Posts Tagged With: book ramblings

Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

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The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many fairy tales, Prince Charming saves the day. He’s the hero. To be honest, in many ways he is a bland hero, defined only by his outward actions of saving the princess, defeating the dragon or being the wedded prize after the ball.

That’s not who Prince Charming is at all in The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom. Here, Prince Charming takes on a depth of fears, faults and foibles. The first thing you learn on opening this book is that old ladies terrify Prince Charming. Before the page is out you learn that there are multiple Prince Charmings because charming is an adjective bestowed on the princes by tale-spinning bards.

Frederic, Gustav, Liam and Duncan are only united by two things when the story begins—that they are princes and that they dislike being Prince Charmings. Frederic’s been raised to a safe, helpless, fashionable prince—much too quiet for the fearless and free Ella. Gustav regrets ever attempting to rescue Rapunzel because of the laughter that now follows this smallest prince of Sturmhagen and is always looking for a way to prove his strength. Liam’s popularity as a hero takes a nose dive when Briar Rose mounts a smear campaign against him (Little do they know she is angered because he says he serves the people and not just her). Duncan, who possesses a great deal of luck, has driven Snow White to distraction with his odd habits.

The action begins with a sneak peek ahead at the four Prince Charmings in the world’s worst tavern surrounded by a crowd of enclosing thugs. The gleam and glamour of the princes is dented and worn at that point. What brought together what looks like imminent catastrophe? Frederic’s rash decision to pursue Cinderella when she left.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom is a tongue-in-cheek series of fairy tale misadventures where the unexpected often happens. The four princes fumble to work together amidst frustration. Supporting characters add depth to this romp from Liam’s irrepressible younger sister to the annoying Bandit King Rauber.

On the Same Shelf:

For older readers – The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land by Diana Wynn Jones. This is a irreverent encyclopedia sort on common character types, places and plots in fantasy books.

For younger readers – Girl Carson Levine’s The Princess Tales. Six novellas that turn familiar tales around and combine them.

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The Classroom by Robin Mellom

The ClassroomThe Classroom by Robin Mellom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor Jones is staring middle school and he’s been preparing for it for weeks. He’s determined to get a good start to the year by following the instructions his best friend Libby emailed him about middle school. He’s going to try not to doodle all over everything with his favorite pen. He’s going to not hang out with the janitor. Those things are all in the plan, but Trevor’s not prepared for Libby to show up for the first day in a skirt or for her to tell him they can’t be best friends anymore. Libby’s bailed Trevor out from embarrassing situations on the first day of school for years. Before Trevor can figure out how he’ll handle rescuing himself, Libby issues him an ultimatum that he’s even less prepared to handle–Trevor has to find a date to the fall dance before the end of the first day of school.

Missteps abound in Trevor’s first weeks of middle school. He knows he’s supposed to steer clear of the eighth graders, but it’s impossible. When he isn’t being the target of an overly cool boy’s bullying, Trevor is asking an eighth grader at his bus stop for advice. When he tries to ask the new girl Molly to the dance by dropping a note into the trash, he ends up sneezing on the note instead. He’s still determined to ask Molly even if she is as different from Trevor as can be–she wears clothes with tears, doesn’t mind being late and likes getting detentions. Trevor also has to find a way to convince Libby that she’s got the very worst date to the dance, but Libby thinks Trevor is making up lies.

Each chapter of the Classroom starts with an interview excerpts with students from Westside Middle School. Anxious Trevor, Libby, Molly, the bully and others take their turns spinning the events leading from the first day of school up through the fall dance. This is a funny read with depth that deals with friendship changes, bullying, teenage relationships, anxiety issues and more. Sketches and artifacts from the school add another dimension to this documentary-style book.

I reviewed an ARC of this book courtesy of Netgalley.

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

SeraphinaSeraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rachel Hartman’s debut novel is a lovely thought provoking YA fantasy with an engaging portrayal of dragons unlike anything I’ve read before. Humans and dragons coexist on the basis of a fragile treaty. The fortieth anniversary of the treaty is weeks away and with it comes the imminent visit from Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon general. Before the Ardmagar arrives, a prince is murdered. The manner in which the prince’s body is found leaves the all too suspicious city of Goredd quick to lay blame on the dragons. The building ominous tension in the city is of particular danger to Seraphina, the new assistant to the court composer.

