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!

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Daughter of the Pirate King

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “I hate having to dress like a man.”
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Content: There’s some violence, some mild swearing, and references to torture. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Pirate captain, and daughter of the pirate king, Alosa is on a secret mission to retrieve a part of a map from one of her father’s enemies. Which means, she is deliberately captured in order to search the ship. This is not a pleasant experience for her; Alosa is used to 1) commanding her own ship and 2) besting everyone around her. She knows her father is placing his trust in her, though, and she’s determined to succeed. At whatever cost.

Oh heavens, this was fun. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good pirate book (and this IS a good pirate book) where the girl gets to be awesome (and gets to do it mostly on her own terms; the ship Alosa captains is made up mostly of women, and it’s just amazing. She’s just amazing!) AND gets to have the guy (oh the banter was delightful). It was well-written, well-paced, and just OH so much fun.

And the bonus? The sequel’s coming out soon. (In fact, that’s entirely why I picked this one up: I got an ARC of the sequel at work.)  I can’t wait to dive into that!

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra

by Jason Fry
First sentence: “Tycho Hashoone was doing his math homework when the alarms started shrieking.”
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Content: There’s some intense moments, and a lot of off-screen deaths. And the names are pretty challenging to sound out. But, it’s a short book that reads quickly, and would be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I think 6-8th graders would enjoy it as well.

Tycho is part of one of the great pirating families of the Jupiter alliance. They’ve been capturing ships for booty for generations, flying the same starship, the Comet, making their name and their living. The captainship is handed down from parent to child, and the current captain, Diocletia, is Tycho’s mom. Which means that Tycho, his twin sister Yana, and their older brother, Carlo, are all in competition to be the next captain.

Lest you think that’s the focus of the book, it’s not. Even though their competition is a huge part. No, the real story is the disappearance of Jovian privateers (as the pirates are now called). When the Hashoones capture a freighter that happens to have an Earth diplomat on it (Jupiter and Earth have been at war for decades), that sets off a chain of events that will involve the Hashoones figuring out the dirty politics behind the disappearances.

On the one hand, this is freaking cool. Pirates! In Space! (or as A pointed out, a book version of Treasure Planet.) And, I like the world building that Fry did. He’s come up with some creative ideas for the future, and I liked the way the privateers/pirates balanced politics with business, just on the legal side of outlaw.

But.

The writing was pedestrian, the competition side of the story took up too much time and what I came to consider the “real” story took too long to develop  and was wrapped up too quickly. (Though that last scene was pretty dang awesome.) While I really enjoyed that this was a family business, Fry was juggling too many characters so I felt like I never really got to know any of them. And maybe this is all quibbling — I mean, will kids really care? — but it made the book a less-than-stellar read for me.

The Map to Everywhere

by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
First sentence: “Fin crouched behind a rack of bootleg flavors, trying hard to ignore the taste of rat fur and broccoli juice seeping from the grungy bottles.”
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Content: It’s kind of long, there’s some difficult made-up words, and it does take a bit of time to get into, so not really for a reluctant reader. Then again, there’s some great illustrations… Either way, it’s i the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Marrill has lived a life of adventure, following her parents around the world. Now, what was supposed to be a temporary stop in Arizona has become (mostly) permanent: her mother has cancer, and they need to stay close to doctors. But the prospect of school and a stable home doesn’t make Marrill happy.

Across the universe, Fin is the opposite: stuck in the Khaznot Quay, where he was dropped off as a baby by his mother (who then disappeared), Fin has become a master thief, mostly because he’s the guy who can’t be remembered. Literally: people look at him and as soon as they look away, they don’t remember him anymore. It’s very convenient when you tend to steal things.

But when Marrill’s and Fin’s paths cross — it has something to do with the Pirate Stream (a magical time/space continuum thing; you can sail a ship almost anywhere in the universe on it) — they end up teaming up to stop a rogue wizard from destroying the stream, and therefore the universe.

This is a perfectly fine fantasy adventure, once it got started. The main problem for me was that it took too long to get started. I almost put it down several times as I was waiting for the adventure to start, wading through the new world, and how everything connected. However, once the people and things were in place, I really did enjoy Marrill and Fin’s adventures.

I’m not sure if I’m invested in the series, but I think the kids will like it.

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.

Five Kingdoms 1: Sky Raiders

by Brandon Mull
First sentence: “Weaving down the hall, Cole avoided a ninja, a witch, a pirate, and a zombie bride.”
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Review copy downloaded from Net Galley
Content: There’s some intense action, but it’s pretty tame, after the kidnapping scene. And there’s a lot of talk about “liking” girls, but it’s pretty innocent. It’s happily situated with the rest of Brandon Mull’s books in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Cole is your average run-of-the-mill 7th grader in your average run-of-the-mill American suburban town. He has a crush on a girl, he has friends, he gets decent grades. Nothing spectacular. Then on Halloween, he and his friends go to a haunted house and end up slaves on a different planet. (Actually, his friends get kidnapped.. Cole goes down the hole after them, hoping to save them. And ends up as a slave.) The world is the Five Kingdoms, and Cole (and his friends) are on the Outskirts. And once you’re there, they find, it’s practically impossible to leave.

One of the best things about this new series by Brandon Mull is the world. The Outskirts is a fascinating place. Part magic, part dreams, part vicious, part insane; it’s a crazy, wild ride of a world. And while this one is basically your typical first in a series, introduction to the world book, the world that Mull creates is a fantastic one.

Cole finds himself sold to the Sky Raiders: a group of pirates that go out over the Brink — an endless chasm — and raids floating castles for anything they can sell. The thing is: the floating castles are dream-like, filled with semblences — lifelike beings that are somewhat sentient, but not entirely. They’re dangerous, and it’s Cole’s job, as the bottom of the totem pole, to scope out the castle, and make sure that it’s not dangerous before the raiding crew comes in. Their parting words before Cole’s first mission? Die bravely.

Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that; there’s a girl (there always is) who turns out to be something more than you think (again, kind of predictable). And there’s more adventure than you can shake a stick at, even though the plot kind of felt like one vignette after another all strung together. There is an overarching plot, and once we get to the point where the plot of this one begins to advance the overall plot, it loses some of the vignette quality. But the thing that kept me reading was the world. It really is that imaginative and wild.

The rest of it was good, enough that I’ll keep an eye out for the sequel. Which is a good thing, I think.

Magic Marks the Spot

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, Book 1

by Caroline Carlson
First sentence: “Ever since the letter had arrived from Miss Pimm’s, Hilary had spent more and more time talking to the gargoyle.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils
Content: There’s a couple of swordfights where no one gets injured. For a pirate book, it’s really quite tame. It’s shelved in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.
Hilary Westfield has one dream: to become a pirate. Unfortunately the league of pirates in Augusta has one rule: no girls. Girls are sent to Miss Pimm’s finishing school, because that’s Where Girls Go. Thankfully, Hilary has Pluck and Determination and doesn’t let the Rules stop her. (This book insists you talk about Things in Capital Letters.) As soon as she gets a chance, she runs away from Miss Pimm’s and finds a pirate — Jasper, the Terror of the South Seas — who doesn’t care that she’s a girl. 
There’s more to this book — magic and treasure and an Enchantress and a Wicked Parent — but really, what I loved most about this book was that Hilary set out to be a pirate and succeeded ON HER OWN TERMS. No dressing up like a boy. No bowing to Tradition. No Resigning Oneself to her Fate and Making the Best of It. Nope. Not for Hilary. She (and her talking gargoyle, whom I really loved) decided that they wanted to be pirates, and Dang It, they became pirates. 
I liked this one an awful lot, mostly because of the above reason. But — aside from the unnecessary letters that were written in cursive, which is a real turn-off for kids These Days; the book got much better after I started skipping them — I really enjoyed all of it. There was humor (Miss Greyson, the governess/chaperone, was hilarious), sword fighting, a wee bit of romance (but not overstated; it was between the adults), and most of all Hilary being Awesome.
Yeah, it was a bit slow at the start, and I really don’t like that it’s yet another one in a series, but I thought the story wrapped up well enough, and I’d be willing to see where Hilary’s piratical adventures take her. 

(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.)