Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Tiara on the Terrace

25362217Kittscher, Kristen. The Tiara on the Terrace
January 5th 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Sophie and Grace are minor celebrities in their California town of Luna Vista after they solved the crime of The Wig in the Window. This time, one of the organizers of the Sun Festival is found dead, the most likely cause being a blow to the head by a s'mores float. The girls feel that the police decide much too quickly that the death was a mere accident; they know better. When another organizer passes out, they feel that foul play must be the order of the day and start their investigation.The two, along with their friend Trista, manage to get picked as Sun Festival pages, and get to spend several days living in the former Ridley Root Beer mansion under the tutelage of Lauren Sparrow, who teachers them home to wave, walk, and eat meatball heroes without licking their fingers or messing up their lipstick. At first, they suspect the parade organizer, the quirky, Pooh Bear loving Barb Lund. Lund has sent angry e mails around and is known for her misplaced devotion to the event. All signs seem to point to her, and the girls feel they are closing in... until they realize that the real murderer is closer at hand that they could have suspected. 

Fans of Beil's Red Blazer Girls or Runholdt's Lucas and Kari mysteries will find this "cozy" mystery series for middle grade readers vastly amusing. Not only is there actual murder (something for which many readers ask and few authors write), but there is girl drama, sleepovers and a bit of romance. Sophie, Grace and Trista find themselves sharing close quarters with the popular girls who usually give them a hard time, but come to find that most people are easier to deal with once you know them. 

The details of a small town festival are lots of fun, and anyone who has ever worked on a parade float will appreciate all of the work that goes into the preparations for one. It seemed a bit unlikely that the pages and the court would have been moved into a mansion for the week, but since middle grade heroes need a parent-free environment in order to save the day, this was a vastly better alternative than killing their parents. 

These books remind me vaguely of Lillian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who books, and are a perfect choice for the younger reader whose parents' shelves are filled with that series, Diana Mott Davidson's cooking mysteries or the works of Susan Wittig Albert. 

To be perfect for middle grade readers, however, this could have been half the length. At almost 400 pages, this will be avoided by many of my readers. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Wolf Wilder

24885821Rundell, Katherine. The Wolf Wilder
August 25th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Feo and her mother live in a cozy house in the country in Russia, where they take the pampered wolves that have run afoul of their rich owners and reintroduce them to the wild. Most of the wolves do revert to their origins, but there are three, Black, White, and Gray, who stay near the family as pets. When General Rackov thinks that the wolves have killed an elk, he threatens Feo and her mother, and eventually burns down the house and arrests Feo's mother. With the help of Ilya, one of Rackov's soldiers who decides he would rather help Feo, the two try to make their way to St. Petersburg to try to rescue her mother. Along the way, the meet a variety of people who have also been hurt in Rackov's campaign to get whatever he can from the peasants, and with this supportive community, they are able to make Rackov pay for his crimes. 
Strengths: This had a very interesting premise, and the cover is fantastic. It's a good length, and decently formatted. 
Weaknesses: This felt more like a fairy tale than a historical fiction book, so some background notes would have helped. The language was very lyrical, and the plot moved very slowly. I didn't like Feo very much-- she seemed to work against her own cause to a great extent. 
What I really think: I was going to buy this one since I occasionally have children who want to read books about wolves, but once Ilya decided he wanted to dance ballet, it just took a weird turn. Will pass.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Long Road to Freedom

Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time #3)Messner, Kate. Long Road to Freedom 
December 29th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Ranger gets transported to the Deep South before the Civil War, where he has to help siblings Sarah and Jesse escape to the North before Jesse is sold further south by their owner. They manage to get to Philadelphia, but there are slave catchers everywhere, so they are helped along to a farm in Vermont, but once The Fugitive Slave Act is passed and people have to turn over runaway slaves, the children head toward Canada to work in a lumber mill.
Strengths: Messner always does her research and always writes an engaging story. I can see this series being something I would have adored in 2nd grade.
Weaknesses: Sarah and Jesse have a lot of luck and a lot of help, so even though they have some close scrapes, nothing ever goes too terribly wrong for them.
What I really think: Starting to have a Magic Tree House feel to them-- like the series will never end and there is no over arching story that connects the books. They are really for younger readers (up to fourth grade), so it's not fair to expect them to have the historical content that middle school students need.

