A fantastic book and an incredibly moving story. Great for readers of all ages but I definitely think this should be required reading in middle schoolA fantastic book and an incredibly moving story. Great for readers of all ages but I definitely think this should be required reading in middle school. ...more
This book combined two of my favourite story elements – magic and a Victorian setting.
The magic in this story is so seamlessly integrated into everyday society. Rose doesn’t discover there’s a secret world hidden from everyday folk. Instead magic is a regular occurrence (if you have enough money that is). I think I’m drawn to this kind of story, because it’s the kind of world I wish we actually lived in. One where magic is just around the corner.
The Victorian setting only adds to this. There’s just something about that time period that lends itself to magical ideas and/or settings. I loved the way the characters talked, I loved imagining what Mr. Fountain’s house was liked and, as a Downton Abbey fan, I loved the whole front of house-back of house drama. Rose is a new servant in a moderately big house, and she has to navigate the tough waters of her new job, gossip among the staff and an unlikely alliance with one of the household members. I found the premise fascinating and was easily able to picture Roses’s world in my head.
The characters in this story are all quite lively, full of strong emotions and opinions. I liked that even though their master was a magician, the household staff had varying degrees of tolerance for the craft. This made things a lot more interesting for Rose, as she tried to figure out what was going on with her. However at times, I found these secondary characters even more interesting than Rose herself and that’s where the book would sometimes lose me. Rose is very plain. She’s always very earnest and means well. She seems to have no real character flaws. She got a long with everyone, she was brave, she was clever – without even realizing it – she was tidy etc. I would have liked a little more depth to her character since she is our heroine, but maybe that comes in later books.
Overall Rose is a magical and mysterious story with a fun cast and a solid, if not slightly predictable mystery. It would be a good book for lower middle grade readers – specifically those who would like something like Harry Potter but aren’t quite at that reading level yet....more
Stephen is an ordinary boy with an extraordinary best friend. To say Marco is a handful would beThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Stephen is an ordinary boy with an extraordinary best friend. To say Marco is a handful would be an understatement. He’s energetic, unstoppable and has a flair for the dramatic. Take the plot of this book for example – with the help of Stephen, Marco designs their first ever heist. They’re used to playing detective, they do it on a day to day basis. But this heist is so much more than detective work – they need to break into the high school prom so that Marco can confess his love to their classmate Benji. Romantic? Yes. A little over the top? Maybe a bit. Crazy? Most definitely.
Marco and Stephen are both such different characters so their friendship has a really interesting dynamic. Marco is a such a wonderfully flawed character. Yes, he’s energetic, and optimistic but he’s also a bit selfish and takes advantage of other people’s good nature. And Stephen is the filter through which we see all of these characteristics. We love Marco as he loves Marco but we also experience all his frustrations and anger as well. There were a couple of times I wondered why Stephen was even friends with him, but in the end I think that’s what made them such a realistic pair. No friendship is ever perfect and everybody has their ups and downs. It was great to watch Stephen and Marco deal with those diffrences and face their problems head on.
When I first started reading this book I was a little nervous. Hannah Moskowitz titles have a tendency of punching me right in the gut. Her stories are often raw, traumatic and very emotional. But Marco Impossible was a bit of a variation from the norm. It wasn’t a tragedy. There were still a few moments that pulled at my heart strings and some other times where I just wanted to envelop Stephen and Marco in a giant hug and never let go, but otherwise this is a pretty positive, heart warming story.
It’s not all puppies and kittens though. Marco Impossible deals with the incredibly important issue of bullying. At first the bullying Marco undergoes is more subtle. The reader doesn’t see a lot of it first hand. But like Stephen you slowly begin to realize how deep it goes. I think this speaks to a problem you often see in high school. That is we don’t want to think this kind of bullying (or hate crimes as one character – Sasha – puts it) happens in our schools. We don’t want to believe kids we’ve grown up with (or watched grow up) would do these things. But they are happening. In small towns and big cities, and it’s not something we can ignore.
Recommendation: An absolutely charming middle grade read about the power of friendship and teamwork. I thought Marco’s personality could be a bit much at times but otherwise this would be a great book for middle grade classroom discussions....more
Days that End in Y is technically the third book in a series, chronicling the experiences of oneThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Days that End in Y is technically the third book in a series, chronicling the experiences of one girl, Clarissa. I haven’t read the other two books in the series. It’s not necessary to understand what’s going on in this book. BUT if you’re anything like me, you’re going to love these characters so much. And you will want to read the whole series in order to have more time with them.
More than anything I loved the way this novel explored the relationship between Clarissa and her parents. For most of her life it has just been Clarissa and her mom. They are quite close and it was nice to see a fictional parent so actively involved in the life of their child. But I also liked that they didn’t have a perfect wonderful relationship the whole time (because let’s face it – that’s not realistic either and perfect can be boring to read about). There is some very real strain put on their home life, when her mother’s fiance moves in with them. I think that Vikki VanSickle did a great job showing how that transition would be difficult, even if you like the person moving in with you.
