Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  297
Published:  October 3rd, 2017
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting."

Mr. Beiderman is the landlord of a lovely little brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City.   He lives on the top floor and is very particular about his privacy and quiet,  a sort of recluse with his only visitor being the lady who drops off his frozen dinners once a week.  His presence, however, is felt by the rest of the residents of the brownstone.  Over the past few years, the Vanderbeeker children, twins Jessie and Isa (12), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4 3/4 ),  have all attempted to be on their best behavior so as not to anger the Beiderman, but despite their best effort, and right before Christmas no less, the family learns that he will not be renewing their lease.   Not only are they devastated to learn they'll be leaving their beloved home, but they also may need to move away from Harlem altogether.  Convinced that they can change his mind, the five siblings begin Operation Beiderman to prevent them from being evicted from their home, but "how do you make friends with a man you have never seen and who has not left his apartment in six years?" 

There is so much to love about The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, everything from the setting to the characters and the storyline were just wonderful.  First off is the setting of Harlem with all of these fun detailed descriptions of the brownstone and surrounding shops and landmarks, the darling black and white illustrations by the author for the layout of the ground floor apartment, an illustration of where the other residents of the building live and full-page map of Harlem on the front inside cover.   And look at that cover, utterly gorgeous, the colors just pop.   The Vanderbeekers are a large family that includes two parents, five siblings, a dog, a cat and even a bunny, together they bring all the joyous sounds of a bustling household with siblings who love and care about one another.  Each of the children is delightful on their own and so individually realized and unique.  There's even an extended family made of friends, relatives, and neighbors with lovely interactions between the Vanderbeeker children and their friends that appear in natural ways, with everything from the mailman who while dropping off the mail gets homemade dog treats from Hyacinth,  Oliver and his best friend Jimmy who talk on their walkie talkie's, the upstairs neighbors Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet who visit with young Laney and even Isa's music teacher Mr. Van Hooten, who together give this book a warm, comfy feeling of both community and family.  Not to mention there is a side story between one of the twins and Benny, whose mom owns the local bakery and a bit of a mix-up over an upcoming dance.  Plus food, glorious food references making me want to try the hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon that was mentioned.  I really love how the Vanderbeeker siblings are trying to win over their curmudgeonly landlord by drawing on their individual strengths in writing poetry, drawing, crafting, music, and kindness toward animals to make gifts for the Beiderman in hopes he would see how valuable they were and renew their lease.    Their plans to smoother him with kindness don't always go as planned, but they aren't easily discouraged and they do make a lovely team.   I was really touched when the reason Mr. Beiderman hasn't left his apartment was revealed, and how the children realized that "home is more than a place" and that what they really wanted is for Mr. Beiderman to feel better.  I was also excited to see that the sequel The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is already set to be released in September.  


Favorite line: " Through her window she could see the last wrinkled leaves gripping the branches of the ancient red maple, refusing to drift down to the ground until absolutely necessary."  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

YA Realistic Fiction Review: 806 a novel by Cynthia Weil

806 a novel by Cynthia Weil
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Tanglewood Press
Number of pages:  229  (hardcover)
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from SoCal Public Relations.

Opening Line:   "My mom, Kim, looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon, if Reese wore a Burger Boy manager's uniform."  

KT, not Katie has always felt like something is missing in her life, besides her dad.  After her mom has yet another argument with the latest in a long line of boyfriends, KT decides she's finally had enough with her mom's failed relationships and demands to know how to get in touch with her father.  KT's mom sends her to her ex, Max who tells KT that her mother hasn't been truthful with her, he's not her biological father.  KT's mom finally admits that her father was a sperm donor and she gives her what little information that she has on him, which amounts to a notecard with 806 and the name Cryosperm Bank, KT uses it to register on a website that matches children with their donors and is pleasantly surprised when she not only gets an email from donor 806 saying he wants to meet her, but she also finds out that she has two siblings who even go to the same high school as her.  KT's new siblings are Jesse the handsome athlete and Gabe the allergy prone nerd who enjoys magic, together they "borrow" a car from Gabe's dad's and head from St. Louis to California to meet their donor father.  

