The Terrible Two Get Worse

terribletwogetworseby Mac Barnett and Jory John
First sentence: “Welcome back to Yawnee Valley, its green hills and cows, cows, cows.”
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Others in the series The Terrible Two
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment
Content: It’s silly, but (mostly) harmless. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Niles and Miles are back, pranking the poor unsuspecting citizens — well, mostly one — of Yawnee Valley. They have gotten so bad, that the principal of their school gets fired — well, put on indefinite, unpaid leave — and his super-strict father takes over the school. He cancels everything, and effectively puts a stop to Niles and Miles’ pranks. (The best way to do that is to pretend the prank doesn’t happen. It’s the reaction that makes it a prank.) In essence, he makes Miles and Niles into “normal” students. But, because that would be a boring book, Miles and Niles team up with their former arch-enemy to kick the current principal out, and get their mojo back.

Huh. Writing that out, I sounds ridiculously stupid. (Maybe because it is…) But that’s the point, really. It lacks the cow facts of the first one that I really enjoyed, but other than that, the stupid, stupid humor of Barnett and John are back. I’m not sure it’s as funny as the first one (I liked the prank war that escalated, mostly), but it had it some moments that were pretty funny. It’s a good addition to this silly series, and I know it’ll appeal to those Wimpy Kid fans who are looking for something different.

The Marvels

by Brian Selznick
First sentence (which comes about 400 pages in): “Joseph was lost.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 15, 2015
Content: It’s a huge book, which will be daunting. But 2/3 of it is pictures. And the text section may be a big confusing for younger readers. There is some smoking by adults, but other than that, there’s nothing that would stop me from giving this to a precocious 9- or 10-year-old. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I don’t usually like to write about books months before they come out. But, since this is the first one I finished for the 48 hour book challenge, I figured it was okay.

I’m also going to be coy and not tell you too much about the book. I knew very little about it going in, and I think that’s the best way to experience it.

That said, I liked this one nearly as much as Hugo. It’s about the theater and family and truth in storytelling. Selznick’s art is gorgeous, as always, and even though the text section starts out a bit confusing, stick with it. It’s completely worth it at the end. Oh: and read the afterword. It makes everything that much better.

There’s really not much else to say, except: I can’t wait to share it with everyone else.

The Terrible Two

by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Keven Cornell
First sentence: “Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks and cows as far as the eye can see.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: January 13, 2015
Content: It’s a bunch of silly pranks. Simple writing and lots of illustrations make it good for younger and reluctant readers. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Miles Murphy is The King of the Pranks. Or, at least he was back in his old school. But in his new one? Not so much. Oh, he tries to become the king again. But in small Yawneee Valley, Miles is finding it difficult to get a good prank in. He keeps being thwarted by someone else. Soon, it’s an all-out prank war, the like Yawnee Valley has never seen.

As soon as I saw this one, I snagged it; Mac Barnett is one of my favorite picture book writers, and I figure he and his friend (or so the bios say) Jory John had to produce something worth reading. I was right (of course!). It’s hilarious. Silly and stupid. Dumb and amusing.

It’s perfect.

Really. It’ll be great for the reluctant readers who need something silly to keep them turning pages. (Plus: illustrations!) It’s got some great conflict, a hilarious buffoon of an adult to root against, and the best. ever. prank. at the end.

What more could you ask for in a book?

Absolutely nothing.

Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels

by Rob Harrell
First sentence: “Zarf.”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss.
Release date: September 2, 2014
Content: It’s pretty basic, and there are a lot of pictures. I’ll probably shelve it in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though it’d work for an advanced 1st or second grader. There’s nothing objectionable.

Zarf is a troll. That means, at this middle school of his, that he is the bottom of the bottom on the social ladder. Even his friends Kevin (of Littlepig fame) and Chester (the Jester) are higher up the social ladder than he is. But then, what do you expect when your the kid and grandkid of the trolls who bugged the billy goats?

Zarf’s pretty okay with his social nothingness. That is, until King Cheznott goes missing, presumably dead, killed (or kidnapped) by huge Snuffweasels. And his bully son (at least bully to Zarf), Roquefort, takes over. And throws Zarf  in the dungeon. Where he (somewhat inadvertently) finds himself on a rescue mission. And, of course, hilarity ensues.

Actually the plot is really secondary in this book. It’s mostly just about silliness. Serious silliness. Like:

“How can I explain that voice? It was so deep, it sounded like a cross between Darth Vader’s voice and someone farting through a tuba.”

or odd creatures, like attack pears!

Or Chester’s really jokes (“How many wobble gnomes does it take to massage a swampfrog?” We never do find out the punchline to that one.)

Or the clever asides:

As you can tell, this slim book is liberally scattered with pictures. Making it perfect for the reluctant reader. And it’s hilarious, which makes the appeal that much greater. At any rate, I laughed quite a bit and read it all in one sitting. Perfect, silly, stupid fun.