Clarissa also faces an interesting situation when she decides to seek out her father for the first time in her life. I think this is where I related to Clarissa the most. And I think a lot of kids will too. An absentee parent – or a parent that isn’t around quite as often – is sadly a pretty common situation these days. And it leaves kids with a lot of questions. I think Clarissa’s mother should have been more upfront about the situation but again Vikki did a great job showing how a family would handle this kind of problem. The whole thing felt very realistic.
Since this is YA Pride, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Benji. Benji isn’t present “on page” for a lot of this book, but never the less you can tell how important he is to Clarissa. Clarissa and Benji are both at an age where they’re starting to figure things out about themselves. And for Benji that means coming out. His fear and apprehension about finally saying it out loud was touching and made me want to find him and sit with him and tell him everything was going to be fine.
Recommendation: Days That End in Y deals with a lot of sensitive topics but it does so honestly. It treats these topics seriously, but it’s also a funny book and a really enjoyable read. Clarissa and Benji are fabulous characters, the setting is relatable. All around a highly recommended middle grade story!...more
Like many middle grade stories, The Year of Shadows starts off with a simple story – a girl, herThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Like many middle grade stories, The Year of Shadows starts off with a simple story – a girl, her father and her grandmother move into the town’s philharmonic and find that it is haunted. But that simple story soon morphs into a complex tale that deals with friendship, family, grief and bravery. It is touching and frightening and at times heart breaking. So in a word – perfect.
The star of our story is Olivia Stellatella. Olivia isn’t your standard middle grade protagonist. She’s angry and bitter and wants to be left alone. But there is a reason for her poor attitude. Her mother has left them, they are forced to sell their home and move into the philharmonic and her father seems oblivious to it all. She withdraws from other people, because other people have let her down. She’s learned the only person she can rely on is herself. The emotion in this book is very real. You feel all of Olivia’s frustrations and loneliness right along with her. It’s heart breaking. The Year of Shadows brought tears to my eyes more than once.
Thankfully there are some incredibly supportive figures in Olivia’s life who won’t let her give up on the world. First there’s Nonnie, her adorable, scarf obsessed grandmother. And there’s Joan her passionate, out spoken lunch-mate. And most importantly Henry. I adore Henry. He is a great friend to Olivia (even when she’s not being a great friend back) and he has a fascinating story of his own. Not just a secondary character, but a major player. The back and forth between him and Olivia was spot on. They were such a dynamic duo.
And then there’s the ghosts. Claire Legrand actually approaches the ghost angle from two directions There are your traditional scary ghosts – the shades. But then there are Olivia’s ghosts. Loveable characters who she goes above and beyond to help out. They may not be the stars of the story but you are cheering for them to find their anchors and move on (like Casper!). As a result The Year of Shadows treads the line between frightening and fascinating.
The Year of Shadows is more than just a ghost story. It deals with complex and relevant issues – from divorce, to poverty, to what it means to be a family and standing up for what you believe in. Oh and there’s music! Lots of great music. Legrand’s descriptions are fantastic, she in clearly someone who appreciates good music. For example this passage,
““It’s a strange feeling, when you hear a good piece of music. It starts out kind of shaky, this hot, heavy knot in your chest. At first it’s tiny, like a spot of light in a dark room, but then it builds, pouring through you. And the next thing you know, everything from your forehead down to your fingers and toes is on fire. You feel like the hot, heavy knot in your chest is turning into a bubble. It’s full of everything good in the world, and if you don’t do something–if you don’t run or dance or shout to everyone in the world about this music you’ve just heard–it’ll explode.”
The Year of Shadows may be the best middle grade novel I’ve read this year. I enjoyed Legrand’s début - The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls – but this is even better. Olivia, Henry, Nonnie and even the Maestro will stick with me for some time to come.
Recommendation: Absolutely recommended for middle grade readers. The Year of Shadows is a smart, funny and spooky ghost story. What more do you want? This would be a great present for young readers! Or you know people who just love ghost stories....more
Zebra Forest is the story of Annie and Rew, a pair of young siblings that live with their Gram. TThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Zebra Forest is the story of Annie and Rew, a pair of young siblings that live with their Gram. They run a little wild, knowing how to lie just right to teachers and case workers. Their mother is no where to be found and their father is in prison. Or rather, he was in prison…One night during a particularly large storm, he escapes, making his way to Gram’s house, and holding them all hostage, despite Annie and Rew’s best efforts.
I loved how Zebra Forest looked at sibling relationships. Annie and Rew live with their Gram, who isn’t the best caregiver and their parents haven’t been around for years. But they look out for one another. They fight – frequently – but at the end of the day they have each other’s back. Though the scenario in this book was an extreme one, I still thought their relationship was indicative of sibling relationships as a whole.
I also loved the role Treasure Island plays in the book. Annie and Rew love that book and read it over and over again. It inspires a sense of adventure in them and they turn to it when in need of comfort. It even bridges a bit of the gap between Annie and Andrew Snow. I think it’s beautiful and a fantastic example of how a good book can bring people together.
Zebra Forest is a very simple story. There’s no real mystery or suspense. Just a family drama. And though granted this particular family was unique and highly dysfunctional, at times it simply felt like people playing house. I personally could have used a little more excitement. As Douglas Coupland said “all families are psychotic” so I wanted something a little more from Annie, Rew and their elders.
