About a month ago, I decided I needed to catch up on my reading for the Youth Media Awards. I checked a bunch of Mock Newbery lists, went to my library and came home with a pile of books. The awards are on Monday, and I’m happy to say that I made it through most of the books in my stack. Here are the books that I brought home.
Of course, the Newbery committee may choose something I’ve never even heard of, but I’m hoping it will be one of the books that I read. I didn’t get to read Circus Mirandus and my son is reading Book Scavenger so I didn’t get a chance at that one either. I really loved Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, but I felt that this might too close to YA for the Newbery. While I was reading Fish in a Tree, I thought that it would definitely be the Newbery pick. It was so compelling and I tore through it. I changed my mind when I started reading Echo. I still haven’t finished it, but it is such a magical story I’m hoping it will win. Fingers crossed. I’ll be posting reviews of each of these soon.
Have you ever wanted to be an explorer? Or wondered what it would be like to tour the world and bring back treasures from far away lands? Archer Helmsley thinks about this everyday. His house is like the Natural History Museum full of stuffed animals and artifacts all from his adventurer grandparents. Archer longs to follow in their footsteps. He, too, has that yearning to travel and explore. Unfortunately for him, his mother tries to squash that desire every chance she can get. Ever since his grandparents have gone missing on a glacier in Antarctica, Archer has been confined to his house when not at school. But Archer is determined to rescue his grandparents. He enlists the help of his new found friends and neighbors, Oliver and Adelaide. The friends meet up on the roofs of their houses to hatch a plot to save the elder Helmsleys.
This book was such fun. It was clever and fantastical. If you love quirky, oddball characters this book is definitely for you. If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller maybe this wouldn’t be your cup of tea. In fact, this reminds me of all the time I spent daydreaming when I was a kid. This is a book for big-hearted, gentle souls who wish they were Ernest Shackleton. Unplug your technology and get lost in this world.
Gannon’s lovely artwork gives the book a historical feel and I couldn’t wait to reach an illustrated page. He has an enchanting website that mirrors the newspaper featured his book.
Five Favorite Things About The Doldrums:
- Oliver runs with his eyes shut when he is in a hurry.
- The friends communicate via paper airplane.
- Archer has a few spectacular falls.
- There are fireflies.
- The belief in impossible plans.
Release Date: 3/14/2006
Author Info: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Series: Septimus Heap Series , #1
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Age Range: 9-12
As a fairly new school librarian, I feel that I need to do some catch up when it comes to middle grade fiction. There is so much out there. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the Septimus Heap series, so I thought I’d pick up the first book Magyk.
Silas Heap is on his way home from the healer with some herbs for his wife who has just given birth to their seventh son, Septimus. Along the way, he finds a baby girl abandoned in the snow. He picks her up and carries her home only to find that his own son has died. Silas is asked by a fellow wizard to care for the little girl as his own. He finds out later that the Queen has been assassinated and a Supreme Custodian has taken over the castle.The Heaps take in the little girl, Jenna, and she grows up in their run down but cozy home filled with books and brothers. On her tenth birthday, the Supreme Custodian sends an assassin to kidnap Jenna so he can deliver her to the evil necromancer DomDaniel. The Heap family is on the run with the help of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, to protect their youngest daughter.
Angie Page creates a wonderful, fantastical world. She develops a great atmosphere both in the castle and at a witches cottage hidden in the marshes. You can almost feel the damp and fog. At 565 pages, the book is substantial, but moves along at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and while there are a fair amount of them, they all have unique personalities. She makes even some of the evil characters appear sympathetic. Sometimes. The Heaps are a wonderful family as lovable as the Weasleys. Aunt Zelda is a wonderfully eccentric character. Of course, my favorite was Boy 214 who while not having a real name and barely talking at all throughout the book somehow managed to burrow his way into my heart. I look forward to following their further adventures.
Five Favorite Things About Magyk:
- I love that Silas’s father has turned into a tree and that Silas wanders the woods trying to find him.
- The quote describing where the Heaps live, “If you were foolish enough to cast your eye around the Heaps’ room hoping to find a space in which to sit, the chances were a book would have found it first.”
- Ghosts can move around only in places where they had visited when they were alive.
- Shield bugs.
- Marcia Overstrand’s purple python-skin boots.
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Author Info: Website | Facebook
Series: Spy School
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Age Range: 8-12
Imagine surviving another dreary day in middle school only to find a James Bond look alike in your living room ready to whisk you off to become a teenage spy. For Ben Ripley, it sounds to good to be true and yet how can he pass up an opportunity to do something cool for once in his life. Unfortunately for Ben, he has to tell all of his friends that he’s going to a science school thus solidifying his nerd status. Not-to-fear, dodging would-be assassins keeps Ben pretty preoccupied.
