Frogkisser

Frogkisser!Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

My Review

I really thought I would love this book after reading the first chapter. It was witty and smart, and the characters were humorous and engaging with their quirks. The first chapter was so clever, in fact, that I decided to try it as a read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. I could tell, however, after reading the first chapter to them that the prose, witticism, and irony was too complex for 8 and 9 year olds. This one is probably better suited for 5 and 6 graders.

I was caught up in the wit, however, so it was easy to read the next couple of chapters on my own. I didn’t get too much further into the book before I began to lose interest. The progress of the storyline just felt slow. A lot of little details were given about this journey the princess and her loyal dog companion are forced to go on to save her little kingdom, details that didn’t seem to help move the story along or aid in character development. They seemed meaningless, aimless, and the book became boring.

I think I had also expected a little more from the princess. I had expected a little more courage and selflessness from the main character. In the first chapter she seemed to be smart and capable, but as the book continued she came across as whiny, naive, and selfish. The development for the supporting characters was lacking so I didn’t really care much about any of them either. Wading through gratuitous detail to find out what happens to shallow characters became a chore, not a pleasure.

I actually put this book down for several months before finishing it because I got busy with moving and other books came my way that I was more interested in reading. I picked the book up again though because one of my students had given it to me and I felt like I should finish it as a matter of principle. And memories of the fun first chapter gave me hope that it might improve.

So I trudged on. The pace picked up slightly in the second half of the book which made it a little easier to read on, but I never felt fully invested in the characters or the problem. Taking a break for several months probably didn’t help in that regard.

Eventually I finished and I can say that it was a unique and interesting adventure with some clever storytelling, like the connections to classic fairytale characters. But overall it moved too slowly and didn’t provide much continuity between events or characters to truly provide satisfying entertainment. Nor was it deep enough in ideas or theme to be influential. It gets 3 stars for decent prose and because I’m sure some readers would love it, particularly younger readers who have interest in epic fantasy. They would likely appreciate all of the detail and the use of a journey that adds characters little by little as the plot progression tool. I am not an epic fantasy fan, so it didn’t do much for me, but I can see how it might for others.

Age Recommendation: The writing was clearly too boring for my third graders, even my advanced readers in the class. So I recommend this for ages 11 to 14, particularly fans of fantasy, or as an introduction to fantasy.

Appropriateness: Totally clean book; nothing to worry about in the content. There is a cruel and ruthless villain but his actions and the description of his actions are appropriate for the age of the target audience.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in this book then you might also enjoy Golden, The Wild Orchid, and other fairy tale retellings by Cameron Dokey. You could also try The Unicorn Hunter by Rachel Kirkaldie, Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt, The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, and Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.

Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.

Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children, #1)Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside. Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?

My Review

This was the perfect third grade read-aloud book. It had everyone (girls and boys) engaged from the first chapter, gave plenty of discussion material, and was completely age appropriate. The writing is easy to read without being dumbed down.

This is the one of the few dystopian fiction books I have read that is actually written for middle grade and younger. Most other books I have read from the genre are for young adults and older, but Among the Hidden breaks that mold and it does it perfectly.

When I first saw the book I was intrigued and excited about the idea of introducing my students to a new genre, but also a little concerned that it might get to intense or disturbing for 8 and 9 year olds. But after reading the first few chapters I was enthralled in the plot and certain that it would be just the right amount of dystopia to spur some new thoughts and ideas in my students without traumatizing them.

The world of the Shadow Children is full of injustice and unfairness. The government is corrupt and overly controlling. The main character, Luke, and his family have very little control in their lives as farmers, but Luke’s biggest problem is that he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, at least according to Population Law. Families are allowed to have 2 children, no more; and Luke is a third child. These are all pretty heavy issues, but the author presents them through the eyes of a child, a very sheltered and inexperienced one at that, so I found there was nothing inappropriate, nothing that I couldn’t read and discuss with 8 and 9 year-olds.

We had productive discussions on the role of government, the validity of information from certain sources, times when rules/laws should and shouldn’t be broken, and how to better appreciate the world we live in. We were also able to look at what ways our world might be similar to that of the book, and how we can avoid the problems getting worse.

Each time I closed the book at the end of read-aloud time there were groans of disappointment and displeasure. The author has a real knack for cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. My class is begging me to read book 2 in the series as our next read-aloud, but I want to introduce them to other genres this year, so the rest of this series will have to wait. I can assure you, however, that I will be picking up the other books in the series to satisfy my own curiosity and hunger to find out what happens next.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were at a perfect age to enjoy this book.  There is nothing that would be inappropriate for younger readers, but I’m not sure younger than 8 would understand the context fully. As an adult the plot and storyline was intriguing and I enjoyed the read, though the writing was more of a middle grade level.  I think readers from ages 8 to 14 would be the target audience.