21494603Herkert, Barbara. Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist.
October 13th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This picture book starts out with end papers that show Harriet Powers' applique quilt, which is an excellent example of African-American folk art from the 1800s. The story of her beginnings as a slave on a Georgia plantation is augmented by historical tidbits, which are "patched" onto the illustrations so that they look like the words appear on pieces of fabric sewn to the page. There is a lot of information on the life of a slave, as well as on the importance and process of needlework within the slave community. Information about Harriet's life, such as her marriage, children and livelihood farming cotton is presented with consideration for the historical context of the times in which she lived. There is a brief account of her creation of the quilt for which she is famous, as well as the circumstances under which she sold the quilt to an art teacher. Historical notes at the back fill in any gaps. 
Strengths: This is an engaging picture book that gives just enough background on one woman's life and her contribution to the world of folk art. The illustrations are bright and clear, and add additional information to the story about what the world looked like at the time. Most readers might not know what a spinning wheel looks like, or how layers of fabric are placed on a frame to be quilted, so these pictures are essential. 
Weaknesses: Much of the story is probably conjecture; it is unclear how well-documented Harriet's life was. Nothing seemed unlikely, but I imagine the author did not have many first person accounts of Harriet's life. I would have liked to see an artistic style that would have incorporated actual fabric into the pictures; this is attempted in some pages, but isn't consistent. Also, ears seem to be a problem for the artist.
What I really think: As a quilter, I am a sucker for any book about quilting, although I don't necessarily regard quilting as art. (For a blast from the past, check out some of my quilt tops at

Monday, December 28, 2015

MMGM- Yard War

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

I definitely agree with Travis Jonker's assertion that all middle grade novels should hover around 200 pages (the book below is 216), but I think we should also make the following rule: all historical novels should inclue FOOTBALL. 

Okay. I know that's a little bit much. But think about it. It's hard to find enough novels about football. It's hard to get my students to read historical fiction. Historical fiction about football? Slam dunk. Or touchdown. Some sports term. It would work!

19542816Kitching, Taylor. Yard War.
August 18th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

Trip is a typical, self-centered junior high student in 1964-- he doesn't think about ripping his new jeans and asking the family maid, Willie Jean, to fix them. He also is okay with sleeping in and then demanding she stop her other work to make him pancakes, and when he needs another boy to play football, why shouldn't Willie Jean's son, Dee, stop working in the yard and play with him? Trip soon starts to see that the way his world works isn't the way that Dee's works. Neighbors complain about a black boy playing in the front yard with white boys, and Trip starts to notice things like the fact that Dee only has a few clothes, and is always hungry. Mississippi is a hot bed of Civil Rights problems at this time, and even Trip's father is finding that he can't just suddenly let "colored people" sit in the "white" waiting room of his medical office without repercussions. Things get so bad for Trip's family after they try to support the Negroes in their town that they consider moving, but eventually decide that they need to stay and see if they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. 

Strengths: I definitely appreciated that it took Trip a while before he saw how Dee was treated in the community. He had some inkling that things were not on the same level for everyone, but it took him a while to feel the full scope. It was also believable that he because friends with Trip and then didn't see why HIS friend should live by a separate set of rules. There were also some good moments when Trip's learned prejudice came out, even though he did truly like Dee. The family's reactions also seemed to ring true. 

