The Reveal: Blind Date with a Book #3 (2018)

night paradeReview:

The Night Parade

Author: Kathryn Tanguary

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2016

Source: Public Library

Saki and her family are traveling from Tokyo to a remote mountain village to celebrate Obon* with their grandmother. Saki and her brother find the old traditions boring and don’t have much in common with their grandmother. During the first day, Saki decides to hang out with some of the local kids her age. As a result, Saki is tricked into desecrating a local graveyard, an act during which she accidentally invokes a death curse. Not only is she in trouble with her parents, but she’s got some bigger problems to deal with, too.

Over the next three nights, Saki will join the Night Parade, “the biggest celebration of the year…(when) spirits travel from near and far to pay homage at the shrine on the mountaintop” (pg. 71). Each night a different spirit will come to help and guide Saki as she journeys on a fantastic, dream-like quest in order to get the Midlight Prince to lift the curse. It’s not an easy task. In addition to the quirky and mischievous spirits, there are many magical creatures to contend with, some friend, some foe. The New Lord has ordered the spirits of the Night Parade to halt Saki’s progress. And, of course, Saki must make those choices which help her achieve her goal.

This story may take place in Japan, but the kids in this story – Saki, her brother, her Tokyo friends, and the kids from her grandmother’s village – could be from anywhere. While they are quite typical, they are not especially likeable. Even Saki, at first, is whiny and entitled. Her adventure with the Night Parade certainly brings growth. By the end she is a kinder, more thoughtful girl.

Though I generally enjoyed this story, my one complaint about this book is that I mostly disliked the use of vernacular. Tanguary could – and should – have dropped all the words like: “gonna,” “musta,” “outta” and “lemme.” Sometimes this type of dialogue adds to building a character. In this book it does not.

 

* Obon is one of the most important Japanese traditions. People believe their ancestors’ spirits come back to their homes to be reunited with family.

The Reveal: Blind Date with a Book #2 (2018)

cardturnerReview:

The Cardturner

Author: Louis Sachar

Publisher: Ember, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2010

Source: Personal Purchase

Bridge is a game that requires “judgment, patience, decisiveness, and most importantly, the ability to think clearly and plan ahead” (pg. 168).

Alton Richards does not know how to play bridge and probably doesn’t have a single one of the necessary attributes, but when his Uncle Lester Trapp – whom his parents insist is his favorite uncle (because he is very rich) – goes blind due to complications from diabetes, Alton is volunteered to be his cardturner/chauffeur at the bridge games which Trapp attends four times each week. Alton has nothing better to do for the summer. He didn’t get a summer job and his girlfriend has dumped him to date his best friend. That fact that he knows nothing about bridge is not a drawback. As far as Trapp is concerned, that is a positive point in Alton’s favor.

There is plenty of competition for those who want Trapp’s money (at least, that’s the way Alton’s parents feel). Mrs. Mahoney is his long-time housekeeper. Teodora is his naturopathic nurse who Alton’s mother says is just prolonging Uncle Lester’s agony. And then there is the Castaneda family. The “crazy” Castaneda family about whom Alton’s mother tells the strangest stories. Alton can’t quite figure out what their connection to Trapp is. His parents see this summer as the perfect opportunity for the Richards’ family to get in just a bit tighter with dear old Uncle Lester.

Alton begins playing bridge as Trapp’s cardturner and very quickly he realizes that there is much more to this game than he had ever imagined. Alton may not have had any initial interest in the game, but as he watches his uncle he finds himself learning. He’s determined that he will do a better job than Trapp’s former cardturner who apparently had the audacity to actually question one of his moves during a game. Alton has the chance to meet the first cardturner, too. It is none other than a member of the notorious Castaneda family, a girl named Toni who happens to be just about Alton’s age.

Some readers, like me, will not know anything about the game of bridge. And although this book contains many detailed explanations about the game, it is still enjoyable as a story. Sachar does take the time to explain some of the intricacies of the game, which the reader can explore or skip, but although they are important to the story, they are not the heart of it. Even if you choose to skip those explanatory passages, you will become totally involved in the game as Trapp and Alton head toward the championship.

 

 

 

 

Review: Greenglass House

Greenglass HouseReview:

Greenglass House

Author: Kate Milford

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

It’s a cold winter night and the innkeepers of Greenglass House and their adopted son, Milo; are ready for a quiet holiday season. No one ever comes to stay at their inn at this time of year. Smugglers, like television programs, have their seasons.