806 a novel is the road trip story of three teenagers who have very little in common, other than sharing the same donor father, and come to find that families come in many different forms, including the ones that raise you.  KT initially has this very moody, pissed off,  and pretty sarcastic vibe, with most of her anger directed at her mother's past failed relationships.   KT feels like her mother is searching for a father figure to fill in some missing gap in KT's life, along the way she's made some horrible choices with the men that she dates.  I must say I was really disappointed with the way that KT's mom avoided talking to KT about who her biological father was, chooses to instead send her to Max, a complete stranger and having him break the news to her about her being conceived via a sperm donor.  It's no wonder that KT refers to her mom as "Kim" instead of "Mom."  Being a mom myself, this seemed so impersonal, rude even, but maybe it was also a way for KT to distance herself from her mom and her frustrating relationships, not just a way of getting back at her.   It took quite awhile for me to grow to like KT, she was pretty hard on her mom, her friends, even her newly found siblings, but eventually, she seemed to calm down a bit.  I can't say that she truly grew as a person through the story, she never really showed remorse for how she treated them but finding her father seemed to set her on the path toward an inner peace.  Filled in a hole.  Jesse was the popular kid, who despite this was pretty down to earth.  He sort of grows into the older brother role which I really liked.  His main concern was that his two moms were breaking up and he's faced with having to choose which one of his parents he wants to live with.  Gabe is the sweet kid of the bunch, he's allergic to a lot of things, insecure, and in search of how he fits in and struggling with how to relate to girls,  I especially enjoyed how he asked KT for advice.  It was kinda sweet watching her act all sisterly.  The interactions between the siblings were what really made the story so much fun.  Their journey ended up being not only about finding their donor dad but finding out about themselves, how they relate to one another as siblings and the importance their families waiting back home meant to them.  Sure you have to be willing to suspend belief, like how easily donor 806 contacts them, and then despite a mixup with the donor number's at the Sperm Bank they're still able to track him down.  If anything their donor dad's reaction to meeting them was a bit too over the top, but even he was highly entertaining.  Plus there are a few twists and turns, and all the things you would expect from a road trip, like getting lost, running out of gas, getting their jeep stolen, and money taken.  806 manages not to be too heavy of a story and resolved in a heartwarming way and Cynthia Weil brought her passion for music and writing songs into the story, which I also enjoyed.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: Granted by John David Anderson

35068662Granted by John David Anderson
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  336  (hardcover)
Publishing:  February 13th, 2018
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "The last time you blew out your birthday candles, what did you wish for?"

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is the youngest fairy to graduate from the academy, a certified wish granter who is about to embark on her first assignment to Kettering, Ohio to grant 13-year-old Kasarah's wish for a purple bike to replace the one that was stolen.  Ophelia is one of many fairies living hidden from the outside world in the Haven, a place infused with magic from wishes granted by the Great Tree at its center.  The Great Tree is where wishes made in the human world on a wishbone, a blown out candle, or even a four leaf clover are received and then magically become the golden leaves dropped from the tree with the name and details of the person whose wish the fairies are to grant.  The granting of wishes is what has kept the magic flowing in Haven, but lately, the number of wishes being granted has dramatically decreased.  With fewer wishes being chosen the amount of magic the fairies have to grant a wish is being depleted, so no magic can be wasted and why Ophelia is so determined to complete her task.  Ophelia has trained for this very moment, she's got all the right gear and already plotted the fastest route to get her to Ohio and back.  It should be a simple mission to retrieve the coin that Kasarah made her wish for a bicycle on,  say the magic words granting the wish and get back to Haven.  Except, the human world is unpredictable, with many unexpected hazards and obstacles standing in her way.  The first being a run-in with an airplane that causes her to get all turned around and to lose over half of her supplies, but that is nothing compared to the decision that awaits when she has to decide what makes a wish worthy of being granted.  

