This is the fifth and final book in the Joey Pigza series and the first I have read. Joey’s mother is suffering from postpartum depression and decides to check herself into the hospital. She pulls Joey out of school to take care of his baby brother. The dad had plastic surgery that ruined his face, ran off and is now stalking the family and wants to kidnap the baby. Joey’s blind girlfriend Olivia arrives after being suspended from blind school and moves in with Joey and baby Carter. Joey cleans up the roach-infested house, takes care of Carter, does the grocery shopping and is basically the man of the house.
This is a fairly dark book for one aimed at the middle grade reader. Joey has to deal with a lot of things he shouldn’t have to and there is no parental or adult support. I had a hard time believing that he would be able to leave school like he did or that there would be no social services involvement with the family. Both the parents seem like horrible people and truly bad parents. The mom hides Joey’s medication and undercuts his self-esteem at every chance. The dad has basically abandoned the family but wants to start over with the perfect baby. He too is not very nice to Joey. I am not sure how many kids would be able to relate to this story and I am not sure how many fans it will find outside of the Joey Pigza ones. However, I did find there were lots of funny parts to the story and Olivia in particular was a hoot.
Cecily and Jeremy are evacuated to the country with their mother before the London Blitz. They take refuge with their uncle Peregrine in Herron Hall. On the way they adopt an evacuee named May to stay with them for the duration of the war. Fourteen-year-old Jeremy is not happy to be evacuated. He believes he is old enough to contribute to the war and to stay in London with his father. He is angry at being stuck in the country. Twelve-year-old Cecily is a selfish, bossy girl who wants things her way. She wants May to be her pet and follow orders but May has a mind of her own. The girls explore the countryside and discover the ruins of Snow Castle. There are two mysterious boys at the castle who intrigue and frighten the girls by turns. In the evening, Peregrine tells the children the story of a duke who wants to become king and must take care of the two princes in his way.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I think one of my issues was the fact that none of the children were really that likeable. Cecily in particular is completely unlikeable. May was the only one that had a decent personality and she wasn’t that developed. I really enjoyed Uncle Peregrine however and really wanted more of him. As an adult reader, I knew immediately who the story Peregrine tells is about. It is clearly meant to be the story of Richard III and the princes in the tower even though they are never identified by name. I liked the story, but didn’t buy the connection to Snow Castle. I guess as long as the truth is unknown any speculation as to the fate of the princes is valid, but I just felt this was a stretch. I didn’t feel like the two boys at the ruins really added anything to the story and the story could have been just as good if not better without them.
Fairest is Queen Levana’s story and what a story it is. While this doesn’t really change my opinion of the evil queen it does explain a bit about how she got to where she is. Basically Luna royalty is messed up. Levana and her sister Channery aren’t even sad when their parents are murdered. Channery becomes queen and just wants to sleep with every guy she is attracted to, doesn’t care about politics and loves tormenting her little sister. The torment began very early when Channery forced Levana into a fire that horribly disfigured her. This caused Levana to become really good at glamour so no one can see what she really looks like. Levana becomes obsessed with one of the royal guards and tricks him into sleeping with her and then marrying her basically by taking on the glamour of his dead wife. Levana is a pretty twisted character and does a lot of things that make you doubt her sanity. But crazy is often exciting to read about. This doesn’t really give a lot of info about the other books in the series but we do get glimpse of Cinder and Winter’s beginnings and of course how Levana became fixated on Earth.
Poetry is not something I pick up and read very often. I don’t have anything against poetry I just like prose more. I am always glad to be introduced to interesting poetry however. I heard about Poisoned Apples through School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books and decided to give it a try. I am glad I did. The poems are a mix of contemporary and fairy tale themes. They deal with the things women have had to deal with forever: sex, body image, a male-dominated world, etc. They speak of things that are not always spoken about. These are not happy, light poems but dark and disturbing at times. They are beautiful in both their message and their words.