Then, just as the snow begins to fall, the doorbell rings and an unexpected guest arrives. Then another. And another. Until the inn is full of people. Not only are there five mysterious guests (all deciding to stay for an undetermined length of time), but extra help has been called in. Mrs. Caraway, the cook, comes to help, bringing her two daughters along. Meddy, the younger daughter, is just about Milo’s age and together they begin a role-playing game called Odd Trails.

Ensconced in this unique home, it soon becomes apparent that this group has not come together by accident. As snow turns to ice, the travelers find ways to entertain each other by telling stories. Thefts begin to occur. Using the game as a way to help solve the clues, Milo and Meddy begin to unravel the mystery: who are these people and why are they really here?

This lovely, atmospheric tale is just the kind of book to cozy up to on a snowy winter night. Even if you are not into role-playing games, Odd Trails is a fun and unique way to delve not only into the mystery of the visitors of the house (and more arrive even after the original character list), but into Milo’s ancestry.

Review: Speed of Life

speed of lifeReview:

Speed of Life

Author: Carol Weston

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Since her mother’s sudden death in April, Sofia has been grieving. There’s so much she still needs to talk to her mom about, things like boys, dating, going to parties, personal issues. She’s got her dad and plenty of friends, but no one really understands.

Fortunately Dear Kate, advice columnist for Fifteen Magazine, makes a public appearance at Sofia’s school. It gives Sofia an idea. There is someone she can ask about all her most private and confusing issues.

However, having someone to talk to doesn’t stop Sofia’s life from becoming more complicated. It’s one thing to worry about her own dating problems. It’s another to have to worry about her dad starting to date. Although he hasn’t talked with her, she is sure there is a MW (Mystery Woman) in his life. Is it one of her closest friends’ mom or possibly someone else?

Speed of Life has a complicated, twisted plot and is so true to real-life that you will forget you are reading and think you’re talking with a close friend. The warning at the beginning of the book says this is a sad story. I’ll be honest. It’s not a tear-jerker. It’s sometimes poignant, sometimes juicy (think Judy Blume’s Forever) and always keeping the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

 

Review: Restart

restartReview:

Restart

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

When Chase Ambrose –  the “apex predator” of Hiawassee Middle School –  falls from the roof of his home, he suffers a concussion and has amnesia. His memory is gone. He can remember things like how to talk, but he can’t remember his own name or recognize his family members.

When school begins, he sidelined from football. He was the captain and hero of every sports team at school and the son of a former HMS football champion. He knows he was popular because of how his teammates act toward him. The funny thing is, there is a whole other segment of the student population that seems to cringe whenever he walks by them. He can’t understand why. Could he really have been that bad?

As it turns out, he was. The question is: if one boy fell from the roof, is it the same boy who returned to Hiawassee Middle School? He certainly seems different, but can anyone really change that much?

Though I often find multiple points of view to be confusing, in this case we get a clear picture of the boy Chase once was. The technique only adds to the power of the story. I also thought the perspective – a one-time bully’s look into his past – unique and really well-done. No trite answers. An excellent book for discussions (yes, some sample questions coming your way later this week).

 

Review: Just My Luck

just-my-luck.jpgReview:

Just My Luck

Author: Cammie McGovern

Publisher: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

When Benny Barrows’ dad takes Benny to the track to practice his bike riding skills, they end up accidentally bumping heads. It wasn’t a big deal – until it became a very big deal. Upon returning home, Mr. Barrows suddenly and unexpectedly keels over. They learn he has had a brain aneurysm. Though his mom constantly reminds him, “This is not your fault,” it sometimes feels like maybe it is.

It’s not just the situation with his dad that has Benny worried. His best friend has moved away, and Benny is finding that it’s not so easy to find a new best friend. It’s even harder because of his dad’s aneurysm. Mr. Barrows doesn’t behave normally anymore. In fact, Dad’s behavior really freaked out his oldest brother’s girlfriend. Dad seems more like Benny’s autistic brother, George, than his old self – and George isn’t exactly the easiest person to have around. It’s simply not easy to bring a new friend home, especially right now. In fact, Benny keeps facts about his dad a secret, at least as much as possible.

Although he got into Mr. Norris’s classroom – supposedly the coolest fourth grade teacher ever –  Mr. Norris has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, too. Instead of all the cool stuff he did in the past, Mr. Norris now falls asleep during school and comes in with stained clothes. Worst of all, he doesn’t seem to think that Benny does anything to be recognized in the school’s new C.A.R.E. (Cooperation. Accountability. Respect. Empathy.) program. Whenever teachers see a student showing empathy or compassion, they earn a footprint. Benny’s given Mr. Norris plenty of opportunities to see him earning a footprint, but Mr. Norris always seems to overlook his actions. It’s very important to Benny to earn one since he needs to be good at something.