Every since reading Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Posted and Dungeoneers, Anderson's books have been on my auto-buy list.  His newest book, Granted is such a delight and wonderful addition.  Ophelia is the lovely blue-haired fairy who desperately tries to complete her mission and help save the magic in Haven.  And oh boy what a brutal mission it is, with odds that seem to be stacked against her, and everything that can possibly go wrong seems to happen.  Not only does she have to contend with an airplane and truck barreling at her, she encounters humans who attack her with a broom, a newspaper,  even a fire extinguisher, not to mention a flock of ill-tempered geese and a hawk that thinks she's dinner.  Despite being battered and badly injured, Ophelia is a survivalist.  She may have her moments where she doubts why she should've even bothered trying to grant Kasarah's wish or whether she should just give up and ask for reinforcements, but Ophelia's also resourceful and determined, and "a promise is a promise" after all.  Luckily for Ophelia, she comes across an abandoned dog, who she names Sam and together they follow the elusive path of Kasarah's coin as it moves from the fountain she made her wish upon to a diner, a super pets store, ending at the lemonade stand of siblings Anna and Gabe, two kids desperately missing their dad who's away serving in Iraq.  What really makes this story for me though is Sam, how he so clearly sounds like how a dog would speak.  How Sam longs for a friend and is so enamored by Ophelia, he captured my heart.  Especially when Sam starts to follow her and she asks, "Why are you following me?" and he responds, "Because you are broken and lost and I licked you, so now we are friends."  Granted is a glimpse into how some wishes can be "impossible and others might be unsustainable."  "A wish is many things.  It is hope and desire and daydreams.  It is impossibility and improbability and something in between.  It is stardust and well water and spectrums of light in the sky.  It is half-melted birthday candles and Christmas lists.  It is broken turkey bones.  It is the willing suspension of disbelief.  And sometimes it is desperation.  It is a hole in your heart that wants filling."   Such a sweet heartwarming story with all the magical charm of wishing on a star. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

MG Humor/Realistic Fiction Review: Stink: Hamlet and Cheese by Megan McDonald illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

35879388Stink:  Hamlet and Cheese by Megan McDonald Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Format:  ARCPaperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  144  (hardcover)
Publishing:  March 13th, 2018
Source:  ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Stink: Hamlet and Cheese is the eleventh book in the Stink series of books by Megan Mc Donald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  I believe my kiddo and I left off somewhere around book five, but we always loved Stink and even his sister Judy Moody's series of books.  In Stink: Hamlet and Cheese,  Sophie of the Elves plans to attend a Shakespeare camp over spring break and entices Stink to join her with talk of mad kings, murders, sword-fights and the hurling of insults at one another. However, on Stinks first day, he learns that Shakespeare camp is full of girls, including his “most time enemy,” Riley Rottenberger.  Riley's even threatening Stink with re-enacting her favorite scene from Romeo and Juliet, you know the one where they kiss.  Yuck, cooties!  It's no surprise when Stink tries to back out, but Sophie cleverly reminds Stink that she does all the things that he likes to do, so why shouldn't he try something she wants to do for once?  

Hamlet and Cheese sounds a lot like a Kid College course offered at our local community college over the summer where kids learn the basics of drama and put on a small play for their parents at the end.  For Stink and Sophie, Shakespeare camp included making silly faces, creating Shakespearean insults, learning lines, the art of stretching, role-playing, sword-fights and my favorite, dramatic death scenes.  Hamlet and Cheese provides a brief introduction to Shakespeare and the theater while incorporating plenty of humor.  Who knew that the earliest Knock Knock joke might have been from Macbeth? The insults are silly and amusing with ones like "maggot pie" and "toad-spotted bum bailey."  I could see children wanting to come up with their own.  There are even a few lines quoted from Macbeth and Hamlet, while the lines weren't explained fully, they might still pique a child's interest.  I wish my ARC had included the finished artwork by Peter Reynolds, but I'm sure it will be just as fun as his previous illustrations for the Stink series.  My favorite part is when Stink and Sophie are watching an outdoor performance of Macbeth and Stink's dog Pugsy tries to get in on the act. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

YA Fantasy/Adventure: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Format: E ARC
Publisher:  Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Source:  Publisher via Giveaway hosted by Goodreads

Number of pages Hardcover, 544
Publishing: March 6th, 2018

Opening Line:  "I try not to think of her."