The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII seems like one of those issues that was swept under the carpet and little known until recently. It isn’t something you learn about during your history class on WWII or if it is it is barely mentioned. It is a tragic and disturbing part of our history and is a story that should be told. It seems especially important in the wake of the September 11 events and the treatment of Muslim Americans. Sandler does a great job of showing that the Japanese discrimination did not begin with Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were discriminated against from the moment they arrived in the U.S. They looked different, their language was incomprehensible, they had strange customs and they made people afraid. After Pearl Harbor it wasn’t long before that fear led to the imprisonment of all the Japanese living on the west coast. Executive Order 9066 called for the relocation of Japanese to camps throughout the United States. The Japanese were not given very long to get their affairs in order, sell their homes and business, leave their crops and belonging and move in to what was basically a concentration camp. Most of them were robbed of the value of their possessions as people took advantage of their need to get rid of stuff. Even though the order came about because of fear of sabotage and espionage, no such acts were ever committed or suspected. The Japanese took everything in stride with dignity and pride even though that was being taken away from them. They made the camps into homes and continued to educate their children and teach them to be proud Americans. They also distinguished themselves as heroes during the war with their actions in both Europe and the Pacific. It wasn’t until many years later that calls for restitution were finally answered and the United States apologized for their actions.
I am a big fan of history books like this. I love learning about things that I might not have known a lot about. This book is definitely readable and understandable for the middle grade audience. However, I did think the sidebar stories could have been better placed. Every chapter contains a secondary story that was just stuck in the middle of everything. It often broke up a sentence or paragraph and was very frustrating for the reader. I found that I just skipped the sidebar and finished the chapter then returned to the sidebar. My other issue with the book was actually the writing itself. While I personally agree with pretty much everything Sandler wrote about the horrific things done to the Japanese I found the writing to be very biased. For the most part, nonfiction is written from a neutral point of view even when the events being discussed are anything but neutral. Sandler’s language clearly shows that he is against what the U.S. did and firmly on the side of the Japanese. I agree but wish the language would have been more neutral. I sometimes felt like Sandler was pushing an agenda at times when it was not necessary. The events speak for themselves.
Rose and her family spend every summer at the beach. There she has her summer beach friend Windy. This summer the girls are somewhere between being kids and turning into teenagers. Rose’s family is also having a difficult time this summer. Her parents are fighting and her mom is not acting like she usually does. Rose gets irritated with her mom throughout the summer. There is a also a teen boy that Rose has a crush on. He works at the store where the girls go to get candy and horror movies. Unfortunately the teen boy has gotten his girlfriend pregnant and this is causing all kinds of drama with the kids at the beach and jealousy from Rose.
First of all this is a beautifully drawn book. I love the fact that it is not in your traditional black and white but colored in shades of blue and purple. I love that there are a variety of panels to tell the story depending on what is needed at the time. The story itself was a bit boring to tell the truth. There is drama and some interesting bits, but it is mostly Rose and Windy hanging out and talking about things like boys and boobs and babies and parents and such. It is exactly what two preteen girls would probably talk about, but it doesn’t make for exciting reading. There are a couple of bigger issues going on with the teen pregnancy and the mom’s miscarriage but they weren’t the focus of the story. I really wanted more growth from Rose and Windy. They seemed like the same immature girls at the end of the summer that they were at the beginning.
Gilly lives with her family in their shoe. Her father is the shoemaker who invented the glass slipper. But now the princesses have given glass slipper production to the fairies and Gilly’s family isn’t doing so well. She steals things to provide her family with food and the occasional gift. When she is finally caught she is sent to Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS). FTRS is run by reformed villains like Cinderella’s stepmother, Red Riding Hood’s wolf, Ariel’s sea witch and Snow White’s evil queen. Gilly meets a lot of other fairy tale delinquents at the school and finds that not everything is as reformed as it seems.
I enjoy reading fractured fairy tales and it seems like they are a trend in children’s literature right now. I like the twist of the villains being reformed and trying to reform others in Calonita’s take on the fairy tale world. There were plenty of twists and turns to this story to make it interesting. It is the beginning of a series and opens up a lot of possibilities for future books. The fairy tale world is full of interesting characters and tales and there is no end to the new twists you can come up with.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Meira is one of only eight surviving people of Winter who are not enslaved in the work camps of Spring. Sixteen years ago Spring’s evil ruler Angra destroyed winter and enslaved its people. Meira and the others are determined to free the people and get back Winter’s magic. Meira was just a baby when Winter fell and along with the future king Mather have been raised by Winter’s general William who Meira calls Sir. In order to restore their magic they have to find Winter’s conduit, a locket broken in two by Angra. Their quest will take them across the land as they search for allies and find enemies. It will also take them into the heart of Spring and Angra’s evil rule. Meira has to decide what is really important, her happiness or the future of Winter. Her destiny is revealed during her greatest hardship. The battle for Winter has just begun.