Zebra Forest is the story of families, of building and regaining trust, of telling the truth and of what it means to be free. It is beautifully written and Adina Rishe Gewirtz has a fantastic literary voice. It is a book that will resonate strongly with some readers – especially younger readers with difficult home lives.
Notes on the Audio
Kate Reinders has a very clear, very straight forward way of reading this book and it would be perfect for younger listeners. Annie is the narrator and Reinders voice sounds like the right age. I think young listeners will enjoy the steady (but not slow) pace of the audiobook and Reinders expressive tone. And at only 4 hours 11 minutes, this would be a good book to try out if you (or the children in your life) are new to audiobooks and want to test them out....more
When I was first contacted about The Planet Thieves I was told it was “Star Trek meets Rick RiordThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
When I was first contacted about The Planet Thieves I was told it was “Star Trek meets Rick Riordan.” I didn’t need to read any further to know this was a book I needed to read. And it was exactly as described. The Planet Thieves is without a doubt, very similar to Star Trek. Remember that Star Trek episode, “The Game” guest staring Ashley Judd? Where all the adults are incapacitated so Wesley saves the day? Combine that with one of Kirk’s crazier adventures, throw in a inter planetary war and you have this book.
The Planet Thieves is an incredibly action packed read. Things happen fast but I never felt like I was struggling to keep up. Krokos kept the pacing steady and smooth. So even though there was a constant sense of urgency to the events unfolding on page, everything was always very clear. This book has already been optioned for a movie by Warner Brothers and HeyDay Films and I can’t wait to see some of the action sequenes on the big screen!
But it wasn’t just the action that made The Planet Thieves enjoyable. It was also the characters. In particular Mason Stark. Mason is just a cadet. A young kid, barely trained, but some heavy responsibility falls on his shoulders. And he bears it well. But I liked that he struggled, and I liked that he second guessed himself. He was amazing but he was also just a regular thirteen year old boy. I also really liked Tom. In the beginning he’s very serious and rule oriented. He clashed with Mason a lot, as they had very differemt personalities. But they had to overcome those differences and learn to work together and I found that aspect of the story especially encouraging.
I think older readers of this series, who also happen to be Star Trek fans (like me) may be a little irked by some of the blatant similarities between The Planet Thieves and Star Trek. For example the enemy warrior race – The Tremist fly a ship called a Hawk which is even described as “a bird circling her prey.” Sounds an awful lot like Klingons and their ship, a Bird of Prey. But that being said, I don’t think this will be a problem for the target audience of this novel – middle grade readers. I think it’s a safe bet they will be more focused on the action and adventure of this novel instead of similiarities to a show their parents may or may not have watched.
Recommendation: A thrilling, exciting start to a new series. Great for fans of Star Trek, Ender’s Game and Star Wars: Clone Wars....more
I have never read Holly Black before *hides* but after this I NEED all of her books. Every scrapThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I have never read Holly Black before *hides* but after this I NEED all of her books. Every scrap of paper she has ever put words on.
Some people think it’s strange that I read so much middle grade. And I always tell them that a good story is a good story no matter what demographic it’s aimed at. Doll Bones is an example of how true that can be. Sure, it’s short and simple and at times down right adorable, but it’s also haunting, atmospheric, beautifully written and compelling.
I think the thing that hit me right off that bat about this book was that it was so much creepier than I expected. I guess the cover should have tipped me off. The doll on the cover is central to the story and is known as “The Queen.” And she is genuinely terrifying. Made from human bones, haunting these children, longing to be reburied. It gives me the heebie jeebies. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts it isn’t hard to imagine this doll staring at you with her lifeless eyes in the night… It’s creepy no matter how you look at it.
But Doll Bones isn’t really the story of a doll. It’s the story of three friends – Zach, Poppy and Alice. It’s a story of friendship and growing up. On the brink of leaving childhood and becoming teenagers Zach struggles to balance “growing up” with doing the things he loves with his childhood friends – in this case playing with dolls. There is a lot of pressure to fit in, or be who you think you’re supposed to be and I think these themes will resonate with all readers, no matter their age. I also think Holly Black makes some interesting points about gender roles and what boys/men are expected to enjoy and how they are supposed to act.
It helps of course that the characters were so easy to like. I loved Zach. I thought he was honest, and quirky and fun. I liked Poppy and Alice as well but the longer I am separated from this book the more the two girls blend together. They felt like extras/side kicks to Zach’s lead. Which in the long run was disappointing but while I was reading it wasn’t really a problem.
Recommendation: Doll Bones is example of middle grade story telling at its best. It’s smart and poignant and images of the Queen will continue you to haunt you long after you’ve finished reading. Holly Black’s Doll Bones is an example of how middle grade story telling can blow readers of all ages out of the water....more
Fairy Tale re-tellings seem to be what’s hot right now and I personally think that’s fantastic. IThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Fairy Tale re-tellings seem to be what’s hot right now and I personally think that’s fantastic. I think it’s even more fantastic however when I get to read a totally original fairy tale like The School for Good and Evil. Soman Chainani’s book is a brand new fairy tale – instead of remixing old stories, it explains to readers where the stories come from.
