Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MG Fantasy/Paranormal: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

20499923A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano
Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Published:  September 1st 2015 by Bloomsbury Childrens

Genres:  Fantasy/Paranormal
Pages: 224 pages
Format: ebook
Source:  Library 

First line:  "Pram died just before she was born."  

Pram Bellamy was "inherited" by her two aunts, Dee and Nan.  Together they live at the Halfway to Heaven Home for the Ageing (Pram was the first one to notice it's spelled wrong too), a home where the aunts take care of "elders."   Once each September, they are visited by the local schoolmarm, Ms. Appleworth, who ensures that Pram is getting a proper homeschooling.  This year, Ms. Appleworth has seen fit to send her to school, an idea that Pram isn't found of.  Pram is afraid she will be thought of as strange, because she can see and talks to ghosts.  One particular ghost named Felix, who has been  her best friend since she was five years-old.  On her first day of school, Pram tries very hard to find a spot that will "keep her safe and invisible" and chooses a seat at the back of the classroom.  A seat that a boy with the bluest of eyes has already claimed as his own.  Eventually, the two become the best of friends as they realize that they both have mothers who have died.  Clarence suggests that they go to the Lady Savant in town, a woman who might help them contact the dead.  But, Lady Savant has more sinister plans for Pram.   

A Curious Tale of the In-Between reminded me of The Graveyard Book, in that there is a death of a parent in the beginning of the book.  It also has that sort of creepy eerie atmosphere, that I so enjoy.   Although, I wouldn't say the book is over the top scary, it does touch on topics of death, the spirit world, crossing over, hence the creepy eerie atmosphere.  Maybe a bit much for a younger reader, but for those who enjoy a creepy story with ghosts, it is a real page turner of a story.  I wished I'd have realized that this is the first in a series, because I was reading along swimmingly and then next thing I know, I'm out of pages.  Not to say that it ended on a cliffhanger, but some things don't get resolved, at least not yet.    I very much enjoyed Pram and her special ability to see and talk to ghosts.  You really feel for this girl who always thought that she was somewhere "between alive and dead at the same time." Oh and sweet Felix, who is her protector, confidant, and tries to keep her safe.  You can tell how very much he cares for her by his jealousy when Clarence comes into the picture, and his eventual acceptance that Pram also needs a boy who is living too.  Clarence was also oh so sweet, I loved how both he and Pram were thinking the same things about each other and the mini sparks that they shared.  And Lady Savant, man she was creepy and I would say sinister in how she stole her powers.  Overall, I really enjoyed this sweet ghost story.  I only wish that Felix wouldn't have went wandering off at the end, but I'm sure there will be more to his story in the next book.  

Favorite line " "She knew that the dead hid pieces of themselves in the world.  They buried organs in the living.  They stuffed memories into trees and clouds and other innocuous things."  

A Curious Tale of the In-Between has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MG Realistic Fiction/Fantasy Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate


Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Age Range: 8 - 12 years

Published:  September 22nd 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
Genres:  Realistic Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 256 pages
Format: ebook
Source:  Library 

Jackson is the kind of kid who likes facts, scientific facts, or facts about nature that can be explained.  His mantra, "There is always a logical explanation for things," which should help him with becoming an animal scientist one day.  He isn't the kind of kid who believes in make-believe things, but at one point he did have an imaginary friend named Crenshaw.  Crenshaw first appeared when  Jackson was seven and his family had to move into their minivan after his dad learned he had MS and couldn't work in construction anymore.  Crenshaw stuck with Jackson over the next several months, until they moved into an apartment and Jackson met Marisol at school. Then Crenshaw seemed to disappear.  That is until now.  With Crenshaw's return, Jackson fears that they may be moving back into the minivan.  All the signs are there, selling their belongings in a garage sale, not having enough money for rent and food.  Jackson hopes he won't have to move away from his friend Marisol but what he really wants is for his parents to be honest with him.  

