Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: Thursdays with the Crown










Thursdays with the Crown
By Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 6
ISBN:  9781619632998
Expected Publication Date:  October 7, 2014


Celie and her friends have been transported to the original home of the Castle Glower, the Glorious Arkover, and have no way of getting back home.  This land is sparsely inhabited by people, but surprisingly inhabited by griffins, including Rufus' parents.  After splitting up, the gang finds an Arkish wizard, but they aren't sure if they can trust him, and it turns out they can't.  When Celie escapes his cave, she finds a Hathelocke wizard, who is just as shady.  Once the gang is reunited, they discover the Tomb of the Builder and bring back some relics that may help their father speak to the castle, that is if they can ever get home.  The plot continues to twist and turn and double back on itself until there is finally a conclusion and another hint at a following book.

Tuesdays at the Castle was excellent and inventive.  Wednesdays in the Tower was entertaining although involved.  Thursdays with the Crown is forced and confusing.  I sincerely hope that George lets the Castle Glower rest.

What bothered me most about this book was that it focused more on a centuries old rivalry between the Arkish and the Hathelockes that was never resolved, although it is implied that is might be roughly resolved by the marriage of Celie's parents.  So much of the book was just the children trying to figure out who built the castle and why, and who actually has rights to it.  I guess this is an important part of the castle's back story, but at the same time, it really slowed down the story.  What also bothered me was once they discovered the relics, they seemed to take a strange hold on Rolf which was never explained.  I felt like many things were written so that readers would just have to accept that it worked, rather than showing why this needed to happen.

Also the ending was unusually tidy in my opinion, although I guess in the other books that was also the case.  After pages and pages of complicated history and adventuring, the castle goes back, the plague is cured and everyone goes home happy with a griffin.  Sorry-spoilers.  

I should do a better job of hiding my displeasure with this book, but when the first book was so much fun, I'm very disappointed to see the following books cheapen that experience.  I would highly recommend Tuesdays at the Castle to readers, and then I would recommend that they stop.  The rest of the series just does not seem to live up to that first book, and if not for the fact that I continue to find copies on NetGalley, I would have given up by now too.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish










The Fourteenth Goldfish
By Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780375870644
Expected Publication Date:  August 26, 2014


Ellie's life is certainly different now that she is in 5th grade and attending middle school.  Her best friend is only concerned about the volleyball team and Ellie is struggling to fit in without her.  To make matters worse, her grandfather recently discovered a way to make himself decades younger, so now she is attending classes with her 76, going on 14,-year old grandfather, Melvin, in tow.  Melvin is trying to figure out how he can break into his old lab to save this ground-breaking discovery, and trying to get along with his theatre-loving daughter, Ellie's mother, all while inspiring a love of science in Ellie.  With the help of goth-boy Raj, this trio makes some breakthroughs, both scientifically and ethically, that will surprise and delight readers.  A great book that mixes science and heart.

I really hope that I don't have to tell the Caudill committee that this book is excellent.  They love Jennifer Holm, so I hope they pick up on this one all by themselves.  In some ways, The Fourteenth Goldfish reminded me a lot of Frank Einstein.  It uses real scientific facts in fiction as a way to get readers thinking more about the sciences, but it does it in a way that is fun, not too forced.  Melvin regularly referenced other famous scientists like Sauk and Oppenheimer, and made their stories seem so interesting that I bet some readers at least Google them.  Plus, the whole ethical debt about de-aging and the atomic bomb was very interesting.  I love how Holm was able to question the ethics of science in a simple way.

But aside from the science, this is a book about growing pains.  Ellie misses her friend, and she's excited to make a new friend in Raj.  Ellie has great instincts about relationships, which she can relate back to science.  And the adolescent Melvin is pretty funny, and I'm sure a few readers will wish that their own grandfathers could becomes teens for a day just to get the same experience.  

