It's 1875 and Archie Dent's parents belong to The Septemberists, a society dedicated to remembering the damage caused by monsters called the MangleborIt's 1875 and Archie Dent's parents belong to The Septemberists, a society dedicated to remembering the damage caused by monsters called the Mangleborn and to preventing them from rising again to destroy civilization. On a routine trip to the Septemberist headquarters, the older Dents are taken over by Manglespawn, children of a Mangleborn, and forced to Florida where one of the monsters is trying to break free. Archie and his family servant, a tik tok man named Mr. Rivets, try to save the Dents but fail. They set off to seek help from other Septemberists and make a couple of brilliant young friends along the way.
Whew! That sounds complicated! It's not really. This is a middle grade steampunk adventure and everything's explained pretty easily.
Archie's a great protagonist. He's small for his age, smart, kind of a nerd, and apparently there's nothing special about him. He wants so badly to be a hero that he feels his normalcy is a weakness. His friend Fergus is an electrician/scientist of amazing talents. His friend Hachi is a fierce warrior, utilizing five clockwork toys to her advantage. Archie seems to just be...Archie.
I love the whole world this is set in. The fledgling colonies of North America lost contact with Europe when there was a catastrophic Mangleborn rising. They had to learn to live peacefully with the Native Americans so they've come to be known as the United Nations of America. The states we know correspond more closely to tribes of Native Americans. The colonists come to be known as the Yankee tribe. The society is pretty advanced but everything runs on clockwork and steam power.
I was fortunate to see author Alan Gratz at his book launch and he said that he wanted to write a "book of awesome," so he wrote down all the awesome things he could think of and tried to fit them all into one book. It works for me and I'm sure it will work for younger boys and girls looking for an action-packed read. I can't wait to get my hands on the second book in the trilogy....more
Mercy Lynch is a nurse in the Civil War, which has been lingering on for decades. Like many people, she has torn loyalties. She's a nurse for the ConfMercy Lynch is a nurse in the Civil War, which has been lingering on for decades. Like many people, she has torn loyalties. She's a nurse for the Confederacy but her husband is a soldier in the Union. Shortly after she receives word that he died in a POW camp, she receives a telegram notifying her that her long-estranged father is very sick and asking for her to come see him in Tacoma, Washington. That's quite a trek away from Richmond, Virginia, especially given the state of the country. Duty and curiosity win out and she sets out via dirigible and then train to hopscotch her way across the country.
I really enjoyed Boneshaker so I had high hopes for this book. I downloaded it on audio but read the first in print. When I realized that Kate Reading was the narrator, I wasn't quite sure what to think. Don't get me wrong--I've enjoyed Ms. Reading's narration but I've only listened to her reading fiction that is more directly targeted to women. I wasn't sure how she'd handle the steampunk action that I expected. I needn't have worried. The performance was so pitch perfect that I'll continue with the series on audio.
It's been a while since I read Boneshaker but I do think Dreadnought may actually be a little better. It's not a direct sequel but it does take place in the same book world and at the very end a few characters overlap.
I was a little disappointed that the rotters (read: zombies) aren't around very much. But when they are--holy cow!
I didn't like Mercy quite as much as I liked Briar from the first book but she was still a strong character. She's just trying to get across the country as fast as she can and she finds herself caught up in some wartime intrigue/action. She and the other civilian passengers try to stay out of it but they keep getting dragged into things whether they like it or not. Mercy just handles everything that comes along and does what needs to be done, whether that's patching up a soldier who's been shot or breaking into a private car to find out exactly what the train is carrying.
The book is so tightly focused on Mercy that I was left wanting to know more about a few other characters. Of course I don't remember their names now and I don't have a print copy to refer back to. The Texas Ranger, the Mexican inspectors, the awfully warlike young lady sharing Mercy's compartment--I'm curious about them all. I hope they show up in later books.
This was a great audio book and I highly recommend it. I can't wait to get my hands on the next in the series!...more
Young Mickey hears a noise deep in the night and finds himself falling into the Night Kitchen, where he has to help the cooks get the milk into the baYoung Mickey hears a noise deep in the night and finds himself falling into the Night Kitchen, where he has to help the cooks get the milk into the batter.
