Tag: middle grade

Apr 18

The Pumpkin War Review

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

The Pumpkin War ReviewThe Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young
Published by Wendy Lamb Books on May 21, 2019
Genres: Children's Lit, Middle Grade
Pages: 192
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Goodreadsfive-stars

"Cathleen Young's characters will forever have a place in my heart." --Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s

Former best friends compete to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin and win the annual giant pumpkin race on the lake. A great pick for fans of Half a Chance and Gertie's Leap to Greatness.

At the end of every summer, Madeline Island hosts its famous pumpkin race. All summer, adults and kids across the island grow giant, 1000-pound pumpkins, then hollow one out, and paddle in it across the lake to the cheers of the entire town.

Twelve-year-old Billie loves to win; she has a bulletin board overflowing with first prize ribbons. Her best friend Sam doesn't care much about winning, or at least Billie didn't think so until last summer's race, when his pumpkin crashed into hers as she was about to cross the finish line, and he won. This summer, Billie is determined to get revenge by growing the best and biggest pumpkin, and beat Sam in the race. It's a tricky science to grow pumpkins, since weather, bugs and other critters can wipe out a crop. Then a surprise visit from a long lost relative shakes things up, and Billie begins to see her family, and her bond with Sam, in a new way.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Pumpkin War (due out on May 21, 2019) is a story of friendship and family, of getting back to the earth and enjoying the small things in life – and all this in a beautiful setting, with writing that seems just perfect for a middle grade audience! I was quite impressed. Usually books that try to take on this scope of feelings and events end up falling flat in one way or another, but this one is just right. I feel like Goldilocks, dancing around with glee after finding the three bears’ house and baby bear’s “just-right” porridge.

Billie is 12 years old, the oldest of three siblings. Their dad is Irish and their mom is Ojibwe, and they live on a Canadian island. Billie is fiercely competitive in all ways, and ESPECIALLY when it comes to growing monster pumpkins! She has been in an almost year-long standoff with the boy who used to be her best friend, since she is convinced he knocked her out of last year’s pumpkin race on purpose.

I loved the depiction of rural life in Canada. Billie not only takes care of her pumpkins, but also bees. Bees! Also there is more about fishing, and gardening, and the traditions of the Ojibwe. It was just so…homey. Down to earth. I loved it, and I think middle-school-me would have loved it as well. Also, adult-me loved her parents! Their differences in background were lightly touched on, and Billie obviously embraces both sides of her heritage. She even finds out about some “family secrets” part way through the book (nothing adult level), and has a part in reconciling her dad with his past. Also, Billlie’s youngest sibling is born near the beginning of the book and the struggles of adding a new baby to family life are also portrayed – Billie’s mom and dad aren’t perfect, and I totally sympathized with them.

Billie struggles all summer long to come to terms with what happened with Sam in the last race. Despite his efforts, she’s not quite willing to forgive him. Will she let a mistake ruin their friendship? Is being first more important? I thoroughly enjoyed the way this played out, and also the fact that the author didn’t make her competitive nature a bad thing (as happens so often when it is a girl character being competitive).

5/5 stars. This book will be going on my shelf!

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five-stars

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Apr 16

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★

Thomas Wildus and the Book of SorrowsThomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows by J.M. Bergen
Published by Elandrian Press on February 2, 2019
Pages: 352
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Goodreadsfour-stars

Thomas thinks he's an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows feels like the start of something big. While there’s not a TRUE cliffhanger ending, there is so much unfinished business – I was happy to see this is supposed to be the first of five books!

Thomas is an ordinary kid, obsessed with comic books and having doodle wars with his best friend, Enrique. His dad disappeared years ago and his mom is an insanely busy professor, but he’s mostly pretty happy and knows he has a good life. Then weird things start to happen, weird things involving a book with a changing cover, and strange people appearing and seeming to stalk him. So yes…this book falls into the “chosen one” trope…but tropes only become tropes because people love them. We all just have our favorites. 😉

The first half of the book was setup. Which was…slightly off-putting. I was convinced this was going to be a 3 star read until I was over halfway through, but the last parts of the story bumped it up to a solid 4 stars! The writing during the first half is at times kind of clunky and awkward, not unlike the middle school audience the book is aimed at but hopefully not enough to put them off.