This book is getting quite a bit of well-deserved buzz and I hope that all readers find it lives up to the hype.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Greenglass House










Greenglass House
By Kate Milford
Clarion Books, 2014
Reviewed from Netgalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780544052703
Publication Date:  August 26, 2014


Milo lives in the Greenglass Inn, an inn for smugglers, and since smuggling tends to be a more fair weather trade, it's usually empty in the winter, but not today.  Five mysterious guests show up just days before Christmas and can't say exactly when they'll leave or why they are there.  Making up the five guests are a professor, a wealthy woman, two spry young women, and a dark stranger.  Milo's parents call in extra help in the form of a cook and baker, and a young girl comes with them.  Milo and the girl Meddy strike up a friendship and begin a role playing game to find out why everyone is here.  In the game they are Negret and Sirin, two characters that are much more than themselves, but still very much the same people.  As items start going missing, and even more guests show up, the mystery grows, until finally, Milo asks everyone to tell a story for entertainment and legends of the smuggler Doc Holystone start to collide with myths of the roamers and many other odd tales until, at last, everyone's motivations are revealed and Milo, or Negret, must find a way to save them all.

I'd seen advertisements for this book here and there, but it wasn't until I read a review on A Fuse #8 Production that I really took notice.  Elizabeth Bird likened it to The Westing Game.  I personally love The Westing Game, and I've heard of several mystery books before that it's like The Westing Game, but all fall short, until now.  Greenglass House is a mystery in the vein of TWG, and so much more.

Milo is a great character.  He's shy and anxious and really needs to be the brave and daring Negret.  He learns so much about himself as Negret, and lets himself explore his familial heritage while he's playing Negret without guilt.  See, Milo is adopted, he's Chinese and his parents are Caucasian, so it's obvious that he's adopted, and while he loves his parents, he can't help but wonder about his birth family.  As Negret, he builds a rich backstory without feeling like he's betraying his parents.  And he gains confidence by playing this role.  

Aside from the main plot of so many guests, so little information, there are rich myths woven within the story.  I am a big sucker for the story within a story and Milford does this masterfully.  It's much like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in that all of the stories seem random at first, but the reader starts seeing connections and I was getting really excited to see just where they would all connect.  

SPOILER ALERT BELOW!!  Please if you plan on reading this book, skip the next paragraph.

The one thing that bothered me was the ghost.  I caught on pretty quick about the ghost and it made me so angry.  It felt like a really trite plot device.  I don't consider myself the most savvy reader, after all, I was floored by the ending to We Were Liars and after finishing that book, I felt silly for not seeing the ending sooner.  No, I felt like this ghost was too simply drawn and it bothered me.  I wasn't supposed to catch on this quickly!  I was mad for maybe 100 pages, then the story became too good and I let it slide, and in the end, I understood and appreciated why it was done that way, although I still say that it good have been a little more vague.

SPOILER ALERT FINISHED!!

I received this book from NetGalley, but not as a Kindle download that will stay with me until my Amazon account dies.  Nope, I had to download this on my computer, and those downloads only last 55 days-random I know.  Smart move publisher.  I feel so in love with this book and everything about it that I must own it.  That's how good it is.  I've read it, but I want to read it again, and again, and listen to the audiobook just for fun.  Just like The Westing Game.

For a great mystery with twists, turns, legends, and heart, Greenglass House is complete perfection.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Sisters











Sisters
By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
ISBN:  9780545540605
Publication Date:  August 26, 2014

In this companion book to Smile, the dynamics of Raina's family are tested as the family goes on a week long road trip to Colorado from San Francisco.  Anyone that remembers traveling in the 90's with no air conditioning will feel the narrators pain.  Mostly, it's a story about Raina and her sister, Amara and their contentious relationship.  At first, Raina is excited to have a sister, but the screaming baby that her parents bring home does not exactly fit the bill.  And it doesn't help that Amara turns out to be extremely headstrong with a love for reptiles.  While the two seem like they are vastly different, they are actually quite similar, the curse of all sisters!  The story is told through the main plot of the road trip and flashbacks to the past to fill in some of the story.  Fans of Smile will certainly love Sisters.

