Monday, December 28, 2015

Tom Gates: Everything's Amazing (Sort of) by L. Pichon, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Back to school, but it's not all bad. We're entering Rooster in a dog show, the School Disco and my birthday are coming up so this term's going to be amazing! Mostly because Delia's not invited to any of these. There's only one small problem with my birthday, Granny Mavis says she's going to cook ...uh oh!
(404 pages)

First things first, this book is so British! It's like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (or at least like what I'd heard they're like), but written by a British author so full of words and phrases that make me feel like I'm a little English kid. As someone who dearly loves all things U.K., that definitely brings this book up in my esteem - for an American kid reading this with no real understanding of the linguistic differences between our two cultures, it could be very off-putting. On the plus side: Pichon includes a glossary for things that, as Tom puts it, "might sound a bit ODD." On the negative: it's literally the last page of the entire book, so confused readers won't discover it until they've already muddled through the entire book.

But what of the book itself? Well, I have to say that this sucker is not winning any literary awards. It's like cotton candy, all fluff and no substance - but you know what? It's good cotton candy. It's realistic and silly and funny and witty, and Tom is such a genuine character that I could totally imagine running into him on some random street corner in the UK. He's also a genuinely nice kid, which I really liked - the problem with the popular series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid is that all of the characters are such jerks I can't stand reading about them. Tom, on the other hand, isn't obnoxious or horrible or unreasonably disrespectful. He argues with his sister, sure, and complains about his grandmother's cooking and makes fun of his father's terrible old-fashioned dance moves, but he does it in a way that's just honest, not over-the-top. I fight with my siblings, too. I pick at food I don't like (but, just like Tom, when someone I love cooks it I only complain about it when they're not there to be hurt). I laugh at my parents when they seem particularly out of touch with modern culture. That doesn't make me a mean person, it just makes me human, and the same goes for Tom.

So if you get a chance to read a Tom Gates books, by all means do so! I'm not going to go around advertising it from the street corners as God's gift to literature, but it might just be exactly the fun, light, silly read you're looking for.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary ARC of this novel at KidLitCon.

Friday, December 25, 2015

NIV Understand the Faith Bible from Zondervan, 2015

Merry Christmas! It's a complete coincidence that I'm posting a review of a Bible on Christmas - or is it? Who knows, maybe this is God's hand at work. Whatever the case, I hope you have a blessed holiday full of friends, family, presents, and fun. Tell me below what your favorite holiday tradition is!

The NIV Understand the Faith Study Bible provides a deep grounding in Scripture. You will appreciate the way this Bible keeps the joyful, astounding nature of the gospel always in view when addressing doctrine and the pressing questions about faith. Its content will help you understand what you believe and why while inspiring you to live for God.(1504 pages)

Yes, this is a Bible.

Like a real, honest-to-goodness Bible. The Holy book. What am I doing reviewing it? That is an excellent question, and one I'm honestly still asking myself. All I can say is that the BookLook Bloggers program, which I joined for its regular novels, also offers Bibles. And I was stressed out, because I'd just moved, and I had two credits to request whatever I wanted, and the next thing I knew a brand-new Bible was showing up on my doorstep.

It's a hardback, and it kind of look like the sort of Bible you'd find in a church pew or at youth group or something. When you take the red dust jacket off, underneath it's solid black, very traditional (and slightly boring compared to my last two Bibles, which were both pink). When I was flipping through it I found an article I wanted to save, but I couldn't because there was no ribbon. So on the whole I'm really not a huge fan of the physical aspects of the Bible - it's much too ugly and not quite functional enough for my tastes. I'm sure there are people who would like this hard binding and the black cover, though - it's just a matter of taste.

As for the internal stuff, the font is a good size, nice and big so it's very comfortable to read. I have a pocket Bible that my grandparents gave me when I got baptized that I love to pieces, but I practically need a magnifying glass to read a passage. No sight enhancements needed for this Bible! That does mean it's pretty chunky, though - about 1500 pages. Definitely not for the faint of heart, or the weak of wrists - I've had to be very careful not to accidentally pick it up with my bad hand.

The supplementary material, the "study" part of the "study Bible," is actually really awesome. In my previous Bibles I've struggled with the supplementary material because it was so distracting that it tore my attention away from reading the Bible itself (and because sometimes the neatly-packaged answers they offered to some questions were a little too convenient and touchy-feely for my tastes). With this Bible, though, the focus is mainly just on the text itself and then scattered every bunch of pages is a block of text, which falls into one of these categories: Doctrine 101, Everyday Faith, Culture Connections, Living Parables, and Up For Debate. I love that they delineate between truly essential beliefs (such as the fact that Jesus is our Redeemer), and ones that are openly debated between different denominations (such as evolution and predestination), putting issues from the latter category into boxes marked "Up For Debate."

On the whole, this is not a very attractive or portable Bible, so I'm not sure I'll really be taking it with me places. It is, however, very good as what it was made to be: a study Bible. I'm excited to start using it in my personal Bible reading, and to continue exploring the wealth of materials scattered throughout the text!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this Bible through the BookLook Bloggers program.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo, 2002

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on Goodreads 
A magical fantasy that is fast-paced and easy-to-read. Charlie Bone has a special gift- he can hear people in photographs talking!
The fabulous powers of the Red King were passed down through his descendants, after turning up quite unexpectedly, in someone who had no idea where they came from. This is what happened to Charlie Bone, and to some of the children he met behind the grim, gray walls of Bloor's Academy.
His scheming aunts decide to send him to Bloor Academy, a school for geniuses where he uses his gifts to discover the truth despite all the dangers that lie ahead.

(416 pages)

I picked this up at a book swap because, um, it was free so there wasn't exactly a lot of risk tied up in getting it. I kind of figured it would be a little too creepy for me (I mean, come on - that cover is strange!), but I figured I'd just give it a try anyway.

And I'm glad I did. I really loved Midnight for Charlie Bone, which was full of adventure and mystery and magical cats and, actually, not too much creepiness. Now was it cheesy in parts? Why, yes - Let's hear it for crazy, evil aunts! And evil headmasters! And mean bullies with terrible powers! But it's a good kind of cheesy, the kind that makes you not really mind the cliches and even manages to disguise them so well you don't realize you've seen them before.

I actually really loved this book, from Charlie's newfound talent for hearing pictures (just think about how cool that would be!) to his uncle's penchant for exploding light bulbs, to the dead-father-who's-probably-not-really-dead storyline (to be continued, of course), to Charlie's lonely best friend Benjamin and his dog Runner Bean, to the main storyline which I can't really discuss for fear of spoilers. There are a lot of little threads tied together to form the central narrative, and I really like each story individually as well as the unified story they come together to tell.

