Thursday, January 28, 2010


Theodosia, books I and II

by R.L. LaFevers

This is a new series that follows the recent trend for mythology in chapter books - a direction in fantasy that I love, as straight up fantasy was never really my thing, but this fusion of classical myths and fiction is really speaking to me.

Here, a young girl spends most of her life wandering around a London museum of antiquities, thanks to her obsessive and somewhat absent-minded archeologist parents. She has spent loads of time learning about the classics and Egyptology, particularly on some obscure books about Egyptian magic. It's a good thing, too, since she seems to be the only one who can sense the curses and spells, so she takes it upon herself to rid the objects of them and keep the museum safe. Though this starts leading her into some odd situations...

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

When her mother returns from a new tomb in Egypt with a spectacular artifact, Theo can tell right away it's cursed like crazy, as well as being precious. Before she can try to clear away its magic, though, it is stolen. Trying to get it back leads her into dangerous territory, despite the two allies she has picked up on the way, and brings her to the offices of Lord Wigmere and his secret society dedicated to the protection of artifacts within Britain. He is impressed with her natural abilities, and enlists her aid in recapturing the stolen Heart of Egypt returning it to its tomb in order to stave off plagues and perils that could topple the entire nation. In doing this, though, she must also evade the Serpents of Chaos society, who have big plans for that artifact, and won't take kindly to being thwarted.

A tall order for a young girl? Yes, she thinks so, too, but is determined that if it means saving England, she must find a way. A more clever and plucky heroine you could never want, and between her exploits and her funny aside comments, the book is loads of fun.

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris

Life is just returning to normal after her first adventure, when Theodosia runs into new trouble almost immediately. She is cleaning out the basement, when she finds an interesting staff, and pops the two pieces together. Next morning, all the mummies in London have congregated in the museum! They are mostly moved back, but reappear the next day, and then the next, bringing suspicion upon Theo's dad. It's not until the next evening that she puts two and two together to realize that the staff is the problem, and lets Lord Wigmere know about it. None too soon, it turns out, for not only are the Serpents of Chaos society after it, but both a new secret society and a pesky and persistent governess have appeared and are seriously hampering her efforts to save the day.

Once again, a rousing tale of near misses, sneaking messages, precious artifacts, crazy curses, and wild adventure - I devoured this book in a mere couple of days, which is pretty impressively riveting for a slow reader like myself.

Now I can't wait for the Third book, Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus to come out, in April!

Meanwhile, perhaps I should give her book about Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist a try.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010


Publisher Review: The Magician's Elephant

by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is almost a sure-fire winner when it comes to middle-grade fiction, but having been a few years since I last read her, I could only remember general impressions about what was so special about her writing when I picked this up. I knew I enjoyed her, recalled that she was really good at creating a mood, and it seemed to me that there was something old-fashioned about her storytelling. And so, like most people in the kidslit world, I was eager to read this latest offering.

When I started, I remembered immediately what makes her writing amazing - she uses language gorgeously, reveling unabashedly in words, and never shying away from using a word that a child will need to ask about. a strong or confident reader will usually pick up the meaning from context, but a reader-aloud may have to explain a word or two, or there may be some looking up, but with her stories being so magical, I don't think it's off-putting, and find it rather a great thing that she may be good enough to entice kids to do that just to stay with her when they need to! Talk about your vocab booster.

The language is not the whole of the story, of course, but one of the ways she helps create an overall atmosphere, which she does beautifully. In this case, there is magic in the air, magic strong enough the swirl through an otherwise depressingly heavy winter. This magic in the town begins with a magician's incredible but unfortunate trick, and gives way to a sense that anything is possible.

Dreams, prophetic dreams, start to bloom in the sleeping minds of the populace, drawing many of them into being part of an unfolding story. it is a strange story, an impossible story, but with the help of the dreams, with the help of a new sense of wonder, the people follow along with it and help it come true.

It's a slightly odd book, this one, but for a child who is willing to dream, who loves a good ending, who loves a beautifully told tale, it's just a lovely book to share and immerse yourself in.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Calder Game

by Blue Balliett

The author of the wonderful novels Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 returns with another art-themed tale of suspense! I was very excited to read this, because I loved the first ones.

