Fridays with the Wizards and Saturdays at Sea, by Jessica Day George, for MMGM

Today’s spotlight will be my only August post, since we’ve found ourselves going to the beach after all, and are squeezing that into an already full August schedule. I’m thrilled that we’ll get the chance to soak up some sun and sand, but rather scrambling to get done all that needs doing!

Hilton Head rocky shore grass storm brewing

With just one post, it feels only fair I give you two books. What I found amusing about that is that apparently three years ago, way back in 2014 when I first featured Jessica Day George’s middle grades, I did it in a post looking at both books which begin this series! Echoing that post wasn’t my plan, but I like that there’s a certain cosmic balance here.

I’ve heard a fair amount of debate over whether these last two books in the Castle Glower series were worth the read, and my answer is a resounding yes! The first in the spotlight today is Fridays with the Wizards.

Cover Fridays with the Wizards

You’ll have to forgive me for being a bit vague, on some points, because it’s my hope to avoid terrible spoilers even though this is the fourth book in the series. So…somethings I really enjoyed about this book were the way history comes together, as the Glower children continue to grow and learn more about their roots and the castle’s origins. I also liked the way that Celie has to think outside the box, in the cat and mouse game she’s in with the dangerous old wizard Arkwright. Of course the griffins are again a highlight, and their unique perspective on the world and newness help the Glower family stretch and grow.

But perhaps one of the things I liked best–and which I know will be a turn off for some readers–was the realistic portrayal of a girl’s emotions at this age, as Celie navigates the beginnings of puberty and copes with the many changes in her family, plus a little fallout from their adventures. Many girls roll with this turbulent time in their lives and seem to have a buoyancy which is never dampened, and it seems they’re the ones who wind up having fantastic adventures. There are plenty of other girls, though, who struggle to manage their emotions and navigate the challenges of this changing time, and it was wonderful to see brave and strong Celie having adventures and growing through them, while also being the kind of girl who might randomly burst into tears. I’m sure that’s not for every reader’s taste, but I appreciated the intrinsic honesty. I also really loved the development of many secondary characters, and the glimpses we get into the Queen’s background and story arc.

And that growing story arc brings us to…

cover Saturdays at Sea

Saturdays at Sea. As this is the conclusion to the series and includes some big reveals, I’ll try to give my insights without giving anything away! I enjoyed the Glower family’s time in Grath, and the building of the ship. The subsequent voyage was delightful, though I can see that for some readers the book may be too far removed from our beloved Castle Glower. I also enjoyed the introduction of Kalys as a character, and the continued development of the rest the royal family. Each makes sacrifices, and grows, and the challenges they faced had real depth. Some parts of this book present a bit of a departure from the general series trajectory, but it worked for me, and in the end this might possibly by my new favorite in the series!

Now, let’s get Apricot-kitty’s thoughts:

Apricot half angry direct put down“You’re joking, right? These books have been enjoyable, but that last one was awful! Dogs everywhere, simply everywhere, and they’re only swept aside to make room for a terrible ravenous ocean! And yet you have the audacity to ask what I thought of it?”

 

 

 

Ah, yes. As it turns out, Lulath’s family is even more fond of dogs than he is…and as mentioned above I can see how the long ocean voyage and subsequent discoveries will throw some readers. Had I been in a different mood on reading this last book, I might have felt the same. But if approached with a willingness to go adventuring and embrace wonder, I believe this conclusion to the Castle Glower series will delight most (non-cat) readers!

Do you have any fun plans, to finish off the summer? Got any great book recommendations for me to take to the beach? Tell me in the comments, and be sure to stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, reviews, interviews and giveaways!

Have a great August, and I’ll see you all back here in September!

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Mango Delight, by Fracaswell Hyman, for MMGM

Many thanks to the talented and generous Rosi Hollinbeck, for my copy of Mango Delight! Her blog is always a treasure-trove of excellent writing advice and equally excellent reviews. You’ll find that here.

The copy I won was an ARC, and came without a final cover. So, I let the story speak to me and then pulled together those elements that connected into an image. This was what I came up with:

cover Mango Delight book photography

For me, these were symbols from this stage in a girl’s life. The frustration with friends’ focus on appearances, and the dragging fascination with it oneself. The worries over which color works best, what hair-do one should choose, and what ‘mask’ you’ll wear today. Everything feels hyper-real and the smallest things can seem of utmost importance. It’s like looking at day to day life through binoculars. What you see is highly focused, but the big picture is beyond your vision.