I already got the first sequel from the library, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, which I liked okay but not as much as this one. It seemed a little bit less focused, like there wasn't really a point to it at all - and like if you pulled it out of the series, the narrative wouldn't really be changed that much. I'll probably get the third and fourth books from the library, and if they're better again I'll continue the series but otherwise I'll just drop it. I really enjoyed Midnight for Charlie Bone, but that doesn't mean I'll necessarily read all seven of its sequels. If you're interested to hear what I think of the entire series, comment below and I'll let you know once I've tried a few more books; otherwise, I probably won't wind up posting any more full-length reviews of the Charlie Bone books.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Game of Flames by Robin Wasserman, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Earth is in danger! The only thing that can save our planet are six essential elements scattered throughout the galaxy. It is up to the Voyagers—a team of four kids (plus one stowaway) —to gather them all and return to Earth.
Failure is not an option. The Alpha team knows that the second element is hidden on Meta Prime, a planet filled with metal mazes, catapults of fire, and warring alien robots. But what they don’t know is that another spaceship is following hot on their trail. . . .
Do you have what it takes to be a Voyager? Find out at VoyagersHQ.com.

(208 pages)

This is the second of the two books I got through a giveaway from the publisher. I read it within a few hours of finishing the first book (Project Alpha, which I reviewed here), and it definitely solidified both the focus and the themes of the series.

In Game of Flames the characters take on a little more nuance, fleshing out the bare minimums provided in Project Alpha. Some of the mysteries left behind from the first book (including Chris's background, and the mastermind behind the team competing with Team Alpha) are explained in Game of Flames, and the plot - though slightly contrived - is a very engaging ride from start to finish. I'm growing to really love the main characters, especially as I begin to get to really know what makes each of them tick, and I'm looking forward to continuing the journey together through the next four books. Three out of the four of those books are written by authors whose writing I already know and love (Patrick Carman, Jeanne DuPrau, and Wendy Mass), so I'm excited to see how some of my favorite authors approach such a fun series.

I've said all I can about the book itself without spoiling anything too major, but I think a word or two (and maybe even three) should also be said about the website, VoyagersHQ.com. I sat down a few days after getting the books, made an account and worked on unlocking my exclusive content. It was . . . a little bit more of a challenge than I was up for. You have a bunch of random codes written at the bottom of different pages in the books, and you have to take each and every symbol in the seven-digit code, compare it to a key in the front of the book to find its color combination, and then click the letter on the website that corresponds with that same combination of colors. Each seven-digit code unlocks a different piece of content, such as an interview with the candidates or some inside dirt on the characters. It's very interesting, and I bet kids will really love the spy-esque mode of unlocking material (in fact, I probably would have loved it a few years ago), but it's just a little too time-consuming and low-yield for me to enjoy it now. I unlocked the first few codes and left the rest of them unsolved - my younger brother is going to read the series, though, and I told him he could share my account if he wants to unlock the rest of the codes and get the bonus material. I have a hunch he'll have a lot more fun with the website than I have.

I honestly enjoy the books very much even without the online component, so I don't really mind skipping the "multimedia" aspect and just reading the books themselves. So far the books have been more than enough to satisfy me, and - barring some disastrous drop in quality - will continue to be perfectly fine without the website, but a part of me wishes the website was a little more interactive.

It's a great book, though, and I can't wait to continue the series!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Scarlett: A Star on the Run by John Buller and Susan Schade, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Scarlett is a small, harlequin-colored cat and a huge movie star. And what's more—she talks! However, abused by her producer, she dreams of but one thing: escaping! So, when the occasion presents itself, she runs for her life. In the company of Trotter, a dog who's escaped the same torment, she is taken in by Mr. Bougnon. But with the noose getting tighter, will they manage to elude their terrible pursuers?
(176 pages)



This is definitely an interesting book. Its format reminds me a lot of Brian Selznick’s books, except where his books are told in alternating prose and drawings Scarlett is told via prose and comic strips. I don’t read a ton of comic books so I can’t say much about the quality of the artwork or anything like that, but I can vouch that they definitely create an interesting effect and seem well-done to an amateur like myself. The comics were really good for showing things (like, for example, the beginning where Scarlett escapes from the lab), and then the prose passages worked well for the scenes that involved more thinking and less action. The story might have worked okay if told purely in prose (though it might have been a little dry), but I don’t think it would have been possible to tell the story entirely in comic strips - it’s too complicated. You don’t get that strong flavor of Scarlett’s personality and opinions the way you do when you’re reading prose in first-person narrative by her.

I enjoyed the story, which reminded me a lot of the movie Bolt in some parts (escaped animals from a movie set, anyone?), but wound up taking a very different course toward the end. It's a rather disturbing book if you actually sit back and really, truly think about the revelations made toward the end, but Scarlett herself decides not to think about the implications, and hopefully most younger readers won't either. Set aside the sci-fi at the surface (oh come on, you know there has to be some explanation for the talking animals), and this is actually a very heartwarming book about a talking cat and dog, their search for a place in this world.

I'm not absolutely in love with Scarlett - it's a little different from my usual reads, and I think I'm just a little older than the usual audience with this one - but I did enjoy it, and I'm sure kids will even more. The unique format is a definite plus, the talking cat an instant draw, and the exciting, humorous story a great source of entertainment for any kid looking for a book at their level that contains more than just the usual cliche characters and rote plots. So go ahead, check Scarlett out: I can't promise you'll fall in love with it, but I can promise it will be a little bit different from anything else you've ever read.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book at KidLitCon, which in no way affected my review.

Friday, December 11, 2015

AP English Ramblings (Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader")

Hello! This really has nothing to do with books, or my blog, or - well, anything, really, but I was really stuck getting started on an English project. When I get completely stymied on any sort of writing assignment, my last resort is to open up a new blog post and spew out my thoughts as though I were talking to you, my readers. I've found it only really works, though, if I know I'm really going to post my thoughts - so feel free to ignore this, because I'm just posting it purely for my own psyche. If I don't, then it won't work next time I get stuck. If you're interested, the poem I'm explicating is Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader," which you can check out here. And of course if you have any insight into the poem or my analysis, I would be happy to hear it!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gosh, I'm starting to hate this poem.

I'm sorry, you don't even know what I'm talking about, do you? Well, for AP English I have to write a paper about a living poet, describing his life and outlook and all that jazz and then explicating one of his poems. I chose Ted Kooser, and his poem "Selecting a Reader." He's a great poet, and it's a wonderful poem, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to put two words together about it without sounding like an idiot. I've been rolling this assignment around for about a week now, and I really need to get some serious pen to paper because it's due in a week and a half.

