Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Keepers

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, but I do try to keep up with what is being written. I have more readers this year who read fantasy, and (like girls who read romance books) they read about a book a day. Still, when I spend most of a Sunday working my way through over a thousand pages of fantasy explanations that involve a glossary and made up words... I get a little fractious and begin to think that the author secretly meant me some personal harm. On the upside, reading these made me more amenable to purchasing Wexler's The Forbidden Library series.

That said, I loaned the paperbacks I had of these to about ten readers. They invariably returned them the next day and wanted more. Ah, hard core fantasy fans. I don't really understand. Must go read some Beany Malone books now!

22535463Sanders, Ted. The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1)
March 3rd 2015 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Horace sees a shop on his way home from school that looks like it has his name on it, but when he investigates, he realizes it says "House of Answers" instead of "Horace F. Andrews". It's still an unusual place, and he meets Mrs. Hapsteade and Mr. Meister, who run it. He is given a box that makes him feel rather odd, and is soon being pursued by the evil thin man, Dr. Jericho, who calls him a tinker and threatens him. The box appears to make objects travel through time, and Horace isn't entirely sure what its purpose is until he meets Chloe. She is the Keeper of a dragonfly pendant that gives her the power to become "thin" and go through objects. Horace finds out that he has been recruited to bond with the box, a Tanu, which has properties that aren't quite magical, but aren't quite real, either! He is not just a Tanu'ji, but a warden as well, and he, Chloe, and the people from the House of Answers are all engaged in a battle against the Riven, who are trying to get the Tanu for themselves and use them for evil. While Horace's parents are very present and supportive, Chloe's dad has been neglectful and drunken ever since Chloe's mother left, so she is grateful to find refuge in the Mazzoleni Academy that Mr. Meister runs. Along with fellow students Gabriel and Neptune, the group fights the Riven in order to rescue Chloe's father. In the end, Horace finds out that his mother may be involved, and that the Mothergates, that power the Tanu, may be dying. 

Readers who enjoy Black and Clare's The Iron Trial, Wilson's Ashtown Burials series, or Steampunk fantasty stories that involve a lot of gadgets will enjoy this well-developed fantasy world and trinkets and language that are integral to understanding it. The Tanu and the Tanu'ji are very complex, and the way they are developed and bonded together will delight any reader of high fantasy who believes that the line between technology and magic is very thin. 

While Chloe's parents are largely absent, it was delightful to see Horace's mother and father give him a hard time about things like losing his house keys. To then have his mother be a part of his fantasy world was fascinating. Given the small number of parents who actually survive in middle grade books, I can see this being a popular choice with families who like to read books together. 

25816864Sanders, Ted. The Harp and the Ravenvine (The Keepers #2)
March 1st 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

While Horace and Chloe are refining their own powers in regard to their Tanu, we meet April, who has found an odd piece of jewelry that seems to give her the power to understand animals. The piece seems broken, and when Isabel shows up claiming that April needs to find the other part of it, April doesn't blink before packing up and agreeing to travel to Chicago with her, especially since she has a run in with one of the Riven. Horace finds out more about his mother's involvement-- she is not a Tanu'ji, but a Tuner. She can play on harps, but none of them bend to her power. Horace also meets Brian, who has been living in the Academy for three years and can fix or create magical implements. April and Isabel are having a lot of problems making it the short distance into the city-- they have Joshua, a young boy with excellent directional abilities, with them, but he breaks his leg. To complicate matters, Mr. Meister can sense that April and her group are coming to meet them, and the rest of her Ravenvine is in Horace's possession. Whenever he puts it in his box, it disappears for a while, freaking April out. Eventually, the two groups meet, and secrets about Chloe's past are revealed, as well as more details about the involvement of Horace's mother. The Riven are still a threat, Isabel is perhaps more evil than she is good, and the Tanu are still in jeopardy from their fading power source. 

The magical objects in this series are so intricate and convoluted that there is a glossary at the back of the book-- and I had to consult it several times! Readers who like the complicated worlds of Tolkien, or who have memorized all of the spells in Harry Potter, will enjoy making their own Tanu out of household and craft items and recreating scenes from this book, while coming up with their own Tanu and working themselves into future plots. Sanders must have masses of notes in order to keep everything straight!

