Monday, March 31, 2014

Review of The Serpent's Ring (Relics of Mysticus) by H.B. Bolton

15769991Every Saturday in Evan's house is considered “Family Fun Day,” but he'd rather be at home playing video games, then sitting in the backseat of the minivan next to his older sister Claire. While on their “boring” tour at the local museum, Evan notices something moving around the roof of an abandoned exhibit. Curious, he returns later only to find a secret room and a mysterious ring of a serpent biting his tail. Claire decides to follow him and the two find a magical relic with hidden powers that they unintentionally release. Evan and his sister Claire soon find that by touching the ring, they have opened a portal to Sagaas and have activated certain powers within themselves. When the ring is snatched from Evans hand, they learn that they must be the ones to retrieve it and prevent the Norse god of the sea from flooding the Earth.  
Being on the lookout for Norse mythology, this cover really caught my eye. Well, actually all three covers are very engaging.  The Serpent's Ring contains some of the well known characters from Norse mythology, but H.B. Bolton also introduced me to some that I didn't know much about and creates a creative story based on them.  I especially enjoyed how Evan and Claire's relationship changed over the course of the story.  From having the typical sibling spats, to a shared need to work together and a more caring relationship.  The added touch of "Magical Food Recipes" for the foods found throughout the story and Reference page for the various Norse gods and creatures was very helpful.  Overall, a nicely paced story filled with lore, action and a pleasing resolution to the story.  My eBook copy was from a free download promotion via Amazon.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

18706036" It wasn't me who burned down our house.  I wasn't even supposed to be there.  I'd been sent home from school with a fever, and I'd taken a nap.  Next thing I knew, flames were licking under my door and white smoke was filling the room..."

Evelyn Ronan Truelove's mom calls all the shots. Since he was little, he's been enrolled in every self defense class imaginable.  When Ronan's father is mysteriously kidnapped, Ronan and his mother try to flee to safety.  While on the run, Ronan's mother confides that she is a member of a secret society called the Blood Guard, who are protector's to one of the thirty-six pure spirits. There is also an evil organization called the Bend Sinister, which is bent on destroying the pure ones, the world and now seem to be after Ronan as well.  To keep him safe, Ronan's mom puts him on a train leading out of town with her last words being "Trust no one." At the train station, Ronan is to meet up with a Blood Guard and be taken to safety.  On the train he finds Jack Dawkins,  but he also finds Greta Susterman, a girl he used to go to school with. Once the Bend Sinister catch up to them, the trio continue to try and evade them until Dawkins is killed and they land in even more hot water.  Ronan and Greta try to make their way to Greta's father in Roanke but there are still many obstacles that will stand in their way. 

My Thoughts:  The Blood Guard is a fast paced good versus evil story with plenty of action and escape scenes.  From the opening lines to the very last page, there are car chases, scenes on trains, and even sneaking in secret passageways.  Not only that, there are really cool weapons like Tesla guns, sword fights and hidden powers possessed by the Blood Guard.  The lore behind the thirty six pure ones was also interesting to read about on Mr. Roy's webpage.  My favorite character was Jack Dawkins, I especially liked his humor and pick pocketing skills.  I wish the evil organization had more interesting character names versus "The Head" and "Ms. Hand",  but it fit into the scheme of their powers.  Overall, a very enjoyable adventure  story.   Many thanks to the publishers The Inkhouse and Two Lions, as well as Goodreads for this first reads giveaway.    

To listen to the Prologue and first chapter of the book go to Carter Roy's Website 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

classic ya mg the midnight garden
March's Pick for the Classic Read-along at The Midnight Garden
luckiestlgThe Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary   Discussion Date: Friday, March 28th
Hashtag: #tmgreadalong

16 year old Shelley Latham is "plotting" a change for the start of her junior year of high school.  First, she is going to break up with her steady boyfriend Jack and then she is going to get her mom to let her buy the ordinary rain slicker like all the girls at school are wearing.  Shelley has after all been saving her money just so she can buy one, but her mom thinks she should wear something more "sensible."  Who would have thought that a "sensible" pink raincoat with a black velveteen collar and matching hat her mom buys (even though Shelley explicitly told her she wanted to buy her own) could cause such problems.  Frustrated and angry with her mother,  Shelley takes matters into her own hands and resorts to destroying the fresh picked flowers her mom has down the disposal.  When an unexpected letter from Shelley mom's former  roommate comes inviting Shelley to come to California to go to school there for the Winter, Shelley eagerly agrees.  With prompting from Shelley's father that it will give her an opportunity to make a few mistakes of her own and grow up a bit, Shelley's mom finally agrees.  Nine months in California sounds like a dream, but Shelley will have to navigate her way in a new school and her first love.  

