Review / Confessions of a Class Clown

20220401ma_0501Book: Confessions of a Class Clown (2022)
Author: Arianne Costner
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Opening lines from the book …
T-rexing is an art understood by many yet mastered by few. It starts with the squat. Most people skip this important step. To convincingly play a T. rex, you gotta crouch a little, with your legs spread apart, and lean forward on your toes.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Jack is a total goof-off, the kind of kid that would have annoyed me as a kid. But I found his character to be quite likable. And very believable. I think the likability might have something to do with the story being written in first-person. We get to see his thought process behind all the attention-seeking.

2) This book is centered around the fun of a talent show! Jack, of course, is trying to get together an act that will get him the attention he craves as a class clown. He just needs to find a partner. And that “talent search” is part of the fun of the book.

3) I love the connections he makes at the friendship club. First, there’s Mario, but when things go wrong, that potential friendship begins to peter out. And then there’s Tasha of the knitted hats and Miss Perfect Brielle. It was particularly interesting how the author gives us glimpses into the thoughts of each of these characters in these special interlude chapters.

4) It was fun to read about Jack’s pranks and shenanigans, like the clothespin game he talks Brielle into playing (although, in real life, I would have hated such a game. It was fun to read about, though!)

5) This wouldn’t be a middle school book without some betrayal drama. First, there’s the problem involving Jack’s former friend. Which is connected to the betrayal Jack takes part in against Brielle. I love how it all comes down to Jack and how he has to work to fix things.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this book. I was in no way like the class clown. I was much more of a Tasha/Brielle. But I love this peek into why some kids will do anything for attention.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / The Shattered Castle

20220428ma_0584Book: The Shattered Castle (2021)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Series: The Ascendance Series, The False Prince #5

Opening lines from the book …
Throughout the year, I’d faced death more times than I could count, fought a war, endured the loss of my parents, and survived torture, cruelty, and multiple insults in the form of overcooked meat at the supper table. I thought that I had already faced the worst of anything this world might offer. Then Lady Batilda Lamont came to the castle. Imogen’s mother.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Have I mentioned that King Jaron has such a great voice? Of course, I have. And it’s still true.

2) This book takes place pretty much in the castle at Drylliad. As promised in the preceding book, we get a castle under occupation. We get plenty of scenes in dungeons and lots of people (okay, mostly the king) in disguise.

3) And if you are looking forward to Jaron getting whipped and beaten up, you will not be disappointed. Yes, it happens in EVERY single book. (Not my favorite parts, but I do like his resolve. My favorite part is in this book when he’s in his own dungeon and his guard … well, I’ll leave you to read that part for yourself.)

4) I will say that I really enjoyed the little twist with regards to Imogen’s mother. Really, you will not appreciate it until you read these books.

5) There’s also a really cool cave in this book. And a waterfall. (If you guess that “someone” has to jump over said waterfall then … well, I won’t say what happens. What are you waiting for? Get reading this book now!)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Again, I really enjoyed these last two books in the series. (If you haven’t read the first books, you really do need to read the series in order!)

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / The Captive Kingdom

20220428ma_0586Book: The Captive Kingdom (2020)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Series: The Ascendance Series, The False Prince #4

Opening lines from the book …
One may ask, how is the great King Jaron described by those who know him? The answer rarely includes the word “great,” unless the word to follow is “fool,” though I have also heard “disappointment,” “frustration,” and “chance that he’ll get us all killed.”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Jaron has such a great voice in these books! And what’s even more fun is the knowledge that he’s also a bit of an unreliable narrator. So half the fun is trying to figure out what he’s NOT telling us.

2) So fun to be back with everybody… Roden, Tobias, Imogen, Amarinda, Mott, Fink. And of course, the pirates. Who doesn’t come into the story. (Well, there are a few who stay behind in Drylliad). But we also get introduced to some new characters like …

3) A new villain in the form Captain Strick, not a woman you’d want to mess with. And then there’s one of her lackeys, the one Jaron calls Lump is great! Not to mention the poor damsel in distress, Wilta, that’s on board the ship. (Although, she’s got a firey personality behind that red hair of hers.)

4) There’s also a character that may or may not be from Jaron’s past. Not even Jaron knows for sure. (No spoilers from me.)

5) Finally, I will say that I was totally surprised to see this book at my library. I had NO idea that there was a new book in this series! To be honest, I’m kind of glad I didn’t… until now. Because I got to read these book (and the next one – but more on that next week) back-to-back. Yes, each book is technically a stand-alone book, but this one ends with a promise that there are more adventures to come. (Stay tuned for my review of Book 5 in the series.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

High praise for this whole series from me. I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the previous books, but it did not disappoint!