For safety’s sake, Seraphina was supposed to avoid drawing attention to herself. When the musicians under her direction are unable to play the Invocation, Seraphina must step forward to play at the royal funeral. Now it seems her every move attracts attention whether it is from her princess student, the prince who heads up the queen’s guards, volatile noblemen or dragons in human form that are appearing in increasing numbers throughout the city. To keep her heritage and lineage a secret Seraphina is forced to lie and lie again to the humans around her, even those that she comes to trust.

Seraphina’s mother was a dragon. It’s a fact that defies comprehension to many. Dragons are cold, logical, even soulless. They see emotions as something to be regulated, strong emotions as something to be censored. It is impossible to believe one of their own fell in love with a human and wedded one while in human form. For humans, Seraphina’s existence would be seen as dragons overstepping their power, as something beastly. In the current climate, it is essential that Seraphina hide her dragonish qualities more than ever.

Yet Seraphina cannot remain as aloof as she would like, not with Princess Glisselda as her student and friend. The princess has been brought up on ideas that dangerously wrong about dragons, ideas that could cause a scene with the new ambassadors in town. Seraphina also finds herself entangled in the investigation of what really happened to Prince Rufus. Then there’s the matter of her uncle, who she fears will be hurt for passing as an eccentric human rather than the dragon scholar that he is. Though she also fears what dragonkind will do to him as well.

I enjoyed the characters in this book very much, especially Prince Lucian Kiggs. I like how this head of the queen’s guard reacts to the world around him. He’s dedicated, perceptive and insistent on the truth (which causes a few tensions with Seraphina). His past colors his actions and I loved how Seraphina thwarted his sense of order. Seraphina’s prickly personality comes alive on the page.

Seraphina comes out in July 2012. I read an ARC courtesy of Netgalley.

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Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Lies Beneath (Lies Beneath #1)Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the return of spring comes Calder’s forced exodus from the Caribbean. He’s held out as long as he could, but now he must head northward to Lake Superior to rejoin his sisters. The warm southern waters are not the only thing Calder has held onto over the winter. He’s been denying himself a basic need for months, a basic need that is only quenched when someone loses their life.

Calder’s isn’t a vampire and blood isn’t what he takes when he kills. Instead, he’s a merman. In the world that Anne Greenwood Brown has created, mermaids need mermaids feed on human emotions. Happiness, joy, love–positive emotions draw mermaids like flames draw moths. The mermaids need to compensate for their natural emotional deficiency. They do this by dragging people under the water.

At the novel’s start, Calder hasn’t done this for five months. Part of Calder’s denial of his instincts is self-preservation. Too many deaths would look suspicious. Part of it is the thrill of denying his cravings. Whatever the cause, its left him on the edge of his control, volatile, at a time when he’s forced to return home through the bond he shares with his sisters.

Years earlier, Calder’s mermaid mother died because of a human. Now Calder’s sisters have tracked down the son of the man responsible and are planning their revenge. Who is the bait in their plan? Calder. They decide the easiest way to get at Jason is through his daughters. Calder’s excited, and not just for the opportunity for vengeance. If he pulls off his role, he will also win release from his mermaid family. To be alone in his head, free from the telepathic influence of his sisters is a sweet reward he’s wanted for years.

Calder spies on Jason’s two daughters, deciding the younger daughter is the one he must befriend and work on manipulating. Yet it is her older sister Lily that keeps capturing Calder’s attention during his forays onto land. (Greenwood Brown’s mermaids can painfully shift into two-legged form though the transition leaves Calder vulnerable and weak for dangerous moments afterward). To keep tabs on the Hancocks, Calder slips into the large group helping move the family into their house. He gets a job at the same little food place as Lily. He keeps himself close, to close to a family he’s never really had.

Caught between family bonds, revenge he’s been raised on since childhood and a crush he didn’t want, Calder has to learn what it is his heart wants as well as who he really is. At times cocky and arrogant, Calder is also confused and fragile by turns. I enjoyed the exploration of family and identity in this book. A piece of this was the second way mermaids could be created where they could shock a human within a heartbeat of death–reinvigoration. It was in such circumstances that then three-year-old Calder became a merman.

Withheld information, jealous sisters, danger and revelation made this a fun recreational YA fantasy read. I liked the sense of a monster fighting being a monster, especially as it was reluctant in places for Calder. I also liked that the ending was somewhat unresolved.

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I read my copy courtesy of Netgalley.

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Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Eye of the StormEye of the Storm by Kate Messner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Change is a word that can describe many things in Jaden Megg’s summer. For the first time she’s basically out of contact with her mom, who is doing volcano research while Jaden’s living with her dad for the first time in four years. Jaden’s meeting her half-sister and stepmother in person for the first time after several years of video chats. Her father has recently returned from his weather experiments and research in Russia to work near Placid Meadows, his company’s StormSafe community.