Applegate chose some difficult topics to address in her middle grade book Crenshaw. Worthwhile topics that are wonderful in developing empathy  while providing a glimpse into what homelessness is like, how some parents are struggling to make ends meet, and the challenges of not having enough food for their children to eat.  Some children may even see this as a window into their own lives.  Very difficult subjects, but also presented in a gentle way.  A  hard balance to make, but I feel Applegate accomplished this well.  My only difficulty was with how the story felt as if this was Jackson as an adult telling the story of his youth.  Yes, Jackson has been described as being "more grown up like and too serious" but it seemed to me that the story felt more like Jackson was reflecting on the past, he does reflect back at being seven, but for me there was a sense that now he was detached from the situation.   Maybe it's also because I never got the sense that Crenshaw  felt like a friend or comfort to Jackson. Elaborating more about their connection when he was seven might have helped.  Maybe some of the fun times that they shared would have made Crenshaw's reappearance seem not like a dreaded thing.  Jackson seems to attribute Crenshaw's return with the potential of being homeless again and even wants Crenshaw to disappear.  For awhile, Jackson even closes his eyes and counts to ten, " I squeezed my eyes shut and counted to ten. Slowly.  Ten Seconds seemed like the right amount of time for me to stop being crazy."  It's like he is trying to make sure he isn't seeing things. It isn't until Crenshaw gives him advice about being honest and opening up with his feelings that Jackson hopes that Crenshaw will stay.  What I did love about the story is the relationship between Jackson and his sister Robin.  How he always seemed to have her interests at heart and looks out for her.  I also adored Marisol and Jackson's friendship and loved how she confided that she had an imaginary friend too, and that you don't always have to understand something, but should just "enjoy the magic."  I also enjoyed the resolution at the end where Jackson's parents finally overcome their need to shield him and have a heartwarming conversation about their future.  Crenshaw is a little over two hundred pages and is written in short chapters making it a very quick read.   Given the need for more stories on this topic, I can easily see this making the rounds for teacher read-aloud's.    

 Crenshaw has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Classic YA Read-along Girl of the Limberlost (Limberlost #2) by Gene Stratton-Porter

girl of the limberlost

This month's  pick for the Classic Read along with the Midnight Garden was A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.    You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.   

First Published:  1909
Genres:  YA Historical Fiction
Pages: 336 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source:  Library 

This is my first time reading A Girl of the Limberlost, a  historical fiction set in Indiana near the edge of the Limberlost swamp and the fictional town of Onabasha.    A Girl of the Limberlost  was written in 1909 and is a coming of age story with a main character that really tugs at your heart.  Sixteen year-old Elnora has decided to go to school in the neighboring city of Onabasha.  Her mother is hesitant to the idea, but she allows her to go.  So, Elnora set out in a calico dress, high heavy shoes, a little old hat, with a ribbon in her hair.   Elnora's first day of school doesn't go nearly as she planned.  She is teased by the other girls for not wearing the sort of clothes expected at school, doesn't know where to go and finds out that she will have to pay for her tuition and books.  Returning home devastated, regretting ever having gone.  Her mom thinks that she taught Elnora a hard lesson  

  "I see you've been bawling, said Mrs. Comstock.  I thought you'd get your fill in a hurry.  That's why I wouldn't go to any expense.  If we keep out of the poorhouse we have to cut the corners close."

Elnora's mother lets her know that she knew she'd have to pay for books and tuition.    Money that she protests they don't have.  Yet, Elnora's mother could have helped her, but she wont part with any of the trees or allow one oil pump to sit on her land.  On the night that Elnora was born,  her father drowned in the swamp leaving Elnora's mother in a world filled with grief  and she can't see clear of making any changes to her and Robert's land.   Since then, she hasn't  shown Elnora any affection or sympathy, instead heaped her with a ton of chores.  Your heart just breaks for Elnora.  She is such a sweet girl who has these wonderful morals.  She even gives her lunch to these kids who literally have nothing to eat.  She'd rather starve a little then pass these kids by.  It's so hard to wrap your head around why her mother treats her the way she does.  But, Elnora is a very determined  and hopes to raise enough money to pay for everything herself.  

One of the first things that I so enjoyed about A Girl of the Limberlost were all the lovely adult characters that came along to help Elnora.    Starting with next door neighbors Wesley and Margaret Sinton who are such dears.  I loved how determined they were to buy Elnora the right sort of clothes a girl should wear to school.  

"What had we better get Wesley?  Dresses, said Wesley promptly.  But how many dresses, and what kind?  Blest if I know! exclaimed Wesley.  I thought you would manage that."  

