Saturday, August 31, 2013

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner - OPTIONAL

Renner, Ellen Castle of Shadows, 390 pgs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012. $15.99. Language: G; Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG.  

Princess Charlie has lived without her mother since she disappeared several years ago.  Now, neglected and mistreated by the housekeeper, Charlie befriends the gardner’s assistant and takes matters into her own hands. Finding clues and following her instincts, can Charlie solve the mystery and stop the revolution?

This first book in the Castle of Shadows series is a bit long for the 5th-6th grade reader.  Many of the situations in the story are improbable, like friends in the castle who have been hiding all these years, but fail to protect her. However, it’s full of good adventure and excitement.  I liked that magic wasn’t involved in solving the problems. The time period seem abiguous there are references to scientific discoveries and other modern things yet the setting seems almost fairy tale.  This is an OK first novel.  I hope she picks up some speed with the next one.  

EL OPTIONAL Lisa Librarian

Blog Tour: Going Home Again by Abby Cavenaugh

Title:Going Home AgainAuthor: Abby CavenaughGenre:Contemporary Romance

Going Home Again Book Blurb:

Alyssa Jones' high school crush probably never knew she existed.

Twenty years later, when the now-famous pop star returns home to coastal North Carolina, Alyssa gets a second chance to make a first impression on Michael. 

On sabbatical from his failing marriage, Michael agrees to an interview with Alyssa, a journalist for the local tourist magazine. 

When the chemistry between them ignites, Alyssa and Michael are hit with the harsh reality that he isn't yet free to love her. 

With Michael's wife and son still very much in the picture, can Alyssa hold out until he ends his marriage for good?
Or will she risk it all for a second chance with the one who got away?


My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Okay, I have to admit, I'm not the swooning type. I don't care about perfect hair, or impossibly blue eyes, or "to die for" rock-hard abs. It's just not my thing. 

But this book surprised me. Adult Contemporary Romance isn't a genre I usually read, but the romance isn't what made me fall for this book. It's the characters. Characters like Alyssa, who so desperately wants to be with Mike, but hates being the "other woman". And Mike, who's trapped in a broken marriage, but still tried to make it work for the sake of his son. These characters are likable but also imperfect, just like us. They have vulnerabilities and insecurities, needs and wants we can all relate to, and that's why I care about them. That's why I Iove this book. 

To give you a taste, here's one of my favorite quotes:

 "My insides flip-flopped and even considering everything that had just happened, I suddenly ached for him, as if Tina had never shown up and I'd never been leveled by an explosion of guilt."

I highly recommend Going Home Again and I'm giving it 5 stars. Yeah, I know, I'm probably a bit biased since Abby's my CP, but damn it she wrote a good book!

If you haven't read GOING HOME AGAIN, you can get here at Amazon and B&N.

Go buy it now! And if you want to check out my kick-ass CP on Facebook or Twitter, click on the links below:

Abby Cavenaugh is a writer of romantic women’s fiction and YA paranormal. She is a newspaper editor by day, but dreams of someday retiring to the North Carolina coast to write books full-time. She lives near Charlotte with her twin sister, also a writer, six-year-old niece and crazy cat, Gus, and is driven by dreams, Diet Coke and chocolate

Abby Cavenaugh on Facebook:


Going Home Again on Goodreads:

Swoon Romance (publisher) site:

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff - OPTIONAL

Grindstaff, Kit The Flame in the Mist, 449 pgs. Delacorte Press, 2013. Language - PG (3 swears, 0 "f"), Sexual Content - PG; Violence - PG; 

Jemma has always felt out of place at home, and now, the day before her thirteenth birthday, she finds out why. The truth is that Jemma doesn't belong at the Agromond castle. Her quest is to find her parents before it's too late to claim her powers and prevent evil from spreading. But with her powerful fake family doing everything they can to stop her, how can Jemma succeed? 

