Scary Stories for Young Foxes: the City by Christian McKay Heidicker

(Thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt for the arc of this.)

Thank you NetGalley for the advance copy. In fact, wanting so badly to read this was motivation to finally get a Kindle!
This follow up did NOT disappoint. Oh my gosh-everything I loved about the first book was present here: the storytelling set up with an original story/narrator in bold and then chaptered stories that all build on each other; a story that keeps building and dropping clues about who that original narrator is; a wonderful blend of the foxes talking but their behavior is all wild animal. I also really loved the bits where they see human stuff but don’t have our frame of reference (kind of like Wild Robot?) and so we have to figure out what they’re talking about.
I have to say-the body count in this book is high. There is gore, violence, gruesome stuff. But it’s also heartwarming and a wonderful old fashioned story. So, horror and heartwarming. (Kind of like Tale Dark and Grimm. These two authors have got that niche sewn up.)
Really wonderful. Heidicker is quite a storyteller.

Kingdoms & Empires series by by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, The Whispering Wars, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst

Oh boy is there a story here. So, first, thank you to the publisher for an advance reading copy of The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst. I received it and didn’t really know anything about it so opened it up and started reading. I could not put it down! I just loved the author’s style of writing and how funny it was and clever and just all around good. So I read the whole book and wrote this on Goodreads:

“I love love loved this. I haven’t been this entertained by a book in a while and there was just something about the story, the setting (boarding school) and the storyteller’s voice that I loved. She did refer to some big events that happened in the past and I thought “could that have been another book??” and now I see that this is actually the THIRD book in this series. So oh my goodness, looks like I have two fantastic books ahead of me to read.”

THEN I looked up the author because I kep thinking her name was familiar to me and guess what? Way back a hundred years ago when she wrote her first YA novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia, I read that and loved it. I think I read another book and then sort of lost track of her. Well it turns out she’s been busy writing away in Australia (and is also the sister of Liane Moriarty, another popular author I like). So then I excitedly got the next book from the library, which in this case was #2, The Whispering Wars. So I read the whole trilogy one right after the other, but I read them backwards.

The first book I read (the third book) was all about a girl at a boarding school and right away it’s set up that in this kingdoms (or rather, kingdoms) magic exists and is practiced by certain individuals. There are also many bad magic characters. At the boarding school it seems like a wonderful new teacher might be not all that she seems (she’s really mean to the girl but in a way no one else seems to notice) and there is a lot of excitement that one of the students might be a Whisperer, which is someone who can make spells to hold in bad magic (which might be done by a bad character like a Sterling Silver Fox.) So there’s mystery and adventure and it’s very funny and delightful.

Then, I read book #2 which was taking place BEFORE book three, by about 10 years. So every time they mentioned “the Whispering Wars” and I thought “That seems like it could be a story itself”-it was. Book #2 is The Whispering Wars. So some of the character names are familiar because they had been mentioned, and you do see how it all ties together, but it’s a different set of main characters. What I thought was really interesting about this story was that it retained the same jolly humor and quirkiness but it turned out these wars really were bad. Like, lots of innocent people died. There were internment camps. It was a bad time. (but a great story.)
Then, I finally got to the book that started it all– The Extremeley Inconvient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Bronte had been mentioned in book #3 so I was very interested by this point to read her story (which fits in after Whispering Wars, but well before book #3) This was a swashbuckling delight. Bronte has been raised by her aunt and a butler while her parents have been out adventuring around the world. One day they get word that her parents have been killed by pirates. The directions in their will are preposterously specific and elaborate. Bronte must go on a trip by herself to visit all of her father’s nine sisters. She must deliver a gift to each of them at specific times and do certain activities in each location. The trip turns out to be a wonderful way to learn about her absent parents as the aunts all tell her wonderful stories, but it seems there may be another motive.
As with the other two books this was an absolute delight. I’m just going to use the same words over and over for each of them-jolly, delightful, fun. I just felt so charmed and entertained. And I wished that my kids were younger and we were reading them aloud all together. So much so that I do wonder if I need to own them all just to have on hand in our personal library.