Spending the summer in Oklahoma is nothing like the Northeastern US where Jaden’s grown up. There are massive storm shelters every fifteen minutes of driving in Oklahoma to provide havens when the tornadoes hit. Storms are worse around the globe with the increase in temperature, but Oklahoma is particularly bad. Jaden and her dad are nearly caught out in a tornado.

When the first storm come while Jaden is inside Placid Meadows, she’s floored by what doesn’t happen. The storm doesn’t plow through the community. It goes around. She learns that the storms never touch Placid Meadows. One of her new friends tells her it is in the contract that the storms never will hit there. Jaden doesn’t understand how such a promise can be given.

Change doesn’t apply just to Jaden’s family life, place of residence or her exposure to storms. She’s participating in Eye on Tomorrow, a brilliant summer camp for gifted students. The campers are able to choose from different lines of scientific study and have access to simulation technology, well equipped labs and more are part of their summer study. Jaden’s interests lie in storm dissipation as do those of Alex, a local boy in his second year at Eye of Tomorrow. Alex’s family is one of the few still holding out on the farms near Placid Meadows, farms that have faced increasing weather damage that year. For the first time, Jaden faces criticism because of who her father is. As the two teens work together, their research into dissipation is thwarted again and again in simulation though Alex is confident in their calculations. They discover there is more to these storms than simple weather.

Eye of the Storm is a gripping near future science fiction story filled with suspense. I think both middle grade and young adult readers would enjoy Kate Messner’s work. There are twists and turns to keep the reader guessing what is going on as well as who Jaden can trust. Readers can compare the places and things Jaden encounters in 2050 with those we experience today. I especially enjoyed the character dynamics between Jaden and Alex. The librarian at Eye of Tomorrow was my favorite minor character.

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Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary MagicOrdinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Abby Hale’s waited years for her Judging Day and its festivities. Her siblings have all come home, even the over studious Jeremy. There’s the family dress to wear and her mother’s special necklace. When she heads to the Guild for the Judging, she’s filled with anticipation. Why shouldn’t she be? Once she’s been Judged, she’ll finally be able to use magic like an adult. There’ll be no more waiting for an adult to come rescue her for the most basic of things—getting clothes out of the drawers, making her bed, getting the kitchen to cook. Her siblings all did well on their Judging Days, all 5s or higher, with her oldest sister Alexa receiving a very rare 9.

At the Guild the unthinkable happens. Abby doesn’t even pass the first level. She’s ordinary, an ord, and her parents are being advised on how to get rid of her. Thankfully for Abby, her parents defy convention. Their love for her can’t solve everything—the local school will no longer keep Abby enrolled. Its Abby’s sister Alexa who has a solution for this. She’s worked for the king for years in a job that she’s never been allowed to discuss. That job is working at a school for ords where Abby will learn how to live without the aid of magic. More importantly, she’ll learn how to defend herself for there are many people –and creatures—who would love to get their hands on an ord.

Why would anyone want an ord when families are encouraged to get rid of them and the majority of ords are treated like they are disease reason? It’s simple. Magic can’t touch them. The strongest, most expensive antitheft spells mean nothing at all to an ord. Booby traps don’t phase them all. For adventurers, there’s no greater tool than an ord. Before Abby even sets foot in her new school an unscrupulous pair of adventurers have tried to procure her as their newest ord, having lost their previous one to death. This pair doesn’t understand no for an answer and will use whatever means necessary to get an ord.

Abby joins a small group of first years at the school. All are children of magical families save Peter. Most of the students come from families that no longer want them. Many see the school as a refuge, but they will soon learn that safety is something they’ll have to fight for and not a comfort.

Ordinary Magic is an amazing middle grade fantasy. Not only does it twist many of the genre’s conventions but it is filled with well developed characters and relationships. Abby’s supportive quirky family is a joy to read about. The students struggle to come to know and trust one another with realistic stormy patches. This is a book to read and share over and over again.

I read an advanced copy of this book through Netgalley. Ordinary Magic comes out on May 8, 2012.

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Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Fake Mustache: How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Guy) Saved the World by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most of the time in books when there is a child or teen bent on attaining power that individual is a cunning genius. He or she might have a well connected family. While Casper Bengue is no slouch, that isn’t what gives him the edge in Tom Angleberger’s hilarious caper-filled novel Fake Mustache. Casper’s edge has everything to do with his two newest possessions – a finely tailored man-about-town suit and, more importantly, the Heidelberg Handlebar #7.