NOTE: Do NOT read this series out of order. If you haven’t read THE FALSE PRINCE, you need to read that one first.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Mananaland

mananalandBook: Mananaland (2020)
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 stars

Basic plot: Max’s dream is to play futbol like his Papa and his grandfather, Buelo. When he’s not allowed to join the other boys at the futbol clinic, he’s disappointed and starts to fear that he’s losing his best friend. But then he learns that Papa and Buelo have a secret. They’re Guardians, which mean they help on an underground railroad of sorts. And it turns out that this underground railroad might hold the key to the location of Max’s mother who disappeared when he was just a baby.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Max is a very sympathetic character. I felt for him when his father and grandfather seem to be overprotective. And when his friends seem to abandon him at the swimming hole? Ah, my heart went out to Max.

2) The mystery surrounding the mom was nicely set up. There were just enough hints and foreshadowing. And yes, the titleMananalandhas to do with the mom.

3) Buelo. Man, I love this guy! What a grandpa! (I love grandpas!) I loved his stories. And I loved how Max was so close to him.

4) I particularly loved how the book is divided into three sections: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. It was perfect for a book entitled Mananaland!

5) The most exciting part comes near the end with the underground railroad part… Basically, once Max meets Father Romero and Isadora. And, of course, Isadora’s not quite what Max expects. But I like the connection they eventually make with one another.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The only thing that confused me was whether or not this was a fantasy novel or realistic fiction. The soccer (futbol) and day-to-day events made it all seem like it takes place in our world. But at other moments, it’s clear that it’s some alternate universe. A slight thing, but one that did draw me out of the story at times…

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! Don’t expect a super fast-paced story. That’s not the kind of book it is. The writing is beautiful. And I love how the title fits into the theme of hope that pervades the book.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Twice Magic

twice-magic.jpgBook: Twice Magic (2018)
Author: Cressida Cowell
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Xar (a Wizard) and Wish (a Warrior) are back. This time, they’re in big trouble. Xar has a witchstain that’s threatening to take over. And Wish needs to hide her powerful and magic eye. And they out to try to stop the Witchking… if they can collect all the ingredients to a special recipe that will get rid of the Witches.

Note: You can read my review for the first book in this series: The Wizards of Once.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I still really liked Xar and Wish and their quirks… how they’re not perfect. They have plenty of faults. But I also like how they grow during this story.

2) I love the voice Cressida Cowell uses for this story. It’s very similar to her How to Train Your Dragon series. One of my favourite lines: “…in a British Isles so old it did not know it was the British Isles yet.”

3) Love the fact of the “unknown narrator”. I have my theories. So does my nephew. And he may be right.

4) I really enjoyed the story told by the Giant. (But I love fairy tales!) And I thought Xar’s little snarky comments were good. But more importantly, I liked how it all comes around to the parents and the whole feud between the wizards and warriors.

5) Probably one of my favourite parts was the Giant’s last breath and how THAT connects to the whole feud theme.

6) Like the book before it, this book has its own ending. Even if it does lead us into the next book, at least it’s not a cliffhanger book. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers at the end of books.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Still not too crazy about Squeezjoos, the little baby sprite. :/

2) The opening was a little slow for me. And it took me a bit to get into the story… especially trying to figure out where everybody was since the last book. It took a bit of time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Really liked this book, especially with how things seem to be developing. I’m looking forward to reading Book 3 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: The Dark is Rising

The Dark is Rising // by Susan Cooper (1973)

dark-is-risingNewbery Honor Book (1974)
Genre: MG, Low Fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Will Stanton turns eleven, only to discover that he’s one of the Old Ones. As the sign-seeker, he must set out on a quest to bring together six great signs of the Light in order to keep the Dark from rising. Things get complicated and Will doesn’t always know who to trust.

MY THOUGHTS…

I read this book back when I was a kid. I remember liking it, but I actually don’t recall anything about the book… other than the Dark was rising (ahem). So, re-reading this book was like reading it for the first time. And I must say, I really enjoyed it. This book takes place over Christmas, and it involves a lot of snow. Which makes it a very cold read! But that just added to the suspense.

I particularly loved Will and Merriman. And I liked the twist with the Walker near the end. I found it very interesting that the book pretty much takes place in and around Will’s house, with the odd little time-travel sequence. His quest takes place in our world! Basically, it’s up to Will (the last of the Old Ones) to find the six Signs that will keep the Dark from rising.