I love fantasy books like this. Raasch has created a world like no other. Primoria is a land of magic controlled by royal conduits. It is a land of balance with four Seasons and four Rhythm kingdoms. It is a land with four female and four male conduits. I really liked the idea of the Season kingdoms. Their climates don’t change from their season. Winter is perpetually winter and its people are built for the cold and the ice. They have pale skin and white hair. The other Seasons are likewise designed. Meira joins the ranks of strong female characters who can kick butt just like the boys. The revelation of her destiny was not that big of a surprise but it was interesting. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Corinne lives on an island with her fisherman father. Her mother died when she was a baby. The island is a special one with a forest filled with Jumbies. Jumbies are creatures that can harm you if you come in contact with them. The villagers stay away from the forest and the jumbies and have lived together for many years. One day Corinne ventures into the forest to retrieve a necklace that belonged to her mother and is followed out by Severine. Severine is the queen of the jumbies and it turns out the sister of Corinne’s mother. Severine wants a family and decides she is going to take Corinne and her father. When that doesn’t work out for her she decides to retake the island from the humans. Corinne teams up with her friends to stop Severine and save their home.
The Jumbies is an interesting fairy tale based off island myths. Baptiste used the stories of jumbies from her childhood to craft a modern fairy tale. The jumbies are just scary enough but not too scary to intrigue young readers. The chapters are nice and short and make you want to keep reading. The characters were well developed and interesting. I liked the Severine’s motivations were actually revealed and she wasn’t just a one-dimensional character like so many villains.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
One day in the middle of taking a math test Ava discovers that if she writes out a question her pencil will give her the answer. This is super helpful with the math test so Ava and her friend Sophie experiment to see what else the magic pencil can help them with. This results in some amusing things like who likes who and when boots are going on sale. It also reveals deeper information like the fact that Ava’s mom is sick and her grandpa is going to die. Ava is a really anxious kid who has anxiety about all kinds of things ranging from tests to jazz band tryouts to school field trips to her parents getting divorced. This anxiety keeps her withdrawn and stops her from participating fully in life. With the help of the pencil Ava conquers some of her anxiety and starts coming out of her shell.
I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I have enjoyed Messner’s other books. I’m not sure I really buy the explanation of how the pencil came to be magical in the first place. It seemed a little too convenient. I did really like the interactions with Ava and her grandparents however. I thought all the scenes at the nursing home where her grandpa lived were very touching and sweet. While it doesn’t quite reach the excellence of Capture the Flag, I am sure this book will be a hit with fans of Kate Messner.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
This is a companion book to Elijah of Buxton and takes place several years after the events of that book. Red and Benji are two boys who live around Buxton. Red is an Irish lad who lives with his father and grandmother. Father is a judge and grandmother is a irritable racist who hates pretty much everyone and everything. Benji is a black boy who wants to be a newspaper man. He writes headlines for the big events in his life and even gets an apprenticeship at a newspaper. The two independently meet the Madman of Piney Woods who is a hermit living in the woods. Benji and Red meet about half-way through the book and become friends despite the differences in their backgrounds.
It took me a long time to read this book. It was pretty slow going and I just didn’t find it that interesting. I wanted to like it more. I enjoyed Benji and Red, but found their just wasn’t enough going on in the book to keep me reading. For being the title of the book the Madman didn’t play nearly as big a role as I thought he would. I also wasn’t sure how this tied to Elijah of Buxton except the setting until the very end when Elijah was introduced again. There is a lot of good historical information in this book and as always Curtis’ writing is wonderful. I just wasn’t feeling this book however.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Oh how I hate a cliffhanger! Mainly because I don’t have the next book on hand to immediately start reading. I have wanted to read The Last Wild ever since I heard about it and it did not disappoint.
Kester is a boy who has been taken from his home and imprisoned in Spectrum Hall. He is unable to speak ever since his mom died several years ago. He hasn’t heard from his dad in the six years he has been in Spectrum Hall. Kester’s world is one in which there was a plague that destroyed all the animals and the food of the world. The people of the island where he lives are confined into four cities and the island is controlled by the powerful Factorium. One ordinary day in Spectrum Hall Kester discovers he can hear animals. First it is a cockroach and then pigeons. They break Kester out and take him to the last wild. There he meets the last stag and many other animals that have survived the plague. Unfortunately, they are in danger because the plague has reached the last wild. Their only hope is Kester and finding a cure. Kester sets off with the stag, cockroach, pigeons and a courageous wolf-pup to the city to find his father and a cure. Along the way he is joined by other animals and Polly, who has lived in the quarantine zone with her parents until they disappeared. They are chased by the evil henchmen of the Factorium who wants to destroy all animals no matter if they are sick or not. Kester has to find his courage and his voice in order to succeed.