I love their enthusiasm while picking out dresses, hats, ribbons, and shoes for her and the determination they have to convince Elnora's mother to allow her to keep them or fight her if she wont.   There is also Professor Henley, who praises her math skills and helps her get second hand books, and The Bird Woman who buys moth specimens from her. They all provide her the emotional support and love that she so deserves.    In the end, it is Elnora's self reliance that is able to get her to raise all the money she needs to get her through graduation.  

Elnora is certainly a resourceful girl, who is so determined to graduate and make a better life for herself. Even when new obstacles are thrown in her way, like when her savings runs out and she needs to get college money together, she stills seems to find a way.  Elnora is also so very kind hearted and puts faith in her mother.  Like when she thinks she will buy her the needed dress to wear in Commencement and instead her mother gives her an old dress.  She sets her up to be embarrassed once again.  It just makes you so sad and ends up being a huge turning point for Elnora.  She begins to see that her and her mother as such strangers to each other.  The tipping point though is when her mother makes a terrible mistake and costs her the money she needs to pay for college and the two have a huge argument.  Elnora's mother ends up learning some hard facts about her husband and herself when Margret steps in and ultimately her mother begins to see Elnora in a new light.  I so loved the change that occurs in Elnora's mom and how she tries to set things right with Elnora.  She certainly has her flaws, but so happy that she is able to begin to show Elnora how much she cares about her.  

The last part of the story is Elnora meeting a young man from Chicago, Phillip Ammon who is engaged to Edith Carr.  There is a budding romance that occurs and Elnora eventually decides that if you love something you must set it free and if it comes back to you it was meant to be.  Well sort of, but she does force Phillip to reconcile whether he has feelings for Edith,  even though their engagement is called off.   Elnora is able to stand up for herself and has the confidence to not be intimidated by Edith.  Such a lovely person.    

Overall, this was a very sweet book and I'm pretty sure I would have loved this as a child.  To get wrapped up in the feel of the Limberlost swamp, with the lovely descriptions of nature,  Phillip watching Elnora in wonder, all the lovely food references of chicken and bottles of milk, cookies and "custard with preserved cherries on top."  Yummy! There is so much to love about this story, I could go on and on about Elnora learning how to play the violin, the hunting for moth's around the gardens and swamp, but you should read it just for a glimpse of life during the time period it was written in.  

Favorite line  (Bird Woman to Elnora)  "And remember this:  What you are lies with you.  If you are lazy, and accept your lot, you may live in it.  If you are willing to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose, among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others....Work at your books, and before long you will hear yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once classmates of yours."  


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud

24397043Published by: Disney -Hyperion September 15th 2015
Genres: Middle Grade Fantasy/Paranormal
Pages: 385
Format: Hardcover
Source:  Purchased

 I was first introduced to Jonathan Stroud's writing through his Bartimaeus Trilogy and instantly fell in love with Bartimaeus' quick wit and sarcastic humor.  So, it should be no surprise that I've been eagerly awaiting The Hollow Boy's release.  I'm also a big fan of Fall, with the changing colors of the leaves, cooler temperatures, and especially Halloween.  What better way to celebrate all of these things than my favorite writers spooky ghost story?

"As a supernatural outbreak baffles Scotland Yard and causes protests against the psychic agencies throughout London, Lockwood and Co. continue to demonstrate their effectiveness in exterminating spirits. Anthony is dashing, George insightful, and Lucy dynamic, while the skull in the jar utters sardonic advice from the sidelines. There is a new spirit of openness between the team now that Anthony has shared his childhood story, and Lucy is feeling more and more like her true home is at Portland Row. It comes as a great shock, then, when Lockwood and George introduce her to an annoyingly perky and hyper-efficient new assistant, Holly Munro. Meanwhile, there are reports of many new hauntings, including an old school where bloody handprints and a glowing boy are appearing. But ghosts seem to be the least of Lockwood and Co.'s concerns when a living assassin makes an attempt on Fittes's and Rotwell's lives. Can the team get past their interpersonal issues to save the day on all fronts? Danger abounds, tensions escalate, and new loyalties form in this third delightfully terrifying adventure."

One of the things that I've come to expect from Stroud's Lockwood & Co. series is that I will find a suspenseful, spooky atmosphere, snarky side character and an adept ghost hunting trio.  What I wasn't expecting was a story that left me with more questions than answers and an ending that makes me wish that the next book was already available for purchase.  

