Tag Archives: middle grade

Review: Georges and the Jewels

The Georges and the Jewels – Jane Smiley

This is a very gentle, old fasioned sort of book.  And not to say that’s a bad thing.  It takes place in 1960’s California and focuses on 7th grader Abby, her family and the horses they’re training.  When Smiley was interviewed at Day of Dialog, she talked about writing a book for every year that Abby ages.  I personally don’t care, and I’ve never really pretended to leave personal preference out of my opinions here, but would also happily recommend this to middleschool kids, if I still worked with any.  I’ve never read any of Smiley’s adult books, but every once and awhile try to read something that is exactly the sort of thing I would never read hoping to be pleasantly surprised.  And while this didn’t manage to rekindle any long dormant girl-and-her-horse fantasies I may have had when I was little, I did really enjoy it and felt transported and like I really learned something about the place and time and horses.


Playing Catch-Up

Tap and Gown – Diana Peterfreund

Just as promised, Amy finally stopped acting like an idiot about her kidnapping in this book.  But it took her way too long to stop acting like an idiot about her relationship with Jamie.  I did not love-love-love this the way I did the earlier books in the series, but it also didn’t make me angry like those books sometimes did.  I think I’m ready to move on from Amy, but am very happy that as I do, I have a soon-to-be-released YA book of Peterfreund’s to look forward to.  I think, like Fire below, that my passionate crush on this series did this volume in it no favors.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

I don’t think I ever recorded here the related novel in this series, Ink Exchange, which I really liked.  But I loved this one and Wicked Lovely.  The plot goes to surprising places and I didn’t even mind that the budding romance of the first book was no longer as budding or romantic (which allowed the plot to move forward and the relationship to mature).  If I ever read another modern Fairie story again it’ll just be because I’m chasing after the appeal of this one.

Fire – Kristin Cashore

I know I’m pretty much alone in liking Graceling more, but I keep reminding people that it’s only because of how much of a crush I have on that book and not because this isn’t a stronger book.  I agree that this probably is.  And it tackles the male gaze, which is one of my favorite things ever to think about.  But I love the way that Cashore writes banter and sexual tension and those were missing from this book.  So I’ll just anxiously await whatever bits of Katsa and Po I’m given in her next book.

Once was Lost – Sara Zarr

I don’t personally find faith interesting, but I find Zarr interesting enough to go along for the ride when she explores it.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

I’m sad that the first book in the series lived up to my expectations but this couldn’t handle the pressure.  I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, I just hate that I only liked it.  The spoilery text of an email I sent to a friend in white text:

But one of my biggest frustrations with Catching Fire was the pacing of her “radicalization.”  That she was intuitive enough to read intention into the timing of the gifts she was receiving in the arena, but not to understand that her pin had become a symbol of the resistance.  And that an organized resistance was clearly forming but that it took her until the end to see it.  And I didn’t buy that the resistance would trust using her without her knowledge to go well, when that clearly didn’t work out for the government the first time around.  I did like the way she adjusted to the arena, that she realized things were going on that she didn’t understand and went with it.  I just felt more manipulated by the plotting of this story than the first one.

Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor

This book had the great premise of three fairytale love/forbidden desire stories that hinge on a kiss  and ended up being so much better than I expected while not really fulfilling the promise of the hook.  Another instance where David Levithan lied to me (I’m writing this bottom-up, see the review below) but I’m happier this time to have listened to him anway.  And as much as like Jim Di Bartolo’s illustrations, I don’t like the cover design.  Because it’s a much more serious, even grown-up, book than it seems.  And yes, each story in some way revolves around a kiss and the manifestation of physical desire, but I often related more to the other wishes and dreams of the characters.  The third story is an epic love story crammed into 110 pages that improbably has you siding with the evil witch-type by the end.  I’m not entirely sure how that narrative flip was even accomplished, but it was very skillful.  The first two stories have their charms, but the last is the one that really wowed me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever bought myself a real copy of a book after having read the ARC, but in this instance I might just for the illustrations.

