The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson

Information

Goodreads: The Song of Glory and Ghost
Series: The Outlaws of Time #2
Source: Giveaway hosted by Shannon at It Starts at Midnight
Published: April 2017

Summary

Sam Miracle failed to kill the Vulture when he had the chance.  Now he and the Lost Boys are stuck in time while Peter Eagle attempts to learn the skills that will one day make him Father Tiempo.  But when Peter is injured, Sam’s best friend Glory will be the one who has to learn to wield the sands of time and help Sam take down the Vulture for good.

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Review

“Take up the life that is yours.  Walk the lonely winding roads to the deaths that are yours.  Live with open hands.”

I admit I am a little confused that this book wrapped up the Vulture arc.  Book One left me with the impression that Sam and his friends were about to embark on a Horcrux-like quest to find one of the Vulture’s six other gardens so that they could defeat him.  I assumed that this would take several books.  Instead, I found that this book moves from focusing on Sam to focusing on Glory and has the duo end the Vulture without their having to find another time garden at all.  This was all very unexpected and my state throughout reading was largely one of bafflement.

I have seen other readers remark that they find N. D. Wilson’s fantasies challenging and do not understand them.  I find N. D. Wilson’s works sophisticated and believe that they possess more depth than many middle-grade books being written today.  However, I have never been confused by Wilson’s work until now.  Perhaps I was reading too fast, but I really felt that I did not understand the dynamics of time travel or the ways in which the characters were manipulating time to slow down, speed up, hide, and so forth.  I just decided to take it on faith that it all made sense and followed the action without trying to figure out how it was all working.

This book really focuses on Glory, and that is a relief.  Wilson has always impressed me with his remarkable diversity of female characters.  They are strong, all in different ways.  But that did not come across for me in Book One.  Here, however, we get two lovely depictions of womanhood: Millie, who loves to cook and rule over her household domain, and Glory, who loves to adventure and fight.  They are very different, but both valuable and valued.  And Glory?  She is way cooler than Sam, whose main ability is as a sharpshooter, but only because he has snakes attached to his arms.  That is, Sam does not really possess skills; he is merely magically enhanced.  Glory earns her skills.

(As an aside, there is a third female character whose name I forget.  And I cannot figure out why she is included in this book.  Her main function is to follow the heroes around and get in the way because she thinks they are cool.  Typically characters appear in MG and YA books to forward the plot in some way, so I am not sure what is happening here.  Is her presence some sort of statement?  An indication that “ordinary” people can be in stories, too?  An experiment to see what will happen if random characters show up and do nothing?  I have no idea, but am welcome to hear other interpretations.)

The main attraction of this book, however, is really the prose.  Wilson has a talent for writing breathtaking and provocative lines.  Take this example from Empire of Bones: “Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and the cowardly.”  Wilson writes stories that encourage readers to be good people.  He is inspirational.  And that is a rare and precious thing.

I really did not like enjoy the first book in this trilogy, The Legend of Sam Miracle.  I thought Sam was a boring protagonist and Glory all but a nonentity.  I did not initially plan to read the sequel.  However, the writing in this book, along with Glory’s glorious transformation, makes me hopeful that the third installment will be worth reading.

3 Stars

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Mini Reviews (8)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final installment in the Grishaverse trilogy brings back all the action and excitement of the first two books.  I did find myself confused by Alina’s motivations and her belief that she has to make a political alliance, as this seems to have sprung from nowhere considering her attitude in the previous two books.  Still, even though I found the ending surprisingly pat, I enjoyed the story and stayed up late at night to find out how it would wrap up.  (Source: Library) Four Stars.