Of course, this is the actual cover:

Cover for Mango Delight

Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a much better reflection of the book! Here you can see the multicultural elements, the feeling of cutting-edge modernism, and you get a sense for how Mango transitions through the book. This girl is going places, and she’s doing it in the here and now.

Still, I’m glad I didn’t peek at the cover before pulling my book photography image together, because one of the things I loved about this book was how universal it felt. This is Mango’s story, but I think almost every girl can see herself in it. This is due to the way author Fracaswell Hyman tapped directly into this age and held true to Mango’s priorities. As she navigates the cliques at school and the loss of her best friend, she does so in ways real girls might. The same is true of the many bumps in the road that come, as Mango navigates sudden popularity, her dad losing his job (due in part to the friend breakup) and her first crush all while re-imagining herself. It’s a lot to take in, and she doesn’t always manage it gracefully. But she learns and grows with each bump and recovery, because she’s the kind of girl won’t stay down long. This is due in part to the example her amputee mom sets her–and I pretty much promise Mango’s mom will become one of your favorite characters!

Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought:

Apricot direct and earnest“A pretty good book. I am a little concerned about the girl’s obsession with texting, though. I may be missing something, but she seemed to be doing it without having any phone. Do you suppose she was using one in her head?”

 

 

 

 

Truth? I don’t know if Mango pictured a phone when she used hashtags, or texting slang. She and the rest her crowd were definitely uber-phone conscious, and I do think sometimes early in the book the use of ‘lingo’ was perhaps overdone. The level shown there may have been included more to establish the author’s authenticity than the story actually required. However, the slang soon settled down to a more comfortable and natural level.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog. And happy reading!

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*NEWS* and The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler, for MMGM

After a whirlwind few weeks, I am pleased to publicly announce that I have accepted an offer of representation from Peter Rubie, of FinePrint! There were other offering agents, but Peter understood my book and its needs in a way that–well, maybe it’s the geek in my talking, but it seemed kinda like a super power. I’m excited to work with him on my Fairyland Witness Protection middle grade, and any other books that come along. Here’s to hard-earned happily ever afters, my friends!

Enchanted tree with Once Upon words

And with that news, the book I’m spotlighting this week underwent a last minute switch. Sometime soon I’ll give you my thoughts on Mango Delight (hopefully with a bit of book photography, because the story is begging for it) but it felt more appropriate to spotlight The Thirteenth Princess today. The morning after signing Peter I made a stop at my beloved local book shop, Quail Ridge Books, and with the help of their excellent kid’s staff found some great comps to read. Then I strolled through my local library to see what browsing would bring, and stumbled on this gem by Diane Zahler.

cover the thirteenth princess

My initial interest was a tiny bit skeptical, because I’ve read so many lovely retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses story that I wondered if this one could possibly offer anything fresh. However, the back cover flap had me instantly intrigued. A secret, unwanted, thirteenth sister? I had to read more. And read I did…finishing this book in one day! Now, in all truthfulness, I was nursing a bit of a bug–symptom of my flibbity jibbits from the week prior–and also reading with an eye toward fairy tale adaptation/mashup research. But all the same, it’s not often I put real life on hold like that!

What kept me reading? Undoubtedly the biggest impact was Zita’s voice and the perspective she had while facing her challenges. For, despite being a princess, Zita is a simple kitchen maid in her father and sisters’ castle. Her father loved her mother very much, but longed for a son and heir. As each daughter was born, his joy in the child’s birth diminished, until he paid the eleventh and twelfth princesses little heed, barely even naming them. The queen became worn down, and was slow to recover from the successive pregnancies, so it appeared the twelfth princess would be the last. However, circumstances goaded the king and they tried for one more child. When this final baby, the thirteenth princess, proved the death of the queen the king he refused to look on the child, and banished her to the kitchens.

Growing up motherless and far from her royal family, Zita was hardworking and happy. However, she began to ask about her parentage and eventually uncovered the whole story. This was a happy day for her, because she saw herself not as someone cast off, but believed now that she belonged in some small way and was related to the beautiful princesses she looked up to and admired. She began to have secret greetings with them–for the girls always loved her, from afar–and finally the princesses discovered a way to smuggle Zita into their room on Sunday nights, for sleepovers with her sisters.