Agatha and Sophie are both fantastic characters. They’re both complex. At times you love them, at times they drive you insane (especially Sophie) but they are always compelling. At its heart The School For Good and Evil is the story of their friendship – of all friendships – and the trials and tribulations that go with it. No relationship is a walk in the park, they require work, but true friendships are the ones that push through.
The School For Good and Evil makes you question the idea of good and evil being polar opposites and makes you consider the grey area in between. It’s a longer middle grade read, but you won’t care because you’ll be so wrapped up in the story. I personally can’t wait to see what Agatha and Sophie get up to next in A World Without Princes....more
General advisory: Do not read this book in public. Doing so will result in public displays of sniThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
General advisory: Do not read this book in public. Doing so will result in public displays of sniffling, escaping tears and general bouts of despair. You will be able to cope much better from the comfort of your own home.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. This is not an all out depressing book. It’s an inspiring and touching story about family and grief, so of course it’s emotional. But it also encouraging and hopeful. It’s everything you would want a book about these themes to be.
See You At Harry’s does a fantastic job exploring the family dynamic. It’s all told from Fern’s perspective but we get to explore the family from all angles. Fern and her older and younger siblings, siblings with parents, parents with one another. I liked that we saw this family at their best and worst. They felt so real I think they could have been anyone’s family. Sometimes they were strong, and they worked together, but sometimes they were quite cruel to one another. I thought this was a really honest account of how a family would deal with tragedy and I really appreciated that Jo Knowles touched on such a delicate topic.
Similarly, I really liked how realistic the reactions to Holden’s coming out (or pre-coming out) were. There was such a huge variety of reactions/opinions. Some were accepting right away, where as others were more resistant. It showed how even in a more welcoming environment, coming out can be a really difficult, and nerve wrecking experience and I loved how patient and supportive Fern was with Holden through it all.
See You At Harry’s is a really quick read. I flew through this book. Once you start reading it you’ll find yourself so wrapped up in the story you won’t be able to put it down. I liked that it was this compelling but I was also sad that it was over so quickly. Makes the whole experience kind of bittersweet.
Recommendation: An incredibly moving story of grief, family and forgiveness, that will almost certainly make you cry. But it absolutely worth it. (Be sure to have something happy lined up to read afterwards to cheer you up.)...more
I have a confession to make. When I first sat down to read this book I was scared. How could thatThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I have a confession to make. When I first sat down to read this book I was scared. How could that be? you ask. It has such a bright and friendly cover and a heart warming synopsis. And you would be right about both of those things. But it’s written by John Boyne and the only other Boyne book I have read is Boy in the Striped Pajamas. An absolutely beautiful but heartbreaking book. So I was wary that this book – Barnaby Brocket – that seemed pleasant on the surface would end up punching me in the heart and making me cry as well.
But right from the first few chapters I could tell that The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocketwould be different. It was still an absolutely touching and heart warming read, but there was no tears, no heart ache. It was much more pleasant and light than my previous experience with this writer.
Though a terrible thing happens to poor little Barnaby, who can’t keep his feet on the ground, his story is anything but. This one tiny event, which might destroy a less optimistic and determined person, is the start of a great adventure for Barnaby Brocket, taking him from Sydney, Australia to far off places like Brazil, New York and Toronto. I loved the way Barnaby approached the situations he was in and that through it all he never seemed to give up hope. He is a strong and admirable little boy and I grew quite attached to him during my time reading.
The best thing about this book is that the message – that you should celebrate what makes you unique, rather than try to pretend to be “normal” (whatever that may mean) – is woven into every scene and interaction but doesn’t feel overly preachy. It’s a very friendly and approachable writing style. One that I found similar to authors like Roald Dahl – particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Recommendation: I think middle grade readers will really take to this novel, but that teens and adults will also find Barnaby Brocket easy to relate to. It’s a universal story with a simple but important message that none of us should forget....more
The Key and The Flame is a whimsical middle grade adventure. It has a very Narnia feel to it – fiThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Key and The Flame is a whimsical middle grade adventure. It has a very Narnia feel to it – finding a portal into another world within an every day object. But this time it’s a tree instead of wardrobe. I love stories where ordinary people/kids are whisked away to new places where they encounter adventure, danger and best of all magic. Because of this The Key and The Flame called out to me right away and I knew I had to read it.
Claire M Caterer has a real flair for setting the scene. She writes great descriptions – of the English country side, of the forest in Anglielle, of the castle. I think it’s safe to use the phrase “paints with words” in this case. But her writing isn’t overly fancy either. The voice is clearly middle grade. There are a lot of lines that are sure to get younger readers to crack a smile (and the young at heart too).
Holly, Ben and Everett were a fun and interesting bunch of characters and I especially appreciated the sister-brother relationship, between Ben and Holly. I liked that they still squabbled like siblings, but ultimately they worked together. It seemed in line with my own experience with my video game loving younger brother, so they were an easy pair to relate to. But on the other hand I also felt like we never really knew anything about these characters. There wasn’t a lot of back story for any of them. I wanted Holly to prevail because I don’t want to see anyone innocent imprisoned/murdered but there was no deeper investment than that.
