Amulet: Supernova

supernovaby Kazu Kibuishi
First sentence: “Mind if I join you, Traveler?”
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Others in the series: The Stonekeeper, The Stonekeeper’s CurseThe Cloud SearchersThe Last CouncilPrince of the ElvesEscape from Lucien, Firelight

First: I would highly suggest you read (or re-read) the other seven books in the series before tackling this one. It’s been more than two years since the last book came out, and if you’re anything like me, you won’t remember what’s going on. Also: it’s a fantastic experience reading one right after the other, seeing how Kibuishi has fit everything together and foreshadowed events throughout the series.

That said, there really isn’t much to say.  The resistance is fighting an Incredible Battle Against Impossible Odds. Emily is fighting for control with the Voice of the Amulet. Everything seems dire. And, no, it doesn’t quite end here. There’s one more (it does say “to be concluded in book nine” at the end). But, Kibuishi’s art is still amazing, and the story telling still spot-on. And the characters still worth adventuring with.

I will be incredibly sad to see this come to an end after so many years, but I’m sure it will be completely worth it.

Series Books

Last week, we studied graphic novels and series books. I didn’t think these warranted their own post, so here they are…

The Adventures of Captain Underpants
by Dav Pilkey
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First sentence: Don’t know, since my copy was missing the first 14 pages…
Content: Simple sentences, lots of illustrations, and some bad puns (and underwear humor). It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I don’t know how I made it this far, with kids and as a bookseller, and not have read any of the Captain Underpants books. I mean, I knew about them and all… and even some of my girls have read them. I just never did.

(If you don’t know the plot: a couple of 4th grade kids at an elementary school hypnotize their very mean principal and turn him into the hero Captain Underpants, except he’s not very good, so they have to go save him a lot.)

My thoughts? It was very silly. There’s not much else besides silly. I can see why kids like these: they read fast, and they’re silly. Pretty much it. At least I get it now?

Ivy and Bean
by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
First sentence: “Before Bean met Ivy, she didn’t like her.”
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Content: Simple words and illustrations. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is another series I’ve sold and my kids have read, but I’ve never bothered with. It’s about how Bean, an adventurous 7-year-old, and Ivy, a more imaginative 7-year-old became friends.

I thought it was cute. Bean reminded me a lot of Ramona, especially in her relationship with her older sister, Nancy (who’s 11). Bean’s kind of rude, rambunctious, mischievous, and definitely prone to getting into trouble. She becomes friends with Ivy, who is a more creative, imaginative child, one day when she tries to play a trick on Nancy that backfires and Ivy comes to her rescue. They then combine their interests and try to place a spell on Nancy. I think Barrows captured the crazy imagination and “games” (as my kids called them) of 7-year-olds, and it made for a very delightful book.

Warriors: Into the Wild
by Erin Hunter
First sentence: “A half moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver.”
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Content: It’s got more words and characters than other series books; it’s probably better for older readers. Warriors, and all the accompanying series have their own section at the bookstore.

So, I have to admit: I’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about this series. We sell it hand over fist (so much that it, like Magic Treehouse, has its own shelf!), and so there must be something about it that appeals to kids.

But, for the life of me, I don’t know what that is. The basic plot is that in this forest there are for clans of cats, that are always at odds with each other over territory (because food is scarce) and a house cat named Rusty decides to run away and join one of the clans. I’m sure something else happens, but honestly? I couldn’t finish it.

It’s not just that the writing was terrible. (Okay, it was passable, but it got really grating after a while.) It’s that I just didn’t care about the cats. I don’t care about their hyper masculinity (and all the warrior cats were male, the female cats were called “queens” and relegated to the nursery, except for the overall leader, which just seemed like a bone they threw) and their territorialism (really? This is what kids are reading? No wonder we’re so divided. If the ThunderCat Clan and the RiverCat Clan can’t get along, there’s no hope for us!) and the monologuing… It was all just Very Bad.

Though, I suppose, if I were an 8- or 9-year-old kid, I might think differently. (I checked: none of my kids ever read these. I wonder what that says about us?)

Module 13: The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones

Riordan, R. (2008). The 39 clues: The maze of bones. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Genre: Multi-author series book, realistic fiction, puzzle book.

Book Summary: Amy and Dan Cahill have always been the favorites of Grace, the matriarch of the huge Cahill family. Now, upon her death, they (and other members of the vast extended Cahill family) are given a choice: $1 million in inheritance, or the first of 39 clues that will give the winner power and access to the Cahill family’s vast secrets. Of course, Amy and Dan take the clue, which leads them on a wild and often dangerous race against the other members of their family (who are sufficiently horrible) as they try to figure out the clue and where to go.

Impressions: This was so much fun! (Of course: Rick Riordan wrote it.) I’ve said this before: Riordan knows how to pace a book (or at least did when he was writing the original Percy Jackson series; he’s not been as tight lately) and knows how to keep a reader turning pages. And this one was no exception. I liked the play between Amy and Dan — they really felt like siblings, sometimes fighting but usually cooperating to reach a shared goal while looking out for each other. I can see why kids liked this, and wanted to read more. My only drawback is that Riordan didn’t write the whole series (each book was a different author), so I wonder if the characterizations of Amy and Dan would change slightly with each book.

Review: While Grossman kind of disdained the premise behind the series and the “focus-grouped, manufactured quality” of the books, he praised Riordan’s writing: “the premise of “The Maze of Bones” is dramatic and instantly engaging.” Ultimately, though, he was underwhelmed by the idea behind the series, writing, “It’s a story about people born into the most privileged family in the world, who then set out to become the most important people in history. Whatever happened to just owning your own chocolate factory?”

Grossman, A. (2008, November 7). First prize: World domination.  New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Grossman-t.html

Uses: This would be good for a summer reading group (one that reads the first in a series? Maybe just a 39 clues club? I might use this idea one summer) for 3-5th grade kids.

Readalikes:

  • York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby — Siblings Tess and Theo Biederman and their friend Jamie Cruz follow clues left by genius inventors — the Morningstars — in a quest, full of danger and intrigue, to hopefully save their apartment building. The stakes may begin small, but they soon realize there is much more at stake.
  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet — A Vermeer painting — A Lady Writing — has been stolen. Demands that Vermeer’s paintings be reassessed have been issued as a ransom. Two sixth grade students — Calder and Petra — start looking at information in new and unique ways, taking no coincidence for granted, and solve the mystery finding the painting and catching the thief in the end.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart — Four gifted children pass a test to go on a secret mission to take down the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. I haven’t read it (yet; I picked it for my summer reading group this year), but it sounds fun.

Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan
First sentence: “When our dragon declared war on Indiana, I knew it was going to be a bad day.”
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Others in the series: The Hidden Oracle
Content: There’s some dark undercurrents (but those will probably go over the heads of younger readers) and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

So, Apollo is off on a quest, this time to figure out what Big Bad (really: he’s the worst) Nero is up to, and to get to it and stop it before Nero gets too much power. Tagging along with Leo and Calypso, they head to Indianapolis, where they find a huge mess involving yet another evil Roman Emperor to stop, battle ostriches, and a kidnapped oracle. Not bad, all things considered, and yet Apollo manages to make things worse.

This one definitely has the feeling of a middle book (maybe because it is…). It’s not a bad book; Riordan knows how to pace an action-packed novel, and there’s enough pop culture references to nod and wink at the reader without it being overbearing. They sassy haiku are back (my favorite: Yeah we got the skills/Fake hexes and shooting feet/Teach you ’bout pancakes), which is always fun. Apollo is much less unlikable in this one (he has his moments, but they’re getting fewer) and Riordan seamlessly weaves in ancient myths and stories. It’s much like all the others: good, fun, enjoyable, but nothing that sticks with you for long.

Still, worth reading.

The Hammer of Thor

hammerofthorby Rick Riordan
First Sentence: “Lesson learned: If you take a Valkyrie out for coffee, you’ll get stuck with the check and a dead body.”
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Others in the series: The Sword of Summer
Content: There’s some violence, a bit of romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but heaven forbid you stop a Riordan fan from reading these.

It’s been a few months since we last saw Magnus, and he’s been managing okay out in Valhalla. But, Loki’s up to his old tricks again, and Thor’s hammer is still missing, and Magnus and his friends are needed to stop him. The problem: Loki has promised the giant Thrym that Sam the Valkyrie (who’s Muslim and engaged already) will marry him. In just over a week. Of course this can’t happen, except for one thing: Thrym happens to have Thor’s hammer. The trick: getting Thrym to give up the hammer, while not releasing Loki from his imprisonment AND having Sam not get married. But, of course Magnus and all his friends — including Alex, a gender fluid character — are up to the challenge. Mostly.

It took me a while to get around to reading this one, mostly because it’s just more of the same. Not that that’s bad; I love being in Riordan’s world when I’m there. But, I’m not as enthralled by Magnus’s part in the larger mythos as I hoped I’d be (I’m more interested in Apollo right now). Not that the story’s bad; it’s not. And Riordan’s fun and funny and maybe a bit too hip and contemporary, but I know (because A’s a huge fan) that the kids eat it up. It’s a good addition to the wider mythos that Riordan’s created, and I do appreciate that he’s definitely trying to be inclusive with his characters these days.

It’s just not my favorite.

Crooked Kingdom

crookedkingdomby Leigh Bardugo
First sentence: “Retvenko leaned against the bar and tucked his nose into his dirty shot glass.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Six of Crows
Content: There’s violence, and some vague talk about what Inej did in the pleasure house. Nothing graphic, though. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

There will be spoilers for Six of Crows. Which you really ought to read.

Kaz and his crew have one goal: get Inej back. Sure, that means going up against Van Eck, the most powerful merch in Ketterdam, but they’re invincible, right? Right?

Well… it sounds easier than it is. And, because this is Kaz we’re talking about, he’s playing a much longer game than any one of his crew knows.

And that’s me, not giving too much away. Because it’s best if you don’t know much about this one going in. Know that the whole crew is back — Jesper, Wylan, Nina, Matthais, Inej and, of course, Kaz — and that the cons played here are immensely satisfying with their twists and turns. Know that Bardugo is ruthless with her characters, which just makes me love this book more. Know that the ending is immensely satisfying.

An excellent ending to a fantastic story.

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

cursedchildby J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
First sentence: “A busy and crowded station.”
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Content: There’s nothing “objectionable” for all the Harry Potter fans out there, but know that 1) the format may make it challenging for some kids and 2) the book has adult sensibilities — even though the protagonists are 14-year-olds, there’s a lot about parent-child relationships. Even so, I’ll probably put it in the YA section (grades 6-8) with all the other Harry Potter books.

No spoilers, just thoughts.

  1. Like I’ve read just about everywhere: it was nice to revisit this world. I missed the world building that Rowling did with her prose. Rather, I spent the time wondering how on earth they were going to stage this thing and wishing I could see it live.
  2. I enjoyed the exploration of what being the child of a very famous person could be like. And how parents too often project their wants and desires onto their children. The tension between Harry and Albus, while not really explored too much, was interesting.
  3. The plot itself was kind of silly. It really was just a way to have yet another magical adventure in the world that Rowling created. Real life is kind of boring (don’t we all know), and it was fun to dream up another adventure for Harry and crew, but, yes, it was silly.
  4. M had a problem with the portrayal of Ron, and I agree: he’s not just there for laughs.
  5. I really enjoyed Albus’ and Scorpious’s friendship. I wish that were explored more, outside of a silly time traveling adventure.

So, final thoughts? It’d be a blast to see, it was fun to read, but there’s a large part of me that wishes Rowling would go back and do prequels instead of keeping up with Harry. A Maurader’s book? I’d totally be on board with that.

The Shepherd’s Crown

shepherdscrownby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.”
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Others in the series: Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, WintersmithI Shall Wear Midnight
Content: It’s perfectly appropriate for all ages; no swearing, some drinking by hard working adults, though it might be a bit complex, plot-wise for the younger set. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think the Tiffany Aching series needed another book to end the series, but since Sir Terry has passed away, and this came out, this one must be read. I did put it off, mostly because if I didn’t read it, the whole thing can’t end. Right?

It’s spare-er than the other Tiffany Aching books, mostly because Pratchett didn’t have as much time to fiddle with it. Still, it has a story with a decent plot, even if it feels somehow less full. Granny Weatherwax has passed on, making Tiffany  her successor, and so Tiffany is trying to balance being the witch of two steads. And her death created in the elf world: the queen is overthrown and the elves are back in the human world making mischief again. It’s a lot for one young woman to handle.

