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

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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

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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

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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

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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.