These problems alone would be enough for anyone, but Benny is also struggling with his schoolwork, the family is having money problems, and he and his brothers have to help a lot more at home, although George can be the reverse of helpful. Plus, he still is no good at riding a bike. It’s difficult for Benny to know how to cope with everything that is happening.

It’s hard not to want to jump right into this book and give Benny the big hug he deserves (I promise, though realistic about the problems Benny faces, the ending brings plenty of understanding and real happiness to him and the reader). For a fourth-grader, his problems are real and complex, and I especially love his insights into his own problems. I give just one example: when Benny’s mom asks him why all his favorite minifigs are bad guys (pg. 74), Benny explains that the good guys don’t need him that much. They already have all their needs met (after all, Batman has Alfred and Robin), but the bad guys don’t have that. Benny would have to take the time to get to know them better and then he’d like them more. Perhaps we should all get to know those people we find challenging a little better. Maybe we’d find, after all, they really aren’t so bad.

Review: Children of Refuge

children-of-refuge.jpgReview:

Children of Refuge (Children of Exile: Volume 2)

Author Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017

Source: ARC

In Volume 2 of the Children of Exile series we follow the story of Edwy, Rosi’s frenemy from Fredtown. Edwy, like Rosi, is twelve, one of the first children to be brought to Fredtown. Unlike Rosi, Edwy has always been a bit of a rebel. Despite his perfect Fred upbringing, things like lying and rule-breaking have always come easily to Edwy.

Now back with his biological parents, Edwy’s situation is totally different from Rosi’s. His parents, the Watanabonesets, are rich. In fact, his father is a powerful crime lord with all kinds of underground connections. Edwy’s older brother and sister don’t have to live in their former hometown, now called Cursed Town. No, they live separated from their parents in a town called Refuge City. Refuge City has all kinds of things to make for a better life but most people can’t leave Cursed Town. Only Edwy’s father has the kind of clout to get his son out of Cursed Town to live with his siblings in Refuge City.

Life in Refuge City should feel natural to Edwy. It’s a place where everyone seems to lie and cheat. Edwy’s siblings, Enu and Kiandra, have found ways to fool their parents into thinking that they really attend school. When Edwy plays basketball with Enu and his friends, cheating is not only expected but accepted. So why does it suddenly seem wrong to Edwy?

When Edwy learns of Rosi’s fate in Cursed Town (because Kiandra hacks their computer system), he realizes that Rosi, poster child for the Freds, has been wrongly imprisoned. He knows he must help her in some way. To do so, he must do all kinds of things that Rosi and the Freds would think wrong. Yet is it wrong to do bad things in order to help his friend?

Once again readers are pulled into the story as we wonder not only about the actions of Edwy, but also the fate of Rosi. Be sure to check out the discussion questions tomorrow.

 

 

Review: Children of Exile

Children of ExileReview:

Children of Exile

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

Source: ARC

Rosi has always believed she was an orphan. She has been raised in Fredtown by Fred-parents along with her five-year-old brother, Bobo. Yet now, at the age of twelve, she learns that she is not an orphan, and that the Freds are going to return her and all the other children living in Fredtown to their biological parents.

Rosi learns that the reason the Freds have raised her and the other children is because it was too dangerous for the children to remain with their real parents. Now the situation – Rosi has no idea what the situation truly is – has been resolved. Crowded onto a plane with all the other children, she is sent back without the support or comfort of any of the Fred-parents.

Life with her biological parents is a shock to Rosi. They seem as different from her Fred-parents as they could possibly be. While the Freds seemed perfect, her real parents are physically and emotionally scarred. They are also unkind, uncouth, and perhaps more than just a little bit scared, as well. And it’s not just her parents that seem so different; it’s all of the other parents. Why would the kind and loving Freds send the children to such a place?

When Rosi finally dares to speak out about the things she has observed, she unknowingly gets into trouble – real trouble which is leading her further into a dangerous world she has never known existed. She is only beginning to understand that not everyone is exactly what they seem.

Haddix has the reader on the hook right from Chapter 1, and she slowly but surely reels us in as we begin to wonder, along with Rosi, what is really going on in Rosi’s world. We immediately feel that something is wrong and are increasingly drawn into the mystery. Then Haddix throws her bomb, a shocking revelation that will force Rosi to take actions she never dreamed possible, which leaves the reader hungering for the next book in the series, Children of Refuge.