I figured it would be pretty easy to explicate - but oh, well, what do I know? The whole poem is one big laugh from Kooser as far as I can tell. He begins with this really poetic image - you know what I mean, poetic as in pretty and sort of ethereal - of a woman who seems to have walked right out of some romantic-period poem. She doesn't just go to read the poems, she "walks carefully up on" them, venturing out at the "loneliest moment of an afternoon." Traditional poetry from the romantic period often involved scenes from the loneliest time of day, when time seemed to truly stand still and nature itself plays companion to the poet. So with these lines Kooser seems to harken to those images of beauty and tranquility. The next line tells us that the girl's hair is "damp at the neck," which slightly revises the original image of the girl into a slightly more substantial one; this is no elf in the forest sitting down to read Kooser's poems, but instead a girl whose hair can become wet. It calls to mind images of alluring, mysterious models with wet hair, the kind that men always find so attractive.

This alluring image is damped by the next line, which informs us that her hair is wet for the very ordinary reason that she had washed it. It is from here on out that Kooser truly lets loose, however, as he completely demolishes the more traditionally "poetic" images that have been playing in the reader's head and shows just what sort of person is really reading his poetry. She's wearing an old, dirty raincoat, she needs glasses to read his poems - glasses always mean a diminishing of beauty in popular culture, but they also carry connotations of being old and stodgy, because so many elderly people need bifocals to read - and, of course, she actually decides to get her raincoat cleaned rather than buy Kooser's poems!

One very interesting thing about the character in "Selecting a Reader" is that she must be truly destitute. It costs very little get a raincoat cleaned - certainly under ten dollars - and yet the woman is so poor that she hasn't done it and indeed can only do it by giving up Kooser's poems. What's even more interesting than her poverty is the fact that, despite it, she is still drawn to the poems in the first place. What can an impoverished individual gain at a book store? Nothing - no physical nourishment, certainly. And yet she still comes, still picks Kooser's poems off the shelf. She flips through and enjoys a few up the poems, and then she puts them back and makes a logical decision: she decides to get her raincoat cleaned rather than buy the book of poems. This sort of hard-headed practicality about poetry doesn't seem like the behavior that would appeal to most writers in Kooser's place, but it does to him. This is because Kooser writes his poems for people like the woman in "Selecting a Reader," people who have their heads in the real world rather than up in the clouds. Anyone can marvel at a lovely view when they're looking around at the sky above the clouds; it takes a poet like Kooser to help people find the beauty in the everyday world around them. That's who his poems are for, and that's why - when thinking about the sort of reader he would select - he opts for the sort of person who is wide-eyed enough to not be taken in by descriptions of a world of exquisite beauty they have never actually beheld.

Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine which four kids will join the secret mission that might just save us all. Project Alpha is a contest of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and strategic alliances. The battle is fierce. Who will lead the team? Who will pilot the most complicated space ship ever built? Who will be a friend? An enemy? And how will they survive over a year stuck on a space ship together?
Once chosen, the Voyagers will journey to the far reaches of space, collecting unique elements and facing unbelievable dangers. The future of our planet is in their hands. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?
The action is on the page, on your device, and out of this world! And you don't have long to wait, 6 books are coming all in one year!

Do you have what it takes to be a Voyager? Find out at VoyagersHQ.com.
(224 pages)

I've had my eye on this series for a while, ever since Patrick Carman (creator of the series) announced it on his website. How could I not be intrigued by a series that resembled the 39 Clues franchise in format, featured books written by some of my favorite authors (Patrick Carman, Wendy Mass, Jeanne DuPrau), and had a cool sci-fi premise to boot? So when I saw on Bloglovin that Ms. Yingling Reads was reviewing the second Voyagers book, I clicked over to see what she thought of it - and then, when the review included a giveaway by the publisher for the first two books in the series, I eagerly entered and crossed my fingers to win.

I think you can guess what happened: that's right, I won the giveaway! I am now the proud owner of Project Alpha, Game of Flames, a Voyagers phone case, and a little button to put on my iPhone's home button. I know, I'm so awesomely lucky. Don't begrudge it to me too much, though, I really needed these books. I found out I won the giveaway a few days before we closed on the new house in Indiana, and the package with my prize showed up a few days after we'd moved in. I was so worn out from unpacking and scrabbling to catch up with my missed schoolwork (not to mention emotionally exhausted from leaving my home of four years) that nothing was ever so wonderful to me as curling up in bed with the nice, shiny new books I'd been wanting to read for months.

Escapist pleasure aside, did I enjoy Project Alpha as much as I'd hoped I would? Why, yes indeed. While full of lots of tropes (the humanesque robot, crazy-realistic training simulations, and imminent threat of total power loss all ring particularly familiar), it handles them in a fun, compelling manner that drug me along every step of the way. Some of the characters also seemed slightly familiar (the overachieving bully and the genius, yet emotionally-suppressed girl both stuck out as old friends), but I didn't really mind very much - this is just that sort of book, you know? And I feel like the characters will develop away from their initial stereotypical roles as the series progresses. They will likely develop in still-predictable ways (who's betting the overachieving loner winds up realizing she needs the others' help?), but again - something about the way they're presented makes that okay, like I'm surrounded by old friends I've know in some form or other my entire life.

Honestly, my only real complaint with Project Alpha is that it was paced rather strangely. The first good chunk of the book is devoted to the almost Hunger Games-like competition between the eight contenders for the four spots on the ship, and then the last little bit (and I meant little - maybe the last fourth?) follows the team as they begin their travels, go to a planet, have an adventure, etc. It felt to me like the book should have ended with the announcement of the teams, and then the second book should have followed them as they began their journey and had their first adventure in space. The tone of the book shifted so completely from "intense interpersonal competition" to "Ah, attacking creature from a foreign planet!" that it kind of threw me off and made me wonder why the people behind the scenes decided this was the best way to tell the story.

Anyway, I've only read the first two books so far (keep an eye out for my review of Game of Flames!), so I don't know how the series will hold up by the sixth book, but so far it's been really great. It's the perfect mix of compelling characters, familiar tropes, and suspenseful plot, and I am just lapping it up.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale (Dec 8)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Voyagers #1: Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale.
Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine which four kids will join the secret mission that might just save us all. Project Alpha is a contest of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and strategic alliances. The battle is fierce. Who will lead the team? Who will pilot the most complicated space ship ever built? Who will be a friend? An enemy? And how will they survive over a year stuck on a space ship together?
Once chosen, the Voyagers will journey to the far reaches of space, collecting unique elements and facing unbelievable dangers. The future of our planet is in their hands. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?
The action is on the page, on your device, and out of this world! And you don't have long to wait, 6 books are coming all in one year!
Do you have what it takes to be a Voyager? Find out at VoyagersHQ.com.
(224 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 9:
Dash stared out of his bedroom window at the dark, empty streets of downtown Orlando, Florida . . . Hundreds of thousands of kids from all over the world had entered for a chance to become part of the project. He was one of eight finalists. Eventually there would be only four winners. Dash never expected to get that far. He thought he stood a better chance of finding a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar than making the final four.
Yet there he was with a fifty-fifty chance. 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, December 7, 2015

How to Fight a Dragon's Fury by Cressida Cowell, 2015

Warning: lots of spoilers ahead! This is a review of the twelfth book in a series, so please don't read it unless you're ready to ruin the first eleven books for yourself.