Weaknesses: Could have used a few more historical references, especially concerning football. That would have been fun. There was only one anachronism that irked me, and I doubt it will irk others-- when a bomb goes off, Trip claims he looked at the clock and knows the exact time: 1:37. I don't think that people thought in digital time in 1964. Niggling, I know. 

What I really think: Excellent book, and I will be very pleased to recommend it to my football readers and will rejoice in sneaking some Civil Rights history into their day!

Card Catalog- Football Books

Get ready for all of the New Year's bowl games by investigating these titles about football!

Archibald, Joe. Pro Coach (1969)
Attanas, John. Eddie and the Jets (2005)
Barber, Ronde and Tiki. Kickoff (2007) series
*Bee, Clair (1896-1983) Freshman Quarterback (1952)
Behrens, Andy. The Fast and the Furriest (2010)
Berk, Josh. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin (2010)
*Bowen, Fred. The Roar of the Crowd (2004)
Double Reverse (2014)
*Bradley, John Ed. Call Me By My Name (2014)
Brouwer, Sigmund. Cobra Strike (2007)
Carson, John F. The Mystery of the Tarnished Trophy (1967)
Carter, Alden R. Love, Football, and Other Contact Sports (2005)
*Christopher, Matt. QB Blitz (2011) (Peters, Stephanie True)
Football Nightmare (2001) (Hirschfeld, Robert)
The Great Quarterback Switch (1984)
Tough to Tackle (1971)
Crackerjack Halfback (1962)
Touchdown for Tommy (1959)
Coy, John. Crackback (2007)
Dygard, Thomas (1931-1996)
Backfield Package (1992)
*Forward Pass (1989)
Second Stringer (1998)   
Deuker, Carl.
Gutless (September 2016)
Gym Candy (2007)
Payback Time (2010)
Eulo, Elena Yates. The Great Receiver (2008)
Feinstein, John. The Walk On (2014)
*Green, Tim. Kid Owner (2015)
*Haywood, Carolyn. Betsy and the Boys (1945)
Heldring, Thatcher. The League (2013)
*Kitchings, Taylor. Yard War (2105)
Klass, David. *Second Impact (2013)
Losers Take All (2015)*Korman, Gordon. Pop (2009)
*Lupica, Mike. Game Changers (2012), Various titles
            Make-Or-Break Moment  (2013)
Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Dairy Queen (2006)
*Payton, Belle. It Takes Two series (2014)
Reedy, Trent. If You’re Reading This (2014)
Rud, Jeff. Paralyzed (2008)
Sandor, Steve. Replay (2013)
Tigelaar, Liz. Playing with the Boys (2008)
*Tunis, John. All-American (1942)
*Wallace, Rich. The Roar of the Crowd (2004)
*Walters, Eric. Juice (2005)
Wertheim, L. Jon. Rookie Bookie (2014)
Weyn, Suzanne. Full Impact (2013)
Whitaker, Nathan. Snap Decision (2014)
Zadoff, Allen. Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (2009)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Pieces of Why

24611930Going, K.L. Pieces of Why
September 8th 2015 by Kathy Dawson Books

Tia loves to sing in her church choir, which is located in a fairly depressed but relatively safe area of New Orleans, even though there are some snotty "rich" girls who have infiltrated it. When there is a shooting outside the church during practice and a small child is killed, Tia is plunged into sadness. The reason? Her father, whom her mother has always referred to as "dead", committed a robbery while drunk that ended up with him shooting a girl who was the same age that Tia is now. Tia feels that everyone is looking at her and judging her, and she feels too awkward to sing. She tries to contact the family, which makes her mother mad, but also finally motivates her mother to tell Tia the entire story and take her to talk to her father. 
Strengths: I like this author, and she always tells intriguing stories. The depiction of life in New Orleans post-Katrina is interesting, and Tia's involvement in a church choir is not something one sees every day in middle grade literature.
Weaknesses: Went in thinking this would be more about the choir and singing, but it ended up being about dealing with the father's crime. So...