As a sister, the younger sister, I could strongly relate to this book.  Plus, Raina is about my age, so there's something rather nostalgic in these pages for me.  I would recommend that 30-somethings read this book for fun because you will inevitably see yourself in the pages.  

Like Smile, Sisters seems to be as much about family life as it is about humor.  I think that is part of the appeal for readers.  It's not just a story, it was someone's life, but since it's presented as fiction, and presented as a graphic novel, it makes all of life's funny little stories that much more interesting.  I think that this type of story works so well as a graphic novel because the author is able to use the illustrations to make everything more over the top and really express how the characters are feeling and acting.  

I pulled this book from NetGalley, so I was reading an unfinished, mostly black and white digital edition.  I can only imagine from the few full color illustrations how amazing this book is going to be in its finished state.  I highly recommend this book for all fans of Smile and Drama, and for any adult that needs a little taste of the past. 

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Shiloh










Shiloh
By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Antheneum Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780689316142
Publication Date:  September 30, 1991


While on a walk on his family's property, Marty comes across a sad-looking beagle dog.  It's obvious that this dog has been out on his own for a while, and was previously hurt by his owner, so Marty lets  the dog follow him home.  But his dad knows this dog belongs to their neighbor Judd, and furthermore, they don't have the money to care for a dog.  When Marty returns the dog, Judd is cruel to him and kicks him, and Marty decides if the dog runs away again, he won't bring him back.  And that's just what happens.  Now, Marty is keeping a secret from his parents and trying to keep the dog, Shiloh, safe and happy while figuring out a way to keep him out of Judd's hands.  This is a touching story about one boy's love for a dog.

Shiloh is a classic story, having won the Newbery in 1992 and becoming a fixture in the dog cannon. I'd never read it, but felt compelled to because of my own beagle dog, Lucy.  That might have been a mistake.  Being the hormonal pregnant woman that I am, plus my love for my own beagle, I found the passages about animal cruelty hard to digest.  It wasn't gratuitous but it was a little too much for me to handle.  I can't imagine someone treating a dog that way, although I did grow up in a hunting community so I'm sure that my community was rife with this type of story.  Luckily, there are two other books that follow Shiloh and Marty, so I knew that somehow it would work out in the end.  

I think the biggest strength of this book is the setting, the hills of West Virginia which are beautiful but cruel.  The people in this book have very little, as evidenced by Marty's family not being able to afford a dog.  And while this book is over 20 years old, even at that time many families were more prosperous than Marty's family.  It recalls a time and place where neighbors were more helpful, but also kept quiet about each other in a protective fashion, like not reporting someone to the game warden, again, something I can relate to from my own childhood.  The dialogue is slow and measured, exactly how you would imagine it to be in a small, sleepy town, and there is a certain innocence in the setting despite the overall theme of animal cruelty.

But finally, Marty breaks through Judd's exterior as he is working to earn Shiloh.  Judd did not have a good childhood and that, in part, explains why he is incapable of being kind to his dogs, or anyone really.  Reader's will still hate Judd, but they at least have a reason why he is so cruel.  He's rather like Gar-Face in The Underneath, a cruel human who has been made that way.

While this isn't a dead dog book, it's close.  Hopefully most readers will be able to focus on the love that Marty and his family give to Shiloh and not the cruelty.  It's a classic book for a reason and will still resonate with readers.

Happy Reading!




Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Three Times Lucky











Three Times Lucky 
By Shelia Turnage
Dial, 2012
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780803736702
Publication Date:  May 10, 2012

Moses LeBeau is looking for something, her upstream mother who let her go during a hurricane twelve years ago.  Luckily she was found by the Colonel, an eccentric man with little memory and a habit of running off, but she also has Miss Lana, an eccentric woman with a passion for wigs and theater.  Mo's life is centered in Tupelo Landing, a small town where everyone knows all your business and very little else.  When a detective comes to town and starts asking questions about a robbery in the next town over, the townsfolk get nervous, but they are even more nervous when one of their own turns up dead.  None of this stops Mo and her friend Dale from getting in on the action and trying to solve the mystery themselves, and try to solve their own problems at the same time.  A great Southern mystery with colorful characters a plenty sure to delight readers.