The only other problem was that the book was a bit long. I guess that’s the downfall of such great descriptions is that often they can take and add extra bulk to the story. Sometimes the large size works for Middle Grade but sometimes it seems to drag. Depends on the reader, so it may be something to keep in mind if you’re considering picking this up.
Recommendation: A fun, easy middle grade read. Great for fans of the Narnia series by CS Lewis or Wildwood by Colin Meloy....more
Middle Grade fantasy is absolutely fantastic. It makes me feel nostalgic for the books I read wheThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Middle Grade fantasy is absolutely fantastic. It makes me feel nostalgic for the books I read when I was younger. And honestly who doesn’t love getting lost in a fairy tale? The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is no exception. It made me feel like a kid again, it was laugh out loud funny and it reminded me a lot of classic Disney movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White but with a great twist.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is really the story of four Prince Charmings (You didn’t think there was just one guy doing all the rescuing did you?) There’s Frederic – Cinderella’s prince – who is scared of everything (but an excellent negotiator!). Duncan, who broke Snow White’s sleeping spell. He’s a little dopey, but absolutely loyal and just wants to make friends with everyone and everything. Gustav, who rescued Rapunzel without realizing what he was getting into – which is the story of his life! And Liam. The only real “hero” of the bunch, who is unfortunately expected to marry the absolutely nasty Briar Rose. Seriously, move over Regina George. You have been de-throned.
I loved this book because all four of them – except maybe Liam – weren’t quite the Prince Charmings you generally think of. Fairy Tales are often all about the girls, and even most retellings focus on the female characters as well. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom was a nice twist because it let the men develop more as characters. No longer cursed to simply swoop in at the end, looking handsome and expected to solve all the problems with a dashing smile and love’s first kiss. And this is all accomplished without sacrificing the strength of the female characters. It’s win-win!
I also loved that, contray to a lot of fairy tales, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom was not about the romance! Yes Snow White and Duncan have a lovely relationship but the rest not so much. Each one is their own person and chasing their own dream. Cinderella wants adventure, Rapunzel wants to help people, Frederic wants to face his fears etc etc. Their destiny’s aren’t wrapped up in simply being with another person and I thought that was a more realistic portrayal.
Recommendation: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a delightful return to the fairy tales I grew up with but it makes this return without sacrificing strong characters or realistic goals. Basically it’s the whole package. Recommended for middle grade readers and those who grew up watching their Disney VHS’s over and over....more
If Stephen King wrote for children I imagine it would turn out a little something like this.
Victoria is a very special little girl. She likes everything a certain way and she’s not afraid to say so. She’s not your typical heroine – she’s not the most popular or the nicest or anything like that. She’s just a slightly bossy, head strong twelve year old who knows what she wants. And I think that is what makes her so admirable. I mean really, who is so sure of themself at that age? Not me. But I loved her confidence nd dedication.
I also loved that even though she comes off a little self absorbed she still stops at nothing to save her friend, Lawrence, when he goes missing. A good head on her shoulders AND brave. It’s a pretty unstoppable combination. She’s someone you would want to follow into battle. Someone you always want in your corner. No matter what the house threw at her, she found a way to deal.
Speaking of the house – it was a character in its own right. I love when locations become characters. It felt so real it was like I could reach out and touch it. Because the thing about The Cavendish Home is that it’s not just a collection of boards and nails. It reacts to what’s happening in and around it and it is always a little bit different. I think this was a brilliant concept and an incredibly imaginative one. When all is said and done it was the house that really sold the book for me.
The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls is a middle grade novel with grim but sharp humour. There’s elements of this story that are very reminiscent of The Witches by Roald Dahl. Remember how disturbed you felt when they were describing what the witches really looked like – you know all bald with the long fingernails and what not? Well that same creepy, disturbing feeling is present while reading this book. Claire Legrand, expertly uses all of those things that give us the creepy crawlies. The bugs especially. *shivers* I’m going to have bad dreams forever about those bugs.
Recommendation: This is a wonderfully creepy and brilliant book filled with an important message about being unique and that “perfect” isn’t always “perfect.” It’s a book that assumes its readers are smart and responds accordingly. An absolutely delightful read for middle grade readers and older readers who love Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman....more
Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar is the story of Bartholomew Kettle and his sister, Hettie. A pair of ChangelinOriginally posted at More Than Just Magic
Stefan Bachmann’s The Peculiar is the story of Bartholomew Kettle and his sister, Hettie. A pair of Changelings living in Bath, England. Their existence is difficult, despised by humans and fairies alike. But when other Changelings start disappearing, the game changes and Bartholomew has to venture out, in order to protect his sister and himself.
I really enjoyed Bartholomew’s dedication to his sister. As someone his is close with her own brother, I tend to love any story that has to do with sibling love and friendship. I don’t think it’s a relationship that’s explored enough in children’s literature. It was great to see a pair of siblings that care about one another’s well-being and are always there for one another. That more than anything was what really made The Peculiar shine for me.
In addition to the sibling love, Stefan Bachmann’s writing is absolutely gorgeous. It’s almost unbelievable that he’s only a teenager. Beautiful flowing phrases, perfect metaphors, and detailed and expertly woven story. The Peculiar was truly a joy to read. I found myself getting lost in the rich setting and beautiful imagery. If you’re someone who appreciates the technical side of writing, this is definitely a book for you.
Bartholomew and Hettie were not the only fabulous characters in this novel. Arthur Jelliby was by far my favourite. He was such an ordinary, regular person, but when push comes to shove, he goes to amazing lengths to investigate missing Changelings (that others seem indifferent to). He’s a bit silly, and clumsy and more than a little awkward, but I was drawn to him and his well-meaning ways. An engaging and well written character, he really helps pull The Peculiar together.
My one word of warning about this book however is that the pacing is quite slow. It’s a story that takes its time, revealing it’s complex layers at a much more deliberate and careful pace than I’m used to in Middle Grade novels. It didn’t make it any less beautiful or enjoyable, but it could make it difficult to get into. I was never truly absorbed in the story, and because of that it was a book I really liked, but I didn’t love.
Recommendation: The Peculiar is an example of truly excellent writing and skill. It had great characters, great themes and an incredible setting. Though technically a middle grade novel, this is definitely a book readers of all ages can appreciate....more
Who doesn’t love fairy tale retellings? They have that air of familiarity with just a splash of eThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Who doesn’t love fairy tale retellings? They have that air of familiarity with just a splash of extra creativity that at once makes us feel both homey and adventurous.
In a Glass Grimmly is no exception to the above description. Following the adventures of Jack and his cousin Jill, Adam Gidtwitz approaches a number of familiar tales, like Jack and the Beanstalk, The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Frog Prince and spins them in a way that is both humorous and kid friendly. When I started reading this collection I had assumed it was a grouping of separate stories but I was pleased to find that Gidwitz had combined the stories, making each one a stop on Jack and Jill’s over-arching quest.
I think the big selling factor of this book is Adam Gidwitz’s fabulous sense of humour. It’s dark, and a little gruesome, but always hilarious. It reminded me of the humour in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Jokes about turning back, about the next part being so gruesome, so horrible that you might want to skip over it (or go do something pleasant) – they made me want to keep reading. And I was always eager to see what remarks he would come up with next.
My favourite character by far, however, was not Jack or Jill or even the humorous narrator. It was The Frog. You meet him first, in a very upsetting and tragic rendition of The Frog Prince and he sticks with you for the entire adventure. He gets mistreated and is often ignored, but he’s funny, intelligent and is often a much needed voice of reason. I thought he was a neat addition to the regular old Jack and Jill.
In a Glass Grimmly, despite its dark tales and gruesome humour has a lovely ending. A nice mixture of different fairy tale morals and being yourself rather than trying to only impress others. It left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling afterwards and I couldn’t wait to share this book with the children in my life.
Recommendation: Great for young, reluctant readers. It’s especially fun to read together!...more
Small Medium At Large is the story of a spunky young girl named, Lilah Bloom. One day, the day of her mother's wOriginally reviewed at Hooked on Books
Small Medium At Large is the story of a spunky young girl named, Lilah Bloom. One day, the day of her mother's wedding to be exact, she gets struck my lightning. Nothing quite gets your attention like someone getting struck by lightining. That is, unless that person can then hear the voice of her dead grandmother, who wants her to help her dad start dating again.
If I were to use a single word to describe Small Medium at Large it would have to be hilarious. From the first conversation between Lilah and her best friend, to the final piece of wisdom from her dead grandmother (Bubby Dora), this book was constantly making me laugh out loud - often in public! There were even a few times my dog came over to check on me, I was making so much noise.
Joanne Levy nails the voice of twelve year old, Lilah. She sounds exactly the way I would expect to her too. Never too old or too young. Intelligent and a quick thinker, you can't help but like her. Motivated by nothing but good intentions, she's a character to be admired. And she's Jewish, adding some much needed diversity to the middle grade character pool.
I have some friends that think I'm strange for reading middle grade titles (or "kid's books"). But when I read a book like Small Medium at Large that makes me laugh so hard I almost spit tea across the room, I reminded of all the reasons I love 'kid's books' and I'm sorry that there are people who will miss out on this wonderful story because they can't look past the age range on the bookstore shelf.
Final recommedation: A must for all the middle grade people in your life. Whether actual 9-12 year olds, or just those of us that are young at heart, Small Medium at Large is a refreshing and funny read you're sure to enjoy....more
Michelle Paver, author of the incredibly popular Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, is back with the start of a brandOriginally posted at Hooked on Books
Michelle Paver, author of the incredibly popular Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, is back with the start of a brand new Middle Grade series. I immediately fell for the premise of this book – fantasy, Bronze Age, a dolphin companion! It's hard to tell what hooked me in more.
From page one I was absolutely captivated by the mystique of this book. Michelle Paver truly has a way with words. Word by word, sentence by sentence a picture was painted in my mind of the world Hylas and Pirra resided within. Most of the story takes place on a relatively small island, but Michelle Paver makes that island feel like an entire world. This is an example of some seriously awesome world building and I was left wanting to read more and more about it.
