Review of The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham

luck_uglies_largeThe Luck Uglies

by Paul Durham

Harper, 2014. 387 pages.
2014 Cybils Finalist, Speculative Fiction for Elementary/Middle Grade

We never do find out why the Luck Uglies are called the Luck Uglies. But they are not monsters. They are mask-wearing outlaws who have been banned from Village Drowning by the Earl.

Rye and her friends Folly and Quinn live in Village Drowning and begin the story by accidentally stealing a book and running over the rooftops to escape pursuit.

The Earl who oversaw the affairs of Drowning had not only banned women and girls from reading, but went so far as to outlaw certain books altogether. None was more illicit than the book Rye now pressed close to her body, Tam’s Tome of Drowning Mouth Fibs, Volume II — an obscure history textbook that was widely ignored until the Earl described it as a vile collection of scandalous accusations, dangerous untruths, and outright lies. Even an eleven-year-old could figure out that meant there must be some serious truth to it.

There are, in fact, monsters in this book — the terrifying Bog Noblins who live outside Village Drowning in the forest Beyond the Shale. Rye herself has a close encounter with one. But someone rescues her. When she wakes up in her home, she’s worried about the village.

“Mama,” Rye said, pushing her mother’s hand away from her face. “We need to tell the soldiers. Before it, it . . .” Rye shuddered. “Comes back.”

“Darling, quiet now.” Abby eased her back down. Your close call is something best kept to ourselves. Bog Noblin attacks attract attention. The Constable — and the Earl — would be eager to speak with you. That’s not the type of attention we want.”

Rye didn’t understand.

“But what about the rest of the village?” she said.

“Riley,” her mother said. “Listen to me carefully. I’ll make sure the right people know what happened. But at the moment, you need to rest. Your encounter in the bog was not the only trouble that befell you on the Black Moon. You were poisoned.”

Rye and her friends end up in the thick of danger from monsters, in a village with corrupt leadership. They need the Luck Uglies, but can the Luck Uglies outwit the Earl’s army? It turns out they will need Rye’s help.

This book does have monsters, but it comes across as a gentle fantasy adventure in the style of Robin Hood. With girls in the thick of the action.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Loudoun County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan

royal_ranger_largeThe Royal Ranger

The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 12

by John Flanagan

Philomel Books (Penguin), 2013. 455 pages.

I listened to the first two and a half books of The Ranger’s Apprentice series, but lost interest in the middle of book three. I have to say that I think John Flanagan has improved as a writer since the beginning of the series.

I wasn’t lost picking up the series with Book 12, though if I were planning to go back and read the books I’d missed, I’d know how some things turned out. I must admit I did like seeing the “futures” of so many of the characters I met in the first two books. In fact, at times I was annoyed in the early books when he seemed to be dwelling on minor characters. – It turns out they were quite important, after all.

But this book is nicely self-contained and tells a good story. The princess Maddie is acting like a spoiled teenager. So her parents ask Will to take her on as an apprentice – the first ever female Ranger’s apprentice.

Will’s got some issues of his own, becoming obsessed with revenge. I like the way this book mirrored, in some ways, the first book, where Will himself was the apprentice. Will and Maddie take on a challenge that threatens to be more than they can handle, and the title doesn’t give away the ending this time!

And there was no magic in this book, evil or otherwise. In the early books, there was a sinister sorcerer they had to fight. I found it interesting that in this book it’s more ordinary (but still powerful) evil they are up against.

For adventure and the excitement of a small person effectively and cleverly fighting bad guys and helping the weak, this series fills the bill.

worldofjohnflanagan.com
penguin.com/youngreaders

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure, by Robert Arthur

vanishing_treasure_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure

by Robert Arthur
illustrated by Harry Kane

Random House, New York, 1966. 159 pages.

This is Book Five in The Three Investigators series. I’ve decided to post my reviews of the books in order, even though I’m reading them out of order. As I read, I remembered quite a few details from this one, probably because there are some quite bizarre things.

The book begins with Jupiter discussing how he would steal the Rainbow Jewels from a local museum. The three decide to go to the museum on Children’s Day to practice their investigator skills – and while they are there, a valuable Golden Belt is stolen. Their help on that mystery is refused, but then they are asked to help one of Alfred Hitchcock’s friends, who has been seeing gnomes. It’s a bizarre case – little people with fiery red eyes peering in the windows and digging noises at night. We aren’t surprised when the two cases dovetail.

As usual, I am once again amazed at what the boys’ parents let them go off and do on their own! And once again, they get into danger, but the strategic placement of a chalk question mark (and a very clever and memorable placement in this case) gets them out of it. Once again, we have a stereotypical ethnic character – this time a boy from Japan. At least the author is trying to be cross-cultural, though not perhaps in the politically correct way it would be approached today.

Still no girls at all have appeared in these books, but they are still a quick-reading adventure yarn, where kids figure out a case that has adults stumped. I’m having great fun going back in time with these mysteries.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan borrowed via Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Secrets of the Sky Caves, by Sandra K. Athans

secrets_of_the_sky_caves_largeSecrets of the Sky Caves

Danger and Discovery on Nepal’s Mustang Cliffs

by Sandra K. Athans

Millbrook Press (Lerner), Minneapolis, 2014. 64 pages.

Shades of Indiana Jones! Here’s a nonfiction book about modern archaeology, complete with danger, religious artifacts, wall murals, ancient manuscripts, and plenty of human remains.

In the Mustang region of Nepal, nestled high in the Himalayas near Mount Everest, high in the soft stone of the cliffs are thousands of caves, where ancient people used to make their homes, probably to escape fighting over the Silk Road.

This book details recent expeditions to explore the caves. Pete Athans, American world-class mountain climber, led the expedition, and brought along his wife Liesl Clark, who is also a world-class mountain climber, and their two children. The children have set a record as the youngest outsiders to enter the district of Mustang. Pete Athans’ sister is the author of the book.

Pete Athans has climbed Mount Everest, but the Mustang cliffs, with their brittle rock faces, are perhaps even more dangerous.

The photographs in the book are many and varied. The story of the exploration is fascinating as they had to use mountain-climbing techniques to uncover these cave cities – and then found artifacts like an ancient mural, thousands of pages of an old manuscript, ancient pottery, and even human and animal remains.

Scientists study the different artifacts in different ways, and for each step, permission was needed from the government of Nepal. A scholar who could read ancient Tibetan was needed for the manuscripts. A geneticist who can extract DNA was needed for the human remains. And of course archaeologists are involved in uncovering the rich artifacts buried in the tombs. And all the scientists have to learn rock climbing to access the finds.

This book is sure to get kids interested in archaeology, as well as the many other areas of science involved in learning about the ancient past. Or perhaps exploration and rock-climbing.

lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, by Robert Arthur

whispering_mummy_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy

by Robert Arthur
illustrated by Harry Kane

Random House, New York, 1965. 185 pages.

In my rereading of childhood favorites, The Three Investigators series, I’m now on Book 3. The Whispering Mummy isn’t the greatest of the series. The plot seems quite far-fetched, going well into Scooby-Doo territory, with lots of seemingly supernatural occurrences that the reader is pretty sure are going to end up being someone’s evil plot.

Once again, there’s another ethnic group that’s treated essentially as a stereotype, this time a Libyan boy and his uncle. Once again, rival Skinny Norris has a small part to play, but actually I like his part in this book.

Jupiter uses the Ghost-to-Ghost Hookup, asking five friends to ask five friends about something, and thus blanketing the city. Even as a kid, I never believed in the Ghost-to-Ghost Hookup, because it doesn’t take into account that after awhile kids would run out of friends who hadn’t already been called. Kids don’t actually have a large number of social groups, and once most of the kids in their grade at their school are contacted, it doesn’t matter what you ask them to do, they wouldn’t be able to deliver.

But in this case, Skinny finds out about the question being asked and foils their plans. I didn’t mind that, since even though it’s maybe unrealistic the question would have actually gotten to Skinny, at least it shows that Jupiter’s “brilliant” plan doesn’t always work smoothly.

And overall? The book is still lots of fun. Three boys solving a mystery that baffles adults, including dangerous situations and mysterious phenomena and cool equipment (walkie-talkies!). Gleeps! If the plot wasn’t terribly believable, at least it was lots of fun.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book gotten by interlibrary loan via Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud

whispering_skull_largeThe Whispering Skull

Lockwood & Co., Book 2

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2014. 435 pages.
Starred Review

I was so looking forward to this sequel to The Screaming Staircase, I preordered the book as soon as I heard its publication date. And I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Stroud is a genius for plotting. This book again intertwines many plot threads. We’re back with the 3-person (3-child) agency Lockwood & Co., in an alternate reality England where ghosts plague the populace. Lucy continues to narrate, and in this book she continues to hear from the skull-in-a-jar that George stole when he was working for the Fittes agency.

It is highly unusual for someone to be able to talk with a ghost. This is a Type Three ghost, and only one other Sensitive was ever able to do it. So this could bring Lucy and their agency fame and fortune. But is it worth it? The skull gives them information that almost gets them killed, and it sows doubts in Lucy’s mind about Lockwood and that door he asked them never to open.

Then there are, of course, the cases. The ones in this book are even more gruesome and frightening than the ones in the earlier book. Kids with an especially vivid imagination might want to stay away. Kids who like scary books, however, will be delighted. Mention that a ghost starts falling apart and forming ghost-rats that attack them. If they think they like the sound of reading about that, this is the book for them!

There’s also a rivalry with another agency – and a bet as to which one can solve the case first. There’s the usual fun banter between Lockwood and Lucy and George. (And George shines in this volume, I must say.)

But the meat of the book is the mystery. Who stole the Bone Glass, and what does it do? And can they get it back, yet stay alive?

This is yet another example of Jonathan Stroud’s superb writing. Even though I had my own copy, I checked out the library’s copy so I could read it on my lunch breaks. This is absorbing, clever, innovative, and completely delightful reading.

To give you the flavor, here’s a bit from a scene right at the start, where Lockwood & Co. get in a little over their heads:

“It’s getting close to the barrier,” I said.

“So’s mine.”

“It’s really horrible.”

“Well, mine’s lost both hands. Beat that.”

Lockwood sounded relaxed, but that was nothing new. Lockwood always sounds relaxed. Or almost always: that time we opened Mrs. Barrett’s tomb – he was definitely flustered then, though that was mainly due to the claw marks on his nice new coat. I stole a quick sidelong glance at him now. He was standing with his sword held ready: tall, slim, as nonchalant as ever, watching the slow approach of the second Visitor. The lantern light played on his thin, pale face, catching the elegant outline of his nose, and his flop of ruffled hair. He wore that slight half-smile he reserved for dangerous situations: the kind of smile that suggests complete command. His coat flapped slightly in the night breeze. As usual, just looking at him gave me confidence. I gripped my sword tightly and turned back to watch my ghost.

And found it right there beside the chains. Soundless, swift as thinking, it had darted in as soon as I’d looked away.

I swung the rapier up.

The mouth gaped, the sockets flared with greenish fire. With terrible speed, it flung itself forward. I screamed, jumped back. The ghost collided with the barrier a few inches from my face. A bang, a splash of ectoplasm. Burning flecks rained down on the muddy grass outside the circle. Now the pale figure was ten feet farther off, quivering and steaming.

There you have it: Plenty of adventure, danger from entities living and dead, swordplay, ghosts, mysteries and murders. This will appeal to many for its clever plotting, but is not for the faint of heart.

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks

superhero_girl_largeThe Adventures of Superhero Girl

by Faith Erin Hicks
colors by Cris Peter
introduction by Kurt Busiek

Dark Horse Books, 2013. 106 pages.
2014 Eisner Award Winner

I didn’t expect to enjoy this graphic novel as thoroughly as I did. It’s made up of strips from a webcomic about a girl who’s a superhero. She can lift heavy objects and leap over tall buildings, but she can’t fly.

In her ordinary life? She’s pretty ordinary. She’s a young adult in a small town that doesn’t have much crime. She’s got a roommate, and she has trouble paying the rent, because she really needs a day job. She has no tragic catalyst in her life that made her a superhero, and she’s always been in the shadow of her superhero brother, Kevin, who is everybody’s favorite and can fly and has corporate sponsorship and looks like a proper superhero.

Superhero girl has some issues. She forgets to take off her mask sometimes when she’s trying to be an ordinary citizen. She goes to a party with her roommate, trying to set her work aside, and gets caught in the thrall of a supervillain who has the power to make everyone think he’s awesome. Then there’s the skeptic, who’s convinced she can’t be a superhero without a tragic back story or a fancier costume. And don’t get started on the time she washes her cape in the Laundromat and it shrinks.

I like what Kurt Busiek says in the Introduction:

Superhero Girl is about life. It’s about being a younger sister, about being a broke roommate, about needing a job, being underappreciated, getting sick, feeling out of place at parties, being annoyed by people carping when you’re doing your best – all wrapped up in the package of being a young superhero in a small-market city where you’re pursuing your dreams but don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

That’s not parody. There may be elements of parody on the surface, but really, that’s rich, human storytelling. It’s telling the truth through humor, and using the trappings of the superhero genre to universalize it, to turn it into something symbolic, so we can all identify with it, maybe more than we could if SG was a paralegal or a barista or a surgical intern. The superhero stuff is the context, the package, and the humanity and emotion and the humor found in it are the content. The story.

This is a story about a young adult starting out in life, pursuing her dream, and struggling to do so. It’s reading that will make you smile.

superherogirladventures.blogspot.com
darkhorse.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Dare the Wind, by Tracey Fern

dare_the_wind_largeDare the Wind

The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud

by Tracey Fern
pictures by Emily Arnold McCully

Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2014. 36 pages.
Starred Review

How wonderful! A nineteenth century young woman navigated clipper ships for her sea captain husband and actually broke speed records because of her daring and mathematical prowess! Who knew? Now this is a true story I’m eager for little girls to know about!

The book starts with Ellen Prentiss as a child, loving the sea. Her father teaches her how to navigate. The illustration shows her using a sextant outside their house, by the sea, under her father’s observation. “Ellen worked for hours by the kitchen fire, learning the complicated calculations needed to navigate a ship.”

Ellen eventually marries a sea captain, Perkins Creesy. He becomes captain of a new clipper ship, built for speed.

If Ellen and Perkins could make the trip faster than any ship ever had, they would receive a bonus – and bragging rights as the best sailors in the world. It was the adventure Ellen had always dreamed of catching!

The author goes on to dramatize Ellen and Perkins’ record-breaking journey, using information from the log. There was plenty of adventure on the voyage, including a broken mast, and time spent in the Doldrums, with Ellen taking a daring new route to escape them.

In the end, on August 31, 1851, they reached their destination and brought passengers and cargo to the California Gold Rush faster than any other ship ever had.

An Author’s Note at the back gives more details of the journey, along with sources of more information for the curious reader.

This is a wonderful picture book about a woman who used her brains to become the best in the world!

traceyfern.com
emilyarnoldmccully.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, by Robert Arthur

stuttering_parrot_largeAlfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot

by Robert Arthur

Random House, New York, 1964. 179 pages.
Starred Review

This is the second book in The Three Investigators series, but the fourth I’ve read in my current rereading spree. I remembered this as being my favorite, and on rereading it, I have to say that’s still true. The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, more than most of the others, is a puzzle-mystery. There are seven cryptic clues leading step-by-step to treasure. The scenario may not be completely realistic, but it is definitely a lot of fun.

They’re also working out some of the themes of The Three Investigators. This is the book that introduces the Ghost-to-Ghost Hookup. They also discover a down side to traveling in a gold-plated Rolls Royce. It’s highly noticeable and easy to follow.

As in the other books, there’s physical danger to the boys. It seems there’s always at least one person who carries an ethnic stereotype. Maybe they were trying to include a wide variety of cultures in the books? The bully Skinny Norris makes a mercifully brief appearance.

Mostly, this is a chance for Jupiter Jones to display his powers of deduction as the reader puzzles along with the group all that follows when the boys try to find a missing parrot – that stutters.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan borrowed via Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Mystery of the Green Ghost, by Robert Arthur

green_ghost_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Green Ghost

by Robert Arthur

Random House, New York, 1965. 181 pages.

My co-worker and I got to talking about The Three Investigators series, which we both enjoyed as kids, and he ordered the first three via Interlibrary Loan. After he let me read the first one, I went ahead and ordered number four, The Mystery of the Green Ghost. However, it came in before numbers two and three, so I had to read them out of order.

But that really doesn’t matter. I think reading the first one first is good, but each adventure is basically self-contained.

And, no, it doesn’t hold up perfectly over the years. But they’re still full of adventure and highlight kids outsmarting adults. Now, this one is terribly politically incorrect, with lots of Chinese people who are treated quite stereotypically. We’ve got a kid who’s one quarter Chinese whose nickname is Chang, and who talks about his “honorable aunt.” There are still no girls in the book whatsoever.

But the adventure is good. And Jupiter’s deductions are quite plausible, but still very clever.

It begins when Bob and Pete hear piercing scream coming from a supposedly haunted house that’s about to be torn down. Then a group of men happen to be wandering by, and when they go inside, all of them see a green ghost, dressed in long flowing green robes. They’re sure he’s the ghost of Mathias Green, who died in the house long ago.

And the ghost is seen around town, even at the graveside of Mathias Green by the chief of police. And when they explore the house further, a skeleton of Mathias Green’s missing wife is discovered, wearing a string of valuable “ghost pearls.”

And then the trail leads up north to a vineyard in Verdant Valley. Pete and Bob are invited to the home of the woman who inherited the house, who has a nephew, Chang, the boys’ age. They’re ready for action when the pearls are stolen. Meanwhile, back in Rocky Beach, Jupiter is making deductions — which are crucial when Bob and Pete and Chang disappear.

It’s all fast-moving and action-packed. All three investigators contribute to solving the mystery. In this one, there’s not as much focus on their cool headquarters with its secret entrances, and they never even ride in their gold-plated Rolls-Royce. But what they do is solve a mystery with brains and action and working together (and okay, some luck of being in the right place at the right time) — a mystery that stumps adults.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an interlibrary loan borrowed via Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!