught me something new. I had never heard of Möbius Syndrome before and now I have...and have do much respect and admiration for the real life people who have struggled with this. This is a story I haven't seen told before....more
Howard Wallace may wear a bathrobe for a trenchcoat, his office might be an old desk and a couple of buckets under a tree, but he cracks his cases, onHoward Wallace may wear a bathrobe for a trenchcoat, his office might be an old desk and a couple of buckets under a tree, but he cracks his cases, one way or another--if he can just manage to avoid getting hot water with the principal and his parents in the process. Unfortunately, his latest case has taken a turn for the personal side and to crack it, he may just have to risk everything.
Although this did remind me a lot of Half Moon Investigations (which I also like), I still found it funny and enjoyable. It may not be a wholly new trope, but I think it was done really well. Howard is what you might get if Nate the Great grew up a bit, with all the social awkwardness you might imagine a kid detective this committed to his work would face in a school setting. Although Howard may be an oddball, Lyall doesn't make him a complete goofball. He makes mistakes, but he's also very savvy a lot of the time. He may enjoy his noir detective schtick, incorporating lingo he's learned from his "research" library of old detective movies, but he's not a one-note character. He's got some vulnerabilities, he's got heart. I hope he will have more cases in his future. ...more
After being the sole survivor an unthinkable tragedy, Lizzie Scofield discovers that her brush with death has given her access to the spirit world thaAfter being the sole survivor an unthinkable tragedy, Lizzie Scofield discovers that her brush with death has given her access to the spirit world that will leave an indelible mark on her future, but is she ready for this kind of access and responsibility? At 17, Darcy Patel is in the unique position of being the toast of the YA publishing world with a fat contract for her supernatural romance Afterworlds, but as she heads into the murky territory of rewrites and revisions, she faces obstacles that cause her to question her vision and her creative process. Lizzie and Darcy's journeys will change them both---but where will this leave them?
I have been a Scott Westerfeld fan for a long time, and there are things that I love about this book, but as a whole, it's problematic. The story alternates between Darcy's story as the creator, and Lizzie's story as the protagonist of Darcy's novel. Lizzie's story--the Afterworlds chapters--I found really chilling and compelling, full of dark mystery. Darcy's story---the behind the scenes of the creative process and being an up-and-comer in YA publishing---was not very enjoyable to me. In the end, I guess I don't really *want* to see how the sausage gets made, so to speak, and it pulled me out of the other story--lessening the impact at times with overexplaining. I didn't enjoy the shop talk between the authors and especially did not enjoy the cringeworthy--and frequent--use of "protag" for "protagonist," the jokey knowing references to "YA Heaven" and fandoms of YA authors, etc. From the outside (in real life) I enjoy hearing stories of some YA authors writing in similar genres buddying up and hanging out in real life and sharing inside jokes-like the whole traveling pajama pants thing Sarah Mlynowski and others were doing at one of their book tours. It's less fun from this angle, where every move feels strategic, and about labels and marketing. If Westerfeld was looking to poke at the industry and how authors are treated--I think it worked, but it's a bummer for the reader, especially as a fan of a lot of YA fiction and a lot of YA authors.
As for all the discussion of cultural appropriation that comes up in the Darcy sections (Darcy's vision of the afterworld includes a character who is named after a Hindu death god), it's a complex and timely issue, and I'm sure it was well-intended, but it comes across as Westerfeld trying to either head off his own critics at the pass, or attempting to add some dimension to the other story without giving offense---in either case, it is more of a distraction than an enhancement to the story.
Of course, Rainbow Rowell's Carry On also told the story of a creator and her story, but one of the strengths Cath had in her case, was that in her parts of the story, we are treated to insight into her life as a writer but also as just a normal person with hangups and baggage trying to navigate a huge transitional point in her life--creating a counterpoint with the Simon Snow story that the reader can really get invested in. Although Darcy aso has personal issues she is working out over the course of the story, she never really feels relatable in the same way. She never feels fully real. Her life becomes so quickly absorbed into the publishing world, her new reality of book signings and author meet-and-greets over cocktails and her instant friendships with the other new authors she meets and the business part of that takes a front seat whie her biggest and most interesting personal conflicts with (no spoilers) get short shrift at best. At the end of the book, her motivations are almost more inpenetrable as her dreamy death god's, and the reader feels like they know more about how a book gets marketed than about who Darcy really is. Maybe that's the point--that she doesn't really know either, but unfortunately, there's just not a lot to invest in on the part of the reader either.
I have a few issues about the Lizzie side of the story, but I feel like they're mostly quibbles, and I don't feel like any of them are serious enough that these questions couldn't have been easily resolved (especially knowing what Westerfeld is capable of) if that had been the central story all along---and in finishing the book I was kind of disappointed in what might have been. Rainbow Rowell went on to write Carry On after Fangirl---maybe if we are lucky, some fuller version of Afterworlds will also come out one day. ...more
Supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart may think he has a pretty good repertoire going as a lone schemer, but that was before he met Nimona, his biggeSupervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart may think he has a pretty good repertoire going as a lone schemer, but that was before he met Nimona, his biggest fan and aspiring sidekick. Together they might just be unstoppable, if Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics can't find a way to exploit their biggest weakness---Nimona's unpredictability and murky past.
Naturally, Nimona plays with a lot of classic superhero story conventions, often turning them on their head: the hero/sideckick relationship, the origin story, the hero/villain relationship. It's true that a lot of this has been done before...hero stories have been around since the beginning of time, after all, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. It's especially gratifying to see a female sidekick who flies in the face of the expected script for sidekicks. She's much more of a Hit Girl than a Robin--just as volatile and dangerous. And--this may say more about me than the book, but I actually also really enjoyed the unexpected poignancy of Blackheart's character, who has more depth and is much less of a caricature than you usually get with a supervillain, and his complicated relationship with his greatest nemesis, Goldenloin.
My only complaint with Nimona is purely aesthetic, which might be a little nitpicky, but when we're talking about a graphic novel, I feel like it has to be addressed. I think the character design is is interesting, but would have liked to see it have a little more room to breathe with a larger format (or at the very least smaller margins/outer frames) and this might be the result of this originating as a webcomic, I'm not sure--the lettering choice made for difficult reading.
Recommended for fans of Carry On and Adventure Time who enjoy some sass and edginess with their fantasy.