What I really think:  Definitely the winner for the most depressing book, which is saying something considering that 2015 is The Year Authors Tried to Depress the Living Hell Out of Everyone. We'll just file this under "it's meant to be super depressing" and move on. It's the books that purport to be about something other than gloom and doom but actually are serious downers that make me angry. 

25568167Tripp, Valerie. The One and Only (Maryellen #1)
August 27th 2015 by American Girl; paperback only 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Set in the 1950s Florida, this tells the story of a girl growing up in a typical white, middle class family experiencing the typical problems of large family life at this time. Maryellen doesn't want to wear hand-me-downs from her older sisters; she wants a brand new felt poodle skirt. She wants to be known for some good quality, but it's hard given the homogenization of experience at the time. 
Strengths: Very good details about everyday life at the time; clothes, family life, home. I also liked that Maryellen was depicted as having a weak leg due to a bout of polio, and adored how she was sent to the beach to get out of her mother's hair... with her six and four year old brothers in tow. Can totally see this happening! And now, we are appalled. 
Weaknesses: Not a lot of plot or character development. And I went into this thinking there was time travel involved... BEFOREver instead of BEforever. Confused by this new series title for all the books put out by American Girl. 
What I really think: Would have bought this, but it's only in paperback. Drat. The one set in 1914 looked interesting as well. Maybe a prebind?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Realistic Fiction

Standiford, Natalie. The Only Girl in School
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Claire's best friend Bess moves away from their small island in the Chesapeake Bay, Claire is the only girl in their small school. Sure, she gets the girls' clubhouse all to herself, but it's not any fun. She writes Bess letters detailing her year, including her participation in soccer and sailing competitions, square dancing, finding out about the Legend of Smuggler Joe, and a production of A Christmas Carol in which Claire gets to play ALL of the female roles. It doesn't help that in the 5th grade, her friend Henry is starting to feel too old to have a girl as a friend and doesn't want to hang out as much, and the rather odd Webby wants to hang out with her. 

Strengths: It's great to read books about children who don't live in suburban Ohio, so this had some fun elements. The boy/girl interactions are realistically portrayed, and there is a lot of humor.

Weaknesses: The letter format makes this seem dated already, and there weren't as many details about life on a small island as I wanted. Potter's Piper Green books have more fun details, even though it is for younger students.  

What I really think: ADORED this author's The Boy on the Bridge, which was rich with place and period details, but this was a bit of a disappointment. The cover looks dated as well, so will most likely not purchase. 

Cobb, Amy. Dude, Where's My Saxophone (Band Geeks #1)
Published January 1st 2015 by Calico

Zac is disorganized and frequently in trouble, so when his junior high school band goes to a sleepaway camp, Mr. Byrd, the director, makes sure to keep a close eye on him. Sure enough, things start to go wrong-- the band's music goes missing, and Zac's saxophone is taken as well. Is this the result of a bet made with another band? The bands are competing for points, and Zac's band keeps getting in trouble. Will Zac be able to prove that it's really not his fault?
Strengths: This was a fun, easy-to-read story about something that does interest many students-- band. Happy, upbeat-- that's hard to find these days. 
Weaknesses: Most of the students in band excel academically, and the reading level on this is a grade 3.5. Not only that, but the plot was a bit convoluted, so my students who do read on that level might have trouble following it. This is a series by Abdo, so rather expensive. I think I will pass on buying the rest.
What I really think: I would love to see something like this in a regular trade novel.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Guy Friday- American Ace

25387905Nelson, Marilyn. American Ace
January 12th 2016 by Dial Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

After Connor's grandmother dies, his father is not himself. He mopes around and seems extraordinarily depressed. It turns out that the grandmother has left a letter indicating that Connor's grandfather was actually a WWII pilot. There are a few clues, and Connor and his father try to follow them, until the father has a significant medical episode that lands him in the hospital. Connor finds out that his grandfather was actually a Tuskegee Airman, and that he is one quarter African American. As his father regains his health, Connor learns more and more details about his past, as well as about the role that African-American pilots played in the war, and how they were treated afterwards. 