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

The second installment of the Grishaverse trilogy is even more gripping than the first.  Leigh Bardugo expands upon her worldbuilding, introduces a couple of compelling new characters, and raises the stakes of the political game Alina finds herself enmeshed in.  As a bonus, the love triangle, fortunately, begins to fade.  Alina’s longing for the Darkling makes sense if one considers that she feels the struggle of being in an unequal relationship, one where she holds greater power and a higher social status.  But readers understand that her attraction to the Darkling is simply a symptom of her unease and a little bit of lust–she does not seriously consider herself as choosing between a man of integrity and a mass murderer.  If only we could have more YA books with no love triangles.  (Source: Library)  Four Stars.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

This is a debut!  In Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend introduces readers to a magical world where giant cats act as housekeepers, brave individuals ride dragons (or sometimes rhinoceroses), and shadows seem to come to life.  Morrigan Crow, treated as an outcast in her own world, where the community believes her cursed, longs to stay, but there is only one catch–she must pass four trials to become a member of the legendary Wundrous Society, or be sent back to die in her birth land.  Thus begins a marvelous, magical adventure where nothing is what it seems, everything is larger than life, and the characters grip readers’ heart from the start.  Add in Townsend’s laugh-out-loud sense of humor and perfect comedic timing and you have the perfect recipe for one of the most delightful middle grade fantasies on the market.  (Source: Library)  Five Stars.

Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

I had not planned on reading any more installments in the DC Super Hero Girls series after being put off by the first novel, which focuses on an annoyingly odd Wonder Woman.  Fortunately, the characterization seems to have improved.  Katana is not defined by one strange trait, as if she has no other facets.  Instead, she is allowed to be strong and confident, but sometimes unsure.  The plot is kind of random and I am not sure it really makes sense, but I do not think the younger readers this series is aimed at will care.  (Source:  Library)  Three Stars.

Annie’s Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney

annie's life in lists

Information

Goodreads: Annie’s Life in Lists
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: May 29, 2018

Official Summary

If you love kids like:
1. Anatastia Krupnik
2. Ramona Quimby
3. The Penderwicks

then you will love Annie! For Annie, lists are how she keeps her whole life in order. And there is a lot to keep track of!

Annie’s a shy fifth grader with an incredible memory and a love of making lists. It helps her keep track of things when they can seem a little out of control, like her family, her friends, and her life in a new place.

Annie has:
1. An incredible memory (really, it’s almost photographic) that can get her in trouble
2. A desire to overcome her shyness
3. A brother who is mad at her because he thinks she is the reason they had to move to Clover Gap, population 8,432.
4. A best friend who she is (almost) certain will always be her best friend.
5. New classmates, some of whom are nicer than others.
6. A rocky start finding her place in her new home.

Annie’s Life in Lists introduces a sweet new voice that finds that even amid the chaos of everyday life, it’s important to put things in order.

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Review

Six Things I Liked about Annie’s Life in Lists

  1. The entire book is in lists; they’re aren’t just lists interspersed.
  2. There’s a wide variety of characters, and Annie has a friend group instead of one best friend.
  3. Annie’s new town has a Clover Festival, and people are really into it.
  4. Annie’s father likes Harry Potter.
  5. There are some simple illustrations scattered throughout.
  6. The book is fun and a feel-good read.

Three Things I Like about Annie

  1. She tries to do the right thing.
  2. She has flaws.
  3. She notes that even though she has a good memory, she’s not a crime solving genius like Cam Jansen.

One Surprising Aspect of the Book

  1. Annie’s older brother Ted is pretty good at making up band names.  The band names are better than those in The Beauty That Remains, which was an entire book about bands.

Two Things I Didn’t Like about the book

    1. The plot idea of a girl moving from the big city to a small town and having to adjust and make friends is not a new one.
    2. The format differentiates the book, but, as much as I enjoyed reading it, I know this is a book I’m not going to even remember that I read in a couple years.

4 stars Briana

The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis

Information

Goodreads: The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2018

Summary

Seventh grader Oliver Prichard cannot wait to study the Civil War unit in his history class.  A reenactor in a Union regiment, Oliver knows everything there is to know about the war–probably more than his teacher.  But then he gets stuck with Ella Berry as his project partner.  Even worse, the subject of their project is Private Raymond Stone, a local enlisted man and not  a general.  But even as Oliver begins to hope that Raymond has some interesting local ties, Ella starts insisting that they not follow the historical trail.  Is Oliver willing to sacrifice a new friendship for the sake of history?

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Review

I realize that it is quite possible that I loved this book so much primarily because I, like Oliver, am somewhat obsessed with the Civil War.  His enthusiasm for learning about the war at school, his willingness to do hardcore research in the local historic society, his participation in a Civil War reenactment regiment, and his unabashed love for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” all won me over.  I saw a little bit of me in Oliver and I rejoiced that there is a book that now celebrates the middle schoolers everywhere who love history.  No, seriously.  Some children really love history.