Appropriateness: In reading this book you have to be prepared for pondering government corruption, the consequences of naivety, the idea of mass killing (though not described in any detail), and the general discomfort of a dystopian society. However, it is all told without profanity and with sensitivity for the ages for which this book is intended.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Among the Hidden you might also enjoy The Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, and the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage.

Classroom Use: As described in my review, there is a lot of class discussion material in the book.  Some applicable discussion questions could be

  1. What change causes Luke to finally feel dissatisfied with his life to the point that he risks be seen?
  2. How does the government control the people in Luke’s world?
  3. Do you think the books and media reports we read are always accurate?
  4. How would knowing the true facts of history help the people in Luke’s world to solve some of the problems with which they are faced?
  5. How are Luke and Jen alike? How are they different? How do their differences affect their reactions to their situations?
  6. What do you think of the laws in place in Luke’s world?
  7. The Barons seem to be able to break a lot of rules and laws. Is this fair? What about if the laws are unfair?
  8. What do you think would be the hardest part about being a shadow child?

We also used this book to practice writing book reviews. Students were required to state whether or not they liked the book and why.  They gave a basic summary, and then stated whether or not they would recommend the book to others and why. You could also integrate this book into science and social studies by studying renewable sources of energy and food, and finding ways students could help with hunger or injustice in today’s world.

The Time Key

The Time KeyThe Time Key by Melanie Bateman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here it is! My first blog tour post.  It was a fun to be involved and to be able to get to know the author Melanie Bateman a little better.  Be sure to check out my short interview with her here.

Buy The Time Key from Amazon or from Barnes and Noble

Summary

A chance encounter with a stranger leaves Stanley Becker with a device that allows him to travel through time. The opportunity to change his devastating past is too good to turn down.  However, in his quest he finds that there are powers in the world that he previously never knew or believed existed. His mission to make right the past becomes one of rescuing those he loves in the present through saving the future.

My Review 

I really wanted to like this book. And I really did like aspects of it. But overall it wasn’t as fulfilling of a read as I had hoped. It does have an interesting plot and the writer’s voice is refreshing and intelligent. The first chapter was fabulous! I was hooked by the mysterious narrator and the strange events that prevented Stanley Becker from taking his own life. My desire to learn the secrets that were introduced in the first few chapters kept me interested enough to read to the end.

The difficulties for me came in with the flow of the events and with the many and varied characters and fantasy elements involved in the storytelling. This is a time travel book so I was expecting the events would not follow a linear timeline, but the transitions between times and timelines was sometimes hard to follow. I also found the passage of time to be underdeveloped. Stanley is supposedly developing relationships in his “present” with other characters, but there wasn’t enough description of the time spent in those relationships for me to get attached or to really believe that the characters themselves were growing much closer. It was difficult for me to understand and believe the character’s motivations at times because the relationships between them seemed rushed and a little shallow.

I did enjoy Stanley Becker’s character development in the first half from an “intellectual” perspective. As he travels to the past to attempt to make a right a tragedy I found his decisions and reactions interesting. I am fascinated by psychology, how people react to the events in their lives and why they react that way. Stanley makes for an interesting psychological study; I just didn’t have much sentimental attachment to him. Several of the characters were still entertaining and I enjoyed their “voices” even if I didn’t fall in love with them.

What really prevented me from being fully wrapped up in the story was the lack of setup for the rules of the book’s world. I was expecting the time travel/science fiction element in the book, but I was caught a little off guard when a broad spectrum of mythical and mythological elements were introduced as well. Readers learn about “shadows creatures” in the first chapter and I while I hadn’t been expecting them, I was interested to see how they would fit in with the time traveling. However, as the story continued there were more and more creatures of fantasy and mythology, and fantastical powers to go along with them. Add to that the setting in late 1800’s London and a troop of gypsies having a major role in story, and it was all just a little too random and inconsistent for me. I couldn’t really settle in to the feel of the book with so much going on from so many different genre angles.

I kept reading though, curious to see if the connections between all of these various elements could be explained, but the explanations and connections just never fully formed for me. Each element was presented quickly and suddenly without much description of how and why the element exists, how it relates to all of the other mythical people and things, and by what rules it and its powers are bound.

