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.
Ned is the “wrong boy”; he lived when his twin brother Tam did not. His mother, Sister Witch, could not bear to lose both her boys at the same time so she sewed Tam’s soul into Ned thus saving his life but causing him difficulties. Ned is never able to speak without stuttering or read any words after the accident. The townspeople believe the wrong boy was saved and treat him badly. His father can barely look at him. Sister Witch is the keeper of magic in their village. The magic has been passed down through the generations and they are charged with helping others and keeping the magic good. The magic has a mind of its own however and takes a toll on the wielder. Aine lives with her father in the forest. They used to live by the sea but then her mother died and her father’s heart was broken. He hid them away in the forbidden forest and became the bandit king. He too has magic and the magic has warped and changed him into something Aine has difficulty recognizing. The Bandit King learns about Sister Witch’s magic and is determined to get it for himself. This sets up a series of events where Ned takes the magic into himself and gets lost in the forest. Aine and Ned team up with a wolf in order to return the magic to Sister Witch. Of course things don’t go as planned. Ned’s country is cut off from the world and governed by a strong queen. The neighboring king is a spoiled brat who wants what he doesn’t have and is determined to invade the country and harness the magic for himself. There are also nine standing stones who were once people and it is their magic free in the world. All these things collide in the conclusion of The Witch’s Boy.
Once I started reading this book I really didn’t want to put it down. I loved the world that was created by Kelly Barnhill. Ned is a fantastic character hurt by the death of his brother and struggling as the survivor. He wants to be more and taking the magic into himself allows him to grown and discover just how strong he really was. Aine is such an interesting character as well. She is hard and cold but only because the world has made her that way. Inside she wants what everyone wants family and friends to love. She struggles with the fact that her father has been corrupted by the magic and despite her love for him knows he must be stopped. This is a wonderful story and one I would highly recommend.
Andi, Quinn, Dylan and Frederick are back in the real world after their adventures in Elorium. They starting having nightmares and decide it is time to go back and try to rescue Jack. Quinn’s brother Max gets sucked along for the ride. Elorium is not how they left it though. People are disappearing and others are having nightmares as well. This just makes the gang that much more determined to find Jack and figure out what is going on. There is a lot of adventure and excitement, a couple of people almost die, and there are a few other fairytales added to the mix.
I liked this second book in the Grimm Tales series. The story seemed a bit more cohesive than the first as we didn’t have to introduce characters and their stories all over again. There is plenty of action and intrigue as the group travels across Elorium to find Jack. I enjoyed the developing relationships between the boys and girls and the fact that the girls were awesome. Andi and Quinn pretty much ruled the adventure. They showed that girls can be smart, prepared and kick-butt as well.
Thanks to Netgalley for letting me read this book!
Grayson Sender is a sixth grade boy who doesn’t feel like his outside matches his inside. He has always felt like he was more of a girl than a boy. He looks in the mirror and tries to make his over-sized shirts and track pants into long dresses and skirts. He doesn’t fit in at school or have any real friends. When his favorite teacher announces tryouts for the spring play, The Myth of Persephone, Grayson is determined to tryout. He doesn’t want to tryout for any of the male roles however, he tries out for the role of Persephone. This sets off a firestorm throughout his home and school. He lives with his aunt and uncle since his parents died when he was a toddler. His uncle is supportive and wants Grayson to be who he is supposed to be. His aunt however is outraged that a teacher would cast him in a female role and is scared for Grayson’s safety. Grayson finds a home with the drama kids in the play however as they accept him for who he is. Some of the boys in his class are another story as they start teasing him and calling him Gracie. The bullying climaxes with Grayson being pushed down the stairs. He is determined to go on with the play no matter what though as that is the only time he feels like himself.