My Thoughts:  This was a very touching, innocent look at first loves.  I adored the quote "This was love, she knew not the love-for-keeps that would come later, but love that was real and true just the same." I loved how Beverly Cleary captures all those innocent, uneasy feelings of looking at a group of boys standing in the hall talking and knowing there is that "one boy" you want to walk over and start a conversation with, but at the same time all those nervous butterfly emotions are clouding your ability to.  There is something about the timeless quality of a book like that even now I can still identify with those feelings.  A true exploration of teenage girls and the way that sometimes by falling in love with the wrong boy, you just might find the right one.  My review copy was from the library.  


Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

19426544"One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery.  No one knew them.  No one knew where they came from." These four hungry children are Jessie, Benny, Violet, and Henry.  After their parents pass away, the children are supposed to move in with their grandfather in Greenfield. Frightened of him, they decide to run away instead.     The children soon find their way to an old abandoned boxcar and set it up as their new home.  With straw beds and a homemade shelf, they now have shelter.  Even Henry can go out to explore for work and the girls and young Benny try to find eating utensils.  Each child is involved in the homes upkeep and they find some creative ways to do it.  Chores like cooking, cleaning and swimming in a stone-lined pit all sound more exciting then they might really be.  Helped by a lost dog and Doctor in town, the children soon find that they can't go completely alone. Overall, I really enjoyed the children's adventure, but it was really nice to see them reunited with their grandfather as well.  According to the notes about the author at the end of the book,  Gertrude Warner was a school teacher who began writing The Boxcar Children as a way to provide easy, fun and exciting stories for her students to read.  My review copy was borrowed from the library.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkiski


The Cabinet of Wonders begins with a rickety cart making its way through the Bohemian countryside to the village of Okno.   After being in Prague for quite sometime, Mikal Kronos is finally coming home to his daughter Petra.  Yet, when Mikal returns with bandages across his face, Petra knows something has gone terribly wrong. It seems that after building the magnificent clock requested by Prince Rodolfo,  the Prince had Mikal's eyes removed  to prevent him from ever building another clock and he has decided to wear Mikal's eyes himself.   Petra can't understand why her father isn't upset but she knows she must go the the Castle and steal his eyes back.  Petra learns that the clock her father built is powerful enough to control the weather, but the Prince may other more sinster plans for it as well.  When Petra makes her way into the city, she finds help from Neel who has magical talents of his own, together they hope to bring down the clock before it can destroy anything and locate The Cabinet of Wonders holding her fathers eyes.  

While at the school book fair recently, I got to talking about fantasy books with the book sellers (we have similar interests in books and they always bring some really neat series) and The Cabinet of Wonders was one that came up.  My copy is the paperback up above but I'm posting the hardcover down below too.  I must say I like both of them.  The hardcover has really nice elements from the story and conveys some of the action but the pet tin spider up in the left corner of the paperback really screams steampunk.  

One of the things I really enjoyed about the Cabinet of Wonders are the varied magical abilities the characters possessed.  Like moving metal with your mind to make spiders, birds and dogs, and bending and enchanting glass to trap lightening inside, very cool.  Even Neel's ghost like fingers that can pick pocket with ease added some action to the story.  I also enjoyed how Rutkoski choose to set the story during the European Renaissance.  Although she does point out that the people and events in the story are  loosely based on some historical events and actual people that she knows, she goes on to give more detailed information in the Authors Note.  I highly recommend making sure your copy has the Authors Note at the end for information about the characters origins, history about cabinets of wonder and Bohemia. Overall, a nice mix of magic, steampunk with historical fantasy.  Favorite quote "The horseshoe makes its own luck."  Review copy was purchased.   