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on Goodreads 
Book 12 is the epic finale to the New York Times bestselling How to Train Your Dragon series! The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show, but everything to fight for. Hiccup's quest is clear... But can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!
(416 pages)

Oh, man. How can this series be over? When I started it, just a year or two ago, there seemed to be a million of these books. And even though they were geared at kids almost half my age, I still gobbled them up by the handful - they were fun and silly at first, full of naughty dragons and crazy escapades. Then somewhere along the line I realized that I actually did care about Hiccup and Toothless and Fishlegs and all the rest - not just because they provided an escape from my world, but because they were legitimately compelling characters. The next thing I knew things were escalating, falling into place and then back out as Hiccup discovered the random adventures he'd been on had all led him to the items he would need to claim a throne he'd never even realized he was the heir to. And then the villain snatched the items away, and a giant dragon with a bitter, burning desire for revenge against the humans enslaved everyone Hiccup knew, and Hiccup was left on the run. And now here he is one last time, starting in dead last one final time as he fights to gain the throne and negotiate a peace that would mean the survival of both the humans and the dragons, despite the terrible war raging between the two species. A seemingly impossible goal, true, but then Hiccup has been in many impossible places before.

I truly loved every minute of watching him navigate his way through this one. Through all twelve books, Cressida Cowell's writing has never once dropped in quality, and I believe (though I haven't read it in a while) that the first How to Train Your Dragon book was no huge leap greater than this twelfth installment. How does she do it? I have no idea - but I wish all authors could be as consistent as she is!

There isn't really anything for me to say, besides that the quality is as high as ever and it's a fulfilling (if rather tear-wrenching) ending to a wonderful series. If you have read the first eleven How to Train Your Dragon books, then you're really not going to wait for my encouragement to read the twelfth. And if you haven't read any of these books, then what on earth are you doing reading this review?! Leave this page right now and go check out the first book in the series, How to Train Your Dragon. I know you won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Forester, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Here is the long-awaited companion to The Girl Who Could Fly.
There is a prophecy.
It speaks of a girl who can fly and a boy who knows everything. The prophecy says that they have the power to bring about great change...
The boy is Conrad Harrington III. The girl is Piper McCloud. They need their talents now, more than ever, if they are to save the world—and themselves.

(416 pages)

I really, really, really loved The Boy Who Knew Everything's prequel, The Girl Who Could Fly (my review here). I spent years desperately waiting for a sequel, and when I discovered a few months ago that it was finally happening, I literally started jumping around squealing. I was so excited.

Coming out of The Boy Who Knew Everything, I'm a lot less elated.

I mean, what I loved so much about The Girl Who Could Fly was that it had so many amazing messages mixed in with the really cool sci-fi scenario and the touching inter-personal interactions. It was a story about friendship and bravery and loyalty and staying true to yourself, and it was amazing. The Boy Who Knew Everything, on the other hand, is trying so hard to be some sort of breathtaking, mind-bending story that it forgets its own roots. Its sci-fi storylines stray almost into fantasy, and there's this weird prophecy thing that really doesn't mesh well with the tone of the first book. And then there's the whole plot with Conrad's father, which some will probably like but which I thought was a) weird and b) a dreadful reopening of a wound that I thought beautifully closed at the end of the first book. Piper also didn't seem to have as much spirit in her as she did in the first book. I mean, there was definitely a semblance of trying to represent her as having that spirit, sure, but she just felt pretty forced. And I'm forced to admit that The Girl Who Could Fly should probably have remained a standalone forever, despite how desperate I was all those years for it to have a sequel.

Actually, I think The Boy Who Knew Everything would have done better as a standalone almost as much as its prequel would. Placed next to The Girl Who Could Fly, it simply has lost too much for me to consider it any good; all of my favorite storylines seem to have been polluted and twisted, and new ones introduced that throw off the entire balance of the stories. I can't say that I know for sure that I would adore The Boy Who Knew Everything if it were a standalone - I'm too prejudiced by its prequel to be able to judge - but I do know that a lot of the things I hated about it (the storyline with Conrad's father, for example) I would have actually enjoyed in other circumstances, with different characters. It's just when they are changing the tone and ending of one of my all-time favorite books that I get mad.

Let's be honest, I'm pretty much going to pretend that The Boy Who Knew Everything didn't happen. I mean, I might think of it from time to time as a book completely on its own, but when I think about The Girl Who Could Fly I will not draw any connection between the two books. My Piper and Conrad and Violet and Kimberly and Jasper and all the rest did not travel down the path laid out in The Boy Who Knew Everything; they are still safely where my nine-year-old self left them, their futures completely disconnected to anything that happened to the kids in Forester's second book.


Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Minna's Patchwork Coat by Lauren A. Mills, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Minna and her family don't have much in their small Appalachian cabin, but "people only need people," Papa always reminds her. Unable to afford a winter coat to wear to school, she's forced to use an old feed sack to keep her warm. Then Papa's terrible cough from working in the coal mines takes him away forever, and Minna has a hard time believing that anything will be right again...until her neighbors work tirelessly to create a coat for her out of old fabric scraps. Now Minna must show her teasing classmates that her coat is more than just rags--it's a collection of their own cherished memories, each with a story to share.
(288 pages)

First, let me just say that I debated about putting that teaser at the top of the page. The story isn't plotted out at all the way it suggests, and it isn't actually until the end of the book that Minna actually takes her patchwork coat to school.

Marketing quibbles aside, though, let's talk story. I thought this was a really cool one, because it took something I knew very little about (life in the Appalachians), and turned it into a fascinating background for the story. Minna's Patchwork Coat is full of poignant messages about family, friendship, and racism, and all the way those three subjects can be woven together. A boy, Lester, who's part African America, part white, and part Native American is despised by everyone but the Native American grandmother he lives with - until he and Minna become friends. His grandmother, Aunt Nora, is so smart and so good at healing and yet is left so entirely out of the community because of the color of her skin. And Minna, of course, is just as cut out of the community, but for a different reason: she's so poor she can't afford a coat.

This is a really good example of how middle grade novels can still dig into deep topics and come up with some serious themes, without ever straying onto edgy territory. Minna's Patchwork Coat is a wonderful book for kids of any age, full of no more violence than the (unseen) death of Minna's convalescent father. It is somehow a gentle book, even as it depicts grief and racism and bullying and everything else Minna struggles with throughout the book - gentle, because it's honest without ever once beginning to relish its harsher themes. It comes across as a very honest book, portraying the true emotions and experiences of a little girl growing up in the Appalachians - one whose father dies, whose best friend is shunned by the rest of her society, and whose family is so poor she literally can't go to school because she doesn't have a warm coat for walking to school in the winter.

