Tag Archives: middle grade

Review: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

BookScavenger.jpg

I haven’t had much of an appetite for reading lately—I’ve got such big changes going on in my life and while decisions have been made, things are still in a transition phase (I’ll write more about that in a later post, once things have settled down) and some days it feels a little like limbo. And when that happens, I feel restless, and when I’m restless I can’t focus. Which means reading hasn’t been tempting me.

But then one day I was pacing aimlessly around the place, and my eyes lit on Book Scavenger, which I had out from the library.

I’d seen it earlier this year on NetGalley, but it was only available for UK reviewers. I’d liked the book’s description so much, I checked my library, found they had it on pre-order and put a hold on it. Then I forgot about it until it came in for me a few weeks ago.

I picked it up and reread the blurb. The plot, which is a mystery, centres around a book-hiding game called Book Scavenger. And it sounds like a really awesome game: you hide books and find others’ hidden books using codes and ciphers—kind of like Book Crossing taken to a whole new—gaming—level.

Reading the blurb, I remembered why I’d put a hold on Book Scavenger in the first place.

A mystery about books. And puzzles. Who can resist this?

I certainly couldn’t. Even in my restless state, I sat down and began reading. And I was hooked right from the start, which begins with the rules of the Book Scavenger game.

Oh, how I wish such a game really did exist! It would be so much fun!

I also loved Emily, who’s so unused to having friends because her parents are on a quest to have 50 homes in 50 states (a theme which they’ve turned into a successful blog of the same name). And James, the puzzle whiz who has affectionately named his cowlick Steve. The mystery is intriguing, the way the two kids are involved is very credible, the stakes are high and the puzzles are sheer fun.

Book Scavenger is like a delightful combination of Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, a book I absolutely adore, and Blue Balliett’s wonderful, intelligent arts-related middle grade mysteries (The Wright 3, The Calder Game and Chasing Vermeer)—but with a personality all its own.

I enjoyed Book Scavenger so much, I’m now reading it again with my son.

Wanting to read more middle grade novels … and A Game of Thrones

I know, I know, two totally different things. But for some reason, they’ve become interconnected in my mind. When I start thinking about what I’d like to start reading more of, I think, middle grade novels! And then for some funny reason, I head straight from there to A Game of Thrones. And then back to middle grade novels again. A very strange but now comfortable cycle.

A few years ago, I bought this from Costco:

Game of Thrones boxed set (Actually, it was the boxed set without A Dance with Dragons …) I was listening to A Game of Thrones in audio at the time, and realized it was going to be too gory for me to continue it in audio (because it’s impossible to listen with your ears half-closed, the way you can skim through the brutal bits with your eyes half-opened). But for some reason I’ve just never gotten back to the series, even though I had been so enthralled by what I’d heard so far in the audiobook. (I’d gotten as far as Bran’s fall.) I say “for some reason” but it’s mostly because I suspect the books are a lot like potato chips—you can’t consume just one or two.

So these books stare at me every day from their place on my TBR shelves. I need to just bite the bullet and start reading them. Amazon tells me, though, that all five books combined total 5,216 pages. That’s a lot of pages. A lot of reading time.

Anyway, swinging back to the whole middle grade novel thing, I really need to start reading more middle grade novels. I used to read them all the time, but in the past few years I haven’t added very many new titles to my TBR.

So to honour this yearning of mine, I recently made a list of middle grade reads to add to my TBR (I know. As if I needed to add more, right?). Here they are, in no particular order:

So that’s my list so far. Do you have any suggestions for good middle grade fantasies or mysteries?

Armchair BEA: Exploring Middle-Grade Novels

ArmchairBEAI’ve never stopped loving children’s books, and have reread my childhood favourites many many times despite having become an adult many many years ago (lots of many’s there!).

Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.

This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.

I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.

Mysteries

I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.

A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)

Dead Letter

Calder Game

Fantasies

When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Graveyard Book

Jinx Sage Blackwood

These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)

What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!

Review: Jinx, by Sage Blackwood

JinxI first came across Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, when Melissa at Book Nut posted about the state of her TBR pile. The title looked interesting, and when I read the description, I thought, “I’d like to read this!”