I was excited to read this book as it is on a topic I haven’t read in middle grade books before. Usually you don’t start getting into LGBT issues until teen novels. Grayson’s story is a wonderful one and one I would definitely recommend. It is handled very well and is presented at the correct level for the intended readers. I am not familiar with the journey transgender tweens/teens would take to become who they are meant to be but I found Grayson’s story to be realistic. I liked the fact that he was not just magically accepted by his peers and family but did receive negative reactions. This made the story that much more realistic. I enjoyed the interactions Grayson experienced with the other kids in the play; I always knew drama kids were inclusive and this just proved me right. I also thought the plot with the teacher was handled really well. There was bound to be consequences for his actions and they seemed appropriate. This is not a book for everyone but it is a book that should be read by everyone. It is more than a book about a transgender tween; it is a a book about being yourself and accepting people for who they are.
Jax lives at the bottom of a mountain in the Catskills. She loves exploring the mountains, but ever since her younger sister Kizzy almost drowned her mother hasn’t let her have the freedom she once enjoyed. Then one day a giant dog appears and adopts Jax. That same night she sees lights in the old building up the mountain. When she goes to explore she discovers Yeshi and Rinpoche, two Buddhist monks who are going to reopen the monastery. First they have to find a missing statue. The statue is a protector demon that was stolen from a monastery in Tibet. A mysterious man is also looking for the statue, but he doesn’t want to return it to Tibet. Jax ends up defying her mother and heading up the mountain in a storm to warn the monks about the mysterious man. Jax and Yeshi have to decipher the prophecy about the statue and find it before the man does and before he unleashes the demon.
This was a nice, quick read. The story is fast-paced with a lot of action and intrigue. I really enjoyed the fact that Yeshi and Rinpoche were Buddhist monks, that is not something you see a lot in middle grade fiction. It gave a nice introduction to the Buddhist faith and philosophy without being too much. There is a bit of a supernatural element with the demon that added a spooky element to the story as well. I liked how the friendship between Jax and Yeshi seemed to develop naturally even though it turned out Yeshi had a higher calling.
Willow Chance is a special girl; she is interested in plants and medical diagnosis; she is an undiscovered genius. Willow has just started middle school when she aces a standardized test and is accused of cheating. This sends her to Dell Duke, incompetent counselor, and allows her to meet her only friend Mai, whose brother Quang-ha sees Dell as well. These are the people around her when her world is destroyed. Her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. Suddenly Willow is alone in the world with no family and no place to go. Mai takes charge and convinces her mother to allow Willow to stay with them, pretending she is a family friend even though they have never met. Mai’s mother Pattie is from Vietnam and operates a nail salon. The family lives in a one room garage behind the salon, which would definitely not pass a social services inspection. So Pattie convinces Dell to let them pretend to live in his apartment. She takes charge and transforms it into a home. Before you know it Willow, Mai, Pattie, Quang-ha and Dell are like a real family. Willow slowly comes out of her grief as the family comes together, but will she be able to stay with her new family or will the state take her away and destroy all she has known again?
This is one of those books that will break your heart. Willow’s grief on losing her parents is real and visceral. You can feel and understand her pain as she shuts completely down. Willow is also very strange; her interests are strange; she doesn’t interact with people in what is considered a normal way; she doesn’t fit in. But she fits with this new group of people and she brings them together as a family.
After reading this book for the second time I am still torn about my feelings for it. On one hand I really love the how Willow is able to build a family after tragedy. On the other there are several things that really bothered me about the book. First is the fact that Willow is not forced to go to school for months. Her case worker, the school district, Pattie, Dell, none of them make her go to school. She tells them she isn’t ready and they drop it just like that. She is supposed to be homeschooling during this time, but no one checks on that either. Second is the fact that Dell is completely incompetent as a counselor and yet is given all the tough cases to deal with. He doesn’t even attempt to help these kids and who knows what becomes of all the others besides Willow and Quang-ha. Third is the fact that Willow is immediately suspected of cheating on the standardized test she aces even though she has tested as gifted in the past. There is no retesting or attempts to figure out if she is just truly genius. She is just labeled a cheater and sent to counseling. This seemed off to me. Fourth is the fact that Willow’s house and the parents’ estate is never mentioned. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the bills stop. Who is taking care of that? At some point you assume the house will be sold, but surely Willow will be consulted. I just really wanted to know what happened to that house and the garden that Willow so loved. I thought it was wrong that she completely abandoned it even after she started coming out of her grief. The last thing is the ending…it is way too Disney-perfect. The entire time I was reading it I assumed Pattie would somehow get custody of Willow. There was no way the book was going to end with her losing her family again. However, at the end Pattie somehow ends up being rich; rich enough to buy an apartment building in California. Seems she was forcing her family to live in the garage so she could save up some cash. Really!!???! She always came across as a hard-working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! The bonus of this is one is Pattie’s romance with Jairo which also seems to come out of left field. Suddenly there is a built-in wealthy family for Willow to become a part of. I still really like this book and will recommend it, but I wish the ending wouldn’t have been so perfect. Willow could have still been adopted by Pattie even if she wasn’t wealthy right?