Gods and Warriors had me glued to its pages from start to finish but when all was said and done I couldn't help but notice that the characters hadn't grown as much as one might expect. Despite all that happens to them they're really the same people they were at the beginning of the story. A friend of mine, who has studied Greek literature and it's conventions, suggested that perhaps Paver was following along the belief that people never really change. At our core we're always the same. Or maybe she's just saving the really good character development for later on in the series. Either way I'm excited to keep reading and find out.
This is an incredible start to a new Middle Grade series and I can't wait to recommend it to everyone I know – whether they regularly read Middle Grade or not.
Final recommendation: An absolute must read for fantasy fans. Michelle Paver's writing style is reminiscent of some of my all time favourite fantasy novels. Also recommended for an older middle grade audience.
*side note: There is a really great and detailed Author's Note at the end of the book that explains a lot of the mythos and setting. Since not that many people are as familiar with the Bronze Age, I really think this note should be place at the front. It think it would really enhance the reading experience as a whole. ...more
There are a lot of things to love about this novel, but Sage is easily my favourite. He's the type of characterOriginally reviewed at Hooked on Books
There are a lot of things to love about this novel, but Sage is easily my favourite. He's the type of character that comes in and dominates the scene. He's funny and intelligent and I love his attitude. Sometimes young male protagonists can drive me crazy because their author's make them all attitude and no substance. But Jennifer A Nielsen delievers a layered and complex character, that you just want to get to know. He'll soon show you there's more to him than meets the eye.
Whether in audio or print, the writing in this book really brings the story and setting alive for the reader. This could have easily been a movie playing inside my head it was so detailed and vivid. Though Carthia is an imaginary place, it felt really authentic when I was listening to The False Prince. In the beginning, when Sage is running away from a local merchant I felt like I could picture each street in front of me, as if I was running through them myself.
Finally, this book is exciting, adventure filled and some amazing twists. There are some incredibly dramatic moments, some sword play and even a little bit of romance. It was an absolute joy keeping swept up in the action and I can't wait to see where the next book in the series will take me.
Final recommendation: A fabulous middle grade read that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Notes on the Audio Overall, Charlie McWade is a good narrator. His voice is energetic and interesting to listen to. There is also a clear distinction between each character. I had one issue/question regarding accents. The book specifically mentions how there are two distinct accents, that of the kingdom they're in (Carthia) and that of the land Sage is from. However, when Sage switches between the accents is voice never changes, which was slightly distracting. Even characters from the same area seemed to speak with different accents. While I appreciated the variety in character voices, I thought there should have been a bit more consistency, especially since it is mentioned in the text....more
Liza needs to save her brother, Patrick, from the spindlers. A mysterious, spider like group of people, who are deOriginally posted at Hooked on Books
Liza needs to save her brother, Patrick, from the spindlers. A mysterious, spider like group of people, who are determined to steal his soul. Despite the fact that she doesn't know where they are, is lost in a completely new world and is forced to travel with a talking rat (of all things!) she presses onwards. Determined to see her journey through to the end.
There are many things to love about the new middle grade novel, The Spindlers. For starters there's the loveability of it's protagonist Liza. She knows her brother has been taken, and even though he drives her crazy a lot of the time, she's determined to bring him home. Why? Because he's her brother and she loves him. No hesitation. No dragging of the feet. She see's what needs to be done and she's sets off to do it. I found her brave, and intelligent and just generally a joy to read about.
And I love that Lauren Oliver touched on the idea of sibling love. I know, even as an adult, I can relate to Liza's feelings about her brother. My own brother can sometimes drive me up the wall, but at the end of the day there's nothing I wouldn't do for him. This is an especially important message to reinforce with children, who are potentially still getting used to having a sibling or at a time when siblings can be at their most mischievous.
The world underneath our own world, the one Liza ventures into, is really a testament to Lauren Oliver's creative mind. It's a world reminiscent of The Borrowers or Roald Dahl. It's full of strange but interesting creatures. Case and point, Mirabella, the talking rat that accompanies Liza on part of her journey. She certainly is a bizarre character and at times you really won't know what to make of her. But she is guaranteed to make you laugh and tug at your heartstrings.
Final recommendation: Lauren Oliver's The Spindlers is the stuff good middle grade is made out of. It's an adventure to a new world, filled with imaginative and bright characters and it'll keep you hanging on, cheering for Liza and Patrick right until the very last page....more
Despite the fact that I am in my 20s and have no children (aged 9-12 or otherwise) I still enjoy a gooOriginally reviewed at Christa's Hooked on Books
Despite the fact that I am in my 20s and have no children (aged 9-12 or otherwise) I still enjoy a good middle grade title. A well written middle grade title is fun, it's refreshing, it's the stuff fairy tales are made of. I don't mean that poetically, I find that fantasy style middle grade styles help relive that time in my life where I watched Disney movies on repeat and read Doctor Seuss and Robert Munsch books.
So when I read the description of Scary School, I was really excited to read it for the all the reasons listed above and when all is said and done I found it a very cute and funny read. This is a great middle grade title, it's inventive and has an interesting story that will keep kids interested. It's smart (it does after all take place in a school) but it still easy to read and understand. I know since finishing I have passed along my copy to a seven year old (almost eight!) member of my family and he is currently devouring the story with minimal help.