In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter churn–riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus.

Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trodden paths.

But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest. And soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.

I’ve always read a lot of middle grade fiction, especially fantasies and mysteries, and for me, the best middle grade reads are the ones that create a rich, complex world with equally rich and complex characters. It’s actually not such an easy thing to achieve with middle grade fiction – authors always have to stay aware of the age group for whom they’re writing but sometimes when they’re too focused on this, it can be to the detriment of the story they’re trying to tell.  Books like Jinx prove that you can stay true to your audience without oversimplifying your narrative and characterizations.

I really enjoyed Jinx. The characters were delightfully real – as conflicted as anyone I know in real life. Jinx, the protagonist, is smart without really knowing how smart he is, smart in a survival-savvy way that was just such a joy to read. I also enjoyed how he stayed uncertain about the adults with whom he engages, waiting until they prove themselves before he makes a decision. Given his background, you really can’t blame him for holding back from really trusting anyone.

And the adults themselves, especially the wizard Simon Magnus, have their own inner conflicts and deal with their own uncertainties. They are perhaps not quite “all good”, in the way that none of us ever can be “all good”, and certainly not infallible.

The story moves along at an engaging pace, and the world of magic that’s revealed is a credible one, firm, solid, despite all the things about it that we – and the characters – don’t know. It’s a beautiful, finely detailed world, but at the same time, there’s so much that’s shrouded in mystery; part of the fun in reading was finding out more about this strange world of Urwald and beyond.

Jinx ends on a cliffhanger-ish type of ending, but this is a cliffhanger done right: we learn the ending to the particular story that we’ve been following, and at the same time, Blackwood entices us with details about what’s to come.

Which is to say, I’m very eager to read the next book in the series, and find out where Jinx’s adventures will take him next!

Alison Dare, “Live”: Alison Dare vs. The Halogen Light Monster

Yes, Alison Dare was at our house, where she handily defeated the evil, many fanged, incredibly ferocious halogen light monster!

When Tundra Books asked if I’d like to take part in The Double Dare Blog Tour, I was definitely intrigued – what they proposed was a “photo post”, with all participating bloggers snapping a picture of Alison Dare having a little adventure.

So of course, before saying “yes”, I asked my daughter Hayley if she’d be interested in helping out. How? By making a short video of Alison Dare having fun at our place, of course!

Luckily, Hayley was just as intrigued as I was. Unfortunately, the date for the blog tour fell right before her exams, so she didn’t have much time to work on the video. There’s no sound, for instance (in case any of you were turning up your volume and wondering if your speakers were malfunctioning). But it’s cute and you get to watch Alison Dare kick butt!

So just who is Alison Dare? She is the star of two graphic novels, Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures and Alison Dare, The Heart of the Maiden, by J. Torres and J. Bones.

And just what makes Alison Dare so special? Well, for starters, her mother is the famous archaeologist, Dr. Alice Dare. And her father is that dashing masked superhero, The Blue Scarab.

But that’s not all! She’s also the niece of Johnny Dare, the international super spy who also happens to be a master of disguises.

And let’s just say this: Alison Dare most definitely lives up to her DNA! Alison is a plucky, adventurous 12-year-old who finds herself in some really unusual adventures.

Tundra Books is also hosting an Alison Dare photo contest. It’s a great chance to get your hands on the Alison Dare graphic novels – three winners will receive an Alison Dare prize pack. Deadline is June 30, so there’s tons of time to get your creativity going!

[TSS] Incoming! The Library Edition

This was a great week for me, library-wise – I had a bunch of holds come in, and then while I was doing my usual dash-in, dash-out to pick up my holds, I of course managed to snag a few more interesting titles.

Here are this week’s library treasures. First up, the print books:

NeverwhereNeverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.

It’s about time I read a Gaiman novel. This one looks like a good one to start with.

From the back cover:

Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart – and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed – a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city – a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known …

FingersmithFingersmith, by Sarah Waters.

I know. I don’t like historical fiction! But this one sounds just so intriguing … And thanks to my new bookmarking “system” (which works whenever I remember to use it, which thankfully I did this time around), I can give credit for adding this one to my TBR to Jill at Rhapsody in Books.

