Friday, November 30, 2018

Cybils Reading Part VI

Most of my reading is from the Cybils nominated books.

My category is Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Thank goodness I belong to two spectacular library systems, King County (kcls) and Seattle, so I can get a lot of the books.

 I Read:

Esme's Wish (Esme Series #1)Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet, #1)Connect the Scotts (The Dead Kid Detective Agency, #4)The Second Story (Magic Misfits, #2)Money Jane
The Storm Runner (The Storm Runner #1)Dactyl Hill SquadThe Darkness in Lee's Closet and the Others Waiting ThereA Dastardly Plot (A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem #1)The Snow Witch

Esme's Wish, Elizabeth Foster. This was a great portal world fantasy. At first Esme's resistance to her father's marriage seemed childish, but her new in-laws soon proved her right. Luckily she could escape to her mother's workplace, where caring friends taught her to trust and accept trust. Oh, and to defeat an evil magician who planned to destroy the world. That.

Aru Shah and the End of Time, Roshani Chokshi. Although Aru didn't appeal to me at first (her main ambition is to join the bully group at school, instead of getting bullied by her), her adventures and her friendship with her soul-sister helped me appreciate her while I had fun watching her think and wriggle her way out of various adventures. This does a good job of catching the Percy Jackson spirit of myth-based adventures and snarky kid protagonists.

Connect the Scotts, Evan Munday. This was a fun mystery, but I found myself groping for information obviously contained in the first books (even the author wonders why I'd be here for the first time). It also relies on incredibly stupid cops with a distain for evidence. The dead kids each get their own book, so I didn't mind that most of them blurred into the background, and October's independence was a great boon.

The Second Story, Neil Patrick Harris. I read the wrong one! This is the current and eligible one. I like the five kids and enjoyed seeing more of the escape artist and a new member of her dad's old troop. The villains are farcical enough that I don't worry about anyone's safety and the tricks are good fun.

Money Jane, T. K. Riggins. Having missed the first book, I was a little fuzzy on some of the details -- are the kids in magical high school or magical college? How much was I supposed to know? Kes was a strong character, and I enjoyed watching him manage various problems with grace and gravitas, from the teasing of his fellow students to his hopeless crush to his feats of strength. I'm a bit grumpy that the book ended right before the results of the big contest were announced.

The Storm Runner, J.C. Cervantes. Sarcastic kid rounds up some buddies and battles the gods! This is a genre now, I guess. Another fun read, and I liked the boy's family and the nebulous position of his companion, whose loyalty is doubted for quite a while. It started with some tropes that annoy me -- mom announces the end of a great homeschooling year with a surprise and immediate start at a school full of bullies (and then joins the school in yelling at the boy for being bullied) but luckily he heads off to California to save the world and we move on quickly.

Dactyl Hill Squad, Daniel Jose Older. Civil War history -- with dinosaurs! Our hero discovers she is a dino-whisperer, which helps when her New York orphanage is burned down during anti-Black riots and evil conspirators kidnap many of her friends to sell as slaves. Our only concern is what giant dinosaur is left to reveal in the rest of the books?

The Darkness in Lee's Closet and the Other's Waiting There, Roy Schwartz. A mix of allegory and adventure as a girl searches for her dead father in the land she discovers while grieving him. Her new friends help her discover her own strengths and the nature of death and loss while also defeating armies and evil conformist cities.

The Dastardly Plot, Christopher Healy. In a slightly steampunk past set around an imaginary 1880's New York Worlds Fair a girl must deal with the misogyny of Edison, Bell, and other inventors as well as the evil plan of a spurned scientist. Luckily she has her mom, a new friend, and maybe some robots to help. It's got great pacing and a good sense of timing, including callbacks and repeated jokes.

The Snow Witch, Rosie Boyes. A boy and his sister find a lost relative just in time to get caught up in a 100 year old curse that may circle around to grab them as well. The narrative switches back between the original curse and the modern kids. I liked a lot of the language although the author tends to tell me how the kdis are feeling right after they have shown me.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Cybils Reading Part V

Most of my reading is from the Cybils nominated books.

My category is Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Thank goodness I belong to two spectacular library systems, King County (kcls) and Seattle, so I can get a lot of the books.