The great thing about this book is the jokes. The book is full of them and you are guaranteed a giggle or two. I'm a little worried that a few of them may go over kid's heads. For example there's a reference to Minotaurs being aMAZEing. I'm not sure how many kids I know would get that joke, but it's totally possible I know the wrong kids!
There's also a really stellar cast of characters! Each chapter deals with new characters, adding to different branches to the storyline. I particularly loved Dr. Dragonbreath and his set of 5 classroom rules. If you break them you don't just get detention - you get eaten! I would've like to learn more about Derek the Ghost (since he's the narrator and all). Despite the fact that he's doing all the talking we know very little about him. I think he should've had his own chapter.
If you have (or know) kids in the ages 8-12 range this would be a great book for them. In addition, however, it's also a fun read for teens or adults who are just looking for something light and enjoyable. ...more
When I started reading Above World I was expecting a pretty basic middle grade title. A fun fantasy story that IOriginally reviewed at Hooked on Books
When I started reading Above World I was expecting a pretty basic middle grade title. A fun fantasy story that I could lose myself in for a little while. Something along the lines of Disney's The Little Mermaid. What I found, however, was a delightful fantasy mixed with some science fiction and a strong story I could really get behind.
Unlike many fantasy stories, this book takes place in a futuristic version of our world. In the future, over-population has led humans to find more creative places to reside – the ocean, the mountains, the desert. Various advances in technology have allowed humans to adapt to these environments and for awhile everything is fine. However, when the technology begins to fail, one young mermaid (or Kampii) Aluna makes her way to the surface to find the solution to the problem and save her underwater people. I was fascinated by this futuristic society and the unique ways humans adapted.
I also enjoyed that this novel revolved around a full, strong cast of characters. Though Aluna is a key character, it is not simply the case of one amazing do-it-all heroine, surrounded by a bunch of side kicks. All four characters – Aluna, Hoku, Calli and Dash – are unqiue, they come from different worlds and they all have something important to contribute.
I found there were some important messages in this book – in particular the dangers of relying to heavily on technology. This is a particularly relevant and insightful message given how “plugged in” the younger generation (as well as my own) has become. Above World is an enchanting and inventive middle grade title, with a stunning cast of characters and an interesting way of looking at the future. I may have been expecting a standard mermaid tale but instead I got something much more complex and engaging. ...more
I love all things Sherlock Holmes so I jumped at the chance to read and review this book. If you havenOriginally reviewed at Christa's Hooked on Books
I love all things Sherlock Holmes so I jumped at the chance to read and review this book. If you haven't read the other four books don't worry! This was my first one and I had no trouble getting into the story and finding myself wrapped up in the mystery. I would hazard a guess that the earlier books would provide a richer reading experience and I would like to go back and read them eventually, but overall I think you can start wherever you like in the series (not unlike the classic Sherlock Holmes tales).
At the beginning of this novel, the young Mr. Holmes is trying to distance himself from investigating crimes. This is partially because the police department resents his help and partially at the request of a young lady friend - Irene. As the mystery becomes more and more complex, however, he found he can only hold back so long. I loved how well you got to know Sherlock as a character. He became such an admirable character, especially when you got to see more of his personal and family life. It added a new dimension to my current image of Sherlock Holmes.
Though I enjoyed this book and found it a pleasant read I did feel it didn't pack quite the same punch as your traditional Sherlock Holmes mystery. There's just something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classics that can't be replicated. That being said this is a great gateway book/series to get a younger audience into the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and they do so in that way I can recommend whole heartedly....more
Percy Jackson is a young boy who happens to be the forbidden son of the god Poseidon. That was all itOriginally reviewed at Christa's Hooked on Books
Percy Jackson is a young boy who happens to be the forbidden son of the god Poseidon. That was all it took to hook me on the premise of this book. That being said, however, I put off reading it forever! Maybe it was because the series was already in progress (and I tend to feel overwhelmed when that happens), maybe it was because I was wrapped up in some other amazing book, maybe it was because the movie trailer looked like it was trying really hard to be Harry Potter. Who can say really?
But now I've listened to it and I've got to say I really liked the way this story built on the original Greek myths. Rick Riordan clearly spent a good deal of time getting to know those old legends. All the classic characters were present and all were wonderful. However, what was especially neat about this book was that the gods (and associated beings) weren't just static and traditional, they were adapted for the present day and it was not only creative but they were funny! This book made me giggle repeatedly out loud and it's not often I can say that about a novel.
I had a lot of fun with The Lightning Thief. It starts off simple enough – young boy on a quest. We've all seen that before. But combined with some loveable characters and some interesting updates to the traditional Greek myths it didn't feel old at all. I can't wait to dig into the rest of this series and see what Rick Riordan comes up with next.
Notes on the Audio This audiobook rocked! It was great story made even better by Jesse Bernstein's incredible narration. Each character had it's own unique voice and as a result it's own personality. I really felt like I was getting to know them personally. Bernstein's voice also had just the right level of enthusiasm and excitement without sounding to earnest. I found myself utterly addicted to this audiobook – my dog ended up going on multiple walks a day and I was constantly looking for things to clean so that I could start listening again. I will definitely be continuing this series in audio and I am interested to see what else Jesse Bernstein has narrated....more