*p.s. Paul is reading them in order. He has finished the first book and written about it here (remember, he writes in great detail about what happens in the book so don’t read it if you don’t want spoilers) and is currently reading Whispering Wars.

The Overthrow series by Kenneth Oppel

Bloom, Hatch, and Thrive are the individual titles in the Overthrow series. This was a lot of fun to be able to read one right after the other, rather than spaced apart. The action dramatically changed from the first half of book one to the end of book three. In fact, the world changed so much that iwas almost hard to remember how different things were in book one.
This was some kooky science fiction adventure. As our house is always fighting a battle against invasive mugwort, I found the idea of alien invasive plants relatable. But thank goodness my mugwort is not a carnivorous weed nor trying to eat me.
In book one three teenagers who are oddly unaffected by the alien plant invasion try to figure things out and fight back. Book two ratchets up the doomsday vibe of Earth as reasons for the invasion become clear. Book three is, of course, and all out battle.
This was one of those sci fi stories where you think from time to time “even if they win the world is still ruined and a LOT of people died.” Because man, did those alien plants have the upper hand.
This was pretty exciting and all fast reads. I enjoyed this trilogy!

Posted June, read May/June 2021

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by Stuart Gibbs

I loved the first Charlie Thorne and was very excited to read the second one. [Side note: I mentioned I was reading this book to my class and would you believe I had a lovely student also goes by Charlie and she was also reading the book and we had a lot of fun being excited that we were both reading and loving it.]
As with the first book Charlie is in international destinations and extremely knowledgeable about everything. She’s got a bit of the Sherlock Holmes about her (observations and deductions.) I was delighted that Paul also read this and you can read his review here (but there are many spoilers, be warned.) Without giving anything away I’m going to say that this installment had a fascinating secret that was a lot of fun to imagine. It also has a ton of info about Charles Darwin, which was really interesting.
As with the previous book this one did not shy away from having a body count. None of that “wild explosions and then a bad guy character groans so you can see he’s still alive” that is common in tv or kids’ movies.
Really looking forward to this series continuing.

(Posting, June: Read, March 2021)

Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

I first read Leviathan back in 2011 (a decade ago). I loved the trilogy and eaglery awaited each installment. This March it was a treat to be able to read all three right in a row. It was also fun because Paul read them too (his first time) and so it was fun to be able to discuss them with him.
As before I loved the steampunk adventure, the WWI historical details (and was grateful for the end notes to let me know what was real and what wasn’t), and just what a great adventure it was. Here’s a fun thing–for many years (apparently 10!) I had remembered a scene in a book featuring Nikola Tesla but I could never remember what book it was. Imagine my delight when I came across that in this trilogy and was able to scratch that itch of remembering.

HIghly recommended!

(posting, June: read, March 2021)

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs

We’re currently watching the series Chuck for the third time, and this week also watched the new film “My Spy” and oh boy did this book just fit neatly right in all of that. Despite recommending the Fun Jungle and Spy School series all the time to my students, I’ve never actually read a Stuart Gibbs. And this was FANTASTIC!  [Hand to fans of Alex Rider and vice versa.]

I loved all the details about Albert Einstein. And it was super cool to see how smart Charlie was (and her seeing the numbers allowing her to be an amazing snowboarder is very Chuck-intersect like.)
This was a very fast paced adventure and I’d say closer to Alex Rider than Fun Jungle in terms of age, just for the very fact that people are killed.
I loved all the details about Israel and the library there (and the afterward which explains how the author went there and researched.)
Would be surprised if this wasn’t optioned into a film-it played like one in my head.

 

Terra Tempo: The Four Corners of Time by David Shapiro, Christopher Herndon

This is #2 in the Terra Tempo series, but it was fine that I hadn’t read #1 as they kindly filled me in on everything in a brief intro. This was an enjoyable graphic novel filled with adventure and so much interesting geology and natural history that it almost seemed like a Science Comics at times. At times some of the plot was a little confusing, including how and why a giant bird sometimes saves them, but overall I thought this was good time travel for kids.

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Having recently reread Princess Academy and realizing that a. I thought that book was great and b. I’d never read the sequels, I picked this up recently. I ended up not taking it on vacation with me and had it waiting at home to enjoy recuperating from vacation by lying on the couch reading this. Hale is such a good writer (though I will admit I skip the quarry songs at the start of each chapter, even though I’m sure she worked hard on them.) As a sequel I thought this was great-it built on what we learned about the land and the characters from the first book and introduced a real consequence and new world to them after the victory at the end of the first book. It was hard not to read about commoner uprisings and tyrant kings and not see it in light of the current political landscape! I liked how Hale managed to included details that showed how truly cut off the Esklanders had been for generations, such as they literally knew nothing of medicine. Miri’s lessons in bravery and diplomacy come in handy, along with her new studies in ethics. And the somewhat magical properties of linder become more apparent (and useful.)
I thought this was an exciting sequel and look forward to reading the conclusion.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I had a lull of good books last week and told myself to just look around my house and pick up something. Right there on a ledge was Princess Academy. I’d bought a nice paperback copy for a quarter hoping Tabby would read it and wanting to reread it myself. I read this when I was a new book but it’s been so long I forgot what it was all about and have been having a hard time recommending it at school. So I picked it up and oh it was a delight all over again. Shannon Hale is such a good writer. And now I remember the story! Miri lives in a small village on a mountain, an outlying territory in the kingdom. They are isolated, but happy, digging linder out of the mountain-a beautiful rock that only comes from there. One day a king’s messenger arrives and announces that priests have divined that the prince’s bride will come from that village and all the eligible girls must leave the village to attend a “princess academy.” A mean teacher will whip them all into princess shape. So basically it’s boarding school! With a horrible cruel mistress, girls bickering, and much coming of age and self-discovery.  I loved the mild elements of fantasy (the linder stone is a sort of conductor for “quarry speak” between the villagers), the transformation of the girls as they are educated (no one knew how to read), and Miri’s growth. Very enjoyable and I can now happily recommend this to all!

Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) by Anthony Horowitz

I have a Lot to Say about this book. First, let’s refresh our memories with my reaction to Alex Rider #10, the conclusion to the Alex Rider series. I read that finale when it came out in June 2011 and loved it. Here’s what I had to say. Since that time almost seven years ago I’ve often mentioned that book (“The Final Mission”) as a great example of a series ending. I loved it. It had all the things we liked about the series, it had callbacks, it had drama, and it made some dramatic but very successful choices. It had closure. It went out with a bang.   Then last week I was poking around in Titlewave and saw…Alex Rider #11. What? At first I thought it was another title like the sort of spinoff he wrote about Gregorovich. But nope. It appeared that Alex Rider was back in a new mission. I had a lot of Feelings about this, but had to get my hands on it. And had to read it.  See, here’s the thing. If you finish off a series, why, years later would you say “oops, no, not over, let’s keep going.”? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did fans clamor for more? Did Horowitz try to write other stories but just couldn’t? Did his publisher say “we need money and these books are successful so please just write another?” And here’s the thing…I loved this one. It was fun, filled with adventure, it was just like a Mission Impossible movie on the page. But I feel like it’s very existence negates book #10 (which I really admired the author’s choices in that one.) It makes much of it seem insincere. It definitely doesn’t feel like this was the plan all along. It feels like a character in a season premiere saying “oh, it was all a dream!” (I’d make a “Who killed JR?” reference, but will you get it?) I feel a bit betrayed by the author. And yet, I know that I will read #12 because I think these books are a lot of fun to read, they are totally preposterous, and I enjoy them very much. (For the record, I think the Stormbreaker movie is a terrific family movie and wish they’d make another one!)