Thankfully, solutions come her way: Geoffry, the son of some lord or another, is much maligned at home, but he leaves and Tiffany takes him on as a helper. It turns out that he’s a great witch. And Tiffany takes in the elf queen once she gets thrown out, and discovers that sometimes the person you’ve always thought of as awful, may not be.

I loved it. I love Tiffany Aching so much anyway, with her practical witchiness (yes, there is magic, but being a witch in this world is such a practical affair). I loved the gender-bendiness with Geoffrey wanting to be a witch (not a wizard, which is what men Traditionally Do), and how the witches just accepted that. I appreciated that Geoffrey got a bunch of elder men, who were generally considered Useless, to help out with the Final Battle. And I loved the end. So much that I cried.

And while I am sad that there really won’t ever be any more Tiffany Aching books, I’m so very happy that Sir Terry thought up this one for us.

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

hiddenoracleby Rick Riordan
First sentence: “My name is Apollo.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Well, it’s the first one, but it helps if you’ve read Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series first.
Content: There’s no swearing, and only some violence. Riordan hints at an abusive relationship, but there’s nothing graphic. I’d give it to a 10-year-old who loves the Percy world. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) with the Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase because it feels right there.

I think the best way to review this is to go over the arc that A — who read it before I did — expressed.

  1. Apollo is awful, I hate this book. She’s right: Apollo is awful. But: character growth. I was glad to see Apollo change from a first-class ass to a halfway decent human being by the end. That said, there were some nice touches, even if they were annoying: the “Me Cabin” and his daily affirmation (“You are beautiful, and everyone loves you.”) both made me smile.
  2. Meg is fantastic.  A new character, a daughter of Demeter, and also the person Apollo is (accidentally) pledged to serve, she’s a great character. More Meg please.
  3. Will and Nico are adorable. All the fangirl feels. Yes please.
  4. Haiku! This one’s mine. I loved the (bad) haiku at every chapter. A’s favorite:
    Practice makes perfect
    Ha, ha, ha, I don’t think so
    Ignore my sobbing
  5. As for plot, etc? It wasn’t bad. Riordan wrapped up some loose ends that I never really considered loose ends, but it’s nice to know. He did break a couple of rules (too spoilery to tell, but left me kind of meh) that he’d set up, but other than that, it was a basic hero-quest, and I liked that it took place entirely at Camp Half Blood (over a short period of time). I liked the Big Bad he’s created (no more Huge Gods being Scary); he kept this one small and simple.

Was it the best book I’ve ever read? No. But it was lots of fun. Which is all I really wanted.

The Raven King

ravenkingby Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.”
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Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue
Content: Like the others, this is intense, heavy on the swearing and violence.

I’m always a little sad when a series I’ve loved for years comes to an end. I get so invested, waiting for each one, that it almost feels anticlimactic when it actually comes to an end. I feel let down that I no longer will get to look forward to visiting with characters I love, following their story through pages.

Sometimes, my expectations are too high and while I like the ending, I’m not wholly satisfied with it. However, this was not the case with the last in the Raven Cycle. (No, I didn’t read the others in anticipation. Maybe I should have.) Maggie Stiefvater has come up with an ending that is so perfect for the series, that captures everything, that ends it so wonderfully, that I am genuinely sad that I will not get to visit this world again. (Well, I mean, I can always re-read, but there will be nothing NEW.)

The plot is really immaterial: there’s something attacking Cabeswater, Blue and the boys are dealing with Great Things and small things. There’s a new character, Henry, who has showed up as a minor character before (or at least I got that impression, since, you know, I didn’t reread), but I fell in love with him as much as I do Blue and the boys. He melded perfectly into the Raven Boys, and played a pivotal role in the narrative; he wasn’t just window dressing. And while the psychics weren’t as much a part of this — it is a YA novel after all — I did love them and Mr. Gray when they showed up. The sum total? It really was everything I could have hoped for in the end.

Maggie’s going to be at Watermark Friday night. I’m going to be a basket case, gushing at her about this. It’s going to be wonderful as this ending.