Tomorrow I will be posting discussion questions for Children of Exile and I will follow that with the review of Children of Refuge – and, of course, more discussion questions. Stay tuned!

 

Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Shadow Magic

Shadow MagicReview:

Shadow Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Publisher: Disney Hyperion, 2016

Source: ARC

Grades 3-7, Ages 8-12

The House of Shadows is one of the six Great Houses of Magic. The Shadows command the magic of darkness. Gehenna is a dark and gloomy place: misty forests, craggy mountains. The sun never shines and the dead walk. It is ruled by Lileth Shadows (usually called Lily, sometimes Lady Shadows), the thirteen-year-old girl who is the last surviving direct descendant of the Shadow family. In Gehenna, Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year (yes, I saved this review especially for today!) as Gehenna was once a country of necromancers who could summon ghosts and ghouls. They celebrate with the Halloween Ball, and it is something that Lily has always looked forward to attending.

Twelve-year-old Thorn is a slave – with secrets. He’s the son of a woodcutter, but he has talents that extend beyond the typical woodcutter. At the slave market he is bought by Master Tyburn, Executioner for the House of Shadows. Tyburn’s mission, although unknown to Thorn, is to find the one remaining man of the group that murdered Lily Shadow’s family. Tyburn senses that Thorn’s skills may help his search, so he brings Thorn back to Castle Gloom.

Once at Castle Gloom, Thorn quickly learns the situation. Lady Shadows is to be married to Gabriel Solar, heir to Lumina and a member of rival house, the House of Solar. Traditionally the House of Shadows, who command darkness, and the House of Solars, who command light, are enemies and a union between them will weaken their magic. However, Lily will do anything to protect Gehenna, even marry into the very family she suspects has something to do with the deaths of her father, mother, and brother.

Unlikely as it seems, Lily and Thorn strike up a sort of friendship. And it is a good thing, especially for Lily. She’s in constant danger, for someone really wants to get rid of all of the Shadows. Thorn, with his common sense, street-smarts, and brash acts of derring-do, is just the boy to help keep her safe. He is helped by a cast of other characters; saving Lily takes a lot of work.

Fans of the Harry Potter Series will love this new story. With plenty of mysteries, plot twists and turns and the corresponding red herrings, it’s one wild and thrilling read. It’s filled with unusual magical folk, most of whom are likeable and some of whom make very satisfying villains. There are a few illustrations which have a graphic-novel feel to them. At the end, you know there is more to come (and there is: #2 in series is Dream Magic and #3 is Burning Magic so far) – and you just can’t wait to find out more!

 

Review: Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Deep and Dark and DangerousReview:

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Sandpiper, an imprint of Houghton Mufflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2007

Source: Public Library

No Halloween reading list would be complete without a selection by Mary Downing Hahn. Her books are always so deliciously creepy! Although this is not a newly published book, it is wonderfully chilling – just right for reading on a dark and dangerous night with your back up against a wall.

Ali is getting to spend the summer at Gull Cottage on Sycamore Lake in Maine despite her mother’s negative attitude toward the whole idea. Her mother hasn’t been to the cottage since she was a girl, but according to her the place is always rainy, mosquito-ridden and unpleasant. Sycamore Lake is deep and dark and dangerous. Aunt Dulcie, an artist preparing for a big show, has decided it is time to return and get some work done. She needs Ali to babysit her five-year-old daughter, Emma. Despite a lot of reservations, Ali’s mother agrees.

Once in Maine, Ali realizes that her mother’s fears may be well-founded. Emma shares a scary dream in which bones in the water come out and chase her. Then a malicious and mysterious girl of about nine or ten shows up. Sissy is a nasty little thing, made all the worse because she seems to be a bad influence on Emma. After hanging out with her, Emma begins lying, telling Aunt Dulcie that Ali tried to push her off the dock into the lake.

It is through Sissy that Ali and Emma learn about a girl named Teresa: how Teresa was drowned in Sycamore Lake and her body was never recovered. “… her bones are still out there someplace deep down in the dark, dark water” (pg. 87). Most frightening of all is the accusation that Ali’s mom and Aunt Dulcie were somehow involved in the tragedy.

Can Ali find out the truth after all this time? Can she keep herself and Emma safe while trying to find out just what happened at Lake Sycamore? And is Sissy going to make more trouble – or might she actually help solve the mystery? Those questions really keep the pages turning.