THEN, the action starts. And I was intrigued by the puzzles and the magic and the intrigue. It was really cool and I just kept finding more things to be curious about. This is also where all those loose ends start to appear, which obviously are leading into a huge epic adventure for the series. Thomas is kind of pulled in two directions here, as he’s uncertain who to trust – and who wouldn’t be, with all the things he thought he knew about himself and the world in general, suddenly appearing to be lies – and wants to both be loyal to his family and friends, and save the world. *wink wink* He’s an incredibly likable character, as (so far) he has stayed humble and true to himself even with the discovery of his special abilities.

The bad guy, who stays in the background for most of the book, appears only in about the last quarter. And then,  what do you know! Is he REALLY a bad guy? Oh boy. Who is Thomas supposed to believe? I love that this presents a somewhat (only somewhat) morally gray appearing character in a story for this age group.

Obviously, there is a lot more to come in this story, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel, Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria. Also, I’m totally on board with the galaxy-ish looking covers for these books.

 

Many thanks to Book Publicity Services for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

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four-stars

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Mar 28

Last of the Name Review

Book Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Last of the Name ReviewLast of the Name by Rosanne Parry
Published by Carolrhoda Books (R) on April 2, 2019
Genres: Historical, Middle Grade
Pages: 344
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Goodreadsfive-stars

Twelve-year-old Danny O'Carolan and his sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City in 1863. Kathleen refuses to be parted from her only remaining relative, so she finds a job in domestic service for herself and her younger...sister. Danny reluctantly pretends to be a girl to avoid being sent to the children's workhouse or recruited as a drummer boy for the Union army. When he occasionally sneaks off to spend a few hours as a boy and share his rich talent for Irish dancing, he discovers the vast variety of New York's neighborhoods. But the Civil War draft is stoking tensions between the Irish and free black populations. With dangers escalating, how can Danny find a safe place to call home?

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“Always remember who ye are,” Granny says. “Descended of the great bards of old. Honord by princes near and far they were. Sought out for music and for counsel. Keepers of history. Writers of songs.”

I was excited to read Last of the Name, being of partial descent from Irish immigrants myself. It’s not a topic I’ve often seen covered for this age group, and I was thrilled to see it done so well.

Last of the Name is a middle-grade book about the arrival of Irish immigrants to the United States during the time of the Civil War. 12-year-old Danny has lost everyone dear to him except for his sister Kathleen, either to war, famine (by hunger or in attempts to steal enough food for their family to survive), or the crossing to America. He rebels at dressing as a girl to be a maid alongside Kathleen, but since it seems their only hope of staying together and surviving in the bitter, angry stew that was New York City in 1863, he goes along with his sister’s plan.

Kathleen is the sort of believer who believes more the less evidence there is. She could be on her knees for days on end. I’m going to die of hunger while she prays to save me from a bountiful future…If only there was a patron saint of those afflicted by tyrannical sisters there’d be hope for me.

Despite his complaining, it’s clear Danny dearly loves his sister and will do anything for her. As the city grows more and more hateful, both towards free blacks and the Irish (coming to steal jobs, naturally), it becomes almost as dangerous for them as it was at home – except here, people appreciate Danny’s voice and his dancing feet, which maybe – just maybe – might be the key to their survival in New York City. But when the draft is initiated and the Irish immigrants of the city bear the brunt of it (so much for random!), the whole city looks to go up in flames.

I’m not going to lie, I teared up several times reading this story – and I’m not even sure why! It just felt so poignantly REAL. Danny was adorable and I loved Kathleen’s fire and backbone.

“You Irish,” says another [man], just as stern. “It’s your own out there doing the lynching and the burning. What do you have to fear from your own?”

“You fat old men!” Kathleen shrieks. “What do you know of fear, you with your broad shoulders and your full plates! We have to fear what every woman fears her whole life long. Ye heartless men! When have you ever been small or hungry? Would you send a German child out on the streets this night? Aren’t we Catholic like you? Don’t we sit side by side in church?”

As is historically accurate, Danny and Kathleen’s Catholic faith does play a part in the story – but never in a proselytizing way. The story really shows how much conflict was in the United States at this time, not only around color, but around religion, politics, even denominations. It’s rather disheartening to see that we’ve never really moved on, the names of the different factions have just changed. Despite all that, the story is one of beauty and hope and I’ll be adding it to my own library.