Of course, their is sadness in the way their father behaved. His face was set in a permanent sneer, and what little love he had for his first twelve daughters did not extend to Zita. This problem became more pronounced when the older girls began to fall ill, mysteriously wasting away. Young Zita, with her work-roughened hands and ruddy cheeks, was banned from being near them. Of course, she’s wasn’t going to let that stop her, and gathered her small circle of friends to help her in saving her sisters.

But really, while the plot was fun and I loved this twist on an old fairy tale, it was the big-hearted way that Zita reaches out to this shattered family of hers and mends them slowly that I really adored. I don’t want to say more than that, because this is a story of how seemingly simple things in daily life can bring strength, and therefor the magic would be easy for me to spoil, but I am definitely recommending it!

Let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:

Apricot direct at camera w J“I liked this book, but I do wonder why it is that the humans in so many of these stories must work as maids or scrubbing servants of one kind or another. Cats make our magic while we nap. It’s our greatest gift. I take it humans find theirs in the bottom of a dirty sink?”

 

 

 

 

That’s a good question! If so, I’m in trouble, because my kids have done most the dishes in our home for some ten or so years now. Do you suppose they’d mind if I took over? 😉

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, be sure to stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog. Thank you so much for stopping by, and happy reading!
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Lord of Monsters, by John Claude Bemis, for MMGM

Many of you will remember my spotlight on John’s first book in this series, Out of Abaton: the Wooden Prince. It came at a particularly challenging time for me, and provided exactly the kind of richly metaphorical read I needed. Reading Lord of Monsters provided me a similar escape this past week, but for totally different reasons. I have very cool writing news in the works, which has had me super preoccupied, and won’t be resolved for another week! When sitting on all that’s happening became too much for me, I slipped into my daughter’s room and persuaded her to loan me her newly signed copy of Lord of Monsters.

Rianna and John at Lord of Monsters Launch June 2017

What’s amazing about these Bemis’s storytelling and these two books and the circumstances in which I read them is the level of transport possible. I wouldn’t, personally, label them super ‘voice’ heavy. Lord of Monsters is told in both Lazuli and Pinochio’s povs, and the story-telling serves the adventure rather than the other way around. However, the world building, sense of adventure, and glorious wonder that suffuses both books sweeps the reader along no matter what else demands their attention. Or, so it is for me, and for that I’m grateful!

In this second book we pick up with Pinochio and Lazuli at the Moonlit Court, in Abaton, the fabled land of magic and peace. However, there are mysterious workings afoot from the beginning, and adventure quickly finds them when a dreaded manticore attacks in the middle of a fancy banquet in the gardens. The beast has escaped a prison which was established centuries before, and she’s only the first to come calling. Pinochio must travel to the source of the problem and but a stop to the prison escapes, and Lazuli will have to come with him because of a small snag he’s experiencing–whenever he uses his magic, part of him turns to wood once again. There is nothing Pinochio fears so much as losing his humanity and becoming an automata again, so the dangerous path they are on is doubly dangerous for him.

Let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:

Apricot Headshot opinion looking down“I liked the twists and turns among the people. Friend. Enemy. These folks didn’t seem to know which was which, and had to reconsider every time they turned around. Very like cats, that. You never know if someone’s going to give you a lick or rip off your whiskers.”

Um, yeah. I think every friend-to-a-cat  has been on the receiving end of that!

I don’t plan to post on July 3rd, because I plan to take a family weekend for the Fourth, so according to my very lazy every-other-week summer schedule, I will see you all the following week, July 10th. Hopefully with news. 😉

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!

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Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, by George Hagen, for MMGM

I noticed on preparing this post that it’s the third book with the word ‘riddle’ in the title that I’ve spotlight in recent months. I hope you’re ready for one more, because this week’s spotlight is on Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle! I’m grateful for the chance to take a second look at it, because I read this one on my phone, and didn’t take much notice of the cover. Now that I can see it better, I really like it!

Cover Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle
While the other books included riddles, this one is simply…riddled with them. I also really loved the way they serve a real purpose in the story, and aren’t just window dressing. You see, according to this book, the way that a raven knows she or he is greeting another raven and not a dangerous valraven is by telling a riddle. Valravens have no sense of humor and don’t ‘get’ riddles, so they’re unable to enjoy the punchline. A regular raven won’t be able to resist laughing or at least chuckling over the clever way a good riddle is resolved.

Gabriel learns this and lots of other things about ravens while discovering the special bond he enjoys with them. In the process, he rescues an orphaned baby raven, Paladin, who comes from a line of ravens connected to Gabriel’s family. And while I loved many things about this story…therein we hit the first snag I had with it. In this world apparently there’s a gender bias, so only boys can bond with ravens. Might not be true, because the rules aren’t spelled out, but that’s what appears to be the case since Gabriel’s aunt gets passed by, and I could feel my young-girl self heaving a sigh at yet another adventure exclusion. And, while I’m going for a full disclosure, that wasn’t the only flaw. The book also had an odd distance to the pov at times, and clumsy handling of Gabriel’s perspective, in addition to the intentional pov switches. However, the story has impressive sweep and remains memorable long after the last page is closed–or swiped, in my case–leaving the feeling that if only you could listen harder, you’d hear the raven’s riddles, too.

One example of this strength in world building was the fact that owls–traditional enemies of ravens, of course–prefer puns to riddles. So if you want to get on an owl’s good side, you need to come up with something suitably puny (haha). We didn’t get to explore too many other birds, but there are hints of a rich world among the avian crowd, with several species coming off so distinctly that I’ll have a difficult time thinking of them in any other way.

Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:

IMG_1001 (2)“I’m surprised you bother to ask. You’re so taken with your bird friends and their clever jokes, you should really bring a raven on to discuss the books, and forget about me.

Oh, and by the way? Some of those riddles weren’t all that clever.”

 

 

 

Hmm…not sure that was what we’d call an unbiased opinion…and also not sure I should tell Apricot-kitty what kind of creature is the hero of a book I’ll be spotlighting soon. Hint: it starts with an M and rhymes with house! But since she’s thrown a disparaging comment at the book’s riddles, allow me to share one of my many favorites, so you can judge for yourself:

I shine like a dagger
Or a diamond tooth in a dragon’s maw.
I grow larger as the cold night comes,
And shorter in the thaw.
What am I?

Not too hard to guess, but fun, don’t you think? I liked the imagery of it, too. As it happens, this riddle is offered a different kind of bird (not a raven) but is still integral to the story. All around, I highly recommend this book and believe it would make a fun read for both classrooms and young readers skipping through their summer!

Tell me what you’re reading this summer, and if you’ve got any super fun plans! Just now I’m geeking out over the solar eclipse, since I just booked our hotel so we’ll get to enjoy front row seats from the area around the Great Smokey Mountains. Going to be epic!

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, interviews, giveaways and reviews, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!

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The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice Bk 1), by John Flanagan, for MMGM

How is your May coming along? Is it treating you well? Mine has been excellent, with a solid dose of editing for my publisher supplemented by the new MG/YA I’ve just started writing, and some fun family outings. This past weekend included watching a sand sculpture come together, saying hi to a friendly robot, and enjoying homestyle ice cream at the Gotta Be NC festival. Always fun!

Today’s spotlight is on The Ruins of Gorlan, which is the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, by John Flanagan. It’s a long running series, but not new. In fact, I had the first few pointed out to me more than five years ago, as I perused books in the kids section of a Barnes and Noble. Maybe there was something about the cover that put me off, or maybe it was the odd way my fellow customer recommended them as if embarrassed to be doing so, but I didn’t pick them up then. Now I’m grateful for that, because just at this time this series has really tapped into my sweet spot, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m several books in and on hold for three more at my local library.

In this, the first book, young Will is anxious about his future. What he desperately wants is to get in to Battleschool, but that looks unlikely. He’s a ward of the castle, and rather small for his age, so without parentage or prowess to smooth his way and recommend him to the Battle Master (or other trade masters), it looks very much like he may be sent to the fields and live out his life a farmer.

Enter the mysterious and shadowy Ranger. Given that the series is titled ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ I hope you’ll forgive me the small spoiler and say yes, Will finds his way into training with the Ranger Corp. But of course his troubles don’t end there. The new confidence he gains as his skills grow do not endear him to a former ward-mate and sometimes enemy who made the cut and got into Battleschool. There are also unexpected deaths happening in high places, with what looks like a sinister plot afoot. When the dangers in the land coalesce and someone dear to Will is endangered, he finds himself in a position to prove other’s faith in him, and demonstrate for all what a Ranger’s Apprentice is made of.