Prince Aspen and midwife Snail are on the run from both the Seelie and Unseelie armies. They have unintentionally started a war between the two courts. On the road they meet up with Professor Odds and his band of misfit players. Together with a new mother troll and her baby, they hit the road to evade the armies. Professor Odds is not what he seems however, and has ulterior motives for recruiting Snail. Turns out she is a changeling, a human child stolen into the faery world. Professor Odds is recruiting changelings to take on whichever army wins the war. Prince Aspen just wants to stop the war however he can, but at this point it is pretty inevitable.
So I didn’t read the first book of the series but this one does a nice job of summing up the events. There is a lot of humor with the dwarves and the dog/carpet thing and the troll. There is a nice cast of characters taken straight out of faery lore, though I do wish some of them had been more explained. I know what a red cap is, but young readers probably do not. This book sets up the final book in the trilogy very nicely and I am sure fans will be eagerly awaiting the conclusion.
Jessie and Evan Treski are over a year apart in age but in the same class at school. Jessie is smart and skipped a grade. They live with their mom in a big, old house that seems to always need something fixed. Mom is getting ready to go on a trip when dad suddenly shows up. Dad has been out of their lives for a while. He is a war reporter and always gone. Since the divorce he might pop in for a day every once in a while but never stays long. When their babysitter has an accident and can’t stay with them, dad decides he can handle the kids for a week while mom is gone. The only problem is dad is not real good with parenting. He is always on the phone and does a lot of things mom would not approve of.
Evan has become obsessed with magic and wants to put on a magic show. He needs a big finally however to make the show great. Dad actually helps out when he gets Evan a bunny and a magic box. Jessie volunteers to be the assistant and they prepare for the magic show in the backyard. Only problem is a hurricane is heading up the east coast right for them. Dad needs to catch a plane before the airport closes so he takes off unexpectedly leaving the kids by themselves. Mom’s flight home is cancelled because of the hurricane. The kids are left on their own to endure the hurricane and the damage it causes.
I haven’t read the rest of this series but I don’t think you have to in order to enjoy this book. I liked how resourceful and intelligent Jessie and Evan were. They were fine on their own in incredible circumstances. I thought the dad was a bit over the top. I’m not sure even the worst parent would leave two kids home alone with a hurricane approaching, but you never know. I liked how Evan really worked with Jessie when she got over-excited. I am assuming she is somewhere on the autism spectrum even though it was never stated. I thought it was good that it was portrayed as just a part of their everyday life. Evan knew how to calm her and get her back on track.
Pete Watson has been saving up to buy the newest version of his favorite video game. One the day it goes on sale he finds an IOU from his mom and is $20 short. So he decides to have an impromptu garage sale where he sells his dad’s old gaming console to a bug guy. When he goes to buy his new game he sees his dad kidnapped and learns from his neighbor that dad was really a CIA analyst and the game console has all the CIA secrets on it. Pete enlists the help of his friend Wesley and Wesley’s sister to stop the bad guys and rescue his dad. At this point dad has been digitized and downloaded into the console. Pete goes in after him and together they have to save the world.