While we learn a little more about the Riven and why they are trying to get the Tanu back, the new characters of April and Isabel are added in a very interesting way, and I enjoyed the fact that we aren't entirely sure if Isabel is good or evil. I'm not sure she knows herself! I'd be very interested in learning more about the Mazzoleni Academy and seeing what the Keepers can do to keep the Mothergates from running out of power. Certainly Mr. Meister will be very helpful at finally putting the threat of the Riven to rest!

If you get these books for your favorite readers, make sure that they are accompanied by a small harp, some yarn, and several fun objects that can be made into Tanu!

Monday, May 30, 2016

MMGM- Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue

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.

This series definitely wins my "Unicorns Pooping Rainbows" Award-- and that's a good thing! How sad is it that when I unearth something in my TBR that doesn't involve 18 layers of depressing events that I just want to cry tears of pure joy? This was a fantastic, FUN read. Makes me so happy AND is popular with my students!

26242356Bernstein, Jonathan. Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue
May 31st 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

After the events of Bridget Wilder: Spy in Training, we find Bridget back at home, dealing with her brother and his drippy girlfriend, Abby, her annoying cheerleader sister, Natalie, and her overprotective but supportive adoptive parents. Her friend Joanna has moved to New York to stay with family after her guardian is incapacitated. Boring, right? That is, until Bridget is kidnapped by evil cheerleaders and her father, Carter Strike, goes missing! It's back to being a spy, a process which is complicated somewhat when Bridget's parents insist that her brother Ryan and his girlfriend accompany her to New York, where she is ostensibly visiting Joanna, but where she also suspects Carter Strike has been taken. Bridget talks Joanna's family into visiting the Dominion Building, and that's when things start to get exciting. Sam, Joanna's cousin, turns out to be in the business of giving and getting favors, so he manages to get access into an unvisited floor of the building, where they are pursued by a man in a Strike mask and rescued by a woman named Irina. This puts them deep into a mystery involving Bridget's past, international espionage, nano marbles, and the elusive but still attractive Daley Tookey. 

From the first page, when Bridget is kidnapped by the cheerleaders, to the last, where she is discussing a secret organization known as the Forties with her birth parents, Bridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue is filled with action, good humor, and a good dose of goofiness. There are great gadgets, like the magnetic chewing gum and exploding lip balm, and the fact that Bridget's primary mission turns out to be saving the son of a foreign dignitary adds an air of seriousness that nicely offsets the exploding toilets.

I loved that the characters all went through a lot of interesting changes. Ryan steps up to protect his sister, Joanna becomes kinder and gentler because of her new family situation, the Wilder parents learn to let Bridget have more freedom, and even Abby undergoes an amazing and unexpected change. The fact that Bridget still has a crush on Dale, but can find Sam oddly attractive, is a facet that will speak very strongly to middle grade readers. 

This series has something for everyone in it, but will be especially popular with readers who enjoyed Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls and Beil's Red Blazer Girls series, and will add a dash of humor to the reading lists of those who like Horowitz's Stormbreaker series. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Sleepover

24569593Malone, Jen. The Sleepover
May 17th 2016 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Mix
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Meghan is apprehensive about going to a sleepover. Her parents are overprotective (her cell phone can only call home and 911), and she's never been able to stay the entire night before. Still, with best friends Paige and Anna Marie, she thinks she can make it. Things are a little stressful when Anna Marie's future stepsister, Veronica, comes to the party as well, but the girls all get along. As a present, Veronica has rented a hypnotist. The girls remember her visiting... and then they wake up the next morning. The basement is a mess, there are chicks in the bathtub, and Anna Marie is missing. With the help of Anna Marie's bratty brother, as well as next door neighbor and Meghan's crush, Jake, the girls piece together the events of their night and try to find their friend before they have to tell her mother she's missing. 
Strengths: Will definitely purchase. Do girls do sleepovers? They were huge when I was young, but only four girls? Pffft. Tiny. Very funny, and moves quickly. I especially liked the age appropriate romance with Jake. Nice. 
Weaknesses: A little alarmed that Anna Marie was missing and the girls didn't immediately tell her mother. For a girl whose parents are "overprotective", Meghan is all too ready to run around town without supervision. Veronica was a bit over the top and annoying. 
What I really think: This will appeal to girls who like those "My Face Was So Red" columns in girls' magazines. It's fun and harmless, if a little far fetched, but then, I'm not the target demographic!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Mother-Daughter Book Camp

Even though Wish You Were Eyre was supposed to be the final installment in this series, Frederick gathers the girls for one last romp before college.