While I love the ideas Kit Grindstaff presents and the setting she created to bring her ideas to life, I don't think she pulled it off very well. The obstacles in Jemma's way to fulfilling her destiny were overcome too easily. Something miraculously fell out of a pocket, people chasing her miraculously walked by her hiding spot, et cetera. Furthermore, several of Jemma's challenges came because she made the same mistake again and again, showing that she wasn't learning anything from her trials--a disappointing trait for any heroine to have. 

MS - OPTIONAL. Reviewer: CCH

Every Cowgirl Goes to School by Rebecca Janni - ADVISABLE

Janni, Rebecca Every Cowgirl Goes to School, 30 pages. Penguin Group, 2013. $16.99. Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G. PICTURE BOOK.  

Nelly is a cowgirl and is excited about her first day of school. She is ready with her bag of five things about her to share with her class. However, Maya, the new girl, sits next to Nelly’s best friend, Anna, and things start to unravel and not go as planned. 

This adorable story teaches about friendship, and I would definitely share it with my class during the first week of school. It sets the year off right in teaching about how to treat people that are different than you, how to be kind to the new students, and how to apologize and forgive. 

EL (K-3)-ADVISABLE. Reviewer: AS, 2nd grade teacher

The Wrap Up List by Steven Arntson-Optional

Arntson, Steven The Wrap Up List, 236 pgs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. $15.99. Language: PG (2 swears); Violence: PG; Mature Content: PG

Sixteen-year-old Gabriela has just received a letter. The letter was sent by Death and in it he explains that she has one week to live and then he will come to escort her to the afterlife. She has no choice in the matter, but as consolation to being taken so young, Death allows for a list from Gabriela that presents her dying wishes that will be granted before she passes on. Her first thought is of Sylvester Hale and how she dreams of kissing him. Will she include anything else on the list or is a first kiss enough? There is hope, however, that Gabriela will be able to avoid her date with Death. All she must do is figure out Death’s secret weakness before her time is up and he will let her go.

The idea for this story is intriguing, but unfortunately the author is not up to the task of successfully seeing it through. The characters seem hastily constructed and in numerous situations when their behavior and reactions are forced, the book becomes author motivated instead of character driven.  The ending is convenient and unsatisfactory as it does not fit the general sense of the story. This book is a quick read and could be enjoyed by readers who want a simple story and are not concerned with mediocre writing.  

MS, HS—OPTIONAL AEB Social Studies Teacher

The Queen and I - Sue Townsend

Following on from The Restraint of Beasts, here is another gift book (from my lovely ex-colleagues at OUP), another comic book, another one which seems like it might have a message hiding in there somewhere... but entirely different.  Knowing how much I love, admire, and respect Queen Elizabeth II, my colleagues got me (amongst other Queen-related things) The Queen and I (1992) by Sue Townsend, and I wolfed it down in a day or two.

The premise of The Queen and I is something that makes me Royalist blood run cold - a politician called Jack Barker uses subliminal pictures on television to brainwash the nation into voting his party to power, and his first act is to abolish the monarchy.  (Shudder!)  The Queen and her family are sent off to live on a council estate in Hellebore Close - known locally as Hell Close.  There they must make do with benefits or the pension, with only the possessions they can fit in their tiny houses (most of which end up getting stolen pretty quickly anyway.)  The country rather falls apart with a hopeless leader in charge, but of more interest is seeing how the royals get along without any money and in surroundings which they are far from used to.