I think kids will appreciate the straight-forward depiction of Minna's reality, while still being enchanted by the stories behind the patchwork coat. I know I certainly would have loved Minna's Patchwork Coat at a younger age, because I would enjoy the mix of historical fiction (I always loved books that made me feel smart by teaching me something) and optimism. For at its core, despite the hard themes that run through it, Minna's Patchwork Coat is a story about an extremely optimistic girl who learns some sad truths but still does her part to draw her community together through the patchwork coat made from their most beloved memories.

Do I recommend it? Yes. I'm not going to say I think everyone should run out and buy it this instant, but I do think it's a good book. It's worth a read it it's handy, and it's definitely worth looking into if you know a kid who's into historical fiction.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from KidLitCon.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads 
A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer series.
It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.


(384 pages)

I remember when this first came out last year, when everyone was talking about it. I thought it looked really good, and told myself I'd read it someday, and then promptly forgot about it. Two weeks ago I was reading through my Goodreads TBR list and thought to myself, "I should totally read this!"

And then I forgot again.

And then my mom went to the library without me, and she brought home one random book that she'd pulled off the MG bookshelves for me. And you know what book it was? This one. It was Greenglass House, the book I'd just forgotten about for the second time. Some coincidence, huh? Well, I'm glad things worked out for me to read Greenglass House, because it's definitely an interesting gem of a book.

It's got that cozy, closed-in feeling that only comes from a book set during a massive snow-storm. Then it's got all those layers of mysteries and hidden motives, which reminded me a lot of an Agatha Christie novel. Then there was a layer of history tied throughout the novel, tying it back to events from throughout the house's past, which was pretty cool.

The big reveals, on the whole, were pretty original and interesting (though maybe not completely believable), and I was completely shocked by the big twist at the end. At the same time I really liked it - and was way impressed with Milford for barely making me suspect anything! - and was kind of weirded out by it. I can't really say anything else about that without spoiling it, though. A few of the smaller reveals, the ones about the characters, did feel a little bit contrived, but I just took them with a grain of salt. It's the sort of book where you can just kind of roll with things, accepting everything that comes. Fact and fiction and fantasy all sort of blend together until you're picking through and figuring out what's real and what's lies - and what is and isn't possible inside the novel's universe.

I really liked that Milo was struggling with being adopted. Too often I read about orphans or foundlings or castaways; here I got the opportunity to read about a boy who has loving parents, and is really just struggling like any kid to find his place in the world. Reading the author's note in the end, it was pretty cool to read about how she and her husband are in the process of adopting a child from China. It's clear that Milford was using Greenglass House to depict the message she wants to send to her future son or daughter: that it's okay to wonder about your birth family, that it's natural to yearn for your own heritage, and that you can daydream about having a family tree that stretches back farther than one generation without being disloyal to your adoptive parents. If I was adopted, I would get a lot out of Greenglass House - though I might not like it very much. People don't usually like books that hit too close to home.

Do I recommend Greenglass House? I think so. It's a little strange, though, and I'm still not sure what I think about the plot-twist-which-I-cannot-reveal. It's kind of creepy, and changes the tone of the entire story in hindsight. The book's an odd little gem, though, and despite its flaws I'm glad I read it.

Also, now I really want to look up the game Odd Trails, which Meddy and Milo play throughout the game. Does anyone know if this is a real thing?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Nov 24)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Greenglass House by Kate Milford.


A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer series.
It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.
(384 pages)
Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
There's a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you're going to run a hotel in a smugglers' town.
You shouldn't make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn't be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers' hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you're going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you're lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless. 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, 1975

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Personal style is what this book is all about. Fashion as a dictatorship of the elite is dead. Nobody knows better than you what you should wear or how you should look. What we want to do is to lay out the alternatives, the guidelines, and show you the way some of the people we think look exciting today put it all together for themselves.
The basic concept of Cheap Chic for both men and women is to have a few clothes that you really love rather than a closet full of mismatched fashions. Paring down your wardrobe is going to simplify your life and looking good is going to make you feel good. Find the clothes that suit you best, that make you feel comfortable, confident, sexy, attractive and happy...and then hang onto them like old friends.

(223 pages)

Yikes, I am so not the target audience for this book. I have no idea what I was thinking when I requested it, except that I've been thinking about sprucing up my wardrobe lately and the idea of buying "cheap" and "chic" clothes sounded really appealing. Plus, this book came out when my mother was very young - my older aunts were even old enough to be putting together their own wardrobes in the 70's - so it's kind of cool to see what was fashionable back then.

But therein lies the problem I have with Cheap Chic: it's meant for girls old enough to be my mother's age. And while it's pretty cool to see all those original pictures of people wearing various outfits, there's really just about nothing I can pull out for modifying my 21st-century wardrobe. And all of the nitty gritty - about mail-order boots (oh, the novelty!), wrap-around clothes (did people seriously walk around in clothes held on just by knots?), finding cute original 30's pieces in thrift shops (I wish!), and so many fur coats (I think the animal lover in me just died) - kind of did me in. On one hand it's cool; on another, it's just really, really long and detailed, in a way that is boring in its uselessness. I can't blame the authors, of course, because I can tell that their advice would have been much more helpful when Cheap Chic was actually modern, but I can question the purpose for republishing such an old and obviously out-dated book forty years after it originally came out.

Actually, I can question myself for reading it. I mean, I know some people are really into this sort of stuff. I bet this book will be just what some people were dying to read, in all its out-dated, sometimes hilariously-out-of-touch glory. But I am not one of those people, and I lost interest once I realized that every single page was just more of the same micro-analyzing of different outfits and how they were put together. It's like, "here's a picture of some random person! Let's look at every single piece of her outfit, say where it came from, and then analyze how you can use her tactics for making your own outfit." That sounds great, doesn't it? Not when you read that exact same thing like three hundred times. And not when every single woman looks like she just jumped out of some old movie that you've never even seen, let alone want to emulate.

The other problem I had with Cheap Chic is more an issue of morals: it flirts a little too often with the idea that the reader sometimes wants to dress - well, to flirt. The word "sexy" is used many times throughout, and the word "erotic" a few too many times than I would like. There's nothing very explicit, but that also didn't help with the whole "building my outfit" thing. Also, two or three of the pictures were very inappropriate for no apparent reason other than "fashion." I don't find it fashionable to walk around with a bare chest; I also don't want to see a picture of a woman wearing nothing from the waist up. Other readers back then must have had different taste than mine, however, because there are a couple of nude-top pictures scattered throughout the book. All I have to say to that is: why?