 I Read:

The Creature of the Pines (The Unicorn Rescue Society, #1)Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her MonsterThe Adventures of a Girl Called BicycleBob

The Magic of Melwick Orchard

Creature of the Pines, Adam Gidwitz. This is on the younger side, but fun and nicely set specifically in New Jersey. A shy new boy meets up with an adventuresome girl on a field trip where they accidentally adopt a mythical creature and find out about the bad guy industrialist collector and the good guys protective services. It's a bit top-heavy with the series set up but a quick and good read.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, Jonathan Auxier. A lovely AU that mixes magic and realism in a subtle way, grounded in the lack of distinction a young girl makes between the two. As a young child she accepts that her father is capable of miracles; looking back as a preadolescent she can see the starker reality but still accepts the magic in his final gift. The side characters would be improbably as mains (the boy especially) but they work as adjuncts to her story as the monster grows.

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, Christina Uss. I listened to the audio version of this, and it was great! Once I accepted the idea of a kid traveling across America on her own, a plot that was made easier to swallow once she acquired a ghost riding along and haunting her bicycle, I just relaxed and enjoyed her adventures and friendships. I liked how the situations were allowed to be super quirky but the characters were more grounded so I could emotionally connect without letting my common sense stress me out.

Bob, Wendy Mass. A girl returns to her grandmother's house after five years and has to figure out what her five year old self had been up to on her forgotten previous visit. Of course the reader figures it out much quicker, but it was fun seeing the comparison between the wise ten year old and the younger self seen only through her actions and Bob's memories.

The Magic of Melwick Orchard, Rebecca Caprara. A child discovers a magical artifact in her garden. This traditional trope is done very well, with the girl learning about and bonding with the magical tree that grants wishes, enlisting a new friend to help. Meanwhile outside life is particularly dire, as is traditional in modern stories -- her little sister has cancer and as this is America treatment is bankrupting the family and may force them to sell the land out from under the magic.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cybils Reading Part IV

Most of my reading is from the Cybils nominated books.

My category is Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Thank goodness I belong to two spectacular library systems, King County (kcls) and Seattle, so I can get a lot of the books.

 I Read:

GrantedThe Nebula Secret (Explorer Academy, #1)The Land of YesterdayBone's Gift

Lulu the Broadway MouseMinecraft: The Crash (Official Minecraft Novels, #2)The Third MushroomGood Dog

Earth to DadThe Truth About Martians

Granted, John David Anderson. A fairy on her first wish-granting expedition finds she needs a friend to help her get things done. Also that the random allocation of wishes may not be the best approach, both for fairies and humans.

The Nebula Secret, Trudi Trueit. Boarding school action story! A school for smart scientist types, complete with holo-deck technology, has unexpected dangers for our hero, left over from the work his mom was doing at the school before her tragic death ten years ago. A mysterious society is at work, of course. As an adult, I was amused at some of the shenanigans -- no one notices when the children narrowly escape a poisonous gas, and the kids don't wonder why the technician who saved them makes no report.

The Land of Yesterday, K.A. Reynolds. When her brother dies, Cecelia's family -- her parents, herself, and her house, is plunged into grief that hobbles their lives. The mother disappears, the father can't cope, and the house goes on a murderous spree blaming Cecilia for everything. There's a lot of magical realism and lovely images accompanying Cecilia on her heroic quest into the land of the dead to set things right.

Bone's Gift, Angie Smibert. A quiet story of family love and betrayal, set in a small coal mining town during World War II. Bone is inheriting a magic gift traditional in her mother's family, but her father refuses to belief it because he blames her mother's gift for her early death. Several other family members are also twisted up over this loss, and the echoes put Bone in danger from several directions. It's part mystery, part family drama, and part history.

Lulu the Broadway Mouse, Jenna Gavigan. I was charmed by this story of a tiny mouse with big dreams and a bigger capacity for friendship. It recalled childhood rereads of Theater Shoes. The ending was nicely pat with even the nemesis mean girl showing some depth and character, but not in an unbelievable way.