27204972Frederick, Heather Vogel. Mother-Daughter Book Camp
May 3rd 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Jess' mother finds out that Jess' cousin is working at Camp Lovejoy and that the camp is hiring, all five of the girls go there to work as counselors. Megan, who is heading to Parson's School of design, gets assigned to the craft cabin, as does Becca, who is going to the University of Minnesota. Cassidy has a scholarship to play hockey at Boston University, and helps with swimming. Emma is working on the camp newspaper, and preparing to go to college in Canada. Jess does nature walks and is going to study at Julliard. The girls are all at various stages of their relationships with their boyfriends, many of whom live some distance from them. 

After an initial reluctance to spend the summer away from Concord, the girls throw themselves into their jobs, even creating a book club for the girls who are homesick, using Understood Betsy to help the girls feel better. Typical camp highjinks ensue, and the girls all learn things about themselves and their friendships before they get ready to get on with the rest of their lives. 

I enjoyed all of the details about camp-- it doesn't seem like anyone gets to spend protracted amounts of time at summer camp any more, so it's good that teens can at least read about what that was like. Vogel clearly has fond memories of time spent at summer camp, and does a great job of sharing them. The details about Understoof Betsy and Dorothy Canfield Fisher are fun-- I love that book, and hope that this will help encourage modern girls to read it. 

The covers on these are some of the best around, and the series circulates fairly well. Ill definitely purchase this as the FINAL installment. My objection to the series has always been that I find it very hard to keep all of the characters straight, and since the chapters are narrated by the different characters, that is something one must do. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

#Bookaday-- Summer Refresh

Reading has been stressing me out. 

This is not something I've ever experienced, but since March I've felt behind. I review for any number of outlets-- School Library Journal, Young Adult Books Central, this blog, and I cross post at Goodreads. I have advance copies from Baker and Taylor, Netgalley, Edelweiss, and various publishers and publicists. As long as I read five books a day, I'm caught up. When I'm tired and spend my evenings watching Call the Midwife... not so much. 

Life has been getting in the way of reading-- you know, all of the spy training, missions, rehab with the new bionic foot. I don't like this. Reading should be something I enjoy, and when I'm tired and worried and on super secret spy missions that appear to the unobservant eye to consist of me taking my elderly father for colonoscopies and podiatrist appointments, reading becomes WORK.

So, taking a hint from Donalyn Miller's #Bookaday, I'm trying to relax, rejuvenate, and get back my reading mojo. And perhaps moisturize my hands, which take a beating during the school year. 

26252859One of the things I try to do in the summer is to read very popular books that have eluded my grasp during the school year. So yesterday, I read The Trials of Apollo.

And I'm not going to review it. You all need to buy it. Enough said.

If I'm tired of reading, I can't get my students excited. If I don't read ALL THE NEW BOOKS, I won't know what to buy for my school library and recommend to students. 

So my plan is this: I will read one book a day, review it, and take a deep breath. I'll take the dog for a walk and whip up some soy flour and flax seed meal bread. Hang out some laundry. Organize my cardigans in color order. Then, if I feel like reading another book, I will. If I don't, it's not the end of the world. 

How's YOUR reading mojo? What will you do to balance your reading life with your actual life this summer?

Guy Friday- Dogs

26244566Hardy, Ralph. Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog
May 31st 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adults Books Central

Argos is Odysseus' loyal dog, who was also called Boar Slayer, since he was the only survivor of a boar attack that killed his mother and littler mates. When his master goes off to fight in the Trojan war, Argos stays behind to protect Penelope and the young Telemachus. After the war is over, Argos gets news of Odysseus' escapades on his return home from a variety of creatures who relay them to him. This way, the reader gets to see the events of the Odyssey in relationship to the occurrences back in Ithaka. Argos fears for his master's safety but is powerless to do anything; he also can't help Penelope as much as he would like. Once Odysseus finally makes his way home, Argos lays down his weary burden, so Odysseus is aided in his difficult return to his home by Argos' son, Leander.

This is a very clever way to retell the Odyssey for today's readers, and I think that this is a great example of Homeric tradition-- tell the same story, but add a new and unique twist on it. I've always thought it was a little odd that Odysseus' story is told mostly in flashbacks, so this is a great way to lay out the timelines of both Odysseus and Penelope so we can understand how they occurred together. 

