Thursday, August 17, 2017

Super Max AND Olive Mysteries

34228259Vaught, Susan. Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood's Revenge.
August 29th 2017 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Max lives with her grandfather, Toppy, who is the chief of police. She loves figuring out how things work and how to make them work better, He allows her to tinker with her wheelchair, since he considers it as much a part of her body as her legs. However, if she tinkers with other things around the house and sets things on fire, she is punished by having to watch and review sappy movies! From her window, Max can see the creepy Thornwood mansion, which has been derelict for as long as anyone can remember. Her best friend Lavender's mother gave tours of the building for a while, but the building has become increasingly fragile. There's also the curse that Thornwood left, so his family has never been successful enough to repair the place, and no one else wants to live in it. When someone posts a fake Facebook page about Toppy and gets him in a lot of trouble with the town and the mayor, it looks like the curse is back in action. The devastation doesn't stop at Toppy's reputation-- soon things are being set on fire, bank accounts are being hacked, and Toppy may lose his job if he can't stop the perpetrator. Can Lavender and Max, with the help of the owner of the local electrical supply store and his foster son, figure out the culprit? Is it Junior Thornwood? Max's mother, who lives in California? The answer surprises and shocks Max.
Strengths: This was a fun mystery-- a mix of haunted house and hackers that was intriguing. Max's disability is certainly part of the story but not the whole story, which I loved. Toppy is fantastic-- I'm just sad I don't have anyone to punish with writing reviews of sappy movies. That's brilliant. The writing was really good as well. Bonus points for not being as super sad as Footer Davis.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this story, but it was too long for most of my readers (352 pages). It started to drag quite a bit in the middle, which is a shame. Tighter editing would have made this a top notch choice for middle school readers, who really, truly like books to wrap up in 200 pages. I'm a little conflicted about this-- certainly, they should have the patience for a longer book, but there is something about being able to tell the entire story in 200 pages that is not a bad thing for economy of words. Also, errors in Latin phrase that I hope can be fixed.
What I really think: Will purchase. I've only had one student in a wheelchair, but that is certainly a bit of diversity lacking in middle grade literature. Vaught's son is in a wheelchair, so she hits the right notes.

25488892Schusterman, Michelle. Olive and the Backstage Ghost
August 15th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Olive is okay with going to auditions and attending a theater camp, but has a history of being stricken with stage fright in the presence of her mother. Her mother was a child star and did quite well until she lost her ability to sing, and she is bound and determined to have Olive achieve her level of success. Ever since her father's passing a year ago, the two have struggled financially even though they have kept their posh city apartment, and Olive has noticed that more and more of their possessions have been sold. After blowing a summer camp audition, Olive runs away and happens upon a beautiful old theater. She goes onto the stage and sings the piece that she wanted to sing before her mother pushed her to do something else. The owner of the theater, Maude, comes out and tells Olive that she has won the main role in the newest production, Eidola. As Olive spends more and more time in the theater, she meets others , like Juliana, who are in the production, and Felix, who warns her to stay away from the theater. She also meets a number of ghosts, but since they seem benign, she's not too worried. Eventually, Olive and her mother have a falling out, and Olive goes to live in the theater, although her mother does make the news about her disappearance. Things are not as they seem, and the theater offers the occasional creepy glimpse that something is not right. Will Olive, Juliana, and Felix be able to figure out Maude's plans before the production, and all of the cast, is doomed?
Strengths: Olive's relationship with her mother is interesting. Middle grade parents who want to live vicariously through their children are not often covered, but it is an intriguing struggle. Maudeville is atmospherically creepy, and this put me in mind a bit of Funke's The Thief Lord for some reason. The characters of Felix, Finley, and Juliana are particularly well done.
Weaknesses: Olive's relationship with her mother never really improves, and there is a very brief and unexamined statement that Olive's father did not fall to his death but rather jumped. Both of these threads could be upsetting to middle grade readers, and I wish they had been explained and resolved.
What I really think: Readers who enjoy creepy stories and theater settings will read this avidly, but I preferred this author's Kat Sinclair series, since there was more action.

1 comment:

  1. My book club readers informed me that Olive is a weird name and nobody is named that. Which led to a whole discussion about "book names" and why don't the kids have "normal" names...