 Children of Blood and Bone is written in the alternating points of view of  Zélie, Asmari, and Inan.  Zélie (Zel) is a young girl with a warriors spirit, she is the daughter of a maji, a Divîner with her magical ability now dormant.  Eleven years ago a horrible raid occurred in Zélie's village, all of the maji in Orïsha, including her mother were killed by King Saran.  The maji were unable to protect themselves because the bond between their magic and the Gods was taken away.  Since that time, King Saran has been imposing his will on the people of Orïsha, sending his guards out into the surrounding villages demanding increased taxes.  When Zélie's father also run's into trouble with the guards, Zélie and her brother Tzain make plans to take their catch of fish to the market so that  Zélie won't be sold into servitude to pay off their debts.  

Meanwhile, in the city of Lagose, Princess Amari witnesses her father interrogating her chambermaid, a Divîner named Binta.  She overhears the king referring to artifacts that have resurfaced that can awaken the abilities within the maji, specifically a scroll that causes Binta to light up from its touch, and for which she is slain by the king.  Amira is so distraught by what she witnesses that she steals the scroll and flees.  On the city streets, Amari runs into Zélie and pleads for her help to escape.  Zel disguises Amari and while escaping the city, Amari runs into her brother while the scroll is in her possession.   Zel, Amari, and Tzain manage to elude the guards and return to their village where they learn that they possess the first piece of an ancient ritual, that the scroll they have found is able to bring back magical abilities but not permanently unless an ancient ritual is performed.  The trio must set out to Chandomble, a temple that hopefully will hold the answer to the whereabouts of the other artifacts.   

Once the king learns of his daughter's escape,  he summons Prince Inan,  the captain of the guard to go after her.  Inan has been brought up by his father to fear Divîner's, that they are "maggots," people who should never be allowed to regain their magic.  Yet, ever since running into Amari in the city, Inan's worst fears have been realized, he's been "infected" by magic and developed the ability to enter into a dream-like state where he can draw other people into with him.  The first person he communicates with is Zel, he blames her for causing his infection and promises to hunt her down.  Because of his new found ability, Inan has also developed a connection to Zélie that allows him to follow her as she travels toward Chandomble with Asmari, and Tzain.  Despite Inan's best efforts the trio makes it to the temple where they learn their task is to unite three artifacts on a sacred island,  Zel is given the ability to perform the sacred ritual but she must complete it before the next moon or magic will be lost.  

Children of Blood and Bone is a gripping story of one girl's fight to bring magic back to her land.  Zel's strength comes from having seen her mother killed at a very young age and the desire to hold the king accountable for his actions.  She's fueled by the magic that is brewing within her and hopes that by fulfilling the prophecy she can bring the magic back to all the Diviner's and once again find a way to have peace.  Zelie is strong, but also vulnerable, her family is very important to her and she struggles over whether bringing magic back to the maji is the right choice.   She worries that some maji might use their magic to destroy or wield power over the king.  Having regained some of her magic, she sees what magic can do in the wrong hands.   Inan is more complex of a character than I initially thought.  He's a product of his father's thinking.  Although he is the prince of  Orïsha, he seemed to be content to be a captain and carry out his father's orders.   At first, he vows to use his magic as a means of defeating Zel, even taking a more active role as the prince.  Inan is always torn between what he sees as his duty to the city, its people and upholding his father's wishes.  Eventually, he uncovers the truth and flaws of his father's account of the raid, but it might be to late for the new Orïsha he envisioned.  Princess Amari has more strength in her than even she first realizes.  Of all the characters, she was one of my favorites.  She's driven to do the right thing, always remembering her dear friend Binta and trying to have the inner strength to fight.  Which isn't always an easy thing for her especially when she comes face to face with her father.  Children of Blood and Bone is the first book in this West African inspired fantasy adventure with the rights sold to 16 countries and already has plans to be made into a motion picture.  The world Adeyemi created is beautiful while also being heart-wrenching, especially one particularly brutal scene where Zel is tortured and a slur is carved into her back.  The story will cause you to pause and think about racism and how the people of Orïsha struggle's against their tyrannical king have parallels to historical events from the past and current environment.  There's also so much beauty in the setting, references to the language and food and even a bit of romance, plenty of action,  and adventure culminating in an epic battle where King Saran learns an unexpected truth.  But be warned this also ends on a huge cliffhanger that will have you wishing the sequel was out already.  

