Teele, Elinor. The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin.
April 12th 2016 by Walden Pond Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central
John and his sister Page are living with their great aunt Beauregarde after the death of their parents in the grimy and depressing town of Pludgett. John works for the family business, building coffins, but he has managed to keep Page in school. When Beauregarde tells the two that Page will start working for Coggin Family Coffins, the two decide to run away. Luckily, they have just met Boz, and odd man who is associated with the Wandering Wayfarers circus, and he arrives just in time to drive them away from their aunt in a horse drawn fire engine. The two find the circus amusing, and John works hard to earn acceptance by the group by working on a steam driven vehicle called the Autopsy, but he is never able to make it work, and soon he and Page are on their own again. Luckily, they manage to find Maria, who runs a bakery and takes a liking to both of them. She puts John to work, but her nephew soon arrives and realizes that money is very tight. In order to help, John tries to create a new oven, but his efforts wind up blowing up the bakery! On the run again, they join up with an archaeologist, Miss Doyle, but are soon located by their great aunt and kidnapped. With the help of Boz, as well as others he has met on his journeys, John tries to create a vehicle that will steal the show at the Pludgett Day celebration and win his freedom and that of his sister.
There are plenty of goofy moments in this book-- John is referred to as Dung Boy in the circus, since he first meets most of the performers after stepping in a horse patty, chicken poo is used for fuel for John's engines, and there are a lot of small, gross moments where boogers drop from people's noses into their soup.
While Beauregard is nothing but evil, John and Page are fortunate enough to find a variety of caring people to help them. I loved Maria and the scenes in the bakery; it was somewhat reminiscent of the scene in The Box Car Children. If I were running away from home and hungry, I would certainly look for an alley to sleep in very close to a bakery. It was especially nice that Maria came looking for the children even after they burned her business to the ground.
Like Ardagh's Eddie Dickens Trilogy, Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, or Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, The Mechanical Mind of John Coggins pits orphaned children against a variety of evil adults who think nothing of sacrificing them for an evil agenda. Using language much like Snicket's, in that the vocabulary is rather rarified and obscure, Teele draws a quirky, dangerous world full of intrigue and adventure for her hapless but resourceful characters.
This was a bit quirky and gross for me, with rather annoying language. Very much like Snicket, in that regard. If I still had a lot of readers who wanted Snicket, I'd buy this, but will pass for now. The cover isn't great, either.
Samphire, Patrick. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb
January 12th 2016 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC
This was definitely original-- Regency Mars. The characters were fine, the plot moved along well... and I can't think of a single student who would pick this up. I love anything with England in the 1800s, but my students don't.
If you have readers who enjoy Steampunk, English history, or space colonies, definitely take a look at this.
The wonderful Charlotte has a much more complete review at: