Legendary

by Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Caraval
Content: There’s some violence and intense moments. It will be in the Teen section (Grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, obviously.

I had high hopes for this one, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve read Caraval and admittedly I don’t remember much. And while Legendary was good, I don’t know if it lived up to my high hopes.

It’s shortly after the Caraval that Scarlett won, and Legend has already set up another one. This one is  in the capital city, and it’s Tella’s turn to play. The prize? Legend’s name. The cost? Tella’s mother’s life. She’s made a bargain with a criminal: the location of her mother in exchange for Legend’s name. She has to win, but at what cost?

I did find this one engrossing; Graber has created a very unique world, full of magic and deception. But, maybe because it wasn’t new like it was in Caraval, I just wasn’t that thrilled by it. It could be that Tella’s journey wasn’t as interesting as Scarlett’s or that I just didn’t find the villain of the book that enticing, or even the final reveal all that shocking. I definitely found the ending unsatisfying. I probably just wanted… more.

It’s not that it’s a bad book; it’s not. And maybe if you read it right after Caraval, it would come off as better. Whatever the reason, I was a little disappointed.

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Cybils Reading Round-Up, Part 2

Frogkisser!
by Garth Nix
First sentence: “The scream was very loud and went on for a very long time.”
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Content: There’s really nothing “objectionable”, but it just feels… older. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’m sure a fifth grader who really likes quests and/or fairy tales would enjoy it too.

Anya is a princess in a minor kingdom, whose parents have died and left her and her older sister to be raised by her stepmother (who is off doing…something) and her husband (whom Anya calls her “stepstepfather”), who is trying to take over the kingdom. So, Anya is sent on a Quest, nominally to find the ingredients to make a lip balm to turn Prince Duncan back from a frog, but ultimately, for control of her kingdom.

It’s a charming little tale; I enjoyed the fairy tale references (Snow White is a male wizard, etc.) and it was mildly funny, but honestly, it was just too long. I lost interested about 23 of the way through, and skipped to the end to find out how it all finished, and I don’t feel like I missed much. I’m sure it’s enjoyable; I just don’t have the patience for it right now.

Beyond the Doors
by David Neilsen
First sentence: “Edward Rothbaum was in a grumpy mood.”
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Content: It’s a bit odd; it’s long, but there are interior illustrations, so it’s like the publisher (what’s up Random House?!) couldn’t figure out if it was for the younger or older end of the middle grade spectrum. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The Rothbaum’s mom has been missing for years, and then a freak fire leaves their dad in a coma. So they’re bundled off to their (previously unknown) Aunt Gladys’s house, where there are no doors and nothing to eat but cereal. And Gladys is a bit… off… as well. Through some digging, the Rothbaums discover the real secret: their grandfather discovered an ability to jump into memories, and has gotten stuck there. And it’s up to the kids to figure out how to solve the problem.

This was fun. Nothing super brilliant, but I liked the kids and the idea of memory jumping is a clever one.

A Face Like Glass
by Frances Hardinge
First sentence: “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels.”
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Content: It’s long and slow moving. So, maybe not for a reluctant reader. It’s in the Young Adult section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Neverfell is an outsider in the world of Caverna, an abomination… because you can see her emotions on her face. So, when Neverfell gets caught up in court politics, the fate of Caverna lies within her hands.

I usually like Hardinge’s books, but this one just fell flat for me. I wanted to like it, and I liked parts of it, but it was just… too long. And it didn’t hold my interest. I would put it down for days and just not care enough to pick it back up. (I would have abandoned it, except for the Cybils.) It’s not that it was badly written, or a bad story… it just didn’t hold my interest. So maybe it was more me than anything else.

Dragon’s Green
by Scarlet Thomas
First sentence: “Mrs. Breathag Hide was exactly the kind of teacher who gives children nightmares.”
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Content: There are a few scary bits. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Effie Trulove’s grandfather spent time teaching her about the magical world, and even though she’s not quite sure she believes him, it was spending time. But, he’s passed on, and suddenly Effie’s thrown into situations where she comes to realize that, yes, her grandfather wasn’t making things up: there really is magic. So with the help of her trusty new friends, she can defeat the Bad Guys (who are out to steal all the magic books), and figure out her place in the magic world.

I said, once, that silly names and magic don’t a fantasy make. And I think that holds here. The names bugged me (so very much), as did the gendering of  the friends (the boys were the Warrior and Scholar, the girls were the Witch and the Healer, though Effie was the Hero). I thought it would have more of a D&D feel, and be predictable that way, but it veered a bit from that, which was nice. It just… bugged me, in the end. I’m not sure I can really put my finger on why. But this was was most definitely not for me.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

by Joe Ballarini
First sentence: “‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word.'”
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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.

Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo

by Stephen Bramucci
First sentence: ”
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Disclaimer: I spent a day taking Steve around to school visits. He’s definitely the coolest guy you’ve never heard of.
Content: There’s a bit of violence, and a couple of intense moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ronald Zupan’s parents are these huge adventurers, traveling the world looking for ancient artifacts. But, they made one promise: they will always be home for Ronald’s birthday. So, when he woke up on his 11th birthday, and they weren’t there, he immediately knew something was wrong. He ropes his trusty butler, Jeeves (real name: Thomas) and his pet King Cobra, Carter,  and his fencing nemisis Julianne Sato into an adventure to find his missing parents. Who just happen to have been kidnapped by pirates. In Borneo.

Yes, this book is just as silly as it sounds. But that’s the point. Ronald is delightfully dense (Jeeves/Thomas has corrections at the end of every chapter), and Julianne ends up being the brains of the operation, while Jeeves is the, well, worry wart. And yet, they figure out how to work as a team by the end of the book, in spite of everything that’s against them. It’s a fun adventure story as well: Ronald and the gang goes all sorts of places, and there’s all sorts of little tidbits  throughout the book. (Plus the illustrations are perfect for the book!)

Definitely a lot of fun, and perfect for those reluctant readers looking for a good book to dive into!

Raymie Nightingale

raymieby Kate DiCamillo
First sentence: “There were three of them, three girls.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 12, 2016
Content: The publisher suggests 10 and up, but I think a 4th-grader would be able to handle it. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Raymie has a plan. She will take baton lessons — it’s the summer of 1975, after all — and enter the Little Miss Central Tire competition, and win. That way, her picture will get in the paper and her father — who recently ran off with a dental hygienist — will see it and want to come home.

The thing is: her plan (like most plans) doesn’t go as she thought it would. She meets two other girls: Louisiana, whose parents have died and who wants to win the competition as much as Raymie because that means she and her grandmother will have money for more than tunafish;  and Beverly, whose mother is insisting on the competition, but who secretly hates it all and would much rather sabotage the whole thing. Together, the three of them have a summer they will never forget.

In many ways, this is vintage DiCamillo: quiet and unassuming, and yet it reaches something deep inside you. I didn’t want to put it down, not because I was thoroughly invested in the plot or the characters, but because this longing to belong, to figure out what life Means, to find and have friends all spoke to me. It’s a common enough theme, but in DiCamillo’s deft hands it transcends the ordinary. (I don’t know if I can praise this highly enough.) And yet, I think it’s going to be one of those books that adults like but kids just don’t quite get. I think this one sits better with some life experience, and some perspective coming to it. But I may be wrong.

Who ever reads it will definitely be touched, I think.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream

by Sarah Beth Durst
First line: “Sophie had only ever stolen one dream.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some mild scary moments, but the language and chapters are all short enough that a 3rd grader would enjoy this, even if it is a bit on the long side. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sophie’s parents run a bookstore, which she loves. But, underneath the bookstore is her parents’ secret business: distilling and selling dreams. The way it works is that they give out dream catchers which actually catch dreams and then distill them through their machine in the basement. They then bottle the dreams and sell them. But Sophie doesn’t have dreams. She’s not allowed because the one time she did she brought a monster out of her dreams into the real world. In fact, that monster (called, appropriately, Monster) is her best friend.

Then a creepy guy called Mr. Nightmare comes to down and turns Sophie’s life upside down. He kidnaps a couple of her “friends” (she doesn’t really have friends) and her parents go missing. So it’s up to her and Monster and a new friend, Ethan, to figure out where Mr. Nightmare is keeping everyone, what his Evil Plan is, and how to rescue them.

It’s a fun little adventure, one in which Sophie learns not only how to stand up on her own, but how to be a friend. And she figures out that her power of bringing dream things alive is not something to be feared (as her parents had taught her) but something to be respected and maybe even celebrated.

Delightful.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent

by Linda Urban
First sentence: “Milo had read about magic before.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s nothing objectionable, and the writing level is good for grades 3 and up. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Milo’s mom disappeared years ago, and his father works really hard for the Tuckerman Agency. Which means that Milo is left mostly alone with “Grandmother” (a live-in provided by the agency). Milo’s lonely, but he does his best to fly under the radar. That is, until the day that he ends up sucked in to Ogregon through his dryer.

(Yes, you did read that right.)

Once there, Milo is unprepared for the adventures: being captured by ogres, the Evil Plots by the Evil Overlord, rescue attempts, and just general mayhem.  Plus trying to figure out where his father is. It’s a lot for a kid to handle.

It was a fun little book. Nothing too great, nothing too horrible. I did have a problem with Tuck; she was pretty annoying and she never really got better throughout the book. And it was all a bit silly, but I’m not the target audience. Perhaps this is one of those that kids will like — especially those who like monsters and adventure — but for me it was just meh.

Which is too bad. I had high hopes for this one.

(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.)