So this is definitely a book that will appeal to middle grade boys. It has a lot of action and humor and is about video games. As an adult reader I thought it was pretty silly. It is a mix of War Games, Scooby Doo and a spy caper. I really liked the chapter headings — they are hilarious — and the illustrations. The story takes a lot of suspension of belief to read without rolling your eyes, but I am sure the intended audience will eat it up.
So I saw this book on Goodreads and just had to check it out. It looked super creepy and I was not disappointed. There is just something about these old photographs of people in homemade Halloween costumes that ups the creep factor to about 11. I have no idea what most of the costumes are nor do I want to know. The sepia color of the photos makes everything just a little bit more bizarre and demonic. If I saw any of these costumes at my door on Halloween I think I would lock the door and hide in the closet for the rest of the night.
Treasure is heart-broken when her dad takes off and doesn’t come back. He has left before but never for this long. He has itchy feet and can’t seem to stay in one place for very long. Treasure’s mom decides she is going to go look for him. She takes Treasure and her sister Tiffany to great aunt Grace’s house. Grace is an old, cranky woman whose house is full of dust and cigarette smoke, which aggravates Treasure’s asthma. She runs a candy store where she makes Treasure and Tiffany work while they are staying with her. Treasure is sure their father is just looking for the perfect place for them to finally settle down for good. She holds onto that dream until she can no longer overlook the obvious.
I loved Treasure’s story. She is spunky and out-spoken and perfect. Great aunt Grace is a wonderful character as well. I loved how cranky she was with everyone even though she secretly has a pretty soft heart. I thought the story was pretty realistic with Treasure and Tiffany trying to fit into their new circumstances and come to terms with the new reality of their lives. Treasure has created a hard shell around herself because they move so often, so she doesn’t want to make friends or become attached. I thought the two bullying girls were handled really well. It is often the ones who look perfect on the outside that are the biggest bullies. I also liked that the other girl struggled with how mean they were being. Wonderful story that I highly recommend!
Edmund Lonnrot is a middle school student at a prestigious school in New York. He is in danger of going to public school after his dad loses his job. Edmund definitely doesn’t want that to happen. One afternoon while he and his dad are getting ice cream they become witnesses to an assault. Edmund’s photographic memory allows him to accurately draw a picture of the assailant. Turns out the guy is part of an art thief gang that the police are trying to catch. Suddenly, Edmund’s skills are in demand to help identify the gang members and catch them before they pull off their heist. Edmund becomes Eddie Red and starts spending a lot of time in museums. Eddie feels like the police are keeping information from him so he enlists the help of his friend Jonah to solve the case. Turns out the police are way off base so it is up to Eddie and Jonah to stop the thieves.
There was something a bit old-school about this caper that I really enjoyed. I liked that Eddie and Jonah had to be as smart as the thieves to figure out what was going on. I thought it was interesting how misguided and resistant the police were to Eddie’s help, but I guess I wouldn’t want a kid telling me how to do my job either. I appreciated the fact that Eddie’s parents were in the picture and actually interested in what he was doing. That was a nice change from so many middle grade books where the parents always seem to be either dead or absent. This book sets up the Eddie Red series nicely and I am sure fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Casey Snowden loves baseball. His dad and granddad run the third best umpire school in the country (out of three). He likes nothing better than seeing the students come in, getting back together with the instructors and You Suck Ump Day. This year the ump school coincides with Casey starting middle school. Casey loves baseball but doesn’t want to play or be an ump, he wants to be a sports reporter. Now that he is in middle school he thinks he’ll get the chance to write for the school newspapers. His hopes are dashed when he is told that sixth graders don’t get to write. They have to pay their dues by selling ad space before they become reporters. Casey doesn’t want to give up his dreams and works hard to come up with the most amazing story ever to get in the paper. Things aren’t going so well at home either. Fewer students have signed up for umpire school this year, which means some of the instructors haven’t been rehired either. Casey has to plan You Suck Ump Day himself with the help of his best friend. Casey’s mom is also back in the picture. She left them for Bob the Baker and has been absent for a while. Casey is still mad at her and wants nothing to do with her, but his dad is forcing him to spend time with mom.