What a fun little book! I never read much Sendak when I was little for some reason, so this was completely new to me. The illustrations were tons of fun, of course. The kitchen is set against a "skyline" of boxes of cake mix, tall salt shakers, and an elevated bread train. They're perfectly whimsical for this book. I imagine children would love the story of little Mickey saving the day. I know I did! How much fun is it to imagine that only you can accomplish something important while the world, including your parents, is sleeping? It should also be a great book to read aloud. It's short and to the point and rhymes just enough to roll off the tongue.
I highly recommend this one to parents with young children as a fun little bedtime story. ...more
Will Robie is a sanctioned assassin for the US government. Needless to say, if he screws up he's officially on his own. He gets an odd assignment amidWill Robie is a sanctioned assassin for the US government. Needless to say, if he screws up he's officially on his own. He gets an odd assignment amidst the cartel bosses and terrorists that are his usual hits. He's assigned to take out a woman who works for the Department of Defense. The official story is, she's got terrorist ties. He walks into her apartment and realizes something isn't right. He freezes and re-evaluates as her child wakes up and starts to panic, just in time for a second sniper to kill both him and his mom. Robie goes underground to find out what's going on. He climbs on a bus and watches a teen girl board as well. Shortly behind her is a man who looks like a professional. Robie watches as the man prepares to kill the girl, ready to act if he needs to. It turns out, she's capable of taking care of herself but now she's on the run with Robie.
I wanted something pretty exciting and fun to listen to and I have to say this did fit the bill. It took me by surprise when the sound effects started though. I can't recall having sound effects in many other audio books and I'm not sure if I like them. Mostly they just yank me out of the story as I look around, wondering where the gunshots are coming from. (I live kind of in the country in the South. It's not unusual for neighbors to indulge in some target practice.) I liked David McLarty's narration quite a bit. He has a gruff kind of voice that I thought suited the story perfectly. I also liked that Orlagh Cassidy read the female dialog but I occasionally felt too much like she was actually reading to me. I know, it's an audiobook and she is reading to me but I don't want it to sound that way. Mostly I enjoyed her narration too though.
While the book itself was exciting and I never did figure out exactly what was going on until the end, I saw too much of it coming from way too far away. There were a couple of times where I caught myself thinking, "Heaven help us if this is the best and brightest our country has to offer" and rolling my eyes. I might not have put all the pieces together but I did at least know what the pieces were. I'm pretty sure the whole thing was supposed to be a big surprise.
I don't know that I'll be running out to read or listen to more books by this author but if the mood strikes for another thriller-ish read, I'd give him another try, either in print or audio....more
Linda, an overweight girl in fifth grade, gives a report about whales one day. Someone passes around a note that "Blubber is a good name for her" andLinda, an overweight girl in fifth grade, gives a report about whales one day. Someone passes around a note that "Blubber is a good name for her" and Linda has a new nickname. The other kids start to tease and harass her and just generally make her life miserable. Our narrator, Jill, watches all this and even takes part in it.
Holy cow, what mean little kids these are! This was hard to read, even as an adult. Or maybe it's because I'm an adult and unconsciously prefer to look back at childhood with rose-colored glasses. We definitely had a pecking order in our class and the kids at the bottom of it were picked on but I don't remember it being this bad! The sad thing is that it all feels real though. I tended to keep to myself so there could have been mean girls cornering other girls in the bathroom and stripping them off and making fun of them mercilessly for all I know. And even if my class wasn't that mean, just the act of avoiding someone or always choosing him or her last for teams was damaging enough. There may be degrees but bullying is still bullying.
The beauty of the book is that the reader first has enough distance to see how cruelly the other kids treat Linda and then, when the tables are turned, learn how it feels to be tormented. It definitely teaches a lesson about how destructive bullying is without being too preachy.
I don't know if there are better books about bullying out there but this one has become a classic. Children should have to read it or something like it so that they can learn how hurtful their actions can be. And if a child is being picked on, it lets them know that he or she is not alone....more
Anytime kids gather together in the dark, scary stories are inevitably told. Alvin Schwartz gathered a good selection of the most popular and publisheAnytime kids gather together in the dark, scary stories are inevitably told. Alvin Schwartz gathered a good selection of the most popular and published them in this anthology.