This book was such great fun. Sure, Ben Ripley is not Alex Rider or young James Bond, but odds are more readers will identify with Ben than with the other two young men. Spy School is action-packed and funny. I found myself cheering for accidental spy student, Ben, the whole way through. Gibbs certainly knows how to create interesting characters. Ben’s relationship with the beautiful, invincible Erica Hale a.k.a “ice queen” and descendent of the first American spy Nathan Hale makes his growth as a spy more believable. It also makes Erica a more sympathetic character.
The pace moves quickly with one impossible scene after another and some great plot twists. The ending took me by surprise for sure. I was in the middle of a reading slump and Spy School helped me to get out of it. I immediately picked up the sequel, Spy Camp.
Five favorite things about Spy School:
- Ben is a math genius and he uses algebra as a tactic to combat an enemy
- Ben always knows what time it is
- Erica knows where everyone is at all times
- The underground tunnels all under the school
- Alexander Hale, the James Bond of spy school, drinks Gatorade not martinis
There are some books that just make the rounds at my library. Everyone has been talking about The Winter Sea. Leading up to Christmas, whatever I read put me to sleep instantly, so I didn’t want to start something that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. I took Kearsley’s book home a few days before my vacation started and it was an instant cure for my reading dry spell.
In The Winter Sea, historical fiction author, Carrie McClelland visits her friend and agent in Scotland. On her way, she drives by Slains Castle and feels an instant connection to it. In hopes of curing her writer’s block, she rents a cottage in the nearby village of Cruden Bay and her novel practically writes itself. Carrie writes the story and then does her research only to find what she has written was true.
In Carrie’s story, Sophia Paterson travels to Slains Castle to stay with her aunt the Countess of Errol. Slains Castle is the headquarters of the Jacobite movement. Plans are being made to return James to Scotland and soon Sophia becomes sympathetic to the cause. She is drawn to John Moray one of the major players in paving the way for the would-be king. Since Moray is a wanted man, he is forced to stay at the castle instead of rallying his fellow Scots to his cause. While at the castle Sophia and Moray form a bond, but they both know that their time is short and Moray will soon return to France to serve his king.
At first, I thought the plot device of having an author as a main character was going to be a bit gimmicky, but I was drawn into the story right away. Carrie is likable and her friend’s in Cruden Bay made it hard for me to put this book down. Jimmy Keith and his sons, Stuart and Graham, are never far away. I’m definitely a sucker for a Scottish accent and some of Jimmy’s speech had me searching for a Scottish glossary. And Graham, what can I say? How is it possible to fall in love with a character when he is only on the page for a moment giving another character directions? I’m not sure, but did I mention he has a dog named Angus?
With most books that move from the past to the present, I usually find myself preferring one time period over another. With The Winter Sea, I was pretty much satisfied in either time. I must confess to knowing very little about Scottish history, so I enjoyed learning about the Jacobites. Being of Scottish descent, though woefully ignorant of most things Scottish, I always enjoy learning a little more about my heritage. I changed my banner in tribute. My husband is desperate to visit the above castle that bears the name of my family’s clan. Of course, no Scots inhabited the castle after the 14th century, but my husband must tell everyone who will listen about the castle and that it is on Loch Ness. Kidnapped is one of his favorite books, so I think he’s jealous. It is odd that the head of my clan lives in New Orleans, but I digress.
The Winter Sea is one of my top picks for 2010. It’s the kind of historical novel that I love. There are lots of historical details but the story doesn’t focus on the major historical events, rather the everyday people involved. Kearsley’s characters are unique and the secondary characters often shine as much as the main ones. The scenery is spectacular. I found myself trying to invent an excuse to rent a cottage near a Scottish castle myself!
Chelle gave this book to me not long after she read it, with a casual – whenever you get the chance – no pressure.” So, I should have taken note. But, I was busy applying for a new job and then preparing for an interview. After I got said job, I was too busy with that and then reading some required Westerns. Several stomach bugs and colds later I decided a nice romance in Paris might be nice. This was so much more than that. What on earth was I waiting for!
