Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Waistcoats and Weaponry

Sophronia just keeps getting better. As her time at finishing school continues, she matures and gains more intelligencer (i.e. spy) skills. Although Vieve has donned a false mustache and now attends Bunson's school for boys, Sophronia still has her other friends and her beau, Lord Felix Mersey. This semester finds the whole group caught up in an intrigue involving the Picklemen (like Felix's father) and the supernaturals, especially the Westminster Hive of vampires. Fallout from the clash includes a wrecked train, two smashed dirigibles, two gunshot wounds (I'm not saying which characters suffer from them), and Dimity's gown from the masked ball. At the same time there is trouble with the werewolf pack of Sideagh's grandfather. Add to that an engagement party for Sophronia's brother, sabotage of the domestic mechanicals around Oxford, a vampire professor suffering a breakdown, and Sophronia's mother trying to force her into an engagement with Dimity's younger brother. It's a recipe for disasters of all shapes and sizes, although there are a few high points - such as defeating the evil Monique once again.

For those who have not read the previous two books, here's a brief outline description. The series is set in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. The British Empire owes much of its success to the inclusion of supernaturals in society. Werewolves serve in the military where their aggression, rapid healing, and loyalty come in very handy. Vampires spend more time in fashionable pursuits and coordinating their wardrobes, but also have political influence. Sophronia attends finishing school aboard a dirigible which floats above the moor unless circumstances call for a more specific location. To the world, it is a regular school for young ladies who will soon debut in society. In actuality it is an academy to train intelligence operatives that are highly sought after once they graduate. Sophronia excels at organizing her friends for missions and they all have useful skills such as tinkering with mechanical inventions, knowledge of werewolves, practical experience with airships and boilers, etc. Their past exploits have earned them some attention from possible future patrons and enemies. One professor even wonders if they have done too god a job of teaching Sophronia.

I disagree. They have trained her wonderfully and we are the lucky ones who get to see her in action. If you enjoy steampunk, paranormal/urban fiction, and daring female protagonists - best get your tea and nibbly bits ready for a nice long reading session.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published on November 4, 2014.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The Secret Hum of a Daisy


I think this may need a whole new shelf in Goodreads - "Books that made me cry so hard I couldn't see the words." It's one of those stories that should be listed under "heart wrenching" in the dictionary as an example. The story of Grace trying to figure out life after losing her mother is so poignant and bittersweet, and yes, I know those words are very cliche - but they are cliches for a reason. Every time she begins to feel as if she's fitting in, guilt and doubt swirl up around her and pull her back into her grief. She feels angry at the grandmother she has never known, whom she now lives with in her mother's childhood home. She feels angry at her mother for leaving her by dying. She feels angry at herself for having even the slightest feelings of affection toward her grandmother or belonging in her home, the home her mother had left and never gone back to during Grace's life. More than anything, she wants to find a way to stay in the "Before" time when her mother was still alive, and to avoid anything that grounds her in the "After" where her mother is gone. As we read, we see her struggling to keep out all the well-meaning new people in her life - classmates, teachers, neighbors, and especially her grandmother. We become an audience of cheerleaders, rooting for her to pick up the pieces and make a new life for herself, just the way her mother chose pieces of discarded items and created sculptures. Grace's life could become a beautiful work of art if she will only let it.

The characters come to such vibrant life in this story - the grieving and wounded girl who tries to push everyone away; the girl who tries to befriend her, but can only get a little way inside before Grace shuts her out; the prickly grandmother who drove her daughter away and isn't sure how to reconnect to her granddaughter; they all seem so very real. It is a very special kind of writing that takes us into the story and wraps us in it until we believe it is real and we feel a bit confused when we look up from the page and we're not in Auburn Valley, but we're sitting in our own living room instead. I highly recommend it, but please have lots of tissues handy when you read it. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published on May 1, 2014.

For more about the author, check out her website. The author explains her inspiration for the story here at the Nerdy Book Club. And she explains how she became a writer here at Unleashing Readers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Villain School: Hero in Disguise


I haven't read the first of the Villain School books yet, so I don't know all the details of how Rune meets Princess Ileana, or how he formed an alliance with Wolf and Jezebel. But the second book was a fun read all on it own. Rune Drexler attends a school for villains in training. The school's leader is Master Dreadthorn, who also happens to be Rune's father (but that doesn't get Rune any special treatment). His allies (villains aren't supposed to have friends), are Wolf - son of the Big Bad Wolf, Jezebel - daughter of Count Dracula, and now Princess Ileana, whom he met when he went out on a plot last year (like a quest for villains). A new student is assigned as Rune's roommate, and he has to show the the new kid how things work at the school. The newbie, Dodge VonDoe, has transferred from a rival villain school run by the sorceress Morgana. Rune and his allies are caught up in an intricate plot involving dragons, crystal balls, old prophecies, the principal of the school for heroes, magical handcuffs, henchmen, and lots of other neat stuff.

It reminds me of the humor in How to Grow Up and Rule the World by Vordak the Incomprehensible. If you like adventures that combine friends (I mean allies), humor, danger, magic, superpowers, all taking place in a school setting (but not at all like Hogwarts), then you should give Villain School a try.

We just added a copy of this book to the library.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The 13-Story Treehouse

For readers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and other zany stories - now there is a new series beginning with The 13-Story Treehouse. Andy and Terry live in a treehouse with, you guessed it, 13 stories. They have everything boys living in a treehouse could want - a live shark tank, a bowling alley, a lemonade fountain, a machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth when you are's a great place. The problem is that they are having so much fun, they have forgotten to write the book that their editor is waiting on - and now they only have a day to finish it up. You know how things go when you are under a deadline, suddenly anything that can go wrong, does. In this case, that means the treehouse will be attacked by a giant gorilla, a sea monster will try to eat them, monkeys will break the marshmallow machine, and they will also invent the "catnary" (a flying yellow cat). Those are just a few of the highlights of their day - the day that should have been spent quietly working on their book. 