Look for Children of Blood and Bone on March 6th or check out the this excerpt from Macmillan Publishers 

Favorite Line:  "You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. It was thinking we’d never fight back."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2017 Cybils Winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction and thoughts on all the Finalists

Cybils 2017

It's February 14th and in addition to being Valentines Day, it's also the day the winners of the Cybils are announced!  This year I was selected as a round 2 judge, which for us started two months ago. 

Since that time we've been busy reading the seven finalists books,  having discussions and then made our decision on this year's winner for Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction.  So with no further ado, this year's winner is.....


Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins/Walden Pond Press
Number of pages: 247
Published: May 30th, 2017

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she's ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she's still the fiercest creature in the mountains -- and now she's found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time...won't she?

This year’s winner is a story of dragons, chocolate, finding one’s passion, and facing social prejudice. Aventurine is a young dragon whose family thinks she’s too young to leave their cave. Convinced that she’s perfectly fierce enough, she sneaks out on her own, hoping to find in the outside world both something to hunt and maybe even something to be her dragon-ish passion in life. When a human, who should have been easy prey, tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself turned into a human girl! On the plus side, she’s found her passion—chocolate!  But in order to get more chocolate, she’ll have to go live with puny humans as a puny human herself.  Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans (when she gets angry, her first instinct is to eat them), and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her? Tensions build and tempers flare, and the suspense builds to a happily satisfying ending. Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.

Round 2 judging for the Cybils was a totally new experience and quite fun being all mysterious and secretive about posting my review until the winners were announced.  There was a wonderful group of books selected as finalists, making our final selection a bit harder but I hope you get the opportunity to read some of these wonderful books and check out all the Cybils winners in all of the categories HERE.  

 2017 Cybils Finalists for Elementary/ Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction:

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins/Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  336
Published: February 14th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  

It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we prepare for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home.

Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the very last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed.

Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a desperate struggle for survival.

Opening line: “Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.”  

The cover is eye-catching and really captured my interest.   I really enjoyed the concept of the universe is bigger than one can comprehend while the individual was a small part of it.  The plot centering on the Sun expanding to the point that it will engulf Earth and the surrounding planets by exploding in a supernova seemed plausible and was set up well in the first few chapters.  The appeal to kids comes from the balance of tension and action. While I'm not typically a science fiction reader this was such an engrossing book.  The pacing kept ratcheting up accentuated by the time clock at the beginning of each chapter and the feeling of the impending doom that faced these two kids.  Maybe it's the dangers that they face along the way and the glimpses of the future that Liam see's when he time shifts forward.  You want the things he sees not to happen.  Or maybe it's just that I've seen Alien and the whole idea of going into a stasis seems frightening. Although this ended on a cliffhanger, I didn't take this as a negative.  Instead, it just made me want to read The Oceans Between Stars that much more.  Lucky for me this came out in February.  

26102519The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of pages:  336
Published: August 1st, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
Ambassador, you are go for launch in T- minus 5…4…3…2…. Get ready to blast off with this high-action, high-stakes middle-grade adventure that’s perfect for fans of Chris Grabenstein and Peter Lerangis!

Miranda Regent can’t believe she was just chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. But as soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening messages…and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

The Martian meets The Goonies in this out-of-this-world middle-grade debut where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Opening Line:  "Nearly every single person in this auditorium is wearing a T-shirt with my name emblazoned across the front."