I kind of think this scared me when I was little but I don't actually remember ever checking it out from the library. My theory is that I knew it would scare me so I steered clear. I do remember all my little classmates rushing to check out the one copy we had in our school library though.
Reading this now, the stories aren't particularly scary. The author chose to divide the book into sections, with the first being "Jump" stories, where the teller gets to the climax and gives out a blood-curdling scream to scare the wits out of the listeners. I can see that they would be scary in person but on the page they were actually a little silly. The others were a little more fulfilling if you're looking for a frightening read. There are sections about ghosts and urban legends and even a few songs. (How's this for a coincidence? I read "The Hearse Song" here, "The worms crawl in, The worms crawl out, The worms play pinochle on your snout" and then came across it again in my very next read, Blubber.) It was interesting to me as an older reader to recognize basic elements here that I've come across in other books that were published later. I can't help but wonder if the later books got the idea from this one or if they are all just referencing the same old folktales and legends.
The illustrations by Stephen Gammell are downright creepy and perfect for the book.
Young readers who like a good fright should find what they're looking for in this collection....more
Our young British protagonist and his Norwegian grandmother know something that we don't: Witches are real and they live among us. They look like sweeOur young British protagonist and his Norwegian grandmother know something that we don't: Witches are real and they live among us. They look like sweet neighbor ladies but they're keeping a lot of secrets. Chief among them? They want to wipe out the children of the world.
When Grandmamma and Grandson (do we ever learn his name?) go on vacation to the coast of England, they stumble on the annual witches' meeting, led by The Grand High Witch herself. The witches have a plan to eliminate all the children of England at once! That won't happen if Grandmamma and Grandson have anything to say about it.
Confession: I remember starting to watch this movie when I was little and spending the night at my grandmother's house but it scared me to death. We had to turn it off. I told my husband this and he asked, "How old were you?" I looked up the release date of The Witches. It came out when I was 12. 12! And I was probably 13 by the time it came out on video or on tv or however I happened to catch it! What can I say? I was sheltered. And Anjelica Huston intimidates me to this day. I can just imagine facing her as a tween, on a screen or not. *shudder*
Now that I'm firmly in my 30s, I'm brave enough to read the source. It was so much fun! It was (obviously) scary and suspenseful enough to satisfy most children but it had an element of silliness and impossibility that captures the imagination. There's really no such thing as a bald witch with claws, no toes, blue spit, and a removable face. But what if there were? *shiver*
I enjoyed Grandson's bravery and Grandmamma's willingness to let him take risks for his own well-being and that of others. How often do adults trust children with things like that? Probably not often enough if you're looking through the eyes of a child. I also liked that Grandson turns what could be a disability into a strength. He never lets anything hold him back. In fact, he embraces the changes that come his way.
I absolutely loved the introduction, "A Note About Witches." "In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES." And in a suitably alarming tone, the facts about witches are laid out.
I loved the illustrations by Quentin Blake as well. They were silly but scary enough to match the story.
There's a group of sheltered kids, like me, who this won't be appropriate for. But if you and/or your child like a fun little fright, give this one a try. I'm glad I finally gave the book a chance. Now maybe I'll be brave enough to try the movie again for Halloween......more
Chronicling the lives of Japanese brides coming to America, Buddha in the Attic is deceptively slim. Almost every sentence begins a new story that isChronicling the lives of Japanese brides coming to America, Buddha in the Attic is deceptively slim. Almost every sentence begins a new story that is only hinted at, yet I saw at least the broad strokes of an entire life in just those few words. There is no main character and the book is told collectively. (NOT a direct quote) "We came from Japan. We left our remote farms. We left our lives in Tokyo. We left our fishing villages. We cried as we left our families. We left happily, vowing to never look back." Listening to this on audio, the style bothered me a bit at first. It's so freaking repetitive! I do not do well with anything repetitive. Once I did settle into the narrative, I saw the beauty of it. In about four hours, I was a part of the lives of what felt like hundreds of Japanese women, each with her own story.
The book starts with the young women on the boat, uncertain of their futures and their husbands. They've never even met the men they're traveling halfway around the world to marry. Then there's early married life, children, life as an immigrant, and, in the early years of WWII, life as a "traitor." It was sometimes heart-breaking but always thought-provoking.