It isn’t often that you read a book where the main character cannot talk. While Kester can talk to the animals, he is unable to communicate with the people he meets. This leads to some pretty interesting situations. As much as I liked Kester and Polly, it was really the animals who were the stars of this story. There is the only white pigeon who repeats everything the gray pigeons say only in a different order and often with completely different and hilarious meanings. There is the brave wolf-pup who is super courageous and let’s everyone know about his bravery. There is the cockroach named “General” who seems to sleep more than most put still claims to be the leader. There is the mouse who has a dance for every occasion. And finally the majestic stag who saves them time and again. The book is a mix of fantasy and dystopian and road novel mixed with coming of age. I loved every page of it!
Beatrix is left on a tram in Amsterdam when her mother is pulled off by the Nazis. She is taken in by older brothers Hans and Lars who operate the tram. They claim she is their niece and take her into their home. Together with their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos they risk their lives to protect the little girl. Another neighbor Lieve helps teach Beatrix catechism so she can pass as Catholic. Hans and Lars do their best to make Beatrix a part of their family and love her dearly. The new family survives the deprivations and starvation of the war until they are finally liberated.
There is something about holocaust stories that always tug at my heart. This is a wonderful little story about two brothers who saved a young girl. I loved the humor of the two old bachelors trying to figure out how to handle having a little girl in their midst. Mrs. Vos was an awesome character as well, full of take-charge attitude and good sense. This book would serve as a good introduction to the deprivations suffered during war. The horrible things that happened are hinted at but not explicitly shown. War is horrible and that comes through loud and clear without a lot of terrible details that might scare young readers.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Molly and Kip are headed to their deaths. At least that is what everyone keeps telling them. They have taken a job at the Windsor estate in the “sour woods”. It is a place the locals refuse to enter and has a bad history. But Molly and Kip are desperate. They had to flee Ireland because of the potato famine and their parents are no longer with them. They are not prepared for what the find at Windsor. It is an island with a big creepy house with a dark tree growing beside and into it. The Windsor family looks worn down and everything in the house has a sickly air about it. Soon they discover the reason. The mysterious Night Gardener, who cares for the tree, enters the house every night and visits the sleepers. He collects their nightmares to feed to the tree. It also turns out the tree has the power to grant your heart’s desire. The payment is only a little bit of your soul. Molly soon becomes bound to the tree as much as the Windsors. Her heart’s desire? Letters from her parents. Seems Molly hasn’t told Kip the truth about what happened to them and doesn’t want to accept the truth herself. She has been making up stories about their travels and the letters help her continue the deception. Before too long they realize that more than their health and souls are in danger from the Night Gardener. It seems he eventually needs more to feed the tree. They have to find a way to escape his clutches and perhaps save the Windsor family too.
This book was super creepy. So creepy I wanted to turn away from it at times, but really couldn’t put it down. I love the concept of the Night Gardener who collects the sweat of your nightmares to water the tree that gives you your heart’s desire. The question of whether what you wish for is really what you need is an interesting one and plays out so very well. I also loved the whole bit about the difference between stories and lies. Molly is a wonderful storyteller and the kids meet the local storyteller Hester on their travels to the estate. The conclusion they come to is that stories give you the courage to face things whereas lies help you hide from them. There is so much to love about this book and I can’t recommend it more. I loved it!