From the back cover:

London 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves – fingersmiths – under the rough but loving care of Mrs. Sucksby and her “family”. But from the moment she draws breath, Sue’s fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.

Alcatraz versus the Evil LibrariansAlcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson.

Seriously. How could I resist this one?

From the jacket flap:

A hero with an incredible talent … for breaking things.

A life-or-death mission … to rescue a bag of sand.

A fearsome threat from the powerful secret network that rules the world … the evil Librarians.

Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them! … by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.

The Children's BookThe Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt.

This addition to my TBR is courtesy of Molly at The Cozy Book Nook, and, although I didn’t have my bookmarking system in place at the time, the first seed of wanting this book was planted way back last summer, at Things Mean a Lot.

From the back cover:

Olive Wellwood is a famous writer, interviewed with her children gathered at her knee. For each, she writes a private book, bound in its own colour and placed on a shelf. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh the children play in a storybook world – but their lives, and those of their rich cousins and friends, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets.

Born at the end of the Victorian era and growing up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, a whole generation was unaware of the darkness ahead; in their innocence, they were betrayed unintentionally by the adults who loved them.

The Dragon HeirThe Dragon Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima.

I read the first book in the series, The Warrior Heir, during my own recent personal mini-readathon weekend. I immediately placed holds on both the sequels in the trilogy. Unfortunately, The Dragon Heir is the final book in the series, so I will probably have to renew this one (if I can!) while I wait for The Wizard Heir to come in from the library.

From the jacket flap:

The covenant that was meant to keep the wizard wars at bay has been stolen, and Trinity must prepare for attack.  Everyone is doing their part — Seph is monitoring the Weirwalls; Jack and Ellen are training their ghostly army; even Anaweir Will and Fitch are setting booby traps around the town’s perimeter.  But to Jason Haley, it seems like everyone wants to keep him out of the action.  He may not be the most powerful wizard in Trinity, but he’s prepared to fight for his friends.  When Jason finds a powerful talisman –a huge opal called the Dragonheart–buried in a cave, his role takes on new importance.  The stone seems to sing to Jason’s very soul — showing him that he is meant for more than anyone guessed.  Trinity’s guardians take the stone away after they realize that it may be a weapon powerful enough to save them all.  Without any significant power of his own, and now without the stone, what can Jason possibly do to help the people he cares about — and to prove his mettle?

Madison Moss can feel the beating heart of the opal, too.  The desire for it surges through her, drawing her to it.  But Maddie has other things besides the Dragonheart on her mind.  She has a secret.  Ever since absorbing the magical blow that was meant to kill Seph, she’s been leaking dark powers.  Although Maddie herself is immune to magic, what would her friends think if they knew what kind of evil lay within her?  Trinity’s enemies are as enthusiastic about her powers as she is frightened.  They think they can use her to get to the Dragonheart — and they’ll use anyone Maddie cares about to make her steal the stone for them.

Moral compasses spin out of control as a final battle storms through what was once a sanctuary for the gifted.  With so much to lose, what will Jason and Maddie be willing to fight for — and what will they sacrifice?  Every man is for himself in this thrilling conclusion to the Heir trilogy.

And the audiobooks:

The Nine TailorsThree Lord Peter Wimsey audiobooks came in: the unabridged versions, narrated by Ian Carmichael, of Striding Folly and Unnatural Death, and the BBC radio dramatization of The Nine Tailors.

All three audiobooks are in my TBR now courtesy of Memory, who has been on a Sayers reading streak – her reviews of Strong Poison, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night reminded me it’s been a long while since I last read a Lord Wimsey book. And I decided, what better way to get reaquainted then in audio?

Monster in the BoxMonster in the Box, by Ruth Rendell. I was also thrilled to have this one come in – it’s the new Inspector Wexford book by Rendell (I also have the print version on hold). I’m really looking forward to this one:

Outside the house where Wexford investigated his first case – a woman found strangled in her bedroom – he noticed a short, muscular man wearing a scarf and walking a dog. He gave Wexford an unnerving stare. Without any solid evidence, Wexford began to suspect that this man – Eric Targo – was the killer. Over the years there are more unsolved, apparently motiveless murders in the town of Kingsmarkham and Wexford continues to quietly suspect that the increasingly prosperous Targo – van driver, property developer, kennel owner and animal lover – is behind them.