Argos is a figure who has a small but significant role in the original story, but even though his appearance is brief, it definitely captures the imagination. Did the dog really live for over 20 years, waiting patiently for his master? It's interesting to see the intrusion of the suitors from Argos' point of view, and Telemachus also becomes more of a fully fleshed character when shown interacting with Argos. 

Hardy definitely clearly loves this story and has studied the various translations of the Odyssey and remains true to the original story. For high school readers who are offered a watered down version of The Odyssey in a literature textbook, this will provide more details in an interesting fashion. There are so few books set in ancient Greece that readers who crave books set during this period will pick this up avidly. 

At almost 400 pages, this is a bit long, and the pacing is a bit slow. The prose is oddly stilted and outdated. (page 87, ARC- "This did Eurylochos see with amazement, and then he stealithy crept back along the trail toward the black ship... But when he arrived, so great was his grief and despair that he could not speak, but only cry out in lamentations for many hours.") I've read the Odyssey in Greek, and I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of making one's translation sound like something written in the 1800s, but I wish Hardy had managed to avoid this!

26244553Boyle, Keri Claiborne and Sneider, Jonathan. Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog
May 17th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Teddy has a great dog life, creating all kinds of havoc but being too cute to be held responsible for it. Then, his aunt sends him a cat. He's none too pleased, but lacking any way of getting rid of the cat, he instructs her on all of the fun parts of being "your own dog". While the cat doesn't care much for riding in cars or bathing in wading pools, the two eventually reach some common ground.

Teddy is appealingly drawn, and the bright colors and simple line drawings lend themselves to reading this to young children and asking them to point out different objects. Teddy is definitely a hipster dog who appeals to adults-- much of the merchandise on the web site is geared toward an older market.

While Teddy originally is leery of having a cat, he keeps an open mind and tries to introduce the things he loves best to the cat, who in turns teaches him a trick or two. 

Teddy is rather a bad dog. He is shown getting into various kinds of trouble, but it is treated as simply cute. Sylvie does NOT agree. She always does what she is told to do! (I'm sure that hipster parents will love this book... and those same parents will complain when their child loses a book that he shouldn't have to pay for it because someone else took it...)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some Kind of Happiness

13260524LeGrand, Claire. Some Kind of Happiness
May 17th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Finley has never met her father's parents because of an unspoken rift, but when her parents are having marital problems, they decide to drop Finley off for the entire summer at the family estate. Finley's father has three sisters, who have children who like to spend time with their grandparents, which makes it a little less weird. Finley is a nervous child who copes with the world by writing fantasy tales of "Everwood" in a journal and imagining herself as the main character, an orphan girl. She is drawn to the woods on the family property because of its similarities to her imaginary world, but she is loathe at first to allow her cousins to learn about it, since they treat it (rightly so) as a "game". She uses it to bond with her cousins, however, and they have a great time outdoors, but they also make the acquaintance of the Bailey boys, and their grandparents tell them they are NOT to play with these boys. Over the course of the book, many family secrets come out, and Finley finally gets some professional help with her anxiety and depression. 
Strengths: This was intriguing in an I Capture the Castle or Greengage Summer way. I think a lot of people want to be closer to their cousins, and spending the summer with grandparents in a big house always sounds like fun. There's a huge trend toward stories that deal with topics of mental health. 
Weaknesses: There was enough going on without all of the stories of Everwood. Finley was one of those characters that I just didn't like because she was overly precious and annoyed me, which made it hard to get into the book. I felt like I was supposed to hate the grandmother, but she was my favorite character. I admired the way she hid what she hid, and how she soldiered on without whining about her lot, but these were made to seem like bad things.
What I really think: I'm sorry that Ms. LeGrand struggles with anxiety and depression, but this book just fell flat for me once Finley's eccentricities overshadowed the mystery and the family problems. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Last Day of School

The LCD remotes, Mimios, speakers and Chromebooks are all locked up, and all but TWO books were either returned or paid for. Hooray! 

No Trooping of the Overheads, sadly. I do miss that. Most of the overheads have gone to the Great Warehouse in the Sky. 

 Plenty of reading to do this summer, and definitely will participate in #bookaday. Hop over to Donalyn Miller's website for all the details. 

 Not a fan of being out of school, but am weary and looking forward to a bit more rest. Sylvie is VERY glad that I will be home and there will be an adequate level of staffing!

Hope everyone survives the last few days/weeks of school and has a great summer!