Along the way, we see Will grow, as well as his one-time enemy, and are given insights into the lives of all the central players in the book. The story has a strong narrative voice and is told in omniscient, but it’s very smoothly done and never once obtrusive. Rather, I felt like I was getting to know an entire cast of characters and the world itself, as details were lovingly shared in order to bring the fantasy setting to life. It’s actually interesting, because these books play to many of the fantasy tropes which we’ve seen over and over through the years. However, the knowledge and research the reader can sense beneath the writing lends such a measure of authenticity to the world that it feels every bit as real as ours, despite mythical creatures making a rare appearance, and other faint touches of fantasy.

Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:

Apricot half angry direct put down“A delightful book, as you well know. In fact, given how much you’ve raved about it, I’m not sure any other answer would have earned me a treat tonight, or even my usual simple dinner. However, I warn you–come near me with a cat-sized Ranger cloak, and the claws will come out!”

 

 

 

Er, yes, I may have gotten a liiittle carried away with these books. However, I HAVE continued reading other books in between these, so you need not worry that I’ll be spotlighting each one in a row over future weeks. In fact, I have so many lovely books lined up, I have decided to skip my usual summer break and will continue with the every-other-week schedule I’ve been on in the coming months! And despite Apricot-kitty’s grumpiness, I gave up dressing my cat in cute clothes ages ago…so please don’t tell me if you know of anything too tempting. 😉

What are your reading plans for this summer? Got any books you’re dying to crack open? Tell me in the comments, and be sure to stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for the full Marvelous Middle Grade Monday roundup of reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways!

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Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, for MMGM

Hello my friends! Last week I waved sadly as Marvelous Middle Grade Monday passed me by, and promised myself I’d participate this week instead. It was a pretty momentous weekend for us, since my son–who has been serving a mission for our church in Korea these past two years–touched down that Thursday evening. And as fate would have it, I was plowing forward on my latest wip right up until about noon on the same day! It’s sooo great to have him home, and also great to type The End on yet another book. Huzzah for goals reached and for catching back up to MMGM! 🙂

Today’s spotlight is on Masterminds, by Gordon Korman. This was a book that was totally new to me, pointed out by a friend, and one I really enjoyed!

Cover Masterminds

From page one it’s pretty clear there’s more to the town of Serenity then meets the eye. What’s fascinating for the reader is how the main character, Eli Frieden, and his friends discover the towns secrets and in doing so uncover their origins. This book is a big one for spoilers–honestly, it feels like I’m giving things away just by putting my fingers to the keyboard–so I’ll mostly just share a few things I really liked:

  • Randy’s role, and the lasting impact he had. A fun kid, it just goes to show you don’t have to be labeled someone else’s ‘special’ to make a difference.
  • The Purple-People-Eater trading cards. Sooo spot on with exactly the way kids act and think, and how they’d respond to this situation! Also, I kinda want some of my own.
  • The fate of the potted geranium. There’s an example of a ‘get well’ gift that does more than cheer the patient!
  • Tori’s journey. I enjoyed all the kids (well, pretty much all) but most of their stories seemed pretty straight forward and their reactions were about as expected. Tori’s home situation had a bit more depth, for me, and I appreciated the nuances of her particular challenge. I have high hopes for her arc in future books!

One strength of the book was the way we get to know the world through the different kids, and I feel this allows the story to be better flushed out. A drawback was the flip side of that coin, since I found the pov shifts just a little jarring pretty much every single time. However, if I had glanced at the chapter titles before beginning them, the pov switches would have been less of a problem. And as is I settled in quickly–usually by the middle of the first paragraph.

One of the other things I loved was the world building, for lack of a better word, and the way some things inside/outside Serenity were the same while many were different. I also loved that the parents were individual, and had varying degrees of success in their role. The adults were more than background characters and held their own fascination, all the way from Mrs. Delaney to Dr. Bruder’s jokes and neckties.

And on that cryptic note, let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:

Apricot half asleep“I found most of it boring. Really, really boring. Those kids had the dullest lives around, and while their escape was interesting their basic lives was so boring I could hardly stay awake.”

 

 

 

 

Ooookay, not the response I was expecting. Personally I found it fast-paced and really enjoyed the challenges the kids faced, so going to have to disagree with her there. However, I will say that if the adults in Tori, Eli, and the rest the kids’ lives had wanted them to stay out of trouble, they should have given the kids a few solid challenges. No one wants to live without any excitement or moments of triumph and discovery. But then, I suppose that was the least of their mistakes!

For those who celebrate, I hope you had a great Star Wars Day this past week–I know we did! And on Saturday I attended a library sale for the whole county that was simply amazing. I’ll be sharing the books I picked up at some future point. I hope you’ll stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, spotlights, and giveaways, and happy reading!

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The Turn of the Tide, by Rosanne Parry, for MMGM

Easter is behind us, flowers are blooming, and our neighborhood pool is getting prepped to open–it’s time to think about summer fun, and dream of all the places we’d like to go! The Turn of the Tide is perfect for that, since I think this book could convince a rock it wanted to sail. Kudos to author Rosanne Parry for that!

Cover The Turn of the Tide

This is the story of two cousins who’ve met but hardly remember it, and normally live across the pacific from one another. Kai’s story begins in his home village in Japan, with an earthquake and tsunami. As the story begins he breaks the school safety rules and runs off to try and save his grandparents, but is unable to get them to high enough ground and has to leave Japan without knowing if they’re okay.

Jet is the daughter of a bar pilot from a long line of the same, living in Astoria, Oregon, and desperately wants to grow up and be a bar pilot like her father and grandfather. However, she’s small for her age, a girl, and just broke one of her dad’s sailing rules and ripped a hole in the cherished sailboat he passed down to her.

Both kids have a lot of growing up to do, as they work to prove themselves and push forward with the changes in their lives. At first glance, the intensity of Kai’s challenges–his missing grandparents, the destruction of his hometown, and his parents’ desperate work on the reactor–would seem to overwhelm Jet’s more day-to-day challenges, but that’s not the case. For one thing, since Kai is living in her home and acting as her crew on their sailboat, his challenges become hers, especially since he’s afraid of water and as his captain she has to figure out how to help him deal with that fear and still sail. Additionally, the book does an excellent job of showing the strength of Jet’s desire to become a bar pilot, and the challenges she’s up against since it’s an extremely dangerous profession and women are scarce. In fact, the balancing of the two povs and stories was possibly the best example of a duo pov book I’ve ever read. Instead of being a detraction, as is often the case, I felt the two perspectives wove together in such a way that they enhanced the story, and made for a seamless whole. Excellent story-telling, in this and in the use of secondary characters, as well!

I also really loved the use of setting, and that the story both made me wish for a second life in which I could grow up on the water in Astoria, Oregon, and also managed to bring Kai’s life in Japan home to the reader so it lives for me, despite his not being there most of the book. Both cultures and homes are shared beautifully, and the reader wins as a result.

Now, let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:

apricot-one-ear-back-mystified“Brrr! Water, everywhere, that’s what this book had! The kids were great, and I really liked Jet’s family and that she had involved parents who still let them have adventures. But couldn’t those adventures have happened on dry land?”

 

 

 

 

Ah, yes, I must repeat that I think this book could make a swimmer or sailor out of almost anyone. However, if readers really don’t like water or have no patience for nautical terms, they’re going to quickly run out of patience. The book does include a nod to geocaching and I recall a couple summer bonfires complete with s’mores…but this is one for the water-lovers. A perfect summer read, or class room read when everyone is wishing it was summer!

Have you ever been sailing? I’ve been out on boats a few times, but never have, and now it’s on my bucket list. A lovely example of how books can open up new worlds! For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, reviews, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!

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Grayling’s Song, by Karen Cushman, for MMGM

This was a serendipitous find, which I stumbled across in my local library. And very appropriate, too, since it’s the kind of tale which is all mystery and shadow wrapped in good practical knowledge like every librarian possesses. You may recognize the author’s name–Karen Cushman–as I did. My favorite book by her is Catherine, Called Birdy, and her books have won the Newbery Honor as well as the Medal. Gorgeous books! But today’s spotlight is on Grayling’s Song.

Cover Grayling's Song

When Grayling hears her mother calling, she’s a bit slow to respond. Her mother’s name is Hannah Strong…and that last name fits well. In a manor typical of many a firmly fixed or strong-willed mother and her daughter, Grayling feels overshadowed by her mother and terribly un-capable. Unfortunately, what she finds when she comes to her mother is that their home has been destroyed by fire, taking with it all but a handful of the supplies her mother uses to carry out her work as a hedge witch, or wise woman. Even worse, the incredible has happened. A malignant magical force has rooted Grayling’s mother to the ground, and she is slowly and mercilessly being turned into a tree.

