Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Going Wild/ The Monster War

28218890McMann, Lisa. Going Wild
September 27th 2016 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Charlie is not happy that her mother has taken a job running an emergency room in a small town in Arizona and moved the family from Chicago. To complicate matters, her stay-at-home father is now teaching biology at a local college and is away from home more than he has expected. Charlie and her brother Andy have to get themselves to and from school together and deal with their distracted parents. Charlie is a soccer player, and manages to make it onto her school team, where she befriends Maria and has an uneasy alliance with the popular Kelly. When Charlie gets a fitness tracker in the mail, she's thrilled, but it doesn't seem to be working properly. After she is injured by Kelly in a soccer game but heals freakishly quickly, she begins to suspect that the tracker is something more than she thought. She and Marie start to test out the device with the help of Maria's friend Mac, and discover that it seems to give her superpowers. The trio test these out, but soon realize that they are being watched and that the device originated in a lab her father worked for. What exactly is going on?
Strengths: This author's The Unwanteds has been freakishly and inexplicably popular in my library. I don't have a lot of fantasy readers, but these books must have been read by a much loved elementary teacher and I couldn't keep them on the shelves. I was so absorbed by Charlie's REAL life drama that the superpowers were secondary to me, but I do have a subset of readers who like books like Masterminds, Powerless, and Ordinary Boy that this will find lots of readers. 

Weaknesses: There are a lot of unanswered questions, which will insure that I'll have to buy the entire series. 
What I really think: Since my students will demand this author's new series, I'll definitely buy this. Decent enough science-y adventure book, although I personally didn't appreciate that the first book just set up the series. I'd love to see some stand alone fantasy books!

26114250Gratz, Alan. The Monster War (League of Seven #3)
July 12th 2016 by Starscape
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Archie Dent is not up for an adventure right now, having found out his origins in The League of Seven and The Dragon Lantern. He'd just as soon curl up in a corner and never emerge, but Mr. Rivets isn't having it. The Mangleborn are rising again because people are using lektricity, and Philomena Moffett is using the power of the dragon lantern and must be stopped. Mr. Rivets gets Archie kidnapped on purpose so he can investigate the gang that is stealing homeless street children, and Archie meets the blind Gonzalo and his talking ray gun, Senor X. Feeling that Gonzalo is another member of the League, Archie hangs out with him, and the two manage to have a number of adventures, including finding the last member, before joining up with the others. Things are becoming very dire, and they know that Philomena must be defeated before she manages to turn the world over to the Mangleborn and the Manglespawn. 

Gratz states in his biography that he tried to include all of the elements that his younger self would have enjoyed, such as "tentacled monsters, brains in jars [and] windup robots". He does an excellent job of this, and also includes plenty of sound effects like "KerrrrrrrrWHOOM!" and "Boom. Ka-thoom. Raaaaawr. Yeaaaaaaa!" I don't know why more middle grade books don't include sound effects-- it adds a lot to the bashing of tentacled monsters. 

The addition of Gonzalo, who relies on Senor X to help him navigate the world, and the enigmatic Martine are good ones, and seeing the league at work in its entirety is interesting. While there were a few moments when I thought that they would dispatch Philomena and the book would be over, and I was disappointed that she managed to somehow disappear, this certainly added to the dramatic tension and made me cheer when she was finally neutralized. 

Archie's self doubt and reluctance to fight were an interesting twist, but given his origin, completely understandable. He adds depth to a novel that otherwise would have been a much simpler exercise in bashing monsters. 

Readers of Westerfeld's Behemouth, Ross' The Fog Diver and Oppel's Airborn will enjoy this alternative look at 1800's America with its Steampunk machines, multicultural characters, and plenty of sound effects.

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