Samantha Quan narrates beautifully. I've not been a big fan of Carrington MacDuffie's straightforward narration in the past but it worked very well for her small part in this book.
I might have rated this higher in print, despite the excellent narration, simply because I could have skimmed over the seemingly endless, "We came from"s and "We gave birth in"s. In whatever format you choose, this is an excellent little book and I do recommend it....more
Ceony Twill has put herself through magic school in only a year when most people take two. She's a smart girl and she's hoping that her magic will beCeony Twill has put herself through magic school in only a year when most people take two. She's a smart girl and she's hoping that her magic will be based on metal. She wants to design weapons and machines and things that matter. Instead, she gets paper. Boring old, get-it-wet-and-it-falls-apart paper. She's crushed. She hopes there's been a mistake. But the powers-that-be say that a balance must be kept so they assign a certain number of students to paper because, let's face it, no one is volunteering for it. Ceony resignedly sets out for her apprenticeship with Magician Emery Thane.
Once she gets there, she settles in well enough. Thane is a kind teacher and a talented magician. So when his ex-wife shows up and literally steals the beating heart from his chest, Ceony decides she has to save him. She sets out with her few learned paper magic skills to face the ex-wife, an Excisioner whose magic is based on manipulating flesh.
This sounded promising but it also sounded like it could go very wrong. One of my friends loaned it to me, saying, "You'll love it, I promise." For two people who are confirmed bibliophiles, our tastes don't overlap very much so I was still a tad worried. I should have had more faith. I enjoyed this immensely.
I was a little unsure of Ceony at first. She seemed to think that she was just too good to be a paper magician. But honestly, I would feel the same way. What can you do with paper? Fold it into an airplane and hope to poke someone in the eye? It turns out there's much more to humble paper than I thought. Once Ceony settled in and set out on her quest, she slowly grew on me and I was firmly in her corner by the end.
I liked Emery from the start. He has a paper skeleton as a butler. He gives Ceony an unimaginably thoughtful gift after her first day as his apprentice. There are glimmers of a sense of humor. As Ceony literally navigates the chambers of his heart in her effort to save him, we are shown his good moments, his bad moments, his strong moments, and his weak moments. He really comes to life on the page. And I really, really liked him.
The plot is pretty tightly focused on Ceony and Emery, but the glimpses I caught of this larger world were fascinating. I've shelved the book as steampunk even though I can't point to any specific steampunk elements. It just had that feeling.
I'll definitely read further books in the series. If you enjoy fantasy or steampunk at all, give this one a try....more
Norwegian Inspector Harry Hole is sent to Australia as something of a consultant/observer in the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian woman.
BasNorwegian Inspector Harry Hole is sent to Australia as something of a consultant/observer in the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian woman.
Based on this, the first book in the series and my first Harry Hole book, I'm not clear why these are so popular. I can only assume they get better. Maybe it was the translation or maybe it was that I was distracted but nothing seemed to flow together at all. Hole and his Australian partner, Andrew Kensington, seem to jet about the country with impunity. I haven't been there but Australia sure seems like a big place and I'm sure they face the same budget problems that all police forces do. And these two guys are roaming where they please?
All of Hole's relationships get crazy-intense, crazy-fast. He and Kensington are immediately best friends forever. He meets the love interest the first day, I believe, and they almost immediately pledge lifelong and devotion. I really started to wonder if I had just missed the amount of time that Harry had been in Australia and then he would say something like, "I've already been here a week; I'm not sure how much longer my superiors will let me stay." Really?
I had a terrible time keeping the names straight. Granted, some of them were aboriginal (Is that politically correct?) and therefore very unfamiliar to me.
And what was up with everyone, absolutely everyone, knowing "whodunnit" except Harry and trying to give him subtle clues? Why not just come right out and say it? I get that you're trying to protect yourself, but if you're going to go so far as to try to clue him in, why not just go all the way? And is there really no one in Australia who is capable of investigating a murder?
John Lee did do a pretty good job of narrating. He had quite a mixed bags of accents to tackle and he did better than most people would, I believe.
The series must be popular for a reason but this one has left a bad taste in my mouth. I'll give the rest of the series a pass....more