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

Ultimately, I don’t think I liked this book.  At Day of Dialog, David Levithan swore up and down that this book transcended the otherworldly creatures (werewolves in this case) genre but I don’t think it does.  I think it was just okay with hints of being something wonderful.  Maybe someone else will read this and see what I’m missing.  There’s another story of doomed love that this reminds me of, but I can’t figure out what. *UPDATE.  The Universe just handed this to me on a plate: The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s got the same “when will he disappear..possibly forever” tension.* It is very moody and atmospheric, but I never became fully invested in it.

Ash – Malinda Lo

Other than the lesbian love story aspect of this, it’s a pretty traditionally told Cinderella story.  The Fairy Godfather is actually a tricky, non-altruistic fairy, and it’s here and with the love story, where Lo carves her own space, that the book is the most successful.

Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

Technically this book has no business being here, as it has zero teen appeal, but I really enjoyed it.  And will stretch and say that it explores the flip side of the “Nick and Norah” music-obsessed-teen coin.  But it’s all about being a grown up, the disapointments and compromises and joys, and how not even a rock star can escape that.  This is the first Hornby book in years that I’ve enjoyed as much as I wanted to.

Scott Pilgrim vs.the Universe – Brian Lee O’Malley

I didn’t mind that Scott’s life kind of falls apart during this volume, I guess I’m turning into a cold-hearted grown up who didn’t expect his slacker lifestyle to be sustainable.  The cover is also very shiny and pretty.

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Suzanne Collins

I’d been interested in this series ever since reading Hunger Games, but didn’t want to read a library copy because the paperback is both cheaply printed and very popular.  So I finally bought my own copy and once I’d finished, went out and immediately bought the second, which I read in one sitting.  I think the strength of these is Gregor.  He’s really likeable and resourceful.  And if too many of the books in this roundup feature kids who are destined to save the world, having a character who doesn’t act too stupid about the whole thing helps the over-used conceit go down easier.  I’m a little bit worried, and will have to be careful not to get too spoilery, that Collins may rely to heavily on formula with her plots.  These two books both follow similar arcs and this worry of mine is related to the aspect of Catching Fire that I wasn’t too impressed by.  I really wish these were collected in one volume, something with higher quality paper, so that you could easily read the whole saga in one go.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark) – Laini Taylor

I’m upset because I thought the sequel to this was already out but will instead have to wait until September for it.  So while that’s lame, I really enjoyed the story.  I like the way it maintained internal logic really well, how the strength of the god character was used to trick it, how the evil character was as much an important part of fairy history as anyone, how it feels like a complete story while making you want more, and how it might have the first fairy world I’d actually want to live in.  It would be really easy for me to talk about appreciating this book for all of the pitfalls it avoided, but that’s not very exciting.  This books seems to have initially been marketed as middle grade but then as YA for the paperback edition.  Which is funny, because I think it’s an easy sell to adults as well.

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

Greg Heffley is a dork and kind of a jerk in that way kids can be to whoever’s smaller than them when they’re used to being picked on themselves.  Nothing really goes his way, but he doesn’t ever see his own role in his problems.  Despite all that, he has fun and acts stupid and hatches plots and gets right back up when things don’t go his way.

I’m not a pre-teen boy, so I can’t say I “get” this book.  But it’s funny and takes middle-school problems seriously.  And boys love it, so that’s cool.  Adrien Mole would be a good follow up for slightly older kids.

Review: Bone Magician

The Bone Magician – F.E. Higgins

An orphaned boy, Pin Carpue, is adrift in a Dickensian not-London after his beautiful and saintly mother dies and his father has disappeared following his uncle’s suspicious death.  He scrapes by working for an undertaker, staying up at night with the bodies making sure they’re truly dead.  Drugged one night at his post, he wakes to find a man and a young girl raising his charge from the dead so that she can tell her fiancee she forgives their last fight.  He later falls back in with the conjurers, barely escapes from a serial killer, and builds a new family of sorts.

There are a lot of characters and a lot of build up, making the first half of the book a bit of a slow boil.  Once threads start to get untangled, it becomes a lot more engaging.  This is a fun type of scary, more about the mystery and atmosphe than anything truly frightening, it’s perfect for middle schoolers.

Review: People of Sparks

The People of Sparks – Jeanne DuPrau
Very different in tone and setting than the first book in the series, The People of Sparks is a kind of in-between book.  The people of Ember have to learn to make their way in the world, a hostile place where they can’t understand the simplest things and their survival is dependent on the largesse of others.  It continues to have a lot of big ideas about human nature and overcoming our baser selves.

The plot doesn’t really seem to be the point of this book, it’s more about establishing new places and characters.  The first and last parts of the book were interesting and exciting, while the middle dragged.  Such care was taken with the sequence of events that the story got bogged down and moved too slowly.  Which is a shame, because the first hundred pages were full of ideas worth chewing on.  And not the big obvious themes of the rest of the book like cults of personality and war and greed and generousity, but there was room for the reader to make comparisons between Ember and Sparks.  Luckily, the end picked up and stuff happened and the very end was exciting and hopeful and makes me want to keep reading.

Review: City of Ember

The City of Ember – Jeane DuPrau

I’ve been in the mood for a good dystopian novel and the release of the movie reminded me that I’d been wanting to read this. I like how straight from the beginning, Ember is set up as a dying city that has outlived its usefulness but the people there don’t know it. It’s not a very big city, and the people there live with a strange mix of socialism and black markets with a little bit of capitalism thrown in. There’s no sun, no moon, and when the lights are turned off (or during the increasingly frequent blackouts) the world is plunged into absolute darkness. Lina and rediscovered-friend Doon are the only ones who seem serious about finding a way out. Lina thinks she has the answer, but it’s inadvertantly turned into a puzzle by her teething little sister. The mechanics of this puzzle are skillfully handled and answers reveal themselves at opportune moments believably, a “the knowledge will come when you need it” sort of thing.
I really enjoyed this and am already a hundred pages into pt. 2. The worldbuilding is good and becomes more interesting as its contrasted to…other spoilery things in that second book. Also, I really liked the end of this one, but can’t talk about the specifics of why without giving too much away or it seeming overly simplistic. Faith takes a bit of skewering, as does complacency and greed. There are a lot of good-hearted people in Ember, but also a lot of people falling prey to a mob mentality, I would guess that the extremes of human nature (for good and bad) will continue to be a focus of the series.

Review: Rapunzel’s Revenge

Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon and Dean Hale, illus. by Nathan Hale

Rapunzel has been raised in a castle-fortress by her evil, witchy mother, and mayor of the world, Gothel. When she realizes that the world beyond the castle walls is dying, and that her real mother is a slave in Gothel’s mines, she threatens to run away. Instead, she ends up locked in a towering tree. When her hair grows long enough for her to escape, she joins forces with Jack and his goose that he keeps waiting on to lay some golden eggs. They survive a series of Pecos Bill style adventures due to her ability to lasso and whip things with her 20-foot-long braid of hair. These adventures take place as they try to work their way back to Gothel’s castle to reunite with Rapunzel’s mother and free the world from Gothel’s tyranny.

This book is a librarian and a parent’s dream. Rapunzel is completely kick-ass and a true feminist hero. But it’s also a funny and engaging story that doesn’t seem as if it’s trying to teach a lesson. Jack’s not white, and neither are a lot of the characters, good guys and bad guys alike. Rapunzel is pretty, but isn’t interested in being conventionally so and she looks like Pipi Longstocking for the first half of the book. Revenge incorporates a lot of different elements of fairy tale and folklore and turns the conventions of the genres on their heads. But it also understands what is fundamentally appealing about them, and uses those elements to its advantage. There’s even a jackalope. And Jack still has one of his magic beans.

Now I’m just waiting to hear from my husband what his interest in this book is (I found it in a pile of new books on our kitchen table) and why he brought it home. Maybe he’d heard about the kick-ass teenage heroine? I know that’s one of his favorites.