5/5 stars. Highly recommend, and it REALLY needs much more attention than it’s getting!

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five-stars

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Feb 07

Review of Cogheart

Book Reviews 0 ★★★

Review of CogheartCogheart by Peter Bunzl
on September 1, 2016
Genres: Middle Grade
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Goodreadsthree-stars

Some secrets change the world in a heartbeat. . . .

Lily’s life is in mortal peril. Her father is missing and now silver-eyed men stalk her through the shadows. What could they want from her?

With her friends—Robert, the clockmaker’s son, and Malkin, her mechanical fox—Lily is plunged into a murky and menacing world. Too soon Lily realizes that those she holds dear may be the very ones to break her heart. . . .

Murder, mayhem and mystery meet in this gripping Victorian adventure.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cogheart is a tale with many moving pieces, not unlike the steam-punk mechanicals that Lily’s father builds. Unfortunately I think it’s a bit flat, as I never felt very attached to the characters. Also, for a middle grade novel, there is an awful lot of proverbializing and “lessons learned” sort of speeches, which I found annoying and am sure many of the target audience would as well. It also has a bit of a dark feel in some places, not unlike the Series of Unfortunate Events series – only these dark events don’t seem to have much effect on the characters except as plot devices.

Despite these flaws, I did finish the book and found the mech aspect interesting. I just have doubts about the book’s ability to hold the attention of a middle grade reader due to the issues I’ve mentioned.

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three-stars

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Feb 05

A Monster Like Me

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★

A Monster Like MeA Monster Like Me by Wendy Swore
Published by Shadow Mountain on March 5, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Modern
Pages: 304
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Goodreadsfour-stars

Being the new kid at school is hard, but Sophie has a secret weapon: her vivid imagination and her oversized, trusted Big Book of Monsters--an encyclopedia of myths and legends from all over the world. The pictures and descriptions of the creatures in her book help her know which kids to watch out for--clearly the bullies are trolls and goblins--as well as how to avoid them. Though not everyone is hiding a monster inside; the nice next-door neighbor is probably a good witch, and Sophie's new best friend is obviously a good fairy.

Sophie is convinced she is a monster because of the "monster mark" on her face. At least that's what she calls it. The doctors call it a blood tumor, and it covers almost half of her face. Sophie can feel it pulsing with every beat of her heart. And if she's a monster on the outside, then she must be a monster on the inside, too. She knows that it's only a matter of time before the other kids, the doctors, and even her mom figure it out.

The Big Book of Monsters gives Sophie the idea that there might be a cure for her monster mark, but in order to make the magic work, she'll need to create a special necklace made from ordinary items--a feather, a shell, and a crystal--that Sophie believes are talismans. Once she's collected all the needed ingredients, she'll only have one chance to make a very special wish. If Sophie can't break the curse and become human again, her mom is probably going to leave--just like Dad did. Because who would want to live with a real monster?

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sophie thinks she’s a monster. She thinks a lot of people around her are monsters too, and she carries her Big Book of Monsters around almost everywhere she goes so that she can identify them and protect herself and her mom from them. The big birthmark – a hermangioma – that covers one side of her face makes kids and even adults stare and even make fun of her, and as a result she has severe social anxiety. Her world of monsters helps everything make sense. Until things start to change, and the bullying gets worse, and her monsters might just make her lose the only friend she’s ever had.

This was a fantastic book! Sophie is 11 years old, and the writing will appeal to kids that age and even a little older. The idea of Sophie so fully believing in the idea of people being monsters, will be a little more hard to go along with, but the book has a cast of loving, supportive adults that – while not hogging the page time – make it clear that Sophie’s way of dealing with the issues caused by her birthmark is not the healthiest way.

Autumn, a sweetheart of a girl at Sophie’s new school, is such a vivacious, loving friend to Sophie that she unwittingly opens an entire new world to her shy friend. Autumn’s grandmother, a gardener and herbalist, is another new friend that slowly draws Sophie out of her shell with gentleness and acceptance.

I really liked that Sophie’s mom was such a positive character. Even though she was far from perfect, she loved Sophie with all her heart and really, truly wanted the absolute best for her. In so many MG and YA books the parents are negative influences and I was happy to see a strong mother/daughter relationship.