Strengths: We certainly need more books about the Tuskegee Airmen, and the role of African-Americans in the war. This is a short book, and has an appealing cover, so I think that students would pick it up. 

Weaknesses: Novels in verse are particularly ill-suited to historical topics, because they don't give as much background information as may be needed. I am super, super picky about novels in verse, and this one didn't have the scansion and poetic elements that make a book "poetic" for me. The subject matter didn't support the use of blank verse, either. Also, unless this book was set in the 1990s, the timeline of having a teenager in 2015 having a grandfather who fought in WWII didn't work for me. Well, it did barely. 

What I really think: I'll probably buy this, because there is still an overwhelming interest in WWII, but I really wish it weren't in verse!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve- Blue Voyage

What librarians do over winter break: Read tons of books, write lots of reviews, and decide that dusting is a largely overrated activity. I spent an inordinate amount of time working on Monday's podcast; why does my office at home have so much more echo than my school library? I feel fully conversant in the entire history of middle grade football fiction having done this book list!

Have to say: not a fan of holidays in general. So many of them involve cooking, for one thing, then dealing with other people. My best friend and I have plans made for the future. They involve a cruise to somewhere warm where we are asked to do nothing more than sit and bask in the sun. That's a few years away, but here's a virtual cruise if you are in need of one!

24611951Renn, Diana. Blue Voyage
October 13th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Zan's father is a politician caught in a sex scandal-- Zan reacts to this by shoplifting, which gets her on the news. To escape, her mother takes her to Turkey to provide emotional support to her aunt, whose husband was killed in a hiking accident. He was supposed to be the lecturer on the cruise, so the aunt is taking the cruise as a sentimental journey. Zan's just pissed with life-- her friends all dropped her after the scandal, her mother doesn't trust her, and she's very self conscious about her vitiligo, which requires extra maintenance in the hot Mediterranean sun. Luckily, she meets a girl her age, Sage, who is mysteriously on the cruise by herself. Soon, Zan finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy involving antiquities, and is given ample opportunity to make all sorts of mistakes which lead to her being arrested, drugged, and kidnapped. Will she be able to figure out what's up with Sage, as well as the circumstances of her uncle's death. 
Strengths: Lots of good details about traveling in Turkey, as well as about antiquities. Lots of action and adventure-- reminded me a great deal of Mrs. Pollifax, although Zan doesn't have the mad skills that she has!
Weaknesses: This felt more like an adult novel, with all of the side stories about the aunt's struggles with infertility and keeping a hotel going, the mother dealing with her husband's infidelity, etc. There is some nice romance, though. Also, neither Zan nor Sage make good choices. Seriously, who gets drugged with juice anymore? Haven't they read the news?
What I really think: Picked up a copy at a book look, so will probably put it in my library, but this will be a hard sell in middle school. Nothing inappropriate, just really long. Readers who liked this author's Tokyo Heist will enjoy this. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Freedom's Price

24693804MacColl, Michaela and Nichols, Rosemary. Freedom's Price
October 6th 2015 by Calkins Creek

Eliza Scott has a difficult family life while her family awaits the decision of the judge in her father and mother's case. Harriet and Dred Scott are waiting to see if they will be awarded their freedom. Both of the parents are working in St. Louis, but the family has to live in the jail and are released during the day. Eliza and her younger sister Lizzie go with their mother when she washes clothes, and Eliza particularly is fond of going to Miss Charlotte's to work, since she treats her slaves so well. Since Miss Charlotte's husband was an abolitionist but she won't give up her slaves, she is helping the Scott family. When Eliza's voice calms down the elderly and fractious Miss Sophia, Eliza is offered a place working in the house. Her mother is appalled, but when things become bad in the jail during a cholera epidemic, Eliza runs off. Miss Charlotte's wayward son is in need of money and wants to sell a slave against his mother's wishes. Is Eliza imperiling herself by seeking nicer surroundings?