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

by Christopher Healy
First sentence: “Outlaws have too many feathers in their hats.”
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Others in the series: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle
Content: There’s some kissing, a bit of violence (and almost violence), and it’s long for a middle-grade novel. It’d be in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore; don’t let the length fool you; it goes fast.

I don’t even remember what our Fair Heroes were doing at the end of the second book. But, honestly: it doesn’t matter. I fell right back into the silly stupidity (and I say that with all loving kindness in my heart) of this book, snorting and giggling as The League of Princes (and the Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters — or FFFF) try to save the Thirteen Kingdoms from Lord Rauber’s (who they thought they killed in the last book) evil plan to take over the world.

The point to the book, I think, is not the plot. Sure, there is a plot: The whole gang is branded as outlaws because they were supposed to have murdered Briar Rose (sure, she’s annoying, but they wouldn’t literally kill her. Only figuratively) so everyone’s on the run and trying to prove their innocence. But the point is for the guys to be dorky (ah, Duncan), the girls to be awesome (bonus: pirate captain Jerica! Double bonus: Gustav trying to flirt), and for super-silly jokes and asides (like the prisoner Val Jeanval. Get it??). Yes, it was stupid. But, I love it.

Full of action (and stupid jokes), and perfect for just about anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of fairy tale adventure.

The Rithmatist

by Brandon Sanderson
First sentence: “Lilly’s lamp blew out as she bolted down the hallway.”
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Content: It’s pretty mild; there is some talk of murders, and some intense situations by the end and a mild romance. It’s only upper middle grade because of the length. I’d give it to my 10 year old, if she showed interest. It’s shelved in the YA section (grades 6-8) at the bookstore because of the length. That, and the publisher’s recommendation was 15+, which I disagree with.

Imagine a future where some unforseen disaster splits the US into several island country/states. Imagine a future where there are people — Rithmatists — who can draw with chalk and make it come… alive. Imagine a future where wild chalkings — two-dimensional chalk drawings that are sentient, somehow — can attack and kill a person. It’s in this world that Joel, a chalkmaker’s son, exists. His father used to be the chalkmaker for a prestigious Rithmatist training school, before he died. Now, Joel and his mom are scraping by. Joel would love to be a Rithmatist, but they’re chosen at age 8, in a mystical/religious ceremony, and Joel wasn’t Chosen. That hasn’t stopped his passion for Rithmacy and the history. He’s pretty much shunned until one of the top professors, Fitch, is toppled from tenure by a young upstart. And then, top students start disappearing. With another not-so-great student, Melody, Joel works at figuring out just what is threatening the students.

This was slow-going at first. I didn’t quite grasp the idea of the world, or the importance of the illustrations. Which, in many ways, is a drawback: if you can’t grab a kid in the first chapter or two, then in many ways you’ve failed as a book. But this one is worth the slog in the first couple of chapters. It takes a while, but as the mystery develops, and things become more intense, and more about the Rithmastist world is explained, Joel — and especially Melody — come into their own. The final couple of battles are quite intense and very much worth the while. And even though I kind of called the mystery, there is a bit of a twist that I didn’t see coming, which was very satisfying. And as I came to understand the illustrations — which admittedly were off-putting at first — I found them at least as fascinating as the story. If Sanderson wants to write a guidebook for the Rithmatist world, I’m sure there’d be a market for it.

I do wish — and I know that I’ve said this before — that people would stop writing series books. This one worked quite well as a stand-alone, even with a few threads hanging. I do appreciate that (even though the last three words are “To Be Continued.” ARGH). But overall, it was a fascinating world to immerse myself in.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)


by Scott Westerfeld
ages: 12+
First sentence: “‘Siberia,’ Alek said.”
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Others in the series: Levithan, Behemoth

When we last left our fair heroes, Deryn and Alek, they had helped the revolution against the Ottoman Empire succeed, and prevented them from entering the Great War. Now the crew of the Leviathan is headed for Siberia, to pick up some unusual cargo — inventor Nikola Tesla, who claims that his invention, Goliath, can bring the Great War to an end, once and for all.

Of course, there’s still the problem of Deryn being a girl and Alek thinking she’s a boy, and plus she’s in love with him and he’s a prince and she’s a commoner. So, of course, there will be stickiness when he finds out.

Like the previous two books, Goliath is many things all at once: action-packed, filled with battle scenes and daring escapes and cool contraptions; gorgeous, with Keith Thompson’s art elegantly complimenting Westerfeld’s words. I have to admit flipping through the book to look at the pictures, just so I can see them before reading the words so I can figure out what the heck is going on. It’s a bit of a love story this time around as well, and even though Westerfeld doesn’t have the swoon-worthy prose of, say, Maureen Johnson, he does fairly well keeping a balance between Deryn and Alek’s friendship and their budding love. (Though I have to admit here that one of my favorite characters was Alek’s perspicacious loris, Bovril. He was awesome.)