Of course, the book contains a lesson as well.  Oliver still understands history as the “deeds of great men” and is therefore upset when his Civil War project forces him to research some local private rather than a general.  He and his research partner end up fighting over it because she wishes to pursue leads on some of the everyday moments of the private’s life, such as a possible romance with a woman who nursed him.  Oliver, meanwhile, hopes to discover that the private was actually linked to some figures important to local history.  Eventually Oliver comes to realize that even ordinary people are important to somebody.

Admittedly, I do have some small problems with this plot line.  The book really seems to want to impress readers with the lesson that Ella is right and Oliver is wrong.  That is, Oliver is apparently supposed to give up on researching the part of the project that interests him because it upsets Ella, who desperately wants to believe that even a “nobody” soldier could be important to another person (i.e. his presumed lover).  And yet, I would argue that Oliver, for the bulk of the story, has more evidence for his theory and that his theory is worth pursuing.  Ella’s emotional issues may or may not be a compelling reason to ignore facts.

(Spoilers) The book ultimately tries to have its cake and eat it, too, by vindicating Oliver’s instincts, but then one has to wonder if the message remains intact.  That is, by giving Raymond local ties to an important local institution, the story undermines its own message that Raymond can be special even if he did not do anything noteworthy during his lifetime.  But, for Ella, emotional affirmation seems to come mostly from Oliver’s admission that a non-general could be special, too, so maybe readers are supposed to ignore this seeming contradiction.

The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody ultimately delighted me primarily because it is so unabashedly excited about history and the American Civil War.  In a society where people seem jaded about students’ intellectual engagement and where history classes have been sacrificed to the testing culture, it is refreshing to have a book that says that history matters–and so do the students who enjoy it.

4 stars

Mini Reviews (7)

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom is that rare sequel that matches its predecessor in ingenuity, action, and suspense.  I read both books in two days, glued to my seat as I wondered what would happen next.  Somehow, Leigh Bardugo always kept me guessing.  What is more, however, I cared about these characters.  They might be thieves, murderers, and blackmailers, but each grasped to themselves a little bit of goodness that I could not help but wish would have time to grow.  Usually I am glad to see a series end, but I wish I could see more of the adventures of this band.  (Source: Gift)  Five Stars.

We are okay by Nina LaCour

I see why this book won the 2018 Printz. It is a heartfelt exploration of grief that focuses on the protagonist and her emotion rather than the plot. Some YA readers will no doubt find themselves bored because the book breaks from the norm of the plot-driven novel and instead asks readers to experience the prose; skimming will ruin the experience. But I suspect many others will be drawn to the book’s quiet cadence and will be moved by the protagonist’s loss. Personally, I have difficulty connecting with characters who feel bad about their lives but are the reason their life gets no better. But I recognize that that problem is mine alone and I am not surprised an award committee gave accolades to a book that presents itself as poignant and deep. (Source: Library) Three Stars.

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

An apprentice to an apothecary during the reign of Charles II, Christopher knows that political tensions are high.  The king has been restored, but his festive lifestyle has some planning his overthrow.  Rumors of an alchemical substance that could be used in warfare are thus dangerous rumors indeed–but he is about to find himself tracking them to their source.  This is a pretty standard MG historical mystery, with the action focusing on our protagonist, a typical high-spirited boy who tends to get into trouble for his hijinks and his habit of mouthing off.  The puzzles and codes are not particularly difficult to solve,  making it suitable for a younger audience.  I enjoyed the book, but do not think it stands out among other MG stories.  (Source: Library) Three Stars.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson

I enjoy the Ms. Marvel comics, but sometimes feel like the same storyline keeps repeating.  Every volume brings a new reason for Ms. Marvel to doubt herself, to wonder if her city appreciates her, to think she is not good enough.  Though I appreciate that feelings of doubt are unlikely to vanish immediately and never recur, I would like to read a story that feel a little fresher.  Superheroes surely do not last for decades because they keep fighting the same problem.  (Source: Library)  Four Stars.