Calder, Tommy, and Petra are friends - well, Calder and Petra are friends, and Calder and Tommy are friends, but Tommy and Petra, not so much. The three of them do all share in the misery that is their new teacher, though. She even manages to put a damper on an exciting exhibit of Calder mobiles that has the whole of Chicago talking, but the three can't help but be a little inspired anyhow. It's not great, but it's something - at least, until Calder gets the chance to go to Britain with his dad and leaves the other two behind.

When he arrives there, he finds the whole town in an uproar over a new and mysteriously donated Calder sculpture, and no one seems friendly to outsiders. He passes a day or two on his own, exploring the grounds of Blenheim and its maze, and then both he and the sculpture disappear on the same night.

His dad is in a panic, and no one seems to be making any progress, so knowing that they have solved puzzles together before, his dad asks Tommy and Petra to come and help figure out what could have happened, along with an older neighbour who had played a key part in an earlier mystery.

There is a little less puzzle-solving and a little more on-foot discovery here, but the relationships between the kids are still really well-drawn, and the emphasis on how inspiring art and ideas can be is as strong as ever, even leading each of the trio to start seeing patterns in words and numbers the way the others do. I love that about these books, that these kids are smart and quirky without being painted as hopeless geeks, and that their interests are not only useful tools, but also fun ways to look at what is around them.

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Publisher Review: Umbrella Summer

by Lisa Graff

Annie is, to put it mildly, a worrier. She has good reason, she thinks, because you just never know. They didn't know anything was wrong with her brother Jared until he died, and he was only 11. Sure, these things might be rare, but clearly they happen, and she is determined to live firmly on the safe side, even reading up on new dangers to look out for.

Annie doesn't really realize that she is reacting, but she does know she hates the worried, pitying looks she gets from everyone, and and she knows her parents are acting strangely, her dad mostly disconnected, and her mother cleaning and refusing to talk about Jared.

It's not until her friend's hamster dies and she simply cannot be there for her and attend the rodent's funeral that things start to become both better and worse. For one thing, her friend Rebeccas is so hurt at her lack of support that she won't talk to Annie, who is miserable and blows up at a public event. On the other hand, she becomes friendly with the new neighbour, an older woman who has her own loss to face and who makes a part of that journey with Annie.

In the end, the new neighbour not only helps heal the rift between Annie and Rebecca, but points out to Annie that her healing is stalled, using the comparison that gives the book its title: Annie has been walking around with her "umbrella" open to prevent herself from getting wet, but in protecting herself, she is keeping herself from enjoying the sun. It's time, she says, to start closing the umbrella and find out about the other things around her. It's a message that Annie not only takes to heart for herself, but shares with Jared's best friend and brings home to her parents, leading her to help them with their own healing, too.

This is a book about death and coping with grief that somehow manages not to be teribly sad, though it makes you feel bad for Annie. Mostly, it rings true, and introduces a young girl wrestling with something huge and winning, through her own spirit and the help of a wise friend. Beautifully written, with heart and humour as well as empathy, it's not only a wonderful read, but could be a great choice for someone who knows this struggle more intimately.

If you'd like to read a little for yourself to get a feel for this book and character, check out an excerpt, here.

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Monday, January 11, 2010


Publisher Review: Gravity Brings Me Down

by Natale Ghent

Sue Sioux Smith is your basic teenage nihilist, stumbling through high school and verging on trouble, when she stumbles right into something - someone, really, who makes her open her eyes.

An old woman gets her out of a jam in a case of mistaken identity, but when she runs into her again, it seems that the woman really is confused about who she is. She is not interested in getting involved, but she is a good kid at heart, a kind person, and feels herself compelled to help this woman once she sees how she lives and how vulnerable she is.

She hides what she's doing - it seems a little weird, it's not cool, and she doesn't think people will really understand - until it seems that her new person - friend? project? - needs more help than she can give on her own.

In the end, without being a cheesy happy ending, she finds she's been put in touch with parts of herself that she had pushed aside, and she sees things in a new light. There is no real moral, even the so-called resolution is problematic, but it rings truer than a tidier ending, because what Sioux finds is that life is not so neat, but it's still worth diving in. Helping, too, doesn't always work out like you hoped, but still feels good, and totally worthwhile.

I mean, she even changes her term project from death to helping. Woah.

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