One Plastic Bag is the story of Isatou Ceesay and how she created an industry in Gambia where the women recycled plastic bags into bags and purses. Plastic bags were a huge environmental problem in Gambia and one day Isatou had enough. She cleaned the bags, made them into string and wove bags out of them. The new bags were sold and helped the people of her area. It is an inspiring story about how one person can make a difference.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of short stories from Terry Pratchett’s youth. In them you can see the beginnings of Pratchett’s signature snarky style and irreverent humor. These fourteen tales are fun and funny and slightly silly. Fans of Pratchett will certainly enjoy this peak into his early work.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Chasing Aphrodite is the story of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It is one of the world’s richest museums, founded by John Getty and funded through the fortune he accumulated through Getty Oil. This is not a dry retelling of how a museum came to be and how it gathered its collection. The Getty is a museum home to scandal and intrigue to tax fraud schemes and affairs to reform and theft. It was simply a hot-bed of controversy and scandal that rocked the art world and brought forth reform in the way antiquities were acquired. The authors are two Los Angeles Times reporters who broke the story of the shady dealings at the Getty and received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for their investigations. They have expanded on their articles and created a true crime novel that is immensely readable and a definite page turner. The scandals at the Getty revolved around museum curator Marrion True and how Greek and Roman antiquities were acquired. The Getty was not alone in acquiring pieces through shady deals and looters. Many of the world’s leading museums were also guilty, but the Getty was the museum Italian prosecutors zealously went after in their quest to stop the patrimony of Italy being looted. If you are at all interested in the art world, I would highly recommend this book to you. It was fascinating and I simply couldn’t put it down.
This is one of those books that stays with you. Even days after I finished reading it I am still thinking about it and the world Lelye Walton created. I generally don’t like magical realism books; they just aren’t my thing, but there was something about this one that got its hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. The title is misleading; this is not just a book about Ava Lavender, the girl born with wings. It is the tragic story of her entire family going back generations. It starts with her great-grandfather moving the family to New York. New York is not gentle with the Roux family. All of them suffer for love and die, all except Emilienne who flees New York, marries a baker and moves to the house on Pinnacle Lane. Her husband dies early leaving her with neighbors who think she is a witch, a young Viviane to raise and a bakery. Viviane too has her troubles with love. She ends us broken hearted with two young children: Henry who barely speaks and sees things others cannot and Ava with her glorious wings. She sequestered them in the house on Pinnacle Lane but even that cannot stop the tragedy that seems to follow the family.
This is not a happy book in any way. There is death and loss and rape and people turning into birds. It is like a dark fairy tale told to scare children and warn them about the dangers of love. The entire time you are reading it you know terrible things are just around the corner. You want to warn the characters but you can’t. There is a lot that can’t be explained but you realize you don’t need an explanation. You can just believe that this is the way the world works in Walton’s mind. This is not a book for everybody but those that get lost in the story will have a hard time finding themselves again.
Kara Westfall was five when her mother was killed for being a witch. Her mother allegedly killed her best friend before being caught. Even Kara’s father denounces her as an evil witch. They live on an island in the middle of the ocean and follow the Path of Timoth Clen who helped rid the world of witches. They are a secluded group cut off from the world. The island is also home to the Thickety, a magically impenetrable forest that the villagers must fight to keep clear of their land. When Kara is twelve she discovers a book that she believes is her mother’s grimoire. She starts casting spells and realizes the danger that the use of magic creates. Everyone’s favorite girl Grace (who is actually horrible) discovers Kara’s magic and finds that she too is a witch. Grace wants the power magic holds however and soon Kara is doing everything she can to survive and ensure the survival of her family.
I really enjoy this type of book with magic and fantastical creatures and interesting worlds. I do wish we would have learned more about the world outside the island. Is it like our world? Is it filled with magic and fantastical creatures as well? Kara is one of those spunky heroines that you just can’t help cheering for. She makes mistakes but has the good of the village in her heart. I wish there was more dimension to Grace’s character. She is just your typical mean girl on a power trip for the most part. However, the action is good and the story will keep you turning the pages.
Kiernan wants to fit in with the cool kids at school and he does just barely. That could all change when his strange cousin Bon comes to town. Bon has long, girly hair, wears old, raggedy clothes and likes to draw. He and his mom Renee have moved around a lot and the family has barely seen them. Bon gets bullied at school by Kiernan and his friends. Bon’s only friend is the other new kid Julia who seems to be attending school for the first time and has a secret past. As Bon becomes more a permanent part of Kiernan’s family he has to come to terms with his feelings and decide if he is going to do right by Bon.
This story has a lot going on. Bon is bullied, Kiernan is a bully. Renee seems to have some kind of mental health issue and there is the issue of child neglect regarding Bon. Julie has been kidnapped by her mother from her father who has custody. It is pretty heavy stuff and sometimes handled a bit heavy-handed in the book. I thought the message of the book was great. It is all about being who you are and accepting people for who they are. The only problem was that it came across very messagey and seemed to read like an after school special.