The Heidelberg Handlebar #7 is a one of kind fake mustache so far removed from the fake mustache seen on joke glasses as to be an entirely different species. The wearer of this creation made from real Belgian hair has an unequaled influence on all who see it. Mild mannered accordion players, craft store workers and even school librarians become little more than a brainwashed criminal mob when confronted with the mustache.

Nerdy Lenny Flem Jr. knows precisely who is behind the powerful facial hair because he lent his friend Casper the last ten dollars needed to buy the mustache. Unfortunately, Casper knows precisely who tried to rat him out to authorities and uses the town of Hairsprinkle’s morning television show to turn everyone against Lenny, the one they’ve been told is the Evil One by Fako Mustacho.

Nearly everyone that is. Lenny ends up with one ally at his side – Jodie O’Rodeo. The former tv star isn’t shy about doing her own stunts and isn’t going to stand for Fako Mustacho taking over the US in a rigged election.

Fake Mustache is a fast action read brimming with quirky characters, mayhem and unexpected solutions. Their are brave rescue attempts, perilous water bottles and stunts on horseback. Diabolical deeds seem to carry the day but the heroes just won’t stay down. Adding to the chaos is a strange foreigner bent upon regaining his mustache. Lenny and Jodie O’Rodeo tell this series of Fako Mustacho’s bid for power and their trials to bring him down in this romp of a middle grade novel that had me laughing from the moment I saw the cover. This book is begging to be shared with middle grade readers.

I receive an arc of this book free at an event at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

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Duck for a Day by Meg McKinlay

Duck for a DayDuck for a Day by Meg McKinlay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abby is desperate for a pet. Her parents insist on living in a tiny and calm house. Most pets are definitely not tidy-dogs chew to many things, cats claw too many things. Even goldfish are turned down because of how they stare when they swim (or so Abby’s mother says). The only way Abby ever gets a pet is when it’s temporary like last year when the class rabbit spent the night. The rabbit didn’t like Abby’s trampoline at all, but it was still better than no pet at all.

Mrs. Melvino, Abby’s new teacher, has a class pet too. It’s one Abby would love to take home. Max looks like a lot more fun than something that needs things to be nice and quiet. He roams around during class, sometimes tugging on a shoelace or sitting on the kids’ feet. He looks like the perfect temporary pet even if he doesn’t come when he is called. Max isn’t a hamster, a rabbit or a guinea pig. He’s not a dog or a cat either. Max is a duck.

When Abby’s classmate asks if students can take Max home, Mrs. Melvino explains there won’t be a class rotation. For Max to go home with a student that student has to meet the duck’s demands. He can’t go anywhere cats live or where there are ferrets. The yard must be secure and there has to be an aquatic environment for Max.

Abby and her classmates start planning. They offer plan after to plan to their teacher only to have them turned down. Swimming pools are definitely out. A bathtub won’t work for overnight. Abby changes her plan again and again, trying to earn a chance to take Max home while her neighbor Noah is also fighting to get Max to his home.

This is a funny early chapter book with great comic relief provided by Max, the duck with the brown speckled feathers and smooth orange beak. Abby and Noah’s antagonism as they compete to earn Max feels very real and I liked how they had to come to work together in this book. The sketches throughout the book are lighthearted. Duck for a Day would be an entertaining addition to any children’s collection.

This book was originally published in Australia and will be released in the U.S. on Febraury 28, 2012. I read a copy of this book through NetGalley.

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Miss Annie: Freedom! by Frank Le Gail

Freedom!Freedom! by Frank Le Gall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Miss Annie’s not much more than a kitten. Energetic and easily distracted, Miss Annie narrates her everyday life. From fighting with slippery pens on off limits desks to taking on enemy leaves, there’s plenty to do while guarding the house. Yet Miss Annie longs to go outside even if her owners think she is too young.

Stuck inside, Miss Annie begins to befriend a small mouse she names Keshia. One day the cat discovers a new scent on the air–fresh air. A window was left open and Miss Annie rushes out onto a tree branch in spite of the warnings Keshia gives her. An older cat directs Annie to climb higher. While this didn’t worry Annie at all, it made me a bit nervous as I wondered who that cat was and what he wanted.

The illustrations do a great job of capturing Miss Annie’s playful spirit in this short graphic novel. I think this would be a good story to read with younger elementary students and would be a better independent read for third-fourth grade. I read an electronic review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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