And, oh, it is funny!  But more than that, it is believable - not the premise (even if we ever lose our monarchy - Heaven forbid! - it's unlikely they'd get aggressively shipped off to council houses) but the way in which various members of the Royal family would respond.  Sue Townsend writes very affectionately of the royals; although it's tricky to work out whether or not she thinks the institution is a good one, she certainly has a lot of respect for certain members of it.  Chief among these is, of course, the Queen.  She behaves exactly as I would expect - that is, she just gets on with it.  Since she spends her life seeing every imaginable culture, habits, and traditions, it's unlikely that there is anything that could wrong foot her socially.  The one thing she cannot quite get used to (and this is where Townsend's social critique of Britain comes into play, one suspects) is how little money people are expected to live on, and how inefficient and difficult the system is.  Here she is, chatting with a social worker...
"And what is the current situation regarding your personal finances?" 
"We are penniless.  I have been forced to borrow from my mother; but now my mother is also penniless.  As is my entire family.  I have been forced to rely on the charity of neighbours.  But I cannot continue to do so.  My neighbours are..." The Queen paused. 
"Socially disadvantaged?" supplied Dorkin. 
"No, they are poor," said the Queen.  "They, like me, lack money.  I would like you, Mr. Dorkin, to give me some money - today, please.  I have no food, no heat and when the electrician goes, I will have no light." 
But not everybody is so resilient.  Other royals do cope well with the move - Prince Charles is thrilled about getting to some quiet gardening, Princess Anne loves getting out of the limelight, and the Queen Mother (bless her!) finds the whole thing hilarious, so long as she's got a drink or two next to her.  But Prince Philip takes to his bed and won't engage at all, Princess Margaret similarly refuses to acknowledge that her situation in life has changed - while Princess Diana is saddened chiefly by the lack of wardrobe space.  It's quite odd to read a book about the royals set before Diana died - because it is impossible to think of her without that context now.  In 1992, she could still be affectionately mocked as a clothes horse and a flibbertigibbet.  Indeed, remembering how old all the royals were in 1992 and reformulating my view of them is quite tricky, since I was only 7 then, and don't remember (for instance) Princess Anne's days as a relative beauty.

As far as social commentary goes, Townsend obviously wants to draw attention to the plight of the poor, in the battle against bureaucracy and out-of-touch officials, but perhaps it doesn't help her cause that every working-class character is essentially kind and decent.  A few rough diamonds, but they're all there to help each other at the drop of a hat, issuing generous platitudes when needed and handy at knocking together a makeshift hearse.  Of course, that's better than making them all selfish, violent thugs or benefits cheats, but it might have been a more effective portrait of a working-class community had the characters and their traits been more varied, as they would be in any other community.

Which is a small quibble with a very clever, very amusing page-turner.  The idea was brilliant, but in other hands it wouldn't have worked.  I can only agree with the Times review quoted on the back cover: "No other author could imagine this so graphically, demolish the institution so wittily and yet leave the family with its human dignity intact."

Loki's Wolves by Armstrong and Marr - ADVISABLE

Armstrong, K.L. & Marr, M.A. Loki's Wolves, 358 pgs. Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Language - G, Sexual Content - G; Violence - PG; 

Matt is a descendant of Thor, but can't live up to his older brothers. Laurie is a descendant of Loki and just wants to stay out of trouble. Fen is another descendant of Loki, hates Matt, and wants to protect Laurie. Together the three have to find a way to work together in order to stop the end of the world. 

This book marks the beginning of a Percy-Jackson-like series for the Norse gods and myths. Besides finding the Norse legends fascinating, I loved the characters Armstrong and Marr created--they are witty, lovable, and entertaining. The plot itself is great, not to mention how fabulous the pictures are. I cannot wait to read the sequel.

 EL, MS - ADVISABLE. Reviewer: CCH

Sticky, Sticky Stuck by Michael Gutch - ADVISABLE

Gutch, Michael Sticky, Sticky Stuck, 30 pages. HarperCollins Publishers, 2013, $17.99. Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.  PICTURE BOOK.

Annie’s family always ignores her, and she is also always sticky. Her family is consistently irritated that she’s making a mess. One day she decides to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich by herself because no one is listening to her, and she created quite the sticky mess! This book teaches about listening skills and about how to be a good friend. I would use this book in my classroom to teach how to listen to friends and how to help friends in need. 

EL (K-3)-ADVISABLE. Reviewer: AS, 2nd grade teacher