 Lockwood & Co. has certainly undergone some changes since we last saw them in The Whispering Skull.   Each of the cases that the trio go on keep getting scarier and more sinister.  From the bloody footprints leading up the staircase, to the attack during the parade float, to the lurker in the department store.  The action just keeps getting more and more intense. Which I love by the way.  I think Hollow Boy is veering toward the young adult, but easily could be read by someone a bit younger who is a bit more mature and enjoys ghost stories.     Lockwood has finally been opening up about his past to Lucy and George, even sharing some information about the room that is usually off limits.   Lucy seems to have found a home at Lockwood Manor and they're becoming closer friends. Sounds perfect right?  Then Lockwood has to go and hire Holly Munro to help them get organized and efficient. Ugh, as a team they worked so well together, now they're becoming unpredictable and she seems to become this wedge between Lucy and Lockwood. I wasn't really excited about the direction that I saw this going, big changes to the team, slight jealousy and all, but Holly kinda grew on me.  I think mostly because Lucy was able to see new sides to her too.  What really intrigued me though was the disembodied head in a jar (he really needs a name) and I loved how much he reminded me of Bartimaeus.   I still feel like there is so much more to know about this seriously lacking head without morals.  How did he end up in the jar?  Why does he help Lucy? And what secrets is he still hiding?   Some of these were alluded to, but I feel like we will learn more about the head in the jar in the next book.  I also think that despite learning more about how Lucy is able to connect with ghosts on an emotional level there will be so much more explained,  as well as why she can communicate with the disembodied head.    And all the things that Lucy learns about while in the thing (Chapter 23, I'm looking at you, ahh).  I want to know so much more, but alas will have to wait.  No spoilers from me.  Overall, these books just keep getting better and better.  Keep them coming! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

MG Review: Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

Published by: Shadow Mountain on September 29th 2015
Genres: Middle Grade Science Fiction/Steampunk

Pages: 370
Format: ARC paperback
Source:  ARC from Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Praise for Fires of Invention

"Fires of Invention is an amazing adventure that will grab hold of you and never let go.  With each surprising turn, the story builds a powerful story of courage, adventure, and friendship." --Jennifer A. Nielsen,  New York Times bestselling author

"With fascinating and relatable characters, amazing mysteries, and incredible amounts of conflict, Fires of Invention is well-written and chock full of action.  Kids are going to go crazy for this book!"--Peggy Eddleman, best selling author of Sky Jumpers series

My Thoughts

The first thing that captures you when picking up Fires of Invention is the cover, that dragon made up of gears, cogs, and springs, just screams steampunk.  I think Fires of Invention will certainly capture the interest of anyone who is mechanically inclined.  

Savage created a very interesting alternate world with its blend of historical details, modern technology and cool machinery.   Cove was created inside of a mountain as a means for fleeing disease, war and technology.   It's a very controlled environment where your job is planned out for you, what food and where you are going to live are all chosen to prevent chaos, or so the chancellors of the city would have you believe.  A world where inventing is a crime and will quickly land you in retraining.  It's also what makes life for Trenton very difficult within The Cove.  Trenton is very creative, intuitive, and is always questioning "what if?" He has a knack for being able to fix things or improve them in ways no one has ever thought of.  It's why I liked Trenton so much, there is a part of him that wants to do the right thing, while at the same time he can't help wanting to create and fix things. He's just hardwired that way.  Unfortunately, Trenton also never thinks about the consequences of his actions either.  So, when he tries to use his skills to impress a girl,  and is the seeming cause of an accidental shutdown in the Cove's power system, he is forced to take a job working in the Food Production level.   I really liked the Food Production level and the way that it reminded me of the Living with the Land ride at Epcot with its emphasis on science and nature and especially with those fish in these big tanks going around in circles.  

Fires of Invention also includes a mystery.  After having shut down the power, Trenton is recruited to go inside the mine and fix the belt. While there, he finds a cylinder which eventually lead him to Kallista, the daughter of the famous inventor Leo Babbage.  The man who is the reason that inventing and creativity were outlawed.  But, Kallista knows that this cylinder is her father's way of giving her a hidden message, one that she and Trenton together can piece together. Figuring out the message will be the hardest part and Kallista and Trenton will need to trust one another.  The two are very different from one another, where Trenton tries to conform with the rules of Cove, Kallista is the one who is more adventurous and daring.  She's kind of a rebel and I like that about her personality.   