4/5 stars. Strongly recommend for any kid and any library! Also worth noting: the author herself had a hermangioma as a child, and some of the incidents in the book came from her experiences.

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four-stars

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Nov 20

Review of The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review of The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1) by Mari Mancusi
Published by Disney Hyperion on November 20, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Modern
Pages: 346
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreadsfour-stars

Young King Arthur accidentally time travels to the 21st century and googles himself, discovering the not-so-happily ever after in store for him once he pulls the sword from the stone. He decides he'd much rather stay here--and join the football team instead.Now modern day gamer geeks Sophie and Stu, with the help of Merlin, find themselves in a race against time to pull a Camelot-size caper--get that sword pulled from the stone and the stubborn once and future king back to the past where he belongs. While Arthur takes on the role of wide-receiver in an attempt to save the football team from a losing season, Sophie and Stu sword-fight, joust, and horseback ride their way through Camelot as they fight to save the timeline. If they fail, the world as they know it (not to mention the existence of pepperoni pizza!) will cease to exist forever.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Once and Future Geek is a fun, fast frolic through time and space as the young protagonists try to keep history’s course steady. While the target audience is middle grade, and the writing and plot make that clear, even as an adult I enjoyed the story – especially since I’ve been a gamer (in another time, when I *had* many free hours in a day) and so many of the phrases and occurences in the story had me laughing and nodding because yes, that is indeed what happens when you play an MMO.

“I’d rather my heart be broken a thousand times than spend one day without her,” Arthur declared valiantly. Merlin groaned. “I seriously don’t know why I bother,” he muttered under his breath.

This is NOT your high fantasy King Arthur story. Don’t go looking for that, and you’ll probably be just as happy with it as I was. I love the banter between the various characters. I did think it was a little odd that the kids were just totally okay with Merlin lying to them at the very beginning…has no one ever told them creepy old men stalk kids online?!? But anyway…the story itself was entertaining, if a bit lacking on historical detail and high in artistic license. I sort of got a Percy Jackson meets Ready Player One vibe. All the family relationships and time switcheroos got a little confusing part way through the book, but then I got so interested in what was going on with Sophie’s parents that I didn’t care.

4/5 stars, minus a star due to some odd wordiness and events that I felt were a little too eye-rolling worthy even for the target audience. Also at the end the author clearly sounded like an adult trying to speak to children, or trying to sound LIKE a child, which irritates me to no end and I’m sure would be off-putting for a kid. Otherwise a really solid read and one I would love to add to my shelf! A refreshingly positive, upbeat take on the King Arthur legends.

I loved Sophie and Stu – their friendship, their geekiness, and their acceptance of each other and other people. Sophie’s attitude was awesome, and given that ending I really hope the series gets continued now that this reprint is out!

She was going to knock some sense into this little once and future twerp’s head if it was the last thing she did.

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four-stars

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Mar 18

Forget Me Not Review

Book Reviews 4 ★★★★★

Forget Me Not ReviewForget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Published by Feiwel & Friends on March 14th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Modern
Pages: 336
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreadsfive-stars

A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.
Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can't control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she's different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?
As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother's new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she's starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

I ran across this book by reading Mishma’s author interview over on her blog, Chasing Faerytales. It’s amazing, PLEASE GO READ. I’ve been participating in the Diverse Reads 2017 challenge, hosted by Mishma and Shelley, and while I had already chosen my March book (still waiting on it to arrive), after I read the preview of this one on Amazon I simply HAD to read it. And oh, look at that! It’s also a 2017 debut novel, so I FINALLY get to add one to that challenge as well!

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Ancient Greeks called the planets

      planetoi

because it means “wanderers,”
and because planets don’t stay

in
one
fixed
place

they’re constantly moving,
wandering between the stars,

like me.

Calliope June has Tourette’s Syndrome. She also has either an extremely heartbroken or extremely immature mother, I can’t decide which. I waffled between feeling sorry for her mom, or being absolutely furious with her. Regardless, Cassie has lived in 10 different places in the past 9 years. Every time her mom breaks up with a guy, they move. With no warning. While Callie recognizes that her mom loves her, she also slowly comes to see that she is also wrong in some of the ways she “shows” her love. I was really happy when, towards the end, Cassie found the inner strength to confront her mother about some of those things.