Minecraft: The Crash, Tracey Baptiste. This book borders on YA, but the emotional immaturity of the main character and the Minecraft setting should keep it of interest for younger kids. The protagonist uses a warped Minecraft game to process her grief over the death of her best friend, which she caused by distracting him while he was driving. I play Minecraft, and I alternated between being baffled by their foolish (ignorant?) choices in the game and then amazed at their advanced skill.

The Third Mushroom, Jennifer L Holm. The grandfather who turned himself young again comes back to join his granddaughter in middle school. She is wondering if her best friend might be something more and also looking for a science fair project. Grandfather pulls a Bruce Banner by injecting himself with serum but the book is more interested in the romance question and the sadness of losing a pet.

Good Dog, Dan Gemeinhart. The dog dies in this one. This is not a spoiler -- we find out in the first sentence. But this dog still has something to do, and he turns his back on the first afterlife to try to get it done. A good dog story, if a bit emotionally manipulative.

Earth to Dad, Krista Van Dolzer. A shy and overprotected boy in a post-apocalyptic society trying to relocate itself to Mars makes a new and unruly friend. But the terrible secret his mother is keeping from him warps all his relationships and undermines his steps towards maturity. The science didn't make sense (Mercury popped out of orbit when Jupiter does a shimmy?) and the mother psychological problems were never addressed, but the boy himself was engaging and sympathetic.

The Truth About Martians, Melissa Savage. This story about meeting up with aliens and having to battle the military to keep them safe runs a bit uneasily alongside the other story about a family dealing with grief and depression, although both are well executed. I do object to the scene having the baby clap her hands over her head; for a while I thought that was a sign that our main characters weren't Earthlings.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Cybils Reading Part III

Final List is ready for my Cybils team. I'd better get cracking!

My category is Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Thank goodness I belong to two spectacular library systems, King County (kcls) and Seattle, so I can get a lot of the books.

 I Read:

The Lost Books: The Scroll of KingsDenis Ever AfterWizardmatch
The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin MakerThe Frame-UpThe Wild BookThe Last (Endling #1)
The Magic Misfits (Magic Misfits, #1)A Problematic ParadoxFlip the Silver Switch
OtherwoodWhen a Ghost Talks, Listen--How I Became A Ghost, Book 2The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn GrayDungeons & Dragons Endless Quest: Escape the Underdark (D&D Endless Quest)
A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic, #1)Buttheads from Outer SpaceWinterhouse (Winterhouse, #1)Clara Voyant

The Scroll of Kings, Sarah Prineas. Alexandron for a protagonist, and he's a librarian (in other words, a hero?) -- obviously I liked this book. Alex's firm minded pursuit of the best for his books was endearing, as was his no-nonsense approach to royalty. The Queen's dedication to her realm and her slow assumption of power also worked well, and the humor of her brother and his enthusiasm and misfires provided some relief. I'm looking forward to the sequels.

Denis Ever After, Tony Abbott. One brother lived, his twin died. And before he moves on he comes back to unravel a complicated family history of violence and death and a life without hope of forgiveness.

Wizardmatch, Lauren Magaziner. Lennie was great and I enjoyed her enthusiasm for mastering magic while being appalled at the casual cruelty of the adults in her life. The villain is expected to be evil, and the grandfather was a good plot motivator, but the mom had no excuse. I could see her betraying her daughter, but doing it without noticing how painful that was (especially after the explicit conversation!) was a bit over the top.

The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker, Matilda Woods. The moods and vocabulary rocked me to contentment in this story set in a magical Italian-ish town by the sea, where the wind blows the fish directly to the kitchens and a lost boy finds a home, and then finds a new one.

The Frame-Up, Wendy McLeod MacKnight. A girl from long ago and a boy from now struggle with the secrets their father-figures are keeping, ones that might cause more damage than they know. The idea of personalities awakening in portraits is intriguing, and I liked how the kids used blank canvases to smuggle people about. The angst with the distant father is handled well -- the dad is believably bad at communication.

The Wild Book, Juan Villoro. Are all Spanish books this vivid and full of delightful metaphors? Or is is just filtered by the ones that get translated? Although I also wonder if they all view females as a strange and delightful species beyond the ken of males, which is a bit annoying. The mysterious house full of books was delightful to spend time in.