It falls to Grayling to save the day, despite her fears and reluctance. She’s never gone out in the world, and has no magic or cleverness to smooth her way. At first the reader worries for her, because it does seem she’s missing those tools a hero needs. But as she grows in determination and resourcefulness, we see her flower. Her own humility makes it easy for her to see value in others whose magic or skills would normally be considered unworthy of notice. Her tender care helps her keep her small group together and moving forward. She faces everything from deep hunger, to an evil overlord, and even a dragon. What’s amazing is that she does not develop some spectacular, unknown talent. There is no wild magic for her, or stunning skill. What she accomplishes she does through cultivating those things inside her which she had when she left her little valley–by growing into her best self. How lovely is that?

But enough from me. Let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:

Apricot kitty sitting tilted head“Such an odd thing, that this girl would be able to save everyone when people with much greater power couldn’t. And…yes. It was amazing what her small companion accomplished so much, as well, even though he was something I’d cheerfully eat for dinner!”

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t say it better myself. This one is a great blend of adventure and character growth, that I think would make an excellent classroom read, as well as one that many young readers would embrace and read independently. For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, reviews, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messengers blog, and happy reading!

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William and the Witch’s Riddle, for MMGM

Last night as I picked up a pizza I drove past the movie theater near us, and noticed that the parking lot was full and overflowing. Perhaps due to the release of the live action Beauty and the Beast movie? Fairy tales never fade, it seems, they simply reinvent themselves, and this Snow White re-imagining is proof of that!

Cover William and the Witch's Riddle

I confess that I debated whether to put William and the Witch’s Riddle in the spotlight–but not for long. When I find myself reading a book I’m not head over heels in love with it, I usually use the marker of how much the book makes me finish it as the deciding factor of whether to spotlight or not. In this case, the book definitely made me finish it. And as an added bonus, the characters from the book stayed with me, and became part of my internal landscape even weeks later. So, into the spotlight it goes!

The story begins with William and his kid brother, Pinch, stranded on top of a mountain in their tiny house, running out of turnips and the last of the weathered apples. Their Pa disappeared and hasn’t come back, and his reason for leaving was to look for their Ma, who disappeared even longer ago. Worse, there’s a witch at the door.

*spoilers below–though not too spoilery since they’re introduced early in the story and/or easy to guess*

As the story unfolds we learn that–despite their very humble circumstances–William and Pinch are part of a bigger story that began with Sleeping Beauty, except in this world the curse was put off, and has been hanging over their family’s head for generations. Unfortunately, the first person to fully fall prey to the curse is Pinch and William’s mother. Because William’s father has failed to finish the business and do as the witch asks, she’s here for William. And if he won’t do, she’ll take Pinch, instead.

The plot is a bit thin, with very few twists and those twists that exist more an inverted loop that goes nowhere than an actual twist. The Rules of Magic, or World Building, also seemed a bit iffy at times, without the solid sense of structure behind it which I personally prefer. And (if all that weren’t enough) the story-telling was itself more dour than I like, without the sense of magic or wonder to it I like. All that said, the book simply would not let me put it down, and it’s rather impressive that the characters stood out crisp and compelling in my mind for so long after. William was highly relatable, and felt like any kid would if he had the seeds of heroism planted in the soil of his love for his family, and fertilized by desperation. The companions he meets and befriends were equally memorable, and highly unique! And while Morga herself was more interesting than compelling as a bad guy, and her riddles were a bit transparent, she did the job and was satisfying in the end.

Now let’s see what Apricot-kitty has to say:

Apricot back over shoulder laying down“Do you really need to ask? Of course those kittens, Lirian and Heldor, were my favorite. You’ll notice that they were about or involved at pretty much every crucial turning point in the book, yes? Dragons are all very well, and do nicely if cats can’t be found, but it’s felines who really provide the magic in these tales.”

 

 

 

 

Ah yes, the dragon. I really enjoyed the tiny yellow dragon, Squarmy, and wasn’t overly thrilled with the way his story is resolved. However, if it turns out that Ms. Crum has a second book in store for us that will be Squarmy and Tuli’s story, all will be forgiven.

What are you reading lately? Have you discovered any great fairy tale retellings or mashups lately? Since that’s one of my favorite genres to write, I read them compulsively whenever I’m not working on my own book, and would love to discover some I haven’t uncovered! Tell me your favorites in the comments, and while you’re looking for books, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for the full Marvelous Middle Grade Monday roundup!

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