If you enjoy unending silliness, lots of dumb jokes, and general goofiness - then this is a series you will really like. It is written in a style similar to Captain Underpants. I don't mean the potty humor, but the way the main characters address the readers directly and tell us about their ridiculously crazy adventures.

We just added a copy of this title to the library.

Fall Reading 2014 Beyond the Laughing Sky


I've noticed a trend lately in children's literature, or maybe just in the kid-lit that I've been reading. Birds and nests seem to be very en vogue right now. There's Nest by Esther Ehrlich, Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen and Scott Bakal, Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, and now Beyond the Laughing Sky. But they're each very different stories, with unique characters and plots, although the tone of Beyond the Laughing Sky reminds me of Nightingale's Nest.

Nashville is a boy who hatched from an egg. He has feathers instead of hair and a beak instead of a human mouth. But he has been raised by human parents and has a human little sister named Junebug. The story tells us about Nashville's unusual origins, then takes us into the events as he begins middle school. Entering middle school can be rough for any child, especially when the kids are coming together from several different elementary schools and trying to get used to a new building and new classmates after five or six years of being in the same familiar place. In Nashville's case, the other kids have gotten used to him over their years together, but now he will be facing new kids and teachers who will all react to his differences.

Middle school is also a time when kids are moving from being tweens to being teenagers, looking at their lives and questioning their identity and their future. Nashville wonders why he can't fly. He has feathers and a beak, why not wings? Junebug helps him collect spare feathers for a project at school, while his parents continue to support him as he deals with bullies and overly curious classmates. As they reach the end of the year, it seems that Nashville may find some of the answers he is looking for.

I loved the house perched in the tree, the family sitting on swings around the kitchen table, Nashville scrubbing his feathers in an oversize bird bath... It was such a quirky, loving home that his parents had created, but even in the most perfect home - kids eventually have to leave the nest. (Pun intended.) When Nashville finds what he's looking for, will he leave, too? 

If you've read Nightingale's Nest and enjoyed it, I would recommend Beyond the Laughing Sky. It's also a great read for those who don't mind a little fantasy mixed into stories that also deal with real issues like belonging, family, and being true to yourself.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.  It was published October 2, 2014.

For more information, visit the author's website. Here is a photo of her doing some falconry.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 When Fairies Go Bad (Dragonbreath, #7)


Dragonbreath is a popular series in our school library. Some of the kids like it because of the illustrations, others like it for the humor. In this adventure, Danny's mother is kidnapped by fairies and Danny and his friends set out to rescue her. Wendell and Christiana come along to help bring Mrs. Dragonbreath home, even though Christiana is certain that there are no such things as fairies. With some advice from Danny's great-grandfather, they pack up supplies (spoons, pudding cups, a script of what to say to the king of faerie) and catch the bus to fairyland. They run into all sorts of creatures along the way and have a hard time sticking to the trail as Great-Granddad advised. There are vicious-looking boars, birds wearing masks, a talking fox, a fairy wearing a fez, and odd animated stick people (yes, made from sticks). Will they be able to bargain for the release of Danny's mother and make it safely out of Faerie? And will Christiana believe any of it really happened? You'll have to read it to find out.

We just added this to our library.

Fall Reading 2014 Get Happy


Minerva Watson is so full of creativity that she writes songs the way other people keep a journal or update their Facebook status. Having a bad day dealing with Mom? Write a song. Feeling silly with friends? Write a song. And what she most wants is a ukulele to play her songs on - but her mother buys her a cardigan for her birthday instead. (I'm sure we all know the disappointment an unwanted gift can cause, especially when we don't get the gift our hearts are set on.) Minerva doesn't let it stop her dreams of playing a uke. She and her friend Fin audition to work for a company that provides themed characters for children's birthday parties - Get Happy. Minerva is also trying to decide if she wants to connect with her father, who left when she was 2 and she hasn't heard from him or seen him since. However, this year a birthday gift and card from her dad arrive, along with a note saying he has moved back to the area. Should she track him down?

I love Minerva's character. She and Fin are such a funny pair when they are together. They laugh together, sing songs, make funny stop-action videos with Peeps, and support each other in all sorts of ways. The author has done a great job of creating a teenage girl with real emotions and reactions to what's going on in her life. The song lyrics that Minerva writes help to tie the narrative together and add depth to it. Although I am not a ukulele fan, I would go to open mic night to hear Minerva perform.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published October 28 , 2014. For more information, you may visit the author's website.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters

I've read several of the "I Survived" series (which are historical fiction), so I was very interested in what a companion volume of nonfiction stories would be like. One of the main attractions for readers of the "I Survived" books is that they follow a young person through the disaster. Would the nonfiction book be boring in comparison? No, definitely not. The author has managed to do a reconstruction of an actual survivor from each of the 5 events and track them through the time before, during, and after the disaster. Whether you are fascinated by the Titanic or tornadoes, you will feel as if the figures are coming to life again in front of you. The files that share facts and photos at the end of each story are handy for history enthusiasts, as are the recommendations for further reading. My favorite of the stories is the one about the Great Boston Molasses Flood.

This would be a good introduction to how to do research, since Tarshis talks frankly about how many sources she used to put together the stories - books, magazine and newspaper articles, interviews, photos, etc. The shorter length of the stories will also please readers who want to read about these famous events, but don't want to deal with a full-length book about one of them. I would recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed the fiction series or has an interest in disasters.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published September 30, 2014.

Update: We just added this book to the library through our spring book fair.