It has a wider scope than the previous two books, as the Leviathan basically circumscribes the world, going from Siberia to Japan to California through Mexico to New York. It’s almost as if Westerfeld felt like he couldn’t leave any part of his new steampunk world untouched. It kind of felt forced, though I do get the historical implications; he was, after all, just following the path that the actual World War I took.

Even with that criticism, it was wonderful to follow Deryn — who is really one of those awesome, cool, capable heroines you just have to cheer for! — and Alek’s — who has really grown on me over the trilogy — story come to a good end.

And you can’t ask for more than that.


by Scott Westerfeld
ages: 12+
First sentence: “
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When we last left our dynamic duo, Alek and Deryn, they were floating on the airship, Leviathan, headed toward Instanbul and the Ottoman empire. Deryn, who is masquerading as a boy, knows pretty much all of Alek’s secrets: he’s a prince, his parents’ death started the war, and he’s on the run. The crew of the Leviathan have a wary peace with Alek and his companions, especially because it’s their Clanker engines that are keeping the Leviathan up.

Deryn has still managed to keep her secret safe, though she’s slowly realizing that Alek means more to her than just a pal. Then again, he’s a barking prince. (What is it about Westerfeld’s writing that gets me talking like he writes? Seriously? I said “happy-making” for ages after reading the Uglies series, and now I’m swearing like a seampunk Darwinist sailor. Barking spiders, indeed!)

And when they get to Istanbul, it all breaks loose. Alek and his companions escape the Leviathan (they’re increasingly afraid that “guests” means “prisoners of war”), and end up falling in with a group of revolutionaries determined to overthrow the shah and end the German influence in their city, at least. Deryn, on a secret mission of her own, ends up in the same place: aiding Alek and his new friends.

Although the book is slow to get started, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve picked up Leviathan (like me), once it does, it delivers everything you’d want from a Westerfeld book. Action, adventure, mystery, romance… and a great imagination. There’s some amazing machinery and creatures in this book; things that will have you gaping and scratching your head: where does he come up with this stuff? And, of course, by the end of the book, enough happens that you will be on the edge of your seat, wondering what, possibly, could happen next.

Waiting is always the hardest part.


by Scott Westerfield
ages: 12+
First sentence: “The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.”
Support your local independent bookstore, buy it there!

First, a disclaimer: I have never, ever heard of steam punk before this book, let alone read it. I had no idea what it entails, what makes a good steam punk book, or what even to expect.

But if this is even remotely typical of the genre, I’m hooked. It was an awesome, wild and weird ride, a fabulous adventure — no one writes nail-biting action like Westerfield — and a grand beginning to a story that has the potential to be absolutely amazing.

It’s 1914, on the eve of the Great War. Alek is a prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire and it’s the murder of his parents that sets off the war, as well as sends Alek on the run for his life. All he has with him is a few loyal men, and a Stormwalker in order to fend off the Germans. Deryn is a commoner, a girl, who desperately wants to fly in the British Air Service. Mind you, they’re not flying planes, but rather Darwinist living creatures — huge ecosystems of creatures that work together to get off the ground. Deryn disguises herself as a boy, and by a fluke or two of nature (ha!), ends up as part of the crew of Britain’s newest airship, the Leviathan.

Told in alternating chapters, the book details not Alek’s escape from his palace and Deryn’s entry into the air service, but their eventual meeting and the results of that meeting. As I mentioned before, there’s tons of nail-biting action from Alek’s initial escape to a couple of attacks by the Germans. But what I found most fascinating (and wild and weird) was the combination of historical fiction and futuristic elements, as well as a re-imagining of science. I loved the Clankers versus Darwinist feud, as well as each individual science. The clanker machines were awesome, powerful, and captivating to read about. But the Darwinist inventions — the wild cross-breeds, the machinations to keep them up in the air, the things (like flechette bats, for instance) that Westerfield created — were the things that kept me turning pages and shaking my head in amazement. What kind of imagination dreams this stuff up? (Well, Westerfield’s, of course.)

The book ends somewhat abruptly, but I’m totally sold: I want to know what happens next. I want to know what adventure Deryn and Alek are going to go on, and I want to know about the small mystery that’s part of the larger story.

The problem — like all books with sequels — is being patient until the next one comes out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

I read the first Diary of a Wimpy kid last year, and absolutely loved it. So, I had high hopes for this book. Possibly a mistake. Because, in spite of my best efforts, this one just did not make me laugh.

I think I just found it annoying. As a narrator (and illustrator), Greg was more irritating than witty. As were his family (shoot me if I ever act like his parents) and friends. The story was kind of lame, too — not that I expected more there — as was the ending. I ended up rolling my eyes more than chuckling (though there were a few chuckles). I guess it just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it.

To be fair, though, my 8-year-old, C, loved it. Perhaps this is one of those situations where I’m just too old.

Ah, well.