There is a lot going on in this book which makes it pretty heavy at times. Casey seems to go from one issue to the next: school problems, bullies, financial problems at home, mom issues, questions about whether dad is moving the school to Florida. All the issues fit into the story, but because there is so much going on it feels like nothing is ever truly developed well. Maybe with fewer issues, the ones remaining could have been truly fleshed out. I liked the uniqueness of the umpire school. I’ve never even heard of it or read anything with it as a subject. I really liked the relationship between Casey and his best friend. It added a lot of humor to the otherwise kind of heavy story.
Annie is on her way to see her dying grandmother who she has never met. Grandma Mary lives in an empty hotel and is a mean, cranky woman. During a storm, Annie travels back in time to 1937 and meets her grandma as a young girl. Mary goes by Molly and is locked in the “lonely room” because she has asthma and her parents don’t want her to die. Molly is unhappy and a bit self-centered until Annie arrives. Annie helps Molly escape the room and they go on adventures throughout the town: roller-skating in Woolworths, experiencing a fair on the docks, traveling through the laundry chute and the dumb waiter at the hotel. As much as Annie enjoys getting to know her grandma and experiencing 1937, she really just wants to get back to her own time and mom.
This book has a bit of The Secret Garden and a bit of The Magic Half and a bit of Eloise. It was a fun historical read with a time travel twist. I loved the setting of the hotel and all the mischief the girls could get into. I do wish there would have been a bit more about the historical time period. It is set in the Great Depression, which Molly being a rich, white girl doesn’t really experience. The girls notice it more on their trips out in town, but it is barely mentioned at all. Molly seems to have lots of money to spend, but no concept of how much things are actually worth, which makes sense when you realize she has never been out of her room. I enjoyed the book overall, but just wanted a little bit more from it.
Tom and Eddie are very special twins. Tom lives on EarthOne in 2012, Eddie lives on EarthTwo in 1958. They are half-aliens and have telepathic powers. They are the Earths’ only hope for survival because the aliens want to destroy both worlds. There is no mention of the mother, but Tom/Eddie’s father and grandfather are both aliens who happen to be able to be in two places at once. Eddie comes to EarthOne and the twins and their friends embark on a tour to promote TechOff! Day. Of course the men in black are after them because they think the twins know about the aliens. People keep disappearing off the tour with no explanation. There are car chases, Guantanamo style torture of kids, alien rescues, displays of telepathic power and a spaceship chase into space. All of this adds up to one crazy story that makes little sense. It is told from multiple points of view which lead to a less than cohesive narrative. I think everyone got a chapter and was surprised when the dog didn’t. I think the book would have been stronger if told in a third person narrative that gave more cohesion to the story instead of multiple first person narratives. As it was there was a lot of tell and very little show to the book. I haven’t read the first book and maybe that would have cleared up some of the mess. But this book does claim to be a stand alone novel. The story was so implausible and senseless that it was difficult to read. The aliens created EarthTwo as a type of experiment; cloning the planet and putting it 60 years in the past. Yet they take no responsibility for it and their interest really isn’t explained. The whole men in black scenario was so ridiculous I felt like I was reading a mish-mash of bad scifi movie plots. This is definitely a story you can pass on.
Ahh, the joys of working in a public library. You just never know what kind of crazy, sweet, angry, beautiful people you are going to encounter day to day. Gina Sheridan has collected stories about her experiences working in the library in this little gem of a book. I really enjoyed the fact that she categorized the stories by the Dewey Decimal System. While my experiences are not the same as Sheridan’s I can definitely relate to them. Public libraries are open to the public and that just means anyone and everyone can be there. Some days are a delight when you find the right book for a patron or help them with a sticky problem. Other days are a chore when you get yelled at or sneezed on or have to deal with too many frustrating situations. Each day is different and makes coming to work interesting.