Strengths: There are good notes on the research into Dred Scott's family and life in St. Louis at the time. Slightly different period, and it's good to get a look at slavery that was not in the South. 

Weaknesses: Felt that Eliza had a very modern bend to her thinking; I understand why modern novels are written this way, but it always grates just a little. 

What I really think: Glad to have a copy, but it won't circulate any more than most of my historical fiction, no matter how much I champion it. It was easier to read than either the super sad books or the weird speculative fiction books out there. I've been in a reading rut all fall because so little sounds good!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum

25038983Funaro, Gregory. Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum
January 5th 2016 by Disney Hyperion
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

With the Odditorium on the run, Grubb is making peace with the fact that Grim is his father, but since Prince Nightshade is still on the loose, there's not a lot of time to dwell on things. Things get even worse when the banshee Lorcan catches up with the group over Ireland, and wants to capture Cleona, who is powering the ship. Nigel and Grim are still interested in solving Abel Worthy's murder, as well, but have lots to do, like traveling to a hell mouth to capture demons, who can then be used to power a demon buggy! When Grim consults Professor Bricklewick, the two decide that Nightshade can be dispatched with the sword Excalibur; Grim has the power to release the sword, but only Bricklewick has the map. The sword is in Avalon, and luckily the Odditorium has been fitted out for an underwater journey. Once there, all manner of secrets about the characters' pasts come out, and everyone must work together to make sure that Nightshade is defeated. There are losses, of course, but the Odditorium makes its way back to London, ready for its next adventure. 

This is an intriguing blend of Steampunk and Arthurian legend, and packed with all sorts of adventure and magic. The characters are intertwined in very clever ways, and the secrets are revealed at satisfying intervals. 

The characters' relationships change and grow in this book-- Grubb gets used to having a father, Cleona has a surprising relationship with Lorcan, and several of the characters have other identifities revealed. The watch Mack again plays a pivotal, if somewhat smaller, role in this installment, and sees some of his powers restored. Even Mrs. Pinch has some good moments of interaction with others, aside from her regular interjections of "Well, blind me!"

The use of Arthurian legend is somewhat like Salerni's in The Eighth Day, but with a Victorian setting. I can also see this being enjoyed by fans of Reeve's Mortal Engines series-- there are not that many books about flying building or cities, and the Odditorium is a great backdrop for this action-packed tale of traveling and fighting evil.

Monday, December 21, 2015

MMGM- Alistair Grim's Odditorium

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

As hard as I try to read everything that is published for the middle grade market, there are always books I miss. I love it when authors contact me personally about something I haven't seen, ESPECIALLY when they take the time to read my Review Policy (right there, on the right!) and to use proper polite letter form! Fantasy books are rarely my personal favorites, so when I can understand a fantasy book and enjoy it, it's sure to be a winner with my students. The sequel to book one, Alistair Grim's Aquaticum, comes out 5 January 2016, so if you're looking for a last minute holiday gift for a fantasy fan, I'd buy Odditorium and then plan on picking up Oddaquaticum to have on have for when cabin fever attacks after too many snow days!

23597998Funaro, Gregory. Alistair Grim's Odditorium
January 6th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Copy provided by the author

