Review: Mary’s Monster

mary's monsterReview:

Mary’s Monster

Author: Lita Judge

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

For poetry month, I’m starting off with a new book by Lita Judge. It is poetry, but it is also the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I have to admit that I knew very little about her when I began reading and what I did know was mostly inaccurate. This is the fascinating story about Mary, her life, and the monster she created.

Mary’s young years are marked by her father’s steadily declining finances. Mary’s mother died at her birth, but her fame as a writer and women’s rights advocate lingered throughout Mary’s youth. Her father married for a second time and Mary’s new stepmother certainly seems to have been the role model for many evil stepmothers. The family moves to Holborn, just a block away from Newgate Prison. Here her father sets up a shop in which he sells children’s books that he has written and published. Unfortunately, this endeavor will not achieve the hoped-for success her father and stepmother anticipate.

Mary is sent to Scotland to a family that are followers of the work her father publishes. Although her stepmother has insisted upon this exile and it seems harsh on a young girl, these turn out to be happy years for Mary. The Baxter family kindly accepts her into their home and Mary grows close to them, especially the daughter Isabella. Mary spends two years with the Baxters, but at sixteen her father finally forces Mary to return to England. Mary’s life once again descends into one filled with poverty, squalor, and bitter fighting.

Yet after Mary’s return to England, there does seem to be a ray of light and hope, for Percy Bysshe Shelley has entered her life. Little does she dream in these early days that her life with Shelley will also have its dark influence or that their life together will continue to build in the creation a monster that will long outlive either of them.

This dark and dramatic free verse poetry is told from Mary’s point of view. It is often as satisfyingly sinister as reading or watching Frankenstein. The black-and-white watercolor illustrations are perfectly suited to the text and often as scary as any movie, especially those illustrations that depict the monster. I had, in fact, considered saving this review as an excellent additional to October’s usual haunting choices, but the poetry was just too compelling not to share sooner.

Review: Hello Ruby

hello rubyReview:

Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer

Author: Linda Liukas

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, 2017

Source: Public Library

Since the theme this month is about all the places we will go, I thought a trip inside someplace would be a little out of the ordinary. So today we will journey into a computer (I bet you thought I was going to say we’d go into a human body book).

Ruby, like so many small girls, is bored. Somehow there is just nothing to do and no one available to play with. Nothing seems like an adventure. So she turns – as so many of us do – to the computer to entertain her. Alas! The computer isn’t working. Ruby isn’t sure why, at least not until the mouse tells her: “Cursor isn’t answering my messages.” Then next thing she knows, Ruby and the mouse have crawled into the mouse hole and are exploring the computer’s innards.

This book is a clever way to introduce kids to the information of how a computer really works. It’s a chapter book, but with short, manageable chapters that won’t overwhelm the reader. While half the book is story, the second half of the book is filled with hands-on activities. Kids will “build” a computer (not a real one, just paper!) and will come away with an understanding of what a computer really is and how they work. It introduces the idea of programming, but once again on a level that is not overwhelming. Readers will not suffer from the same problem as Ruby; they will not be bored. To learn more about Ruby’s world, visit: HELLORUBY.COM.

 

 

Review: Tumble & Blue

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Tumble & Blue

Author: Cassie Beasley

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017

Source: Public Library

Blue is one of the Montgomerys with a curse. He simply can’t win at anything. So when the red moon is scheduled to appear in the sky near his grandmother’s home in Murky Branch, GA, Blue’s father drops him off there. “According to family legends, on that night one person could travel into the swamp and claim a great new fate. And when you were cursed – as Blue and half of the other Montgomerys were- a new fate was worth the risk.” (pg. 9) Since the red moon only appears every 100 years, it’s his one chance. Of course, it’s all the other cursed Montgomerys chance, too, so Ma Myrtle, Blue’s feisty great-grandmother, will make the decision as to who is going to get the chance to change their fate.

Lily Wilson, aka Tumble, is a Maximal Star fan. She’s got four copies of his book How to Hero Every Day! She practices all Maximal’s precepts on a regular basis, for it’s vitally important she continues to be a hero. While Blue thinks of Tumble as a normal girl, Tumble prefers to think of herself as “potentially extraordinary.” (pg. 53) And she will be – if she can just be a hero often enough.

While Tumble and Blue both struggle against cruel fates, they begin to wonder: are their destinies really tied to a curse from long-ago, where magic and a weird golden alligator named Munch will control who they become? Or is it possible that Tumble and Blue can make their own choices?

With a cast of zany characters and mysteries that reach even deeper than those hidden in the nearby Okefenokee Swamp, Tumble & Blue will charm readers with true acts of friendship and heroism.

 

 

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

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A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

Publisher: Dell Publishing, a division of The Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1962 (April 1973 printing)

Source: Personal Collection

Things are difficult for Meg Murray. She is a poor student. She believes she is unattractive. She has a hard time getting along with others, especially when they talk about her “dumb baby brother,” Charles Wallace. And to make everything worse, her father is missing. She doesn’t know where he has gone or what has happened to him. A lot of vicious gossip is circulating about his disappearance. Her mother seems to deal with it easily, but for Meg it is a sensitive and painful subject. There is nothing Meg can do to help, until one dark and stormy night three unusual visitors get blown off course.

Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which have arrived in Meg’s small Connecticut village. Their purpose is to help Meg rescue her father, for the Top Secret project in which he was involved has gone terribly wrong. So Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace tesser – or wrinkle – through time with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which in order to save Mr. Murray. But there is much, much more at stake, for Mr. Wallace is fighting the Black Thing which is threatening to engulf Earth.

This classic story is just as relevant today as it was 56 years ago. If you haven’t already read the book, it is time to add it to your own personal library. And although I am reviewing this because of the new movie release, all of L’Engle’s books are well worth reading/re-reading.

 

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

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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.