The Countdown Conspiracy reads partially like a mystery and a school story while at the same time there is a political unrest going on in the world.  I enjoyed the diversity in the team of kids.  There are the dynamics of the classes that the crew take together, while there are also rivalries to get the best position,  grades and favor of their instructors.  Most of the emphasis is on Anna and Miranda not getting along, but also that maybe Sasha's position was stolen by Miranda on the team.  A little more scientific than I was expecting, but I really enjoyed the action when their spacecraft is taken over and they have to work together to figure out how to divert themselves from going to Mars.  You can see how much research went into the writing of this book to get the details of space travel and NASA type engineering as accurate as possible.

31915219A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Format:  Ebook 
Publisher:  Amulet Books
Number of pages:  497
Published: May 9th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . . 

Opening Line: “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels.”

I really enjoyed A Face Like Glass, it leans more toward  Young Adult than Middle Grade but it's a fantastic story.  Hardinge's books to me have this rich expressive writing quality that I enjoy.  Like this one  "As the carriage rattled along sandstone colonnades, then down rose-marble avenues dappled like raspberry ice cream, she found herself passing ever grander carriages with better-decorated people within." I did think that the beginning was a tad slow but it did grab hold of me and I couldn't really put it down.  The Facesmith and idea of faces that people wear being taught were very intriguing.  Neverfell is way too trusting and doesn't really seem to grasp that the people she's dealing with can show one face, but have a completely different intent.   Kinda made me think of Game of Thrones and the masks that Arya wears.  I also especially liked the Grand Steward with his right/left eye showing the differences between your right and left brain functioning.    The world building and complex political intrigue are wonderful, even the messaging, for which I know I'm missing some.  It's the kind of book that I would really like to go back and read again.  

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of Pages:  288
Published:  July 25th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh returns with Spirit Hunters, a high-stakes middle-grade mystery series about Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. A riveting ghost story and captivating adventure, this tale will have you guessing at every turn!

Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?

Opening Line:  "Harper! Come quick!"

Spirit Hunters was a lot creepier than I thought it was going to be, which made it a wonderful story for me cause I love creepy scary things.  There are multiple incidents of Harper being injured by the presence in the house, and her younger brother Michael being taken over by a supernatural presence, yeah just creepy.  I did really like the diversity and the touching and realistic relationship between the siblings.   I did wish that more had been written about Harper's grandmother's  being a Korean mudang.  Maybe some of the cultural histories,  although it did prompt me to look it up a little bit online.  She sounded so fascinating that it was a shame that she couldn't be included more in the story.  I also really liked the character of Mrs. Devereux and especially her views on racism.   

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books
Number of Pages:  192
Published:  August 22nd, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
Rosa Ramona Díaz has just moved to the small, un-haunted town of Ingot—the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t want to be there. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could possibly want to live in a place with no ghosts. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why anyone would.

Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot. His father plays a knight at the local Renaissance Festival, and his mother plays the queen. Jasper has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Then an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down.

Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed, and Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools—and a little help from Jasper—to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

Opening line:  "Rosa and her mother moved into a basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library. "

I quite liked this quick read and the twist of Ingot being the only place where ghosts aren't found, how in other cities ghosts are plentiful.  How it's wrong for Ingot not to have any ghost, while everywhere else ghosts and the living have found a way to coexist.  Rosa and Jasper are the only ones who can unravel what has been keeping the ghosts away.  I also enjoyed the emphasis on librarians and the patron saint Catalina de Erauso with the idea of remembering the dead through the books that you read.  It's not a particularly scary story but would be an interesting read if you enjoy paranormal stories, or are just starting out to explore ghost stories.   

Favorite lines:  "Whenever you open an old book you read it along with everyone else who's ever read that same book.  You're supposed to.  Hauntings don't end.  Ghosts don't ever just go away." 

30653902Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format:  Hardcover

Number of Pages: 368
Published:  March 21st, 2017
Source: Library

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. But when Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems.

Without any magic protecting the city, it is up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. On a dangerous mission, Chantel will discover a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Opening line:  " A secret nearly cost Chantel her life, on a dark summer morning when the rains ran down the stairstepped stone streets of Lightning Pass." 