Endling, Kathleen Applegate. An interesting world building including many different races of intelligent life with complex relationships. I forced my book club to read it and now we are looking for a word that means cannibalism but for eating sapient species that aren't your own, a word that would include many characters in this book, including the hero. It does a good job of keeping the stakes high while also foregrounding characters rather than politics.

Magic Misfits, Neil Patrick Harris. Kids with highly exceptional talents in the many aspects of stage magicians band together to stop a crook. Our viewpoint has just arrived in town, homeless and with a shady background, and his struggles to fit in (and eat) keep the plot on its toes. I'm still not sure what was magic and what was just unexplainable.

A Problematic Paradox, Eliot Sappingfield. A girl made miserable by being smarter than all her peers discovers that her dad has been holding out on her when his kidnapping sends her to a boarding school that stretches her to her limits. I found the voice refreshing and the cavalier approach of school supervision very Hogwarts. Even the food jokes were amusing.

Flip the Silver Switch, Jackie Yeager. Having missed the first book, I felt a bit unconnected to some of the characters in this story of a fantastical version of an invention contest. There didn't seem to be any limit to science -- anything the kids could dream up they could somehow make, and their choice of invention rang all sorts of Machiavellian alarm bells for me. It gave a good portrayal of kids forced to work together as a team, and stumbling and picking themselves up to use their respective strengths.

Other Wood, Pete Hautman. Fascinating tale of two young people making a friendship despite their parents, and then losing each other -- literally, as reality splits. The vivid sense of eight year old mentality and then the slow growth in the different worlds works really well, although I wish the kids had more agency in the developments.

When a Ghost Talks, Listen, Tim Tingle. This series is retelling the story of the Trail of Tears through a Choctaw family and ghosts than can go forward and back in time. The emphasis is on teaching the traditions of the nation and the history of this tragedy rather than on the story-telling effects, and in any case this is the second book in the series. I'm still now sure how dead our main character is (I think mostly?).

The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray, B.A. Williamson. A magical tale of imagination powering portals and energizing transformations as Gwendolyn battles the soul sucking (first figurative, later literal) conformity of her gray and dispirited city. The kids at school are bullies, but any speck of decency is drained from them by the powers that be. The ending is a bit muddled metaphorically, as Gwendolyn's powers are both greater and less than they seem.

Escape the Underdark, Matt Forbeck. A choose-your-own adventure done in classic D&D mode -- you start in a tavern having a drink, and then things go downhill quickly.  I wanted a bit more complexity -- I didn't find any loops or even reused options, and apparently some people were just doomed to die; there was no way to save them.

A Dash of Magic, Anna Meriano. The youngest in a family of sisters has trouble waiting her turn; when everyone but her is included in a family secret it's hard not to feel left out, even when after learning that she'll be old enough in a few years. I really liked the mom's approach at the end, when she acknowledged that it's hard to yell at a child for keeping secrets after modeling that for their entire life. (Take that, Wizardmatch mom!) And the way she struggled with asking for help but realized that when she put a friend in danger it was time to bring in more support, even if that meant getting in trouble.

Buttheads From Outer Space, Jerry Mahoney. I was hoping for a light funny read, but this went a bit far in the low humor direction. The kids were all about the potty humor, the adults all fairly stock characters, and the idea of blogging middle schoolers might already be obsolete. But it was a nice break from death and angst!

Winterhouse, Ben Guterson. I listened to this on audio, and I think I would have preferred is as a book because I can't make CDs go fast enough to really enjoy. Also, the protagonist stole a book. But I liked the friendship she built with the other abandoned kid (Freddie) and how they could fight but apologize and make up. For me the funniest part was when the kids were puzzling over the mystery of why she was asked to check in with an adult twice a day. Hmm. Why ever?

Clara Voyant, Rachelle Delaney. Clara really misses her practical, organized grandmother who has utterly abandoned her and moved to Florida, leaving her with her woo-woo mom. She picks up a best friend who utterly embraces the occult, and then finds herself saddled with writing the horoscopes for the school newspaper, horoscopes which have an uncanny habit of coming true. I liked her approach to having mystical powers: something she'll deal with after the important stuff like excelling as a reporter gets taken care of.