While science fiction and fantasy, by definition, will include elements that are fictional, fantastic, and outside the realm of reality, the elements have to be presented in such a way that readers would find them possible and reasonable within the world created in the book. As a reader I need to be given reasonable explanation and description of the world and the rules that govern it so that I can suspend my disbelief in the magical and mystical for a little while and get wrapped up in fantasy. I never could get wrapped up because there was not enough information provided for me to see how all of these varied elements could and did coexist. I felt little suspense particularly through the second half of the book because there were very few rules explained for how all of these great powers functioned. It felt more like I was just sitting back and watching random worlds collide, and the events that followed were aimless. With no rules and connections to help guide my expectations or predictions for the characters or events, it was difficult to care about the outcome.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad read; I just wasn’t invested in it. I think it’s a decent work for a first time author. Her voice is so fun to read, and I hope she writes more! The pieces that were missing for me in The Time Key are all things that a little deeper and broader editing process could help flesh out. There are so many other aspects of good literature that aren’t easily learned or improved upon, and fortunately, Melanie Bateman has natural talent for those. So, I will look forward to reading whatever she has coming up next!

Age Recommendation: I would suggest this one for 18 or older simply because I think a more mature reader will appreciate the themes and characters better.  But it’s not a difficult read so mature readers of 14 and older would likely still enjoy it. ‘

Appropriateness: There is an attempt at suicide and drinking in the book.  There was nothing offensive in the book to me, but I mention these two aspects because there may be some readers that will be sensitive to them. There is no profanity, and while there is action and excitement there are no graphic descriptions.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked this book or if it sounds interesting to you than I suggest you also try Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, Fablehaven Series and Beyonders series both by Brandon Mull, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks, Gossamer by Lois Lowry,  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

Follow along with the blog tour and find out what others have been saying about The Time Key: 

“The Time Key” blog tour schedule:
June 16: Community Bookstop
June 17: Jodi Woody
June 18: Making Life a Bliss Complete
June 19: Kaylee Baldwin
June 20: Rockin’ Book Reviews
June 21: 2 Kids and Tired Books
June 22: Choco Meiske | Literature Approved | Fire and Ice
June 23: Bookworm Lisa
June 24: The Reader’s Salon
June 25: Bookworm Nation
June 26: Wishful Endings
June 27: Connie’s Bookmark
June 28: Once Upon a Time
June 29: Storyweaver
June 30: The Unabridged Girl
July 1: Mel’s Shelves
July 2: Blooming with Books
July 3: The Book Addict | Inklings and Notions
July 4: Novel-ties
July 5: Singing Librarian Books
July 6: Reading Lark
July 7: Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews 

 

An Uncommon Blue

An Uncommon Blue (Colorblind, #1)An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

In Télesphore, the glowing color of a person’s palm determines their place in society, and touching hands with another mixes the colors permanently. When sixteen-year-old Bruno accidentally kills a royal soldier, he goes from favored to fugitive. Now Bruno’s only chance at survival is to become someone else. That means a haircut, a change of wardrobe, and most important, getting rid of his once cherished Blue. Now he’s visiting parts of town he never knew existed, and making friends with people he would’ve crossed the street to avoid only weeks ago. At the last minute, Bruno’s parents arrange a deal to clear his name and get his life back. All Bruno has to do is abandon those in the Red slums that look to him as a leader and let an innocent Green boy die in his place.

My Review

The first word that comes to my mind to describe An Uncommon Blue is fast-paced. It starts out with the action and conflict right away and it just keeps moving. I was enthralled at the get-go and I didn’t want to put it down until I had read the last word. This is absolutely a dystopian novel, but the world created in it is unique and fresh; it stands out in the very popular genre.

I appreciated a main character worthy of admiration, one who is trying to do good and make a difference as he faces the harsh realities of his world. However, I did feel there were some holes in his character motivation and development that left me wondering why, exactly, he was so generous and cared so much for the unfortunate people he met. With his privileged upbringing and naivety when it came to the “lower classes” in his society, I would have thought it would have taken him more time to be ok with sacrificing his privilege for the sake of those beneath him. But he was willing to risk his reputation and coming to bodily harm right from the beginning, even for the kid that had pretty much just ruined his life. Just made me wonder how he got to be so caring, especially while it was also clear that his main concern up to that point had been keeping his privileged status and easy life as a star athlete.

This unclarity in character motivation didn’t keep me from devouring every page, however. The writing style is simple, no stand-out prose, but it’s well-done. I wasn’t distracted at all by awkward phrasing or overly flowery description. Easy to read. The rules of the fictional world were conveyed through the story-telling; I appreciated that I didn’t have to get bogged down or interrupted from the story to read long explanations. In fact, the story may have even moved a little too quickly for me. I would have like a little more time spent on introducing the world and its rules, and the people and their motivations. There is a sequel so I hope that more will be explained because there were quite a lot of unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries at the end. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel quickly after it is released.

