Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl, for MMGM

I’m so grateful I got to be a part of Mari’s journey! My heart is full, here at the close of this series. From the very beginning, when I was fortunate enough to receive an arc of Odin’s Promise from Sandy, I was moved by the significance of these books. Within my soul something whispered that these stories need to be read. This is true not only because they teach of a period in WWII history that many are unfamiliar with, but also because of the way Mari and her family cope with the challenges they face. We live in a difficult world, and have a deep need for books which model the ways families and individuals can stay strong in the face of their challenges. What was harder for me, at the time I read the first arc, was that Mari’s story seemed to be getting overlooked. I’m thrilled to have witnessed that change as the books have collected awards and word has spread, and I’m delighted to spotlight Mari’s Hope today!

Cover Mari's Hope

In this story we finally see the end of the war, and the hopes Mari has been holding out for come true. Given that this is the third book, I will do my best to avoid spoilers. To that end I will highlight things I loved in this book and the series, rather than go over individual events.

One of my favorite things was the way Mari grew and came into herself. At the beginning of Odin’s Promise, she’s so painfully shy that she’s nearly incapacitated by her own embarrassment. She makes progress throughout the first book at overcoming this shyness, but it isn’t easy. Step by baby step she does it because she recognizes the need for her to stand tall and use her voice for good. In this she has the support of her family, who help her find the humor in painful situations, stand behind her when she’s frightened, and shower her with love.

Something else I really enjoyed was the different stripes of heroism that are highlighted in this third book, in particular. Mari makes new friends and finds people who have a bold courage. Friends who show the kind of spunk and daring which is most commonly associated with heroism. However, it’s also very clear that quiet, mild-mannered Mari takes just as great risks and plays a more significant role on an individual level, and perhaps even in the grand scheme of things. The truth, of course, is that every individual and every kind of person would be tested by circumstances such as Norway faced during the Nazi occupation, and every person’s unique talents and individual courage would be needed. I love how Mari’s Hope highlights that.

I also loved seeing Mari’s medical training continue to progress, and thoroughly enjoyed the way that Mari and her cohorts used the Nazi’s germ phobia against them. Brilliantly done! In fact, the folks making up the Norwegian resistance were clever and innovative over and over, as they outsmarted the Germans in sometimes laugh-out-loud moments.

And that’s another thing I loved about this book. Mari’s parents and grandmother are not immune to the hardship they experience. It takes a toll, and in this third book Mari has matured enough to see the price they have all paid throughout the occupation. However, her parents and Grandmother never falter in modeling for Mari a stalwart courage and steady good humor that will see them through any trial.

Now I will admit…there was one aspect of this third book I would have preferred to see handled differently. Without giving away spoilers, there’s an opportunity for reconciliation at the end that is mostly passed over, as Mari licks her wounds from the war. However, I can see reasons for this to go the way it did, and for me it was a preference, rather than a deal breaker.

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

Apricot concerned looking over shoulder“I really liked this story. Spunky people, who know better than to put up with goats–or goat-like men. In fact, my only problem with this book is how hungry it made me! Suddenly my dry, boring cat food seems rather like their rations, and I’m craving something nicer. Get me some tuna, STAT!”

 

 

 

Yes, this book WILL make you hungry! In fact, even lutefisk (which I suspect would normally have zero appeal) will sound good to you, by the time the book is done. And piping hot bread slathered in butter and honey? It’ll seem like heaven. 🙂

Many thanks to Sandy, again, for letting me take party in this journey and for allowing me to support her in the launch of Mari’s Hope! Check out her website, and be sure to tell your friends about these lovely books!

For additional MMGM reviews, highlights, spotlights and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog. And happy reading!

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Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm, for MMGM

As it happens, my September books have a WWII focus…which I suppose would make more sense in November, because of Veteran’s Day. However, today is also September 11th, which is a day of special import to me and I know to many others, and I think a good day to remember both the cost of freedom, and the importance of remembering who this country belongs to–which is all of us.

I’m pleased to share with you today Penny from Heaven, another lovely middle grade by Jennifer L. Holm!

Cover Penny From Heaven

This was one of those stories that simply demanded I read it. First the cover pulled me in. Then it hooked me further when I realized it’s one of Jennifer’s books. You might remember that I spotlighted Full of Beans almost a year ago, and loved it! However, I was super busy with other books at the time I brought home Penny from Heaven, and so told myself I should set it aside and read later. I actually tried twice to put it away so I could meet other book deadlines. But each time, Penny reeled me back in, and I ended up reading double-time instead!

One of things which I was surprised by…and which I feel squirmy about admitting…is I had no idea there were Italian-Americans placed in camps during WWII, or that Italians experienced suspicion and discrimination to the extent the book shows. Of course now that feels like a duh, but without reading this book, I don’t know if/when I would have realized this!

For that reason I really believe this book would make for an excellent discussion of war time fears, here in America, and the paranoia which can snowball over small things. However, I also feel that many kids would love reading this book simply because it’s a story about a girl who’s growing up non-to-gracefully, and uncovering the truth about her family and who she is while she’s at it. I loved the way Penny’s growth throughout the book, and Frankie’s too, was driven and informed by their mistakes. I also loved the way that personal details of Penny’s life–like her struggle to accept her new soon-to-be stepfather–were woven into the mystery elements. There was never the feeling that we had more than one story going on, despite the disparate elements of the book. Instead the story had a complexity beyond its appearance, and a thoroughly enjoyable depth.

Another thing I found intriguing were the historic details–like the focus on polio. My grandmother died of polio when my mom was four, but somehow despite that, people’s fear of the disease has always felt to me like it must have belonged to a totally different time period in history. I didn’t associate it with people who drove to the beach, swam in community pools, and (later in the story) watched the baseball game on TV. That felt much more modern than I was expecting.

All in all, I felt this was a wonderful book, and I’m so grateful it insisted I read it when it did! Now let’s hear Apricot-kitty share her two cents:

Apricot Headshot evil eye“That Penny should have stuck out her claws and sent her cousin packing, right from the first page! Just look at how many weeks Penny was stuck in a hospital, because of him! I’m all for naps, but even I would get restless if cooped up for that long. That boy was nothing but trouble!”

 

 

 

She makes a good point! Frankie is okay by the end, and adults will readily sympathize with his situation, but he doesn’t exactly have a positive influence on Penny’s life. However, that too makes for a great learning point, since even Penny learns to say no to his schemes by the end of the book.

Stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, and come back this very next week for my spotlight on Mari’s Hope, as part of Sandy Brehl‘s book launch blog tour, and have a wonderful week!

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Happy Labor Day

I hope your labor day involves very little actual labor, and lots of sleeping, reading, or chillaxing in the sunshine. 🙂

Apricot deck chair sleeping in sunshine

I’ll be sharing MMGM posts both this coming Monday and the one after, and am super excited to get into the routine once again! Here’s hoping your summer was a-maz-ing!

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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