Now, half a lifetime later, Wexford spots Targo back in Kingsmarkham after a long absence. Wexford tells his long time partner, Mike Burden, about his suspicions, but Burden dismisses them as fantasy. Meanwhile, Burden’s wife, Jenny, has suspicions of her own. She believes that the Rahmans, a highly respectable immigrant family from Pakistan, may be forcing their daughter, Tamima, into an arranged marriage – or worse.

I think I’ve got a great few weeks of reading (and listening!) ahead of me. What great books came into your hands this week?

The Boy Sherlock Holmes: Eye of the Crow, by Shane Peacock

Despite appearances, I’ve actually had some time to read lately. Maybe “had some time to read” isn’t totally accurate – it’s been more like “squeezed some time to read” but regardless, it’s the end result that counts, right?

And I’ve been lucky, because everything I’ve picked up to read recently has turned out to be a good read. Eye of the Crow was a  really, really good read, in fact.

Eye of the CrowI picked up Eye of the Crow, by Shane Peacock, from the library one day; the “Silver Birch nominee” sticker on the spine caught my eye (as it turns out, it’s won a bunch of awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Juvenile Crime Fiction).

The book is about Sherlock Holmes’ first case, one undertaken when he’s a boy of just thirteen; I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan, and always on the lookout for good books about Holmes (Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series is another favorite of mine).

But Eye of the Crow stayed sitting in the pile of books on my library shelf for most of the three weeks I had it out.

And then, luckily, one day I read Memory’s review of Death in the Air; it’s the sequel to Eye of the Crow. Memory mentioned that Death in the Air was a good read, but not as good as Eye of the Crow. I realized, “Hey! I have Eye of the Crow sitting in my library pile.”

So I dashed over to my library shelf, picked up the book, and started reading.

I didn’t stop until I’d finished the entire book. The day got darker, my to-do list stayed undone (which, when you think about it, is really not such a bad thing,  because it meant all I had to do was re-use the same list the next day, with a few more additions), but I finished the book, my heart racing because it was gloriously, gorgeously suspenseful.

I know this is a children’s book, but the fact is, once you start reading, you’ll find yourself drawn into the world of 1860s London – drawn so deeply in you can almost smell the grime and feel the grit. And you’re not going to be thinking to yourself, I’m reading a children’s book – you’re going to be too deep in the story to remember that you actually are reading a book.

And really, that’s the best kind of book to sink your teeth into.

Peacock has done an amazing job. His boy Sherlock Holmes gives the adult Sherlock Holmes exactly the right childhood background – all the pieces fall into place. The reasons behind why Holmes is the way he is are all there, in the childhood backstory that Peacock has created for the adult Holmes in Eye of the Crow.

Not to mention, the suspense builds and builds and builds. This one is a keeper, and for the Sherlock Holmes fan, a must read.

Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess, by Nancy Springer

The Case of the Missing MarquessFrom the Back of book:

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly sets off to find her. Disguising herself as a widow, Enola embarks on a journey to London, but nothing can prepare her for what awaits. For when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, and must fee murderous villains and try to elude her shrewd older brothers – all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Among all the mayhem, will Enola be able to discover the necessary clues and find her mother?

The Snapshot Review

What I Liked: Strong, independent and smart, Enola is a very likeable protagonist; pace is fast and intense; the writing paints the world of Sherlock Holmes’ London vividly. Not one, but two mysteries …and there are ciphers!

First Line: "The only light struggles from the few gas street-lamps that remain unbroken, and from pots of fire suspended above the cobblestones, tended by old men selling boiled sea snails outside the public houses." (From the prologue – the rest of the novel is in first person.)

Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: A good read, with the action really kicking into high gear as we get further into the story. Very nice wrap-up, too. I finished reading this with a smile, eager to jump into the next book in the series.