Callie’s tics cause her a lot of embarrassment. She tries so hard to control them, but that only seems to make them worse. Her consciousness of them and yet the constant betrayal by her body were very eye-opening. I’ve never known anyone with TS and my only real media exposure is the bartender in The Boondocks Saints. It’s sad that there isn’t more education on this condition and that so much fun is made of it. The kids at Callie’s school never thought twice, and even her own mother is embarrassed by it. HER MOTHER! Callie is embarrassed enough, she certainly doesn’t need anyone telling her to try to stop, or hide her tics. Despite all that, she is such a huge-hearted person and continues to pick herself up and continue on. Sure, she has emotional moments – but we all do, and most of us don’t struggle with a health condition that has our own body backfiring on us every second of every day.

I loved the verse in this book – and I am so, SO far from being a poetry person. In fact, when I first saw that this book was written in verse I nearly didn’t look any further because of that. But I was intrigued by the concept, and I’ve never read anything that had a character with TS, so I read the excerpt on Amazon and I had to have the rest of the book RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Turns out that there are two points of view in the story: Callie’s, the verse, and Jinsong’s, the prose. It works beautifully. The verse feels like a stream-of-consciousness narration.

The characters took me back to middle school. Callie and Jinsong are so very real. Jinsong made me angry for awhile, because even though he likes Callie at first he feels too embarrassed by her to stand up for her. It was really sickening…but he grows. He finds his backbone, and his heart, and it’s just the most adorable thing ever.

My heart broke for Callie the entire way through the book. The amount of resilience and tenacity she shows is incredible. Even when the very person who should help her and care for her the most barely gives her the time of day. Also, kids are so, so MEAN. I loved that as embarrassed and hurt as she would sometimes be though, Callie still found it in her to fight back.

“They all have friendship lockets.
Every girl at Black Ridge has one,
except you.”

I glance at Beatriz’s neck.
“And you.”

BURN, baby, burn.

This was a phenomenal book. I really felt like the author put us right into Callie’s shoes. The writing was flawless – not once did I feel jolted out of the story by any sort of author intervention, and the ending…well. My heart broke into a thousand pieces. But it’s worth it! It fits. And there is hope, because Callie is not the sort of person to let her condition or her mother stop her.

There are a lot of quotes from the book that I would love to share. I bookmarked SO many. But I really think this is one you need to go read for yourself. So please, go buy a copy or request your library to buy one!

forget me not review
five-stars

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Mar 14

Review of The Graveyard Book

Book Reviews 6 ★★★★

Review of The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
on September 30, 2008
Genres: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Pages: 312
Goodreadsfour-stars

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family...
Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

Another one for my Newbery Award Reading Challenge! Somehow, I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman. The closest I had come until last week was seeing the movie Stardust. Which was…different. This is what sticks out most in my memory from that movie because for whatever reason it struck me as absolutely freaking hilarious:

Ahem. Yes, I might have the sense of humor of a 12 year old, at times. ANYWAY. This was my first foray into Gaiman’s works, and it definitely won’t be the last. I thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade novel, and hope that his adult books are just as entertaining if not more so. So without further ado, I present my review of The Graveyard Book!

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There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Well, if that’s not a hair-raising beginning I don’t know what is! The first chapter was very creepy and just odd enough to make me suspect that something more than just a mass murder was afoot. Thankfully for the target age range, this chapter is by far the most creepy and the rest of the book is mostly adventures and Bod (the MC) growing up.

How you interpret or read this book is going to be greatly effected by how familiar you are with its inspiration, which was Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The resemblance is clear but the characters and setting are SO different and I love the way Gaiman wove in supernatural legends to the basic story of a child raised by ghosts. While all the events of Bod’s growing up years are connected, many of the chapters read like individual short stories, especially when there are jumps in time as Bod grows older.