Grubb was abandoned as a baby at the house of the Smears. Mrs. Smears is fairly nice, but she passes away when Grubb is six, and Mr. Smears keeps the boy only because he can be useful in his chimney sweeping business. When cleaning chimneys at the local pub, Grubb manages to cause quite a commotion, and ends up stowing away in a carriage, since he knows he can never go back to Mr. Smears. When the carriage flies, however, he doesn't know quite what to make of it! He is discovered by the kindly Nigel, who tells him that he is now in the Odditorium. This is a collection of odd individuals in an even odder building, and Grubb is warned not to notice too much. Mrs. Pinch, the housekeeper, gets him cleaned up, and he hears Cleona talking to her uncle, Mr. Grim. Grubb also ends up in possession of a talking watch, Mack, that glows blue with "animus", and that's the start of a cataclysm of trouble. When Grubb is out and about with Mack in his pocket, his pocket is picked and the dogs of doom are unleashed. Nigel says that things will probably be okay, but when the two return, they are given handbills to pass out that announce the opening of the Odditorium. Mr. Dreary is pressuring Mr. Grim to open even though he is not ready, and the results are catastrophic. The dogs of doom alert their master, Prince Nightshade, and soon the shadesmen attack the Odditorium, trying to retrieve the animus for their dark master. Mr. Grim sets the Odditorium flying, and soon Grubb is catapulted into a world of banshees, sirens, shinobi warriors and other creatures, few of which have his best interest at heart!

Grubb's start as an overworked orphan in Victorian England is a good way to start this book; Mrs. Pinch and Mr. Grim seem kindly by comparison, and no matter how hard he is asked to work, the jobs are much easier than sweeping chimneys. The Odditorium is a big mystery to the people in London, since it has been shrouded during its construction, but the fascination with oddities and supernatural elements was significant during this time period, so is a perfect fit.

The characters are well-developed and rather fun. I had hoped for a bigger role for Mrs. Pinch, whose habit of losing her spectacles and her exasperated utterance of "Blind me!" made me think that she was more powerful than she seemed. I just wish she had been used more. Nigel has a fascinating backstory which also rings true for the times, and even though I was a little disappointed that Cleona wasn't more of a friend for Grubb, there was a compelling reason for this!

Akin to Stroud's Lockwood and Co., Haberdasher's Knightley Academy or  the New-York Circulating Material Repository in Shulman's The Grimm Legacy, the Odditorium is a fascinating venue of magic and mayhem in which readers will gladly lose themselves. 

Since fantasy is not my favorite thing, and I find that lists of characters add a daunting quality to a book (thank goodness the list was at the end, not at the beginning with a map-- that usually causes me to run screaming!), I would have preferred that characters such as Mrs. Pinch and Nigel would have had more roles, and fewer characters would have been introduced once the Odditorium took off flying. Also, I'm never fond of main characters suffering from wounds and/or passing out (as in Nielsen's The False Prince and sequels), and Grubb manages to pass out at least three times. Still, I'll definitely be looking forward to the next book, which is reviewed tomorrow!

Card Catalog- A London Nightmare!

London... a city of Christmas cheer and merry wassailing, or a city of hungry ghosts, zombies and bogles? Take a look at this list of creepy books set in London, and you can decide! Click here for a printable Google Doc

Black, Peter Jay. Urban Outlaws (2014) Series.
Bradbury, Jennifer. Wrapped (2011)
*Chadda, Sarwat. Savage Fortress (2012) Series.
Craig, Joe. Jimmy Coates, Assassin (2005) Series.
Enthoven, Sam. The Black Tattoo (2006)
*Fletcher, Charlie. Stoneheart (2007) Series.
*Funaro, Gregory. Alistair Grimm's Odditorium (2015)
Alistair Grimm's Odd Aquaticum (2016)
*Gavin, Rohan. Knightley and Son (2014) Series.
Gier, Kirsten. Ruby Red (2011) Series.
Gordon, Tunnels (2008) Series.
Hahn, Mary Downing. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall (2010)
Hammond, Andrew. C.R.Y.P.T.: The Gallow's Curse (2011) (UK only)
Harvey, Alyxandra. Breath of Frost: Lovegrove Legacy (2014) Series.
*Higson, Charlie. The Enemy (2010) Series.
*Jinks, Catherine. How to Catch a Bogle (2013) Series.
*Johnson, Maureen. The Name of the Star (2011) Series.
Kress, Adrienne. The Friday Society (2012)
*LaFevers, R. L. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (2007) Series.
Marriot, Zoe. Name of the Blade (2014) Series.
Mellom, The Apothecary (2011) Series.
Pearce, Philippa. Tom's Midnight Garden (1958)
Powell, Laura. Game of Triumphs (2011) Series.
Priestly, Death and the Arrow (2003)
Mr. Creecher (2011)
Richards, Justin. The Death Collector (2006) Series.
Saunders, Kate. Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop (2013)
Chocolate Phoenix (2015)
Stevenson, R. L. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1886!)
*Stewart, Paul. Curse of the Night Wolf (2008) Series.
*Stroud, Jonathan. The Screaming Staircase (2013) Series
Amulet of Samarkand (2003) Series.
Wood, Maryrose The Mysterious Howling. (2010) Series.