Honestly, I only recommend this book if it looks like something you'd like. You know who you are, antique fashion fans. If you've read this review all the way through, you've got a pretty good idea of what the book is like and whether or not you'll like it. If it's up your alley, by all means give it a try - but if you're not sure, then I suggest giving this one a pass.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 20, 2015

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, 1971

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Nine-year-old Anna was too busy with schoolwork and friends in 1933 to take much notice of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in her native Germany. But when her father is suddenly, unaccountably missing, and her family flees Berlin in secrecy, Anna is forced to learn the skills needed to be a refugee and finds she's much more resilient than she thought.
(191 pages)

I like to say that I don't like to read WWII books, but I don't think that's actually true - if I'm being completely honest, I love WWII books. Just not the gritty, horrifying Holocaust books about concentration camps and Nazis and horrible treatment that can make you tremble for humanity. I can read maybe one of those a year - or, actually, every other year - but I can down the other sorts of WWII books by the barrel: books about displacement and identity and bravery, and all the different ways people struggled to find their way in the wake of the most terrible war in human history.

In When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, we get the perspective of a little girl whose family flees Germany before the war begins. It's not a tale of cruelty or hatred (though we see hints of that leaking in around the edges through what happens to people they used to know), but instead a book about moving, about trying to fit in, about looking for a place in the world when your own place was destroyed in a way that means it's never coming back.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I myself have moved many times. I'm actually in the process of moving again - by the time this review goes live, all my earthly possessions will be packed up on a moving truck and on their way back to the Midwest once more. This makes move #7 (not that I'm counting or anything, Mom and Dad!), and I'm beginning to feel like an old pro at this. There's something precious to me about watching Anna and her brother move away from home for the first time, watching them struggle to adapt to their new lives first in Switzerland (where I actually lived for a year, when I was younger!) and then in France. There's something strangely touching in watching the kids become acquainted with homesickness for the first time, with watching Anna bounce back up every time she hits a rock in the road. There's a certain toughness you have to develop when you move, a certain agility that allows you to adapt to your new community, and I loved watching my own experience magnified a thousand-fold as Anna develops these same abilities on a much larger scale than I had to.

I actually chose to write a report for Spanish (yeah, long story) on Judith Kerr, whose own path out of Germany mirrored Anna's. She seems like a fascinating woman, one of the last still alive to have grown up in pre-WWII Germany, and I would absolutely love to sit down and talk with her sometime. Barring that, I will definitely be on the lookout for the sequels to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - and if I ever find them, I will be sure to review them on here. Because this sort of WWII book is my absolutely favorite: the kind that shows the adaptability of the human race, the kind that shows how we can have a "troubled childhood" full of displacement and poverty yet still be perfectly content with the bare necessities of food, friends, and - above all - family to sustain us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (Nov 17)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.


Nine-year-old Anna was too busy with schoolwork and friends in 1933 to take much notice of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in her native Germany. But when her father is suddenly, unaccountably missing, and her family flees Berlin in secrecy, Anna is forced to learn the skills needed to be a refugee and finds she's much more resilient than she thought.
(191 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 72 (the family is living in Switzerland, and Anna's mother just found out why the visiting couple from Germany won't let their children play with Anna and Max):
Trying to speak quietly made Mama angrier than ever and she could hardly get the words out.
"They're Nazis," she said at last. "They've forbidden their children to play with ours because our children are Jewish!" 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
The trial of the century has come to Tupelo Landing, NC. Mo and Dale, aka Desperado Detectives, head to court as star witnesses against Dale's daddy--confessed kidnapper Macon Johnson. Dale's nerves are jangled, but Mo, who doesn't mind getting even with Mr. Macon for hurting her loved ones, looks forward to a slam dunk conviction--if everything goes as expected.
Of course nothing goes as expected. Macon Johnson sees to that. In no time flat, Macon's on the run, Tupelo Landing's in lockdown, and Dale's brother's life hangs in the balance. With Harm Crenshaw, newly appointed intern, Desperado Detectives are on the case. But it means they have to take on a tough client--one they'd never want in a million years.
For everyone who's already fallen for Mo and Dale, and for anyone who's new to Tupelo Landing, The Odds of Getting Even is a heartwarming story that perfectly blends mystery and action with more serious themes about family and fathers, all without ever losing its sense of humor.

(352 pages)

I've been absolutely in love with the Tupelo Landing books since I first read the amazing Three Times Lucky. I adore Turnage's writing style, and will happily lap up any and all Mo and Dale books she ever sees fit to write. In the past two books (my review of the second Mo and Dale book, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landingshe hit that perfect tone that mixes silly humor with serious themes (such as abandonment, love, family, and friendship). The Odds of Getting Even finds that same sweet spot yet again, mixing the serious with the fun in that delightfully off-the-handle manner no one can master like Sheila Turnage.

Mo is as delightful as ever in this latest installment of the series, and Dale just as loveable. We explore a little further into his family with every book, and with this one we see him struggling to cope with his father's criminal ways - which in this case, seem actually calculated to hurt Dale and his mother. Dale does his best to step up and be a man through everything that's happened. He does a rather remarkable job of it, too, considering the way so many people in the town turn against him.

I can't exactly put my finger on it, though, but there was something slightly lacking in The Odds of Getting Even. I still loved it, but I just wasn't laughing quite as often or quite as loudly as I was with the first two books. Perhaps the novelty is just wearing off? I sure hope that's not it, because I'd hate to become deadened to Sheila Turnage's wonderful humor! No, I think I'll blame it on the book and say that it's just "third book fever" (which I just made up - I don't think that's really a thing) and the next book will be funnier again. But then, when I say that The Odds of Getting Even was a little less funny than its prequels or that I hope Turnage's next book is funnier, please don't think that means this isn't a good book. It's a great book. It's a wonderful book. It's a fantastic, need-to-read-it-again finger-licking good read. I'm just so incredibly spoiled by the first two Mo and Dale books that my standards for Sheila Turnage's books are just about impossibly high.

I really liked Lavender's development in this book, as he struggles to deal with the constant backlash coming from his father's less-than-honest behavior (because no one wants to get their car fixed by the son of a runaway criminal - no one besides his actual friends, that is, and most of them aren't old enough to drive). Lavender gets understandably upset and begins to struggle to stay strong while the whole world seems to be against him.

There's also a hilarious side-plot with Dale's dog Queen Elizabeth, who is expecting puppies. The Desperadoes have an elaborate application process for doling out the expected darlings, which is also incredibly skewed as they keep promising out puppies in return for favors in the course of their investigations. Dale is absolutely determined to give the puppies to the best homes possible - more particularly, to kids who will name the puppies after famous monarchs. Honestly, you have to read it to understand just how silly and cute it really is.

I think that just about sums up all three Mo and Dale books: you have to read them for yourself to understand how silly, cute, and just plum hilarious they are. So go, read this series. Just start with the first book, Three Times Lucky (and let's be honest: if you've read either of the first two books, you're already going to read The Odds of Getting Even, no matter what I say here - it's impossible to be satisfied with reading just one Mo and Dale novel).

Friday, November 13, 2015

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who's struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.
What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I'm glad you asked. You didn't ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation's most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It's simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now!

(240 pages)

This is a pretty cool idea, isn't it? I love how it mixes the usual "kid secret agent" theme with a message about how the ordinary kids can be special too, and turns it into a fun romp with a secret agenda of its own: to give "average" kids the confidence boost that comes with seeing the fun potential of something they might otherwise see as something to be ashamed of. It reminds me of Rick Riordan's books in a way, except instead of taking ADHD and dyslexia and turning them into superpowers (signs that you're a demigod), Daneshvari takes averageness and turns it into a spy skill. I mean, how cool is that?

I can't say this is exactly my sort of book (I don't, as a rule, go out of my way to read books about middle-school spies), but this one was almost literally dropped into my lap - to be more accurate, it was out on a table at KidLitCon - and I couldn't pass up the opportunity when it was sitting right there under my nose.  I'm glad I picked it up, and I'll be even more happy to pass it on to one of my siblings who is actually part of the target audience. I enjoyed The League of Unexceptional Children well enough, but it really smacked of being written for someone who was - well, not me.

It's meant for a middle-grade-aged kid who feels overlooked and abandoned. It's meant to encourage kids who are just "average," meant to take their situation to ridiculous extremes (these kids can go anywhere! Do anything! Never be remembered!) and turn it into something to be proud of. I'm neither a middle-schooler nor an average kid (as a homeschooled high schooler who skipped a grade, it's hard for me to not stick out in a group). That's why I have a hard time critiquing The League of Unexceptional Children: though it definitely did feel flat in parts, I very much suspect that's more because of me than because of the book itself.

It's definitely a cute book. The best book I've ever read? No. But I think kids will still love it - especially kids who think of themselves as being "unexceptional."

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this book at KidLitCon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: The League of Unexceptional Children by Kitty Daneshvari (Nov 10)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari.


Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who's struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.
What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I'm glad you asked. You didn't ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation's most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It's simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now!
(240 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
Ordinary. Normal. Average. Unexceptional.
Awful words the whole lot of them. Why, just saying them can turn a mouth sour! 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey, 2012

Click to view
on Goodreads 
'Dear Uncle Morton. You'd better get on a plane right now and come back here. Your dragon has eaten Jemima.'
It had sounded so easy: Edward was going to look after Uncle Morton's unusual pet for a week while he went on holiday. But soon the fridge is empty, the curtains are blazing, and the postman is fleeing down the garden path.

(112 pages)

This is such a cute book! I read it one night when I wasn't tired. Its short size made it perfect for this situation, because I could read the whole thing in one sitting without worrying about staying up all night with a book. I lent it to my middle-school-aged brother, and I think he liked it okay - he didn't really say anything about it, and I think he feels like it's a little too young for him. Even my elementary-school-aged brother thought it was too short, though he also fretted about the fact that it was told in e-mails. I think that disconcerted him.

I hadn't read a little-kid book like this in a very long time, but The Dragonsitter is a lot better than a lot of the rubbish I remember reading when I was younger. It's silly, but in a cute way that still carries a storyline and allows for some real plot. The only real worry I have about the content of the book is toward the beginning: the dragon eats Edward's little sister's rabbit. This rather violent act might completely pass by most people as just another one of the dragon's wild acts, but I could see some of the more tender-hearted kids getting pretty upset over the idea that a cute little bunny got eaten. In fact, I think I was one of those tender-hearted kids. The death of anyone, no matter what species, cut me deeply, to the point where I was literally traumatized by the death of a minor feline character in Lassie Come-Home (some consider that one of the more kid-friendly dog books; I spent years considering it one of the saddest books I'd ever read). My only real concern with The Dragonsitter is that some other poor little kid will be as sensitive as I was, and come away sad. You know the kids in your life better than I do, though - if they're part of the 99% of the kids who won't care about Jemima the rabbit, then I definitely suggest giving The Dragonsitter a try with them. It's a fun little story, and it's even got sequels for the kids who become particularly attached to Edward and the dragon!

Disclaimer: I got a complementary ARC of this book at KidLitCon (in preparation for the hardback release).

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and “invention” is a curse word.
Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.
Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.

(370 pages)

Oh my goodness, this book reminded me so much of the City of Ember books! But it's like an even more dystopian, futuristic sort of City of Ember, with all sorts of crazy restrictions added on to the already bleak top-down governmental control system. I think it's a pretty cool, out-of-the-blue version of the

The first time I saw the cover, I thought Fires of Invention looked like one of those little-kid books my brother used to read (I think the series was called Beast Quest?), you know the type - there are about a million of them, about two-hundred pages long, with just about the same recycled plot in every single installment. This is why I initially wasn't too eager to pick up Fires of Invention. But then I read a review that praised it highly and compared it to the City of Ember books, and I knew it wasn't anything like I'd originally thought it was. I put in a request for it at the library, and read it over the course of a few days during my break time.

I can't say I was incredibly wowed by the story (I actually didn't like the twist it took at the end - I'd have preferred something a little more realistic), but it was definitely much better than I'd first thought it would be. I think I'll stick with my beloved The City of Ember, but I can definitely see a lot of kids getting really into this more steampunk version of the scenario. The books of Ember revolve more around the remains of a battered humanity, struggling to thrive and learning important lessons about human nature along the way. The Mysteries of the Cove books take a completely different angle, focusing on the suppression of creativity (conformity is "safe") and the crucial role invention must have in order for humanity to thrive. For us to get better, the book argues, we must adapt. And to adapt, we must invent. I wholeheartedly agree with this (though maybe not so much with the need for lots of big, gas-guzzling machines to run everything), and I think the message was relatively well-buried. It could have been a little less obvious, but then I suppose this isn't the sort of book that needs to be that subtle.

I'll definitely be recommending this to kids I think might like it - starting with my own middle-school-aged brother, who will probably agree to reading it based on the cover alone. I'm not absolutely in love with it (I was . . . less than excited by the turn things took in the end), but I still really like the premise of the city of Cove, with its crazy restrictions and distorted heritage, and I hope the series fleshes out more of the themes it began in Fires of Invention. If it takes the turn I'm thinking it will, though, then I don't know if I'll continue it - there are so many series about AAA* that I can read.

*And by AAA, I mean something that I can't tell you because it's a spoiler. If you've read the book, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage (Nov 3)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Mysteries of Cove #1: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage.


Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and “invention” is a curse word.
Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.
Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.
(240 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 44:
Halfway back to his apartment building, Trenton paused to watch the trolley steam past. Although he'd seen i hundreds of times, he never stopped being fascinated b the gleaming pistons, spoked wheels, and most of all, the huffing and puffing engine that provided the power to pull riders and freight around the city. What he wouldn't give to dig into that engine and poke around.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls by Liz Kessler, 2015

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on Goodreads 
A field trip to a mysterious island quickly turns into an adventure when Emily Windsnap and Aaron discover a secret lookout point from which they spot a ghostly ship that no one else seems to be able to see. The ship appears and disappears only at certain times of day—growing fainter each time. Searching for answers only leads to more questions until Emily and her friends confront the island’s keeper, uncovering the incredible story of a ship caught between land and sea, day and night . . . life and death. Only Emily, with her ability to transform from mermaid to human, can enter Atlantis to try to bring the ship’s passengers back before the portal is closed forever. Emily knows that if she fails, not only will the passengers never see their loved ones again, but Emily won’t be able to return either. Will she be able to resist the allure of Atlantis and return home before it’s too late?
(288 pages)

I was nine when I read the first Emily Windsnap book - the girl two doors down lent it to me with her high recommendation, and I devoured it in under a week. I fell in love with the premise, the characters, the twisty plot - everything.

That was five books, and seven years, ago. I've been reading the Emily Windsnap books as they came out for years and years, and my opinion of the series has slowly declined as I outgrew the target audience, and the books themselves became more and more watered down (no pun intended). After all, you can't write five books after a book that could very well be a standalone, and not begin to scrape the bottom of the barrel. When Aaron was first introduced, I thought it was a very desperate move - and one I didn't approve of. Thirteen-year-olds falling into "like" and becoming boyfriend and girlfriend really isn't my thing, you know?

But somehow things clicked for me in this one. Where the previous books had begun to feel a little flat, I think Emily's relationship with Aaron (and, to a certain extent, her friendship with Mandy) helped to ground the book and make the inter-personal relationships interesting once more. Now that we were past the awkward "will-we-or-won't-we" with Aaron (I hate watching people bobble about deciding whether they "like like" each other), they became a very interesting pair. There's a little bit of that "contrived misunderstanding" thing going on between them about how strong their feelings are for each other, but I feel like Kessler handled it really well - by making it an integral part of the plot for Emily to be unable to decide how she feels about Aaron (she has to consciously keep herself in limbo for the majority of the book), Kessler makes it a much stronger, sweeter thing when the inevitable "revealing our feelings" scene does come around.

My biggest trouble with this book isn't connected to the romance at all, actually. It's a rather secondary thing in the grand scheme of the story, and probably only bothers me because I loved the early books so much. But how can mermaids go from being a deep, dark secret (Emily grew up without a father because the king of the mermaids put him in jail for revealing himself to and marrying a human) to so hum-drum that no one even cares that Emily and Aaron are part mermaid? I mean, I realize it may be old news to their classmates by now, but surely they'd still get some sort of social backlash (whether in the form of popularity or outcast status)? I mean, Emily reflects herself at one point that it's only been a year since she found out mermaids even existed, which means that humans can't have known about mermaids for very long (they don't find out until only a book or two before this one), and therefore there should be way more hullabaloo around Emily and Aaron - and, for that matter, around the mermaid students who are also studying on Five Bays Island. I'm sad that there isn't more discussion of the ramifications of the revelation that mermaids existed. I was always fascinated by the interplay between humans and mermaids - this was one of the reasons I loved the first book so much - so it's a pity that Kessler has left it behind for other topics.

I can't complain too much, though. I honestly enjoyed Ship of Lost Souls, despite my sneaking suspicion going in that this would be the official end of my affection for the Emily Windsnap books. Kessler has succeeded in recapturing my attention, though, and if she ever decides to make a seventh book (though I hope she doesn't), I will definitely have it on my radar.

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher at KidLitCon.

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Told in diary form by an irresistible heroine, this playful and perceptive novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the May Bird trilogy sparkles with science, myth, magic, and the strange beauty of the everyday marvels we sometimes forget to notice.
Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.
To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.

(432 pages; released November 3)

When I requested My Diary from the Edge of the World, I thought it would be a fun, fluffy fantasy I could devour in a few hours. I expected to love it (because, seriously - inverted normality! Dragon migration! Sasquatches participating in the Civil War!), and I did. It was just as fun and enchanting as I'd hoped, but it was a little more than I'd reckoned on as well. It was, in a nutshell, a beautiful, thought-provoking tale of love and family and forgiveness and death, tied together with enough humor and adventure to keep the most fitful reader interested.

Gracie's voice comes through so authentically, so perfectly, that I could completely believe that she really was just writing down her experiences in her diary. She reminded of myself at a younger age, and some of her emotions and experiences in the beginning of the book echoed similar ones in my own life (including a short stint with an injured arm - I wish my wrist injury would heal as quickly!). As I continued reading, I actually found myself drawing a lot of parallels between Gracie's family and mine, because the Lockwoods really reminded me of my own family. By the time they left Cliffden, I'd already established in my mind that I was actually Millie (because I think the way Gracie sees Millie is probably a lot like the way my sister sees me), my sister was Gracie, and my youngest brother was Sam. I was invested in the family, and I loved them all. I even loved Gracie's dad from the beginning, though he did annoy me sometimes. My father really is a scientist (like I said, there were a lot of connections to draw between my family and Gracie's), and he's nothing like the socially awkward, completely oblivious Mr. Lockwood. I get very tired of seeing the scientist always being portrayed as this strange creature so divorced from the emotions of the people around him. It's a rather gentle stereotype in the grand scheme of things, but it still does get grating after a while.

Sorry, short rant over. Going back to the characters, it was my close connection to the Lockwood family that made the ending have that much more of an impact for me. And I'm sorry I can't delve into that more, but I don't want to spoil anything for you. On one hand it's a beautiful, meaningful, perfect ending to a wonderful book that I connected with on a deeper level. On the other hand, I kind of (no, not kind of - really!) wish the ending had been different. And that's all I can say about it.

The ending is only the last twenty pages, though, and this is a 430 page book. When I'm absolutely in love with 410 pages of a book, I have a hard time saying I dislike it just because the last five percent isn't what I'd hoped it would be. I loved watching Gracie and her family experience the wonders of their world, coming to appreciate that it's not quite as hum-drum as they always thought of it as being. Later in the book Gracie makes some really poignant remarks about the people who live in the Extraordinary World (i.e. our world) - about how their surroundings are so amazing, but they are desensitized from it. Hearing that from the girl who thinks Sasquatches are ordinary makes it that much more meaningful, you know?

Do I recommend My Diary From the Edge of the World? I think so, yes. It's such a great story, I have a terrible time turning people off of it. Just be warned that the ending isn't quite as light and fluffy as you might think, and that religion gets just as messed around with as myths and legends do. I feel uncomfortable/unhappy with some parts of the book, but they're so incredible overshadowed by the amazing writing and incredible poignancy of the rest of the story that I still love it. My Diary from the Edge of the World is, regardless of all else, a very beautiful book, and I'm very glad I read it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.