Anna Oliphant has been sent away to boarding school in Paris. She misses her mother, younger brother, best friend and potential love interest all back in Atlanta. Her writer father who sent her to Paris – not so much. Anna is a budding film critic with a website where she posts her reviews. Her life takes a turn when she walks straight in to Etienne St. Clair an American with a French father and a British accent. Swoon worthy, too. It sounds like a recipe for one inflated ego, but St. Clair is nice. He’s annoyed by the fawning girls and friendly to the unpopular. St. Clair helps Anna overcome some of her insecurities about Paris and enables her to be more independent. But, Mr. Perfect does have a few faults like a girlfriend named Ellie.
I was smitten with Anna from the first paragraph. She’s a strong character, smart and funny but with enough flaws to make her easy to identify with. Plus, it’s Paris! If I had read this book as a teenager, my brain would have exploded! I would have been begging my parents to send me to SOAP. It’s hard to write much more without spoiling and gushing, so I’m just going to give you a list instead of reasons why I felt such a connection to the book. I’m sorry it’s so “all about me,” but I’m hoping it will be a little teaser without ruining the experience of reading Anna.
8 Connections to Anna and the French Kiss
1) I was obsessed with all things French as a teenager. Every report in my European History class was about France.
2) I had a poster of Napoleon on the front of my bedroom door (see #1). I’m not kidding. I actually think that I took down a door-sized poster of James Dean to put it up much to my mother’s chagrin.
3) Instead of insuring my parent’s Jeep so that I would have a car to get around, I spent my savings on a second school trip to Paris. I went almost 20 years without driving as a result.
4) I love the books that Anna reads in her English class. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite books and one of the few I’ve read more than once.
5) I love books where they talk about food a lot. Kitchen is the book that really opened my eyes to that.
6) What librarian wouldn’t get excited about a book with a girl who loves the OED. I have always dreamed of finding one at a yard sale for cheap. Hasn’t happened.
7) Neruda is one of my favorite poets (and a lot of other people’s, too!). My husband and I each read one of his love sonnets at our wedding, including the one quoted in this book! It’s a good one.
Finally, Etienne was my favorite boy name in French class.
The Hook: I saw this on one of the NextReads Historical Fiction newsletters. That’s pretty much a dangerous place for me to be. I loved the beautiful blue dress on the cover and the idea that the book was centered around a lady’s slipper orchid was something I couldn’t resist. When I was little, my grandparents had a little camp on a lake. Behind the lake was a woodsy patch we would visit every so often and it was a magical place. You would go in and the pines would block out all the noise from the main road. There was an old burnt out house in the middle. The lilacs there had gone wild and the floor of the woods was carpeted with lilies of the valley. The heady scent was almost too much and to this day those to flowers are among my favorites. Often times when we went in, we would find a little patch of lady’s slippers. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, unless I was in a botanical garden. We knew they were rare even before “endangered species” was a common phrase, so I have some idea how the flower effected the people in this book.
To say Alice Ibbetson is a lover of plants is an understatement. Her father was a connoisseur and she paints botanical specimens with incredible accuracy. Since her younger sister died, Alice has locked herself in her summer house to garden and paint. When Richard Wheeler, her newest neighbor, hears of her love of plants, he shows her the rare lady’s slipper that is blooming on his property. Alice becomes obsessed. She urges him to transplant it, so that no one will steal it and to propagate it. Wheeler refuses. For him, the orchid is there by the will of God and he will not remove it. Contrary to her nature, Alice steals the orchid from under Wheeler’s nose. That act sets in motion a whirlwind that will change both of their lives.
Restoration England is a time period that I have not read much about and it sent me looking to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of history. The author does a great job of creating the atmosphere of tension during that time. As an American, I tend to think of Quakers as being American. So, it was interesting to see them before they came to this country and the trouble the faced both in terms of their religion and their politics.
Alice was a character that I was drawn to right away. She loves plants. I love them, too! I was totally jealous of her summer house and I love botanical prints, so it was just wonderful to think of her painting there. To see Alice, who I was sure was the kind of person who is normally honest and caring do such a rash thing and suffer such terrible consequences was heartbreaking. There are some pretty nasty, selfish characters just lying in wait to tangle her in her own web of deceit. While some books make me dream that I had a housekeeper to take care of me, this book scared me right off that ridiculous notion! Overall, it had all of the things that I would hope for in a historical novel, great characters and a well-developed world, plus a good storyline, too. It made one turbulent plane ride much more enjoyable.
I was excited to see that Deborah Swift has another novel in the works that is a companion to The Lady’s Slipper called The Gilded Lily. While this next book centers around a character I would have hoped to never see again, I have to admit after I read the description, I changed my mind and I look forward to reading it.
Title: The Lady’s Slipper
Author: Deborah Swift
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
I Got My Copy From: The Library
Rating: Very Good