Krysta 64

Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

Information

Goodreads: Smart Cookie
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: 2018

Summary

This year Frankie wants a family.  Yes, she lives with her grandmother and her dad in a B&B, but it’s time, she thinks, for her dad to get remarried.  So she sets up an online dating profile for him without his knowledge.  But none of the potential new moms are working out and now her Gram and dad seem to be keeping secrets of their own.

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Review

I will never understand why so many books lately seem to have the premise that hauntings are bad for business.  Never before have I seen so many ghost shows on television or such interest in the occult.  Even Frankie’s friend watches ghost shows and goes ghosting hunting.  One would think that a haunted B&B would make business boom.  To really get into the book, I found I had to ignore this subplot and pretend that it made some modicum of sense (easy enough to do since the subplot basically disappears a quarter of the way through the story).

If we accept that a rumored haunting will cause regular guests of a B&B to cancel suddenly in terror, the book does possess charm.  The protagonist lives in a B&B where she and her Gram help make cookies for guests and where the rooms are decorated with board game themes.  A fun setting often means a fun book.  And it suggests that Frankie and her dad are pretty fun, too.

The fun really comes in, however, with the introduction of the online dating profile Frankie makes for her dad.  The results are hilarious, with Frankie encountering women who lie about their age, women who blithely ignore everything in her dad’s profile, and women who are just plain weird.  Once she filters these out and invites a few on a “date,” she has to figure out how to interview them without her dad finding out.  (She’s not very good at this.)

Altogether, the book is a sweet, standard middle-grade about a girl learning to find a place in her family.  She may think that her family has not been whole since her mother died, but she’s about to find out that people have a lot of room for many different types of love.

3 Stars

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Information

Goodreads: Aru Shah and the End of Time
Series: Pandava Quest #1
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Summary

Aru Shah has never quite fit in at school.  Her peers are all fabulously wealthy.  She, on the other hand, never gets to travel on exotic vacations and lives, not in a swanky home, but in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.  She has taken to lying to try to be like everyone else.  But then her classmates dare her to prove than an ancient lamp really does contain a curse and Aru ends up waking an ancient evil.  Now she has only a handful of days to travel to the land of the dead, awaken some legendary weapons, and

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Review

“Tales are slippery, her mother had often said. The truth of a story depends on who is telling it.”

 

Aru Shah and the End of Time is a solid middle-grade fantasy, the first book published by Rick Riordan’s new imprint, dedicated to showcasing mythologies from various cultures.  While the story does not feel particularly new, it is exciting, fast-paced, and humorous.  Fans of Rick Riordan will obviously love it, but readers who enjoy fantasy in general will also find much to like here.

The story starts off briskly with Aru lighting the lamp that awakens the Sleeper and the end of time.  Though she has trouble fitting in at school because everyone there is fabulously wealthy except herself (I’m wondering how she got in this school, then?), readers do not ever see Aru in class. Rather, her classmates show up on her doorstep to challenge her for all her lies about being wealthy, too.  She lights the lamp on a dare because a schoolmate is filming her on his camera and she wishes to avoid her lies going viral.  (Pretty sure filming someone in their home without consent can’t be legal.  Isn’t filming a minor in their home without consent with intent to humiliate  going to backfire on this kid?  Seriously, I’m thinking Aru could have just threatened to get this kid expelled if he didn’t put his phone away.)

Anyway, the book pretty much starts with action and never flags.  The usual, expected plot bits happen, with Aru and one of her reincarnated Pandava siblings going to the otherworld to meet the Hindu gods and goddesses, be recognized by their godly fathers, and collect their weapons.  They are accompanied by a spiritual guide/humorous sidekick in the form of a pigeon, so the book takes on a bit of the feel of a Disney princess film.  Many adventures ensue, all with Aru still dressed in her Spiderman pajamas as she tries to save the world.  The bits of humor are often the most vibrant parts of the book.

Really, Aru Shah and the End of Time needs no reviews.  Fans of Rick Riordan, educators and librarians, and individuals who keep an eye on the book market were all expecting this book for a long time and I am sure it will sell well simply based on the fact that its from Riordan’s imprint.  Still, if you are wondering whether to read it, sure.  It’s a fun book and one that middle school children, especially, will find much to like about.

4 stars