Pablo and Birdy

by Alison McGhee
First sentence: “‘Ready, Birdy?'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s pretty simple text and there’s nothing objectionable. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Pablo has a happy life on this island, in the town called Isla, living with Emmanuel selling trinkets to tourists, with his bird, Birdy, to keep him company. But he wonders about where he came from, since he and Birdy drifted to shore in a inflatable swimming pool 10 years ago. And it seems this year, the year in which interest in the mythological Seafaring Parrot has reached an all-time high, is the year in which Pablo can get answers.

I wanted to like this one. But it just felt kind of flat. It was easy enough to read, it just didn’t have that extra spark that I hope for in a story.

Advertisements

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

by Joe Ballarini
First sentence: “‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some scary moments, and monsters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Those monsters under your bed? They’re real. And they want to eat you. You knew that. Right? But what if there was a secret society of babysitters (yes, you read that right) who are super martial arts fighting awesome people who keep the monsters at bay (literally) and protect their charges (especially those kids with “special” abilities) from the Evil Lurking out there.

Such is the society that Kelly fell into when she accepted a babysitting job for Jacob, who then gets kidnapped by the Bogeyman. She has Halloween night to find him and bring him back, or the whole world will be destroyed.

This was so much fun! If Adventures in Babysitting and Labyrinth and Goosebumps all had a baby, it would be this book. It’s scary, but not overly so, and I loved the idea of a secret cool babysitters society. It really just read like a movie, which isn’t always what I want from a book, but it works perfectly here. This is definitely one to hand to the kids who like scary stories.

Last Day on Mars

by Kevin Emerson
First sentence: “Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some intense life-threatening situations and several deaths. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Imagine this: in the distant future, the sun starts to expand, eventually getting so big that it makes living on earth impossible. Thankfully, humans have had a bit of time to prepare, so they decamp to Mars, where they find a planet in a distant solar system that should support life, and work to create a terraforming system. But, now, the sun’s expansion has sped up, and Red Line — the deadline to leaving — has arrived.

I’m going to interject here that I was a bit suspect about this one. It starts with aliens, and it leaves a lot explained at first, but trust me: stick with this one. I read it in one sitting, once I got into it, and it was an incredibly intense experience. I could NOT put this one down.

It nominally follows Liam  and Phoebe the kids (not siblings) of the last scientists left on Mars. They’re on the terraforming team, and want to get a couple last experiments in before Red Line. Except what starts out as boring gets really interesting really fast when things start going wrong. And after Liam and Phoebe discover proof of alien life.  It’s up to them — for some very intense but plausible reasons — to get off the planet and to join the spaceship headed for the new planet. But things don’t go as planned.

This is a first in a series, and I’m totally on board with Liam and Phoebe and their adventures. So very good.

State of the TBR Pile: November 2017

I’m knee-deep in Cybils reading right now. And not reading nearly as fast as I want to be. That said, like always, it’s a ton of fun!

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim
Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins
Wand, Paper, Scissors by Mark Andrew Poe
Embers of Destruction by J. Scott Savage
The Painting by Charis Cotter
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton
Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst
York by Laura Ruby
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline Ogburn

What are you looking forward to on your TBR Pile?

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

by Ruth Lauren
First sentence: “Valor!”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence and intense situations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

What lengths would you go, in order to save your sister?

Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been tried and convicted for stealing an important item from the palace, and sent to Demidova, a harsh prison made out of stone and ice Valor knows she can’t leave Sasha there; and so she gets arrested and sent to Demidova, with the sole purpose of escaping with her sister.

Of course it’s not as easy as walking in and waltzing out, and Valor will have to use every ounce of her skills of observation and archery, plus rely on the help of other prisoners in order to pull this off. If she even can.

So, I thought this book was a lot of fun. Great main character, and lots of interesting supporting characters. I’m not 100% sure on the diversity (I’m writing this several days after I finished it…); it may be a bit more white than it needed to be. But, I liked the loosely Russian feel of the book, and I especially liked the ending (which I won’t give away). It wrapped this one up nicely, but allowed for an opening for the sequel.

Solid middle grade fantasy.

A Crack in the Sea

by H. M. Bouwman
First sentence: “As with true stories, Venus’s story has no beginning.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some heavy themes, and it might be a little slow for the reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is one of those stories that doesn’t feel like it has much of a plot or a point; one whose only purpose is to tell mythology. And this one did that well. It takes place in an alternative, second world, one that’s reached through a crack in our world. There a hundred or so escaped slaves made a home for themselves, existing in a world with magic and creating a new life away from the cruel slavers.

200 years later, the people have grown into a Raftworld and an island nation, and a brother-sister team may be what can save the relations between the two nations.

I wanted to like this one more than I did. While I liked the format — it reminded me of the Grace Lin books — I kept thinking that it was problematic. See: the author is white. And this one, pulling on slaving stories and mythologies, should have been written by someone whose mythology it is. And while I liked the story well enough, I couldn’t shake that feeling, that somehow this was imposing.

But that may just be me.

Reread: The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s violent. But, if there’s a kid, say, 11 years old or so, who is interested in dark fairy-type tales, I’d give it to them. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up again after Maggie visited the store on her All the Crooked Saints tour, and I took pictures of fans for her, and listened to her chat them up. She said, over and over, that Scorpio Races was her favorite. And so, I decided that while I’d read it before, it had been a while, and I should revisit it.

And it was everything I thought about it and SO MUCH MORE. I don’t think, six years ago, that I was prepared for the awesomeness that is Maggie’s writing. Now, after Raven Cycle and Saints, I think I’m beginning to appreciate how wonderful a wordsmith she is. She captured a place — granted it doesn’t really exist — and a mythology so well, it could be real. And she made me FEEL so much that I cried during the last couple of chapters. Maybe this isn’t the best place to start with Maggie’s writing, but it’s definitely a truly breathtaking book.

She really is one of my favorite authors.