There is just so much to love in Fires of Invention, with its blend of science, nature, physics, a mechanical dragon and a story that was both interesting and fun for me and my kiddo to read.   As a side note, we also had some great discussions on whether "a simple life holds the key to happiness."  Overall, a very enjoyable addition to the steampunk genre that will leave you wanting more.  


   Author Bio

J. Scott Savage is the author of the Farworld middle grade fantasy series and the Case File 13 middle grade monster series. He has been writing and publishing books for over ten years. He has visited over 400 elementary schools, dozens of writers conferences, and taught many writing classes. He has four children and lives with his wife Jennifer and their Border Collie, Pepper, in a windy valley of the Rocky Mountains.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

TTT: Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish  This week's Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR in no particular order

Middle Grade Mythology:


Historical Fiction: 


Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure



Young Adult:


Harry Potter


These are the top twelve books on my Fall TBR.  What with being on the Cybils E/MG Speculative Fiction panel it is going to be a busy month of reading, but I sure hope that I can fit them all in.  

What's on your Fall TBR?  Feel free to comment or share a link

Monday, September 21, 2015

MG Review: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Published by: Dial Books on  April 21st 2015
Genres: Middle Grade  Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source:  Library

 The minions of Castle Hangnail have been speculating about whether their new Master or Mistress will be an Evil Wizard,  A Dark Sorceress, A Loathsome Hag or even Mad Scientist?  They aren't picky, just as long as their new master can prove to the Board of Magic that they are capable of being the master by completing the four tasks set forth by the board (take possession of the castle and grounds, secure and defend it,  commit an act of smiting and three acts of blighting and win the hearts and minds of the townsfolk).  Otherwise, Castle Hangnail is at risk of being decommissioned and all the minions will have to find a new home.  Of course the minions weren't expecting twelve-year-old Molly to show up on their doorstep wanting to be their Wicked Witch.   But, being desperate they take her at her word that she is wicked enough for the job and let her begin to complete the board's tasks.  Things seems to be going well, until an Evil Sorceress shows up claiming to be the intended master of the castle.

Castle Hangnail is an adorable book, which I can easily see elementary school children enjoying.  It would certainly make for a fun read aloud with Halloween coming up, nothing scary and quite humorous. 

"Hey, you're my minion.  Aren't I supposed to be cheering you up?  Majordomo smiled.  "Sometimes you cheer up the Master, sometimes the Master cheers you up.  Sometimes the Master hooks you to a lightning rod.  It's a complicated job, minioning."  

 I really liked Molly and her band of minions.  She desperately wants to be a Wicked Witch.  Despite never having any formal training, she feels she is qualified because her twin is "good," so she must be the "wicked one."  I also loved the distinction she makes between being "wicked" and being "evil."    "Evil is bad.  Wicked is just a little bad. "   "Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare.  Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them."  Molly was defiantly not evil, she's actually pretty sweet, but don't let her hear you say that.    The secondary characters were also a very interesting mix, each with unique personalities , my favorite being Pins, a voodoo doll with a talking goldfish.  It's very endearing how they all rally together behind Molly at the end of the story.   I also enjoyed the illustrations throughout the book, especially the ones where it is a scene that happens in the dark, so that the page is also darkly illustrated.  Think Molly standing outside with the moon above on a darkly colored page.   And still Vernon keeps a comic style to the illustrations making them fun and entertaining.  Overall, a very cute, humorous story with lovely messages of friendship and standing up for oneself.    
 Castle Hangnail has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cybils Judges Announced

Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Lg (1)

The Cybils Judges in all categories were announced today.  Here's a link to all the  Cybils judges all categories .   I had such a wonderful time judging the Middle Grade Fiction category last year, so I thought why not switch things up a bit and applied for speculative fiction.  I'm thrilled to finally be able to share the exciting news that I was selected as a round 1 judge!!   Looking forward to another great Fall of reading books.  Get your nominations ready.  I've got my library card and no hold limit, so I'm ready to go :)

2015 Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Judges: 

Round 1
Melissa Fox
Book Nut
Annamaria Anderson
Books Together
Round 2
Kim Aippersbach
Dead Houseplants