March 2, 2015

The Penderwicks in Spring

by Jeanne Birdsall
First sentence: "Only one low mound of snow still lurked in Batty Pederwick's yard, under the big oak tree out back, and soon that would be gone if Batty continued to stomp on it with such determination."
Support your local independent bookstore: read it there!
Review copy intercepted when opening freight at my place of employment.
Release date: March 24, 2015
Others in the series: The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette
Content: It's a bit more advanced than the younger end of the reading spectrum can handle by themselves, but it makes a wonderful read-aloud. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The Penderwicks are back! I can't tell you how happy this makes me. So SO very happy. In fact, I sat down and devoured this book in one day, and then was immediately sad because I should have savored it.

It's been four years since the last Penderwicks book, and the girls have aged appropriately. Rosalind is off at college, Skye is a senior in high school (as is Jeffrey) and Jane is a junior. That leaves Batty as a fifth grader, the oldest of the younger Penderwicks, her step-brother 8-year-old Ben, and their half sister, two year old Lydia. That's a lot of responsibility for Batty, who is used to being the youngest. Add to that her beloved Hound's death (six months prior), and Batty finds herself struggling this spring.

She does make some good discoveries. Their neighbor Nick Geiger has come home from a tour in Iraq, and he inserts himself in the lives of the Penderwicks with nothing but wonderful results. And even though Skye is having some issues with Jeffrey and Jane is surrounded by boys and Rosalind brings home an absolutely awful boy from college, Batty's finding her own way.

The most wonderful thing about this book is that's it's just as good as all the other Penderwicks books. Birdsall is such a fantastic author, capturing the innocence of childhood as well as the more complex of emotions: frustration with being young, a bit of despair, a bit of helplessness. It's a funny book -- the Penderwicks are witty and wonderful -- but it's also one that tugged at my heartstrings and made me cry in the end.  It's honest, and simple, and absolutely wonderful.

March 1, 2015

First Sunday Daughter Reviews: March 2015

It's March, it snowed yesterday, and the girls have been reading. since it's too cold to go outside and even TV gets boring after a while. Actually, I'm in a bit of a tussle with K's 3rd grade teacher. The teacher is down on "comic books" and has forbidden K to bring them to school or check them out at the school library. She says that she needs to read "real" books, ones that "challenge" her. Which makes me LIVID. 1) K's reading, which is something she doesn't do much, since she's active and she prefers to be DOING something, so graphic novels (not "comic books", thankyouverymuch) suit her temperament. And what do you mean that they're not challenging her?? Just because they have pictures doesn't mean they're not 1) good or 2) advanced or 3) challenging. I'm probably still too annoyed to confront the teacher, and so for now, we've been searching for a good chapter book K likes that she can take to school to read to please her teacher. It all is very frustrating, though.

I did give her this, which is out in a couple of weeks. She seems to like it so far.

A is taking a break from book reports and found this sitting on my shelves
Ancient Rome? Magic? From the author who wrote The False Prince? She's sold. (And really enjoying it so far!)

C is the one who doesn't have much time for reading, between play practice, homework, and just being a teenager. Thankfully, she has an IRP (individual reading project) for her English class. They were supposed to pick non-fiction, which C doesn't really like, but I threw this at her:

She likes Russia, and I knew Candace Fleming was a fantastic author. I was right: C loved it!

That's it for us. What are your kids reading?

February 2015 Round up

It snowed yesterday, which is why this post didn't go up. That, and it was a super busy month for me between work and getting the Cybils blog set for the summer, which means blogging got pushed to the bottom of the pile. I do miss blogging, and being able to comment and read everyone's blogs -- I do skim -- hopefully March will be a better month for that.

I did still find time to read books, and my favorite book this month was this:

The Shadow Cabinet
I was SUPER excited the other day when I actually HAND SOLD the first in the series TO A TEEN. Seriously. I did a happy dance. Not enough people read Maureen.

As for the rest:

Graphic Novels
El Deafo
I Was Here
The Slanted Worlds

Middle Grade
Boys of Blur
The Castle Behind Thorns

The Forgotten Sisters
The Luck Uglies

The Swallow

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra
Nuts to You
Did you read anything fantastic this month?

February 27, 2015

The Swallow

by Charis Cotter
First sentence: "There's no place for me,"
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's kind of confusing and a little bit creepy, though the chapters are short and to the point. It would be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Polly is lost in a sea of siblings and foster siblings. Her father is a pastor and feels a need to rescue lost children, much to Polly's dismay. Rose is lost as well, but for the opposite reason: she is the only child of very busy, distant parents who don't spend much time with her at all. Its 1963 in Toronto, when these two meet, and because they both have an interest in ghosts -- well, Rose can see them, so it's not really an interest -- they embark upon a mystery when finding a gravestone with Rose's name in the graveyard behind their houses.

If that sounds convoluted and sort of strange, it's because this book is, well, convoluted and sort of strange. I think Cotter was going for atmospheric, but for me it just came off as creepy and weird. And unnecessary. Perhaps it was just me; this was the last of the Cybils finalists that I read, and I was worn out on fantasy by this point. But, the characters seemed wooden, the parents unnecessarily strict or absent, the story too forced for my taste.

The twist that happens didn't work for me, either.

Which is to say, this was my least favorite. Though, it's probably just me, and there's some kid out there who loves twisty ghost stories with shocking reveals.

February 25, 2015

The Castle Behind Thorns

by Merrie Haskell
First sentence: "Sand woke, curled in the ashes of a great fireplace."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's death and betrayal and politics, and lots of funny French names, so maybe it's not for the most reluctant of readers. It's in the midde grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sand, short for Alexandre, is the son of the local smithy in a small French duchy. (Well, it's in one of those offshoots just when France was becoming, well, France.) The duchy castle has been in disrepair for longer than Sand's 13 years, and surrounded by thorns. No one has gone to see what could be seen  inside.

Then Sand, who has been arguing with his father about attending university (he doesn't want to), throws a token in Saint Melor's wishing well, and ends up inside the castle. With no clue how he got there or how he will get out.

A brief aside here: we discover things right along with Sand, and while that generally annoys me, in this book it works to great effect. Sand is disoriented and alone, and Haskell captures that perfectly, transferring Sand's anxiety and his slow realization that he's stuck there and no one is coming to get him to the reader. All of which is followed up by his determination to survive and make things work.

During his explorations, Sand finds a body of a dead girl, and straightens her up. And because this place is magical (something which comes on very slowly, and quietly), she wakes up. Suddenly, Sand is not alone, and he and Perrotte -- who happens to be the daughter of the long-dead Count -- have to work together to find their way out of the castle.

I know it sounds boring, but it's not. Haskell is a gifted writer, and she captures so many inner emotions and struggles and makes them not only real but captivating. I loved the friendship that developed between Sand and Perrotte (and that it wasn't a romance!). I loved how they worked together to figure out how to get out of the castle. I loved that Sand's strengths and Perrotte's strengths were different and they found a way to compliment each other.

Yeah, all of this is really introspective for a middle grade fantasy novel, but in Haskell's talented hands, it works well.

More than just well: it works wonderfully.