Silas, Bod’s guardian, is a character that puzzled me right up until the very end. “Not dead but not alive” is the description given of him, along with a few other things that REALLY should have clued me in but for whatever reason I was oblivious. Even though he is Bod’s ultimate authority, Bod is mostly raised by the benevolent ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Owens, along with many other helpful specters. As it is stated in the beginning, when the ghosts decide to allow Bod the protection of their borders, “It will take a graveyard,” to raise the lost boy properly.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bod’s journey. As he moves through very young childhood towards his teen years, he meets many creatures from outside the world of the living. He talks to people centuries old. He learns things. Gradually, he comes to realize that while the graveyard has offered him protection and care in the best way its residents know how, he will have to leave in order to learn about the current world outside. Leaving though, is full of peril, because the evil that killed his parents and older sister, still seeks after him. Bod however, is not a shrinking violet.

“Well,” said Bod. “If I go outside in the world, the question isn’t, ‘who will keep me safe from him?'”

“No?”

“No. It’s ‘who will keep him safe from me?'”

A confrontation looms closer and closer, and at last Bod has his chance to avenge his family and reclaim his own life. This is the one part of the story that I really felt unsatisfactory. Though in the end, the reason for the murder of Bod’s family and the attempted murder of Bod is somewhat explained, it’s really a very murky, insubstantial reason that left me squinting at the book and thinking, “That’s it?” The ending is rather bittersweet too, as Bod realizes that, with the world safe for him at last…he must go out to seek his own fortune.

Overall, this was an entertaining coming-of-age story, with a unique twist. Bod is a very plucky little guy, and his spirit made me smile all the way through.

Bod said, “I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,” he said, and then he paused and he thought. “I want everything.”

“Good,” said Silas.

 

four-stars

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Feb 18

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4

Book Reviews 0 ★★★

review of a series of unfortunate events

I missed the boat on these books growing up. Actually, I think they were published just a little bit behind when I would have been of the age to most appreciate them (yes, I’m old…shhhh). Of course I had heard of them, but when I saw all the hype about the Netflix show I decided to pick them up and of course I had to write a review! My plan is to read all 13 books and review them in 3 posts.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events
Series Overview
:

This series is entertaining just for the narrative voice, if nothing else. Mr. Snicker (as narrator), is so dry and ridiculous that while yes, the books appeal to children, the tone is undeniably entertaining for adults. Are they great literature? No, I really don’t think so. Will they be remembered in 50 years? Yes, I think so, because they are so different from the vast majority of middle grade (MG) books.

The first 4 books (all I’ve read of the series, at this point) are all very similar. Set in an indeterminate time after the invention of the car and the telephone but before television and cell phones (I’m leaning towards the 1930s but not sure), the Baudelaire siblings, as we are told “lead lives filled with misery and woe” even though “they are charming and clever.” The actual location varies a bit, but adults are generally stupid and careless or cruel and cunning. The siblings stick together even as various horrible people try to hurt them or steal their fortune (or both). As their parents die in a catastrophic accident at the beginning of the first book (hence the title), the siblings have an enormous fortune, no near relatives, and no intelligent adult to help them or protect them. They fall easy prey to fortune-hunters…a theme that is repeated in all four of the first books. They go through a series of “guardians,” each seeming more horrible than the last, but at the end of the 4th book it looks like something might be changing as far as their living situation goes. To be honest, that is the main reason I’m going to continue on with the series, just because they were all so very similar.

The narrative voice in this series is as previously mentioned, very distinct. It breaks all the rules. It interjects into the story – sometimes with 3rd person omniscience, sometimes with random definitions of words. Like this:

This is one reason many lawyers make heaps of money. the money is an incentive – the word “incentive” here means “an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do” – to read long, dull, and difficult books. The Baudelaire children had a slightly different incentive for reading these books, of course.

I think in this way, the author manages to use some words that middle grade readers wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with. It works, surprisingly – though as an adult reader I found it a bit annoying. The narrative voice is also the constant voice of doom and gloom, though with such wryness I found myself chuckling.

The series is not a realistic fiction series. I read several negative reviews that obviously took it as such, and I think that’s missing the entire point. The appeal of these books is that they use gross exaggeration to make points and to be funny. The characters are not supposed to be people you would meet on the street. They are grotesque exaggerations of people. Yes, we can all see elements of our crazy ex-boss in Count Olaf or Mr. Poe. But no one in the real world is that overtly-obtuse or evil. There are also made up creatures in these books – a dead giveaway that while they are set in a familiar world for readers, they are not in fact events that could actually happen.