Let me start by saying, why hasn't this been a Caudill yet?  It's perfect!  There's your Newbery Honor to appease the teachers and librarians, and plenty of humor and action for your readers.  This to me hits the Caudill sweet spot and I hope to see it make the list very soon.

I loved the community in this book.  Tupelo Landing is a place that time forgot.  It's often hard for authors to write books with perilous action in the modern era because even 8-year olds have cell phones, so why don't they call for help?  Well, in Tupelo Landing you won't get a signal.  They are living on the river, close the hills, and are pretty cut off.  But everyone from the mayor to the neighborly grandmother are willing to lend a hand.  

I also loved the dialogue.  I really should have used more highlighting in this book.  There are just some great one-liners.  Like this one when Mo loses some documents from the Colonel's file, she says:  "I'm sorry sir, it's real hard to flatten tires and do paperwork at the same time".  That struck me as incredibly funny.  And Mo has a dry sense of humor like that.  You won't find any fart jokes here, but most readers will get the subtle humor and appreciate it all the more.

I'm very tempted to check out the follow-up The Ghost of Tupelo Landing.  I've read the reviews on Goodreads and they are quite positive, but after loving Mo and Dale so much, I'm afraid for that to be ruined.  

This book is a perfect bait and switch.  It has real substance but enough humor to fool readers into loving it.  It's like a really healthy corn dog, or great tasting fat-free ice cream.  It's a rare thing indeed.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Librarians Make Good Secretaries

I never knew that my reader's advisory skills would serve me so well as a secretary.  If there is one common theme between being a librarian and being a secretary, it's the expectation that you should know everything.  What book won the Newbery in 1972?  Can an undergrad take a course for grad credit?  I saw a book once with a blue cover about a witch-do you have it?  My voicemail's not working-why and fix it.

That type of thing.

Also, when you're the secretary primarily reporting to one person, the department chair, you can sometimes develop a particularly vague type of code language and this is when the reader's advisory skills come in.

Take yesterday.  My chair asks me if I have any copies of the pink chart.  I give him a completely blank stare.  He adds, you printed it on pink paper, or maybe purple paper, with the ACT scores.  Bingo!  You mean the scholarship qualification chart, which I have never, in fact, printed on pink paper, nor does it have anything pink on it, but yes, it does have ACT scores.

See, if I'd never been a librarian, I would have searched for the elusive "pink chart" for days to no avail, but because I understand how readers, or supervisors, can get hung up on random details that can actually make your job harder, I was able to read between the lines and come up with the right answer.  Plus, since you can pull out your Nancy Drew skills and pull answers out of thin air, you look like a genius.  And aren't we all--librarians and secretaries I mean.  The rest of you would be lost without us!

Now for the answers to the questions in the intro of this post:  The 1972 Newbery Winner was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien, a great book with some action, talking rats, and humor.  Yes, undergrads can take a course for grad credit as long as they are seniors who have applied for graduation and have applied to graduate school and there's another form to fill out and yes, I will email you the form, and sure, I can run it to the grad office for you, and okay, I'll pick up some coffee for you too (this really does feel like my day sometimes).  A book with a blue cover about a witch-try Well Witched by Frances Hardinge or Weather Witch by Shannon Delaney, although I would recommend the former as it has more action and less romance, and is a stand alone book.  Finally, you're voicemail isn't working because a server went down over two months ago resetting all of our voicemails, and I've told you twice to set-up your voicemail again, but you don't follow directions, but sure, I'll email you the instructions again.

It's a never-ending job!