Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Battle Bugs/ Serafina and the Black Cloak


Patton, Jack. The Lizard Wars (Battle Bugs #1)
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Paperbacks
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Max loves insects of all kinds, and his bedroom is festooned with a spider clock, rubber bugs, and a couple of real walking stick insects. When his mother gets him an old copy of The Complete Encyclopedia of Arthropods, which even comes with a magnifying glass in a pocket, he's thrilled. Delving into the book, he notices a map with Lizard Island and Bug Island. When he looks more closely with the magnifying glass, he gets a tingly feeling and finds himself on Bug Island. He meets Spike, a scorpion who is going to take him back to Barton, the leader of the bugs, and Max is worried that Spike will eat him or sting him. When he helps Spike defend himself from a lizard, using his knowledge of the lizard's weakest point, Spike is impressed. Barton is, too, especially since a volcano has created a bridge between the two islands, and General Komodo and his lizard army are attacking the bugs. Max assesses the situation, and using his knowledge of the capabilities of each bug, comes up with a plan to evacuate when it's clear that the bugs can't defeat the lizards.

The world building in The Lizard War is great-- even though Max sees bugs from all over his world, they are all in one place because they are part of an army. The artifice of using the magnifying glass to travel to a different world is a good one, since it is simple, effective, and works both ways. It's especially charming that the bugs help Max figure out how to get home.

The best part of the story is how seamlessly the facts about bugs are woven into the action and described just enough. Readers who are enthralled with bugs will want to read this with a reference book by their side so they can look at pictures of the real bugs and find out if bombardier beetles really DO shoot acid out of their bottoms!

Beginning readers who like a lot of action combined with science facts will find themselves wishing for their own magical magnifying glass so that they, like Max, can ride on a scorpion and fist bump an emperor beetle.

23399250Patton, Jack. The Spider Siege (Battle Bugs #2)
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Paperbacks
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

After seeing a spider with an impressive web on a family camping trip, Max once again travels magically to Bug Island, where the lizards are once again encroaching on the bugs. General Komodo has found a pass through the mountains, and Barton needs help planning battle strategy. Things look grim, but Max realizes that the Golden Orb Weaver spiders can use their webs to block off the pass and by the bugs some time. He also has the shy Trap Door Spider, Webster, dig burrows under the bug encampment just in case. While the lizards are held off for a bit, they eventually break through, but are ambushed brilliantly by the bombardier beetles and are sent on their way. Termites are then used to close off the path, but what will happen when the lizards find another way to attack the bugs?

While this is a good adventure series for younger readers, this volume did have a couple of disturbing acts of bug violence-- a scorpion stinger is driven into a lizard's open mouth, fire ants sting the lizards and leave them moaning in pain, and Barton grabs General Komodo's tongue with his pincers! Readers who are sensitive to this sort of graphic violence, even if it is concerning bugs, might want to pass.

The battle strategy involving the bugs is really brilliant. While the spiders are using extra strength webbing, the lizards are using the spiky headed variety of their kind to rip through it. For me, the lizards almost win this battle with their ingenuity-- they have tree snakes and chameleons serving as spies, and ably counter every defense that Max comes up with.

The inclusion of Webster, the shy Trap Door Spider, was interesting, and Spike and Barton are certainly distinct personalities.

This series definitely lends itself to some imaginative play, and I can see young bug enthusiasts planning their battle strategies with an entomological guide by their side. If they have a magnifying glass, they'll have to be careful with it or the lizards will be the least of their "army's" worries!

23507745Beatty, Robert. Serafina and the Black Cloak.
July 14th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Netgalley

Serafina's father works with the machines on the sprawling Biltmore estate. The two have always lived in a corner of the basement, and while Serafina wanders out at night to kill rats and occasionally pick up a book to read, she is never to be seen my anyone on the estate. She doesn't even have proper clothing-- she wears an old shirt of her father's lest anyone ask questions should her father buy clothes in town for her. When Serafina sees a man in a black cloak make a girl in a yellow dress disappear in the middle of the night, she is scared, and when it turns out that other children are missing as well, she knows that she needs to do something. Luckily, she makes the acquaintance of Braeden Vanderbilt and his dog, and he listens to her improbable story and tries to help her. The two have a few leads, and pursue them even though they are putting themselves in danger. There is a great evil at work, and when they find the man they think is responsible, even bigger mysterires are revealed. Can Braeden and Serafina put an end to the disappearances, and will Serafina's secret existence get her and the young Vanderbilt into even more trouble?
Strengths: This had some very gory scenes as well as some scary ones. Early on, there are some fairly graphic descriptions of Serafina killing rats, and the man in the black cloak likes to frequent an old and very creepy graveyard. The Biltmore estate setting is an interesting historical one as well. Braeden is a lovely character who was very fully developed, and I liked his interactions with Serafina.
Weaknesses: There was a LOT going on in this book, but I don't want to spoil the various twists. This contributed to the books lack of focus. Going from horror scenes to more pleasant, historically oriented ones was a bit jarring, especially since students who read horror usually don't like historical descriptions and vice versa.
What I really think: Well-written and intriguing, but may struggle to find an audience.


  1. I read the first Battle Bugs book to my five year old daughter. She liked it, but we couldn't read it at night, in case it gave her bad dreams. I was going to review after we read the second one, but we got a chapter or two in and she got tired of it... I agree that the world-building is very well done.

  2. The Biltmore Estate is only about 120 miles nw of Charlotte. A beautiful and enormous place but an odd one for a book like this. And why did the family live in a corner of the basement. There's no evidence that I know of that the Vanderbilts mistreated their workers.

  3. Iron Guy Carl: Regarding your question about Serafina and the Black Cloak: Why Serafina and her pa hide out in the basement of Biltmore Estate, and why her pa has warned her to never allow herself to be seen by the fancy folk above, is an important part of the mystery of the story. As you read it, these mysteries are revealed. (It's not that the Vanderbilts mistreated their workers. You are right that they did not.) When you read the story you'll see why Serafina is the way she is and why her pa wants her to hide herself. I invite you give the story a try. —Robert