I did expect more to come of the mask that brother Stephen sent Will. (But maybe the mask becomes important in a later book? See, I remember nothing about this series!)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book definitely deserved its Newbery Honor award. It’s well-written and has a host of engaging characters. (Note: The Newbery winner that year was Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; which I haven’t read, so I can’t really say which was better.)

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.

Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

Pet Peeves / We are Not Amused

20170928ma_4871.jpgThis post is about a pet peeve of mine. It often comes up in fantasy novels or historical fiction. These are the stories where we are most likely to have a King or Queen.

So, what’s the pet peeve?

It’s when a king or queen is addressed incorrectly.

Never call a Queen “Highness” or even “Your Highness”. That’s what you call a Princess. Please don’t call her “milady” or “My Lady” (I’m pretty sure that’s only a Lady, as in the wife of a Knight).

The proper way to speak to a King (or Queen) is to say: “Your Majesty”. And “Sire” is okay. (If it’s a Queen, you may call her “Madam”, I believe.)

Don’t call a King “Your Grace” (I think that’s a duke) or “Your Excellency” (a bishop?).

I’m definitely not an expert in this, but I know enough to know this much. And it drives me crazy when some fictional kingdom breaks these rules of etiquette. Not because the author is doing in intentionally (I’d be okay with that if there was a good reason, like the ignorance of one of the characters).

No, mostly it’s because these authors just don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times this pet peeve of mine creeps into books I read. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to quit reading the book. (Although, if the story and characters are good enough, I’ll grit my teeth and finish it.)

Authors! All I have to say is this: If you have royalty in your story, please address them properly.

We are not amused.

P.S. The photo I’ve included was taken at the Prop Warehouse at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I was trying to think of a photo to go with this post and I remembered this throne. I thought, What’s more royal than a throne? And especially a throne like this one?!

 

Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

9780062074676_zoomBook: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Perry is adopted as a baby by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. What Perry doesn’t know yet is that she’s Bamarre, not Lakti (like her parents). When the fairy, Halina, shows up (and fairies only show up to Bamarre), her whole life changes. No longer is she the pampered daughter, but now she’s a daughter on the run…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Perry is a beautiful mixture of likeable and believable. She’s been raised to feel superior to the Bamarre, and this flaw in her comes out again and again. Even when she is learning to become one of them. Even with this unlikeable trait, I felt drawn to her.

2) Gail Carson Levine is the Queen of the Re-imagined Fairy Tale. With some of her books, it’s obvious right away which story she riffing. Think: Ella Enchanted. With other books, it creeps up on you and you slowly realize which fairy tale she’s conjuring up. Think: A Tale of Two Castles. This book is akin to the latter. [*SPOILER] There are hints on the first page (with the reference to the hair and the fact that the father was caught in the garden), so it soon becomes clear that this is a Rapunzel story. And I LOVE Rapunzel stories. When Willem is climbing the tower and we see (with Perry) that Lady Mother is in the tower now… we know this can’t end well! [END SPOILER]

3) I like how other little fairy tale elements are brought into the story… like the table-cloth and the seven-league boots.

4) The twist on the Father (Lord Tove) and Lady Mother left me guessing throughout the book. The revelations are wonderfully done and our loyalties morph as Perry’s do.

5) Levine is also amazing in her world building. One of the best I’ve seen. I actually believe in her worlds. I love that she doesn’t always explain things to the reader, but just says them, as if we should already know… Like the history of the Bamarre and the Lakti. She doesn’t dumb things down and tell us: “Well, I’ve created this world where it’s like this.” Instead, she treats it like it’s real and that we already know this, and then, lo and behold, we do get to understand the whole situation. (She also does this well in A Tale of Two Castles.)

6) I like the fairy, Halina. I won’t say more.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The cover of the book kind of weirds me out. I don’t know why. There are elements in it that I like. I like the blue overtones. I like the hair flying. Maybe it’s the weird glowing blue on her boots???

2) I was expecting an explanation of why Lady Mother gives the seven-league boots to Perry. I thought that maybe a deep secret is that Lady Mother is (secretly) Bamarre? But alas, this is one of those details that isn’t explained, and ends up giving us lots of questions. Like why did the mother hide the boots from the father? And why give them to Perry in the first place? Did I miss something???

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love Fairy Tales and Gail Carson Levine definitely delivers with this book! As I said before, she’s the Queen. Maybe the Fairy Queen? Long live the Fairy Queen!