Chantel is an endearing character, head strung while struggling to hold her tongue.  The messaging in this story is what appealed to me.  Questioning adults and having your own ideas of what is right and wrong.  The character's of Miss Ellicott's were also nicely balanced with boy/girl characters and there was plenty of humor with the inclusion of Chantel's familiar, although a snake in your head sounds unsettling.  A very timely story with wonderful world building, entertaining to read while being thought-provoking.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano

34848650A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  320
Published:  January 2nd, 2018
Source:  Library

Opening Line: "Leo sprinted to the hallway bathroom, slammed the door, and locked herself in, just in time."  

Leonora "Leo" Logroño and her four sisters live in Rose Hill Texas, where their family runs the local bakery,  Love and Sugar.  Eleven-year-old Leo is the youngest of the Logroño girls and feeling left out this year because her siblings get the day off from school to help their mother prepare at the bakery for the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.  Leo desperately wants to be given a chance to show she's not too young to help but is quickly denied and sent off to school.  As she reluctantly heads to school, Leo runs into Caroline and Brent. Caroline and Leo were best friends in the third grade but Caroline moved away after her mom died, and is just now starting back at school.  Brent is Caroline's next door neighbor and was a good friend to her while she was dealing with her mother's death, he's also her secret crush.  While at school, Leo enlists Caroline's help as cover while she sneaks to the bakery to spy on her family, Leo overhears her mother, aunt, and sisters performing a ritual in Spanish around a table.  Leo is so confused by the events and wishes she understood Spanish but does recognize the word magia or magic.  Is Leo's family keeping a secret from her?  Later at the de Los Muertos festival, Leo witnesses two of her sister's performing what she thinks is magic and upon investigating the bakery further finds a secret cookbook filled with recipes for spells.   Leo experiments with the magical cookbook and eventually is caught by her oldest sister, Isabel.  Isabel explains that the woman in their family are brujas or witches that can infuse some of their magic into the baked goods they make, she teaches Leo one her own special spells but also cautions her to be patient because girls in their family don't start practicing magic until they're fifteen.  Leo is impatient to learn, so she tries more and more difficult spells, drawing the attention of her other sisters who also give her advice on the families magic, and further caution her about going too far and having their mom find out.  Yet Leo doesn't heed their advice and after she tries to help Caroline by making a "love bite cookie" things start to go horribly wrong.  The only way out now is for Leo to go to her sister's and ask for help.    

Being the youngest, Leo wants to grow up so fast and do all the same things that her older sisters do, feel like she's able to contribute at the bakery, a feeling a younger or middle child could easily identify with.  Leo so reminded me of all the things that I love about Matilda, she's mischievous and sneaky but also kind and caring to her friends.  She may feel awkward and be looking for her place at school, but her family radiates with warmth, caring, and love.  There's a lovely sense of togetherness, everyone contributes in the family, not only at the bakery but at home.  The relationships between the sisters were sweet and realistically portrayed, they bicker and tease but also stuck together despite knowing mama would be so mad if she found out that Leo was practicing magic.  Leo's impatient and didn't always think her actions through but wasn't deterred by not being able to speak Spanish, she grabs her English to Spanish dictionary when she can't read the recipes in the magical cookbook and sets out to translate them herself.  She does struggle with feeling guilty about keeping her own secrets from her mother and sisters but also really wants to learn more about magic. There is a lovely scene in the story where Leo and her mother are talking about Leo's feelings about being the youngest girl in the family and her mother gives her a role in helping make the cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  I also really enjoyed learning more about the Dia de los Muertos festival and brujas.   There are so many fun touches added like the illustrations at the top of each chapter, Spanish recipes which are even translated into English at the end of the book.  Even Brent's scientific reasoning when he is the recipient of one of Leo's magical mishaps and says that "some reactions are irreversible, you can't unburn toast by putting it in the freezer."  But my absolute favorite piece happens at the very end of the story when mama finally finds out the truth and tells Leo that she is sad that she felt like she had to be so secretive and warns Leo that if she ever keeps a secret from her she has a creative way to deal with it, I'll let you read the story to find that one out for yourself.    Such a fun humorous story of family, friendship, and tradition which is quickly turning into my favorite book of the year.