Read the Full Review of The Case of the Missing Marquess

Review: Savvy, by Ingrid Law

SavvyFrom the Jacket Flap:

Mibs Beaumont is about to become a teenager. As if that prospect weren’t scary enough, thirteen is when a Beaumonth’s savvy strikes – and with one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity, it promises to be outrageous … and positively thrilling.

But just before her big day, Poppa is in a terrible accident. Suddenly, Mibs’s dreams of X-ray vision disappear like a flash of her brother’s lightning: All she wants now is a savvy that will save Poppa. In fact, Mibs is so sure she’ll get that powerful savvy that she sneaks a ride to the hospital on a rickety bus, with her siblings and the preacher’s kids in tow. But when the bus starts heading in the wrong direction only one thing is certain: After this extraordinary adventure not a soul on board will ever be the same.

The Snapshot Review

What I Liked: Unusual premise, strong characterization, engrossing plot, great fantasy elements set within our contemporary world. This book also delivers some very wonderful messages without being at all preachy.

Fantastic First Line: When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.

Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: This is a wonderful book that will have you laughing, crying and rejoicing with the characters. Highly recommended.

Read the Full Review of Savvy

Friday Finds: Children’s Books

This week I’ve pared down my “Friday Finds” list to the children’s books I’ve added to my “I Want To Read That!” list:

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, by Nancy Springer: found via Semicolon. Here’s the Amazon synopsis:

Everyone knows Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ right-hand man—so when he goes missing, it’s a shock. Even Sherlock hasn’t, well, the slightest clue as to where he could be. Enola is intrigued, but weary; she’s still hiding from her older brothers—and getting involved could be disastrous.

But when a bizarre bouquet shows up at the Watson residence, full of convolvulus, hawthorn, and white poppies, Enola must act. She dons her most discerning disguise yet to find the sender—and quickly, for Enola knows the blossoms symbolize death!

The Enola Holmes series looks so good, I’ve actually added the other titles in the series (The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, The Case of the Missing Marquess and The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan) to my list too.

Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos, by R.L. LaFevers, found via Bookish Ruth’s Currently Reading List (on her sidebar – I find I look at everyone’s Currently Reading sections). Here’s the synopsis:

Theodosia Throckmorton has her hands full at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her father may be head curator, but it is Theo—and only Theo—who is able to see all the black magic and ancient curses that still cling to the artifacts in the museum. Sneaking behind her father’s back, Theo uses old, nearly forgotten Egyptian magic to remove the curses and protect her father and the rest of the museum employees from the ancient, sinister forces that lurk in the museum’s dark hallways.

The Unnameables, by Ellen Booraem, found via KT Literary. The synopsis from Amazon:

Medford lives on a neat, orderly island called—simply—Island.

Islanders like names that say exactly what a thing (or a person) is or does. Nothing less.

Islanders like things (and people) to do what their names say they will. Nothing more.

In fact, everything on Island is named for its purpose, even the people who inhabit it. But Medford Runyuin is different. A foundling, he has a meaningless last name that is just one of many reminders that he’s an outsider. And, to make matters worse, Medford’s been keeping a big secret, one that could get him banished from Island forever.

When the smelliest, strangest, unruliest creature Island has ever seen comes barreling right into his rigid world, Medford can’t help but start to question the rules he’s been trying to follow his entire life.

A whimsical fantasy debut about belonging, the dangers of forgetting history, and the Usefulness of art, The Unnameables is one of the funniest stories of friendship you’ll ever read, with a cast of characters you’ll never forget.

Christmas with Anne, by L.M. Montgomery, found via Reading to Know. I’m very thrilled to find a collection of LM Montgomery stories that I haven’t read yet (two, actually – I haven’t read Across the Miles yet, either.) Here’s the synopsis for Christmas with Anne:

Share Anne’s delight at receiving the dress of her dreams, the joy of a young woman reunited with her long lost brother on Christmas Eve, and the surprise of a trio of sisters who inadvertently end a family feud by arriving at the wrong uncle’s house for Christmas dinner.

Featuring some well-loved characters from the Anne of Green Gables books, as well as plenty of new characters, this collection of short stories by L. M. Montgomery celebrates the joys and tribulations of Christmas and the hope of the new year.