Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ghosts and Steampunk

West, Jacqueline. The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere)
Nominated for the Cybils by Sandra Stiles

Olive's family moves to an old house complete with all the creepy, antique furnishings. Among these are pictures that seem to... flicker in ways that creep Olive out a bit. Then there are the talking cats that show up, and she knows that something is going on! She finds a pair of glasses that let her climb into the pictures, and the adventure begins. She finds a young boy named Morton who tells her that he was sent into a picture by a man who turns out to be the grandfather of the owner who died just before Olive's family moved in. He was an evil magician who could trap people in painting. His granddaughter, Annabelle, is in one, and when Olive releases her, the magician may come back to life through a locket that Olive has found and must now keep safe! Olive, Morton, and even the cats must work to keep this from happening.

Strengths: This was a really good haunted house/ghost story, ala Mary Downing Hahn or Betty Ren Wright. The premise was original and the details well executed. I liked Olive, and her reactions were realistic. I will definitely be buying this one!

Weaknesses: I would have been happier if this were a stand alone book. The writing started out to be annoyingly precious, but that didn't continue.

Benz, Derek and Lewis, J.S. The Brimstone Key (Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles, book 1)
Nominated for the Cybils by Shannon Messenger
The Grey Griffins (Max, Harley, Natalia and Ernie) stopped being normal kids when they got swept into the world of supernatural beings in the three book series that starts with Revenge of the Shadow King. Now they are leaving home going to a school run by the Knights Templar, Iron Bridge Academy. The students there are all a little unusual, like to dress in Victorian clothing (there's an edifying chapter on Steampunk dress code), but band together when the evil Clockwork King's plan to steal changeling children and use their energy to run his machines is uncovered. This is a dangerous task: be warned that one of the characters does die in a rather upsetting way, and the Clockwork King is still going to be back for more.
Strengths: The first series was oddly popular in my library-- I bowed to student pressure to buy it, horrible Scholastic paper-over-board bindings and all. There's a lot of action and adventure, and the characters are multicultural. This can be read without reading the first series.
Weaknesses: My middle school students do NOT get Steampunk, and this tries very hard to be Streampunk, to the point where I was distracted by all the gadgets. My students won't even read Leviathan. The characters also seemed a bit cliche. This has been displayed prominently at Barnes and Noble, so if I have students request it, I will purchase it.
These series with a whole string of names are getting to be a bit annoying. The Shadows deserved a MUCH better title, something like Painted Evil or Spectacles of Doom. Even the series title, The Books of Elsewhere, is horrible. Even The Mystery of the McMartin Mansion has a better ring to it.


  1. that first Grey Griffins series was just so disjointed and annoying that I'm not sure I am willing to give it another go... the other? hmmm... "annoyingly precious"? Maybe I'll check for it at the library :)

  2. So sorry your students won't read Leviathan. They don't know what they're missing!

  3. I so agree about the title of The Shadows. It's impossible to remember, and Books of Elsewhere isn't much better. Another book that suffered from this was Marie Rutkoski's Cabinet of Wonders: The Knoror Chronicles: Book 1. Enough already!

  4. So would it be okay for me to add Grey Griffins to my on sale now post that features a diverse cast?

    I eyed both of these books earlier in the year. Didn't get around to reading either.

  5. Me too! I had boys lining up at my desk asking for the first three Grey Griffins, and desperate for the next one to come out...but by the time this one came out, apparently nobody cares anymore. I felt their publicity, at least on their website wasn't handled well. When I was looking at it with slavering kids, it was impossible to tell when the next book was coming or whether it was going to be a sequel. I actually thought Brimstone Key was an entirely different series, or maybe a prequel, based on what I saw on the website.