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Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on September 30th 1999
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 176
Goodreadsthree-stars

Dear Reader,
I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning as a title does not exaggerate. These poor kids, let me tell you. It starts off with introducing us to the Baudelaire siblings – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – just as they’ve lost their parents. Their solicitor, Mr. Poe, is a well-meaning but incredibly thick man who has no idea how to care for children and truly seems unable to see past the end of his constantly dripping nose. The siblings go to live with the evil Count Olaf, who is somehow VERY distantly related to them (how is it their parents have SUCH weird distant relatives and no near ones?) and cares nothing for them except how to get his hands on their money, as their deceased parents were quite wealthy. They move into his horrid house, where there are treated as little better than slaves. There is some comic relief, and also a consistent ray of sunshine in the form of Count Olaf’s neighbor (who, despite being well-meaning, is just as dense as every other “good” adult in this book).

The siblings are far from being normal children. They are all extremely gifted in some form, even Sunny – who is still a baby but is able to both communicate and act on a much older level. Violet is an inventor, and Klaus is a devourer of books and therefore just a general compendium of knowledge. Are they believable? Hardly. But neither are the adults.

The dark, twisted tone of this book really surprised me. This is for children!?! There are elements of abuse of the Baudelaire kids on all kinds of levels, twisting of the law in the worst possible way…and yet, the siblings refuse to be put down and refuse to give up. They stick together and eventually overcome the evil…but the evil is still lurking…and Mr. Poe is just as dense as ever.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on September 30th 1999
Pages: 192
Goodreadsthree-stars

Dear Reader,
If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I'm afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don't be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.
In fact, within the pages you now hold in your hands, the three siblings endure a car accident, a terrible odor, a deadly serpent, a long knife, a large brass reading lamp, and the appearance of a person they'd hoped never to see again.
I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

The Reptile Room starts off (after the necessary doom-and-gloom letter from the narrator, of course) on a much better note for the Baudelaires. At last it seems they may be going to live with someone who genuinely cares for them and has their best interests at heart. BUT WAIT. Let’s not get too carried away. This is, after all, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and indeed they do seem to be the MOST unfortunate of children.

Soon after they arrive at their new home – another relative, this one a eccentric but lovable scientist, disaster strikes and they find themselves being hunted by the horrible Count Olaf once more. Only of course, since they are children and have been greatly traumatized, no one believes them. Because why would you? 😛 Naturally, things go from bad to worse and the children find themselves in a desperate fight to avoid being kidnapped right under the nose of the law. Sunny, the little rascal, plays a very important part in this one – eliciting a few eyerolls as somehow she manages to have the mental compact of about a 7-year-old in the body of a 15-month-old, but you know. Realism isn’t the point here. 😉 In the end, they narrowly avoid Count Olaf once more.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #3) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on February 25th 2000
Pages: 214
Goodreadsthree-half-stars

Dear Reader,
If you have not read anything about the Baudelaire orphans, then before you read even one more sentence, you should know this: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are kindhearted and quick-witted; but their lives, I am sorry to say, are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched, and this one may be the worst of them all. If you haven't got the stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signalling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will probably fill you with despair. I will continue to record these tragic tales, for that is what I do. You, however, should decide for yourself whether you can possibly endure this miserable story.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

The Wide Window takes place far and away from the first two books, in a reclusive town and even more reclusive house with, you guessed it, yet another unstable distant relative as guardian for the Baudelaire children. This time their guardian, Aunt Josephine, isn’t even actually related to them, but is their “second cousin’s sister-in-law.” Who just happens to be terrified of everything. The dock. The lake. The oven. She never eats anything hot for fear of getting burned by either the oven or the food. However! She has an intense passion for grammar.

“Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?”

Being something of a grammar freak myself, I found her constant corrections and horror at bad grammar to be quite entertaining and that in itself is the reason this book received a slightly higher rating than books 1 and 2. It really was hysterical at times, and plays an interesting part in the story.

Of course this wouldn’t be an A Series of Unfortunate Events book without, well, you know. Horrible bad luck. Of course these kids can’t catch a break and when a “Captain Sham” (hahaha ok, Lemony Snicket, you must have had such fun naming characters) shows up with an unhealthy interest in the children and all kinds of sweet words for Aunt Josephine, the terror begins. Once again (I since a recurring plot) the kids are forced to fend for themselves due to the incompetence of their adult guardians, and once again after a great deal of running around and close calls and horrible things happening to certain people, they manage to escape.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #4) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on April 15th 2000
Pages: 194
Goodreadsthree-stars

Dear Reader,
I hope, for your sake, that you have not chosen to read this book because you are in the mood for a pleasant experience. If this is the case, I advise you to put this book down instantaneously, because of all the books describing the unhappy lives of the Baudelaire orphans, The Miserable Mill might be the unhappiest yet. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumber mill, and they find disaster and misfortune lurking behind every log.
The pages of this book, I'm sorry to inform you, contain such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons.
I have promised to write down the entire history of these three poor children, but you haven't, so if you prefer stories that are more heartwarming, please feel free to make another selection.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Whoo-boy, here we go – The Miserable Mill picks up where The Wide Window left off, with the Baudelaires going off to yet ANOTHER guardian, this one the most mysterious and incomprehensible yet. Things are getting extremely repetitive at this point, so much so that I was tempted to not read this one. But the books are so easy to get through and so FAST to get through that I persevered.

This book gives a new spin to the Baudelaires mistreatment – they actually ARE slaves in this one, for the most part! Thrown into a sweatshop/poorhouse type sawmill, they are used and abused and try to hold each other together. Hope seems to be slipping away from them as they are too exhausted to do anything at the end of the day. But then Klaus breaks his glasses and has to go see the “optometrist.” And all is not as it seems…because nothing ever is, for these kids. Of course no one believes them when they say they are being stalked. Of course no one sees anything wrong with 3 children working in a sawmill – actually, someone does, but has no guts to do anything about it, typical of the “good” adults in these stories. In the end, they of course barely escape per the usual. However, this time, the ending doesn’t have them going off to another relative, it has them going somewhere else entirely, so maybe the next book will have a change in plot. I very much hope so because I really think even most children would be bored with these by now.

three-stars

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Jan 21

Mini Review of Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Book Reviews 0 ★★★

Mini Review of Silver on the Tree by Susan CooperSilver on the Tree (The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book Five) by Susan Cooper
Published by Listening Library on February 26th 2002
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Goodreadsthree-stars

The final volume of Susan Cooper's brilliant and absorbing fantasy sequence known as The Dark Is Rising.
The Dark is rising in its last and greatest bid to control the world. And Will Stanton--last-born of the immortal Old Ones, dedicated to keeping the world free--must join forces with his ageless master Merriman and Bran, the Welsh boy whose destiny ties him to the Light. Drawn in with them are the three Drew children, who are mortal, but have their own vital part in the story. These six fight fear and death in the darkly brooding Welsh hills, in a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the British Isles and that brings Susan Cooper's masterful sequence of novels to a satisfying close.

Notes on the audio version:

Alex Jennings narrates the last of this 5 book series, and I was very glad to have him back as a narrator! I’m not sure why they switched on book 4, and while that narrator was fine, I like continuity. That said, the audio QUALITY on this version was ATROCIOUS. It’s been digitized from cassette tape, I’m almost positive, and it was absolutely horrible. As soon as I started it I knew I was going to struggle through it because it just sounded old and a bit crackly. Ugh.

The book – short review:

I’ve read this entire series by audiobook, and while I enjoyed it, I really think I need to go back and read them as books. Sometimes I would have gaps of days in between my listening within a book, and gaps of weeks or even months between the books themselves, so I got a little confused. The whole series seems a bit un-explained, to me, and I’m really kind of perplexed that I couldn’t get as into it as so many other people. I didn’t like the way the point of view jumped back and forth between the Drew kids and Will, I didn’t like the way the “magic” was never fully explained (at least not to my satisfaction), and I didn’t like the characters themselves much! I was especially affronted by how the female characters are either air headed (Jane) or magical. Why is this series considered to be so brilliant? I really feel like I’m missing something.

Despite that, I stuck it out for the entire series and was fascinated by the setting of Wales and England. I think that, given how short the books are, I will go back and re-read them at some point. I think maybe all my gaps in reading effected my comprehension of the plot. I really don’t think anything can rescue the characters though.

Challenges:

This one counts into my Audiobook Challenge 2017, my 75 in 2017 GoodReads challenge, and my Beat the Backlist Challenge! 😀

three-stars

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