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary


Ralph S. Mouse lives in a mouse-hole in room 215 at the Mountain View Inn.  Ralph's main ambition is to someday make his way down to the first floor and outside to find some food, but Ralph's mother is a worrier and Ralph isn't responsible or old enough yet to make that trip.  Things change dramatically for Ralph when a young boy named Keith shows up with his shiny toy cars and motorcycle. Ralph being curious as a mouse most oftentimes is, decides to investigate further.  What he doesn't expect is to tumble down into a wastebasket and get himself trapped.  Lucky for Ralph, Keith really likes mice and is more then willing to help him to get out.  Soon the two find that they can communicate and Keith helps Ralph's dream of riding a motorcycle come true.  

I remember reading lots of Beverly Cleary books growing up, I loved Ramona and Beezus, and Ellen Tebbits was one of my favorites.  I can't say I recall reading much of Henry Huggins or the Ralph S. Mouse series though, so it was nice to recapture some of that feeling I so enjoyed from the other books.   I loved how Cleary captures the desire of Keith and Ralph both wanting to be seen as responsible by their parents and how wanting to grow up too fast isn't as important as being patient.  There are many nice messages about friendship and being truthful, but the two I most enjoyed were the one of keeping ones word and when Ralph's mom keeps talking about "tipping room service," (Keith, for all the food that he has been bringing them.).   A wonderful story that I know I would have loved reading when I was around eight or nine.  Favorite line:  "Ralph really felt sorry for the boy, hampered as he was by his youth and his mother."  My review copy was from an end of year book swap at school.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann


From Goodreads:  "Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.  In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings--Peculiars--and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley--Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar Stefan Bachmann's riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.

This is the second book that I finished for the Middle Grade Read-a-Thon happening at Middle Grade March I happened to borrow this book from my child, it was one of the books picked up at the school book fair held recently. 

Going in I didn't really know what to expect but I've always loved the cover and premise.  With a line like "don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged", I knew I wanted to read it too.  It really lives up to its definition of "part murder mystery, gothic fantasy, steampunk adventure." What I wasn't expecting to find was that the book is darker then I thought it would be but not in a way that I minded.  (I'm curious to see if my child will continue to read once the darker elements come up).  I'm having a hard time deciding if this really fits into the middle grade category, but going with the other seventy five users at Goodreads at the moment.   Plus, man the lady in plum turns out to be pretty creepy and whisking children away, well that is creepy too.  I was on edge to see what was going to happen next.  I enjoyed how the story was told in alternating perspectives of Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby and had a mysterious element to solve.  I certainly am looking forward to seeing if my library has the next one in the series.   

Review: Flora and Ulysses The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo


I'm really starting to like the month of March, I mean it is full of Middle Grade reading right?  Today, I am participating in a MG kickoff Read a Thon going on from Midnight March 1, 2014 to Midnight March 2, 2014.  More information can be found over here

My first pick was this little gem.  Flora Belle Buckman  is a self proclaimed superhero comic book reading cynic who happens to witness the untimely demise of a squirrel who's sucked up by a vacuum cleaner gone rogue.  Being the avid comic book reader she is, Flora has read every Terrible Things Can Happen To You comic and performs CPR on the squirrel.  Flora's kind act helps Ulysses recover in new ways, ones that he or Flora never anticipated.  I loved reading and sharing The Tale of Despereaux  by Kate DiCamillo with my child and Flora and Ulysses brings back some of those wonderful memories.  DiCamillo really knows how to pull at your heart strings, I even had tears at the beautiful touching poem at the end.  There was plenty of humor, and characters that still sit with me especially Ulysses the squirrel, I adored how Ulysses kept his squirrel characteristics by constant thoughts about food and being hungry, while also finding another means to communicate with Flora (a typewriter no less).  I also really liked William Spiver, who suffers from a "temporary blindness induced by trauma" and who insists on calling Flora, Flora Belle.   The black and white comic illustrations by K.G. Campbell were very nicely done and fell in line with Flora's love of comic books.  I especially loved the scenes with Ulysses flying through the air.  Favorite line is "She had a superhero under her pajamas.  She didn't have to listen to her mother, or anybody else for that matter.  A new day was dawning, a girl-with-a-superhero kind of day."   My review copy was from the library.