*Mentioned in podcast.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How to Break a Heart

How to Break a HeartStewart, Kiera. How to Break a Heart
December 22nd 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from

Telenovella obsessed Mabry is sure that Nick is her One True Love, so is crushed when he breaks up with her... by having his mother call Mabry! Her best friend Sirina is used to Mabry's drama, but the obsession with making Nick pay irritates even her. When Thad Bell moves back to town after the death of his father, he offers to help Mabry get Nick back so that she can then dump him and break HIS heart. Thad has a variety of secrets, including the fact that he was the one who broke a glass door at the school, something that Nick and his friends witnessed. Thad and Mabry spend a lot of time hanging out, and Nick is interested enough after a while to ask Mabry to go to the 8th grade Cotillion. Will Mabry be able to dump him, or has she found romance somewhere else?
Strengths: Very authentic, if annoying, middle grade voice. Interesting way to work in Hispanic culture. I liked the character of Thad, who had issued and was fairly nuanced. 
Weaknesses: The reason why Thad punched the window was revealed near the end of the book, and seemed really weak. Still, considering the amount of family trauma he was experiencing, the books wasn't as depressing as it could have been. 
What I really think: Wanted to slap Mabry multiple times, but that middle grade obsession with one unattainable love interest is so true to life. Attractive cover, so will buy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Silver in the Blood

22929540George, Jessica Day. Silver in the Blood.
July 7th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Dacia and Louisa are being sent to Romania to connect with their mother's family. Louisa is sailing with her aunt Kate, but the girls have both run into problems with young men, and are not allowed to meet up. Both are preoccupied with typical concerns of 1890s, well-to-do girls-- Paris fashions, romance, coming out parties, and the like. When creepy men start following them and making odd comments, and their cousin Radu is actually frightened when they ask him to explain all of the bizarre occurrences, the girls realize that there is more to their family history than they have been told. Their grandmother, Lady Ioanna, is intensely frightening and refuses the girls' wishes to go back to the US. After being frightened and kept in the dark for most of the book, the girls find out the dark secret about their family's past, but also find out that they have more power within the family than they would have imagined. 

Strengths: I appreciated that Louisa and Dacia didn't have modern sensibilities. The tall, thin Dacia bemoans her figure, wishing she were more like the comfortably upholstered LouLou, although Lou does wish to be more like her cousin. They are realistically under the guidance and watchful eye of the men in their family, and don't complain about this too much. They see getting married as an acceptable life plan. All too often, historical books put modern day sensibilities on their characters, and it doesn't always work. This also has some good paranormal facets, but I don't want to ruin the plot-- these don't come into play for a good half of the book, although they are hinted at strongly. 

Weaknesses: Werewolves and vampires are pretty much over, although I do have a few readers who still crave new stories. This has a classic feel to it, with the historical setting, so while it won't circulate all that frequently, it will be good to have on hand.

What I really think: Not my cup of tea. The cover is very nice. I'll have to buy the rest of the series when it comes out.