Overall though this is just a fun, fast, interesting, read. If you are looking for a book to get lost in for a few hours, I recommend An Uncommon Blue.

Age Recommendation: I suggest 15 and older. There is some killing and harsh inequalities in the book, and while the description isn’t graphic it could be disturbing to younger readers.

Appropriateness: Clean with great examples of selflessness and kindness. It would be of particular interest to boys. It has great book club discussion material too. The prejudices and inequalities based on the color of a persons’ light in their hand gives an interesting way to talk about the difficulties in our society as well. The sacrifices and rewards of selflessness and kindness would also be fitting topics.

Book Recommendations: If you like An Uncommon Blue you should read The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Beyonders series Brandon Mull, and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.

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Uncovering Cobbogoth

My husband is so awesome to support my reading addiction! Whenever there is an author doing a book signing at our local Costco he will peruse the book, talk to the author, and if it looks like something that would interest me he gets the book signed and buys it for me. Way cooler than getting flowers! Though flowers are always nice as well.

Uncovering Cobbogoth was one of these Costco discoveries, so my book has a fun note and signature from the author, Hannah L. Clark.

Here is the summary of the book from Goodreads:

“Norah Lukens needs to uncover the truth about the fabled lost city of Cobbogoth. After her archaeologist uncle’s murder, Norah is asked to translate his old research journal for evidence and discovers that his murder was a cover-up for something far more sinister.
When she turns to neighbor and only friend James Riley for help, she realizes that not only is their bitter-sweet past haunting her every step, but James is keeping dangerous secrets. Can Norah discover what they are before its too late to share her own?”

And Here is what I thought about the book. (It was cool to see that the author actually “liked” my review on Goodreads too.)

Uncovering Cobbogoth (Cobbogoth, #1)Uncovering Cobbogoth by Hannah L. Clark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was hooked pretty much immediately. Within the first chapter I definitely wanted to unravel the mysteries that were being introduced. I appreciated the unique story world. This didn’t feel like recycled version of current popular books (though I did have some flashes to Twilight with the romance.) The action sequences were well-written. I was tense and reading quickly to hear what would happen next. The descriptions evoked emotion, but were not so graphic as to completely gross me out.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen, there were some “wrinkles” that could have been better ironed out. I thought that about halfway through the pacing and order of the plot development became rushed. There was a lot of “telling” to reveal information, and there were some questions brought out that didn’t get explained at all. As the main character is being given important information she asks a clarifying questions and the other characters simply say, “It’s a long story,” or “I’ll explain later,” but then they don’t. Very unsatisfying as a reader. Either don’t bring up those questions at all if they can’t or won’t be explained or else explain them. If they will be explained in a sequel then don’t bring up the question until the sequel.

There were other questions that I asked as a reader that were never brought up which made it more difficult for me to understand the laws and workings of this reality the author has created for her story. I enjoyed the details that were included to make this fantasy world fit into our own; however, there were enough details missing that I wasn’t completely pulled in. I couldn’t fully accept the fantasy because I didn’t have enough context for how this could possibly happen in our world without the “normal folk” knowing about it.

In general I felt that the revelation of information was disorganized. There was too much given here and too little given there. It was hard to file it all away when it wasn’t really pertinent to the events at hand, and then other times it was confusing and difficult to accept the events because I didn’t know enough or have enough background information.

All in all I give it 3 stars. Despite some disorganization the writing style was enjoyable and the unique idea is refreshing. I definitely will get my hands on the sequels when they are available, and I will probably read this one again before that. It was enjoyable enough for a second read, and I would want the remind myself about the rules of the Cobbogothian world to be sure I would know what was going on in the sequels.

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Age Recommendation: 14 and older and possibly even as young as 12 would enjoy this book. The language is easy to read, but not dumbed down either.

Appropriateness: Some action sequences may bother very sensitive readers, but I didn’t find them overly graphic. Just exciting. Otherwise nothing else that I would warn about. The characters are likable and respectable people.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this one I would recommend the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as well as the related series Heroes of Olympus both by Rick Riordan. You may also like his Kane Chronicles series but I didn’t get into it as much. All of these are children/teen books but I found them funny and exciting. You may also enjoy The Sea of Trolls and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm both by Nancy Farmer. I would also recommend Fablehaven and The Beyonders  by Brandon Mull.