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.

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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 

 

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a fan of The Hunger Games series this book caught my interest because it is written by the same author. I wondered if Suzanne Collins writing could draw me into another world as effectively as she did with The Hunger Games. As indicated by a 3 start rating she was semi-successful. I liked the book. Collins’s writing is good; her characters are unique, memorable, and likable. She gets right into the story; by the end of the first chapter I was familiar with the main character, his life situation, his inner conflict, and the plot development was well on its way as Gregor had already fallen into the Underland. All that in just 13 pages. The action moved quickly after that and the plot developed logically and smoothly.

I appreciated the theme of family love and loyalty. That was what I related to in The Hunger Games as well. Collins’s characters face difficult challenges, have to overcome their fears, and make hard choices, but they find the strength to do all of this because they are motivated by a desire to protect their family. I may be a wuss at times like when needles or really hot weather are involved, but I would suffer through a lot to protect my family. I can relate to the characters’ motivations.

This was a good read, but it didn’t match my love for the Hunger Games books which got 4 and 5 stars. A lot of that has to do with the target audience. Gregor the Overlander is definitely written for young readers (boys in particular would enjoy it), so it is lacking some detail that as an adult reader I wanted. More info about why and how the Underland came to be would have helped, but for young readers this information may have been too much.

The writing is appropriate for young readers and also engaging for an older audience, but I was distracted by the inconsistency related to the age of the main character. He is 11 which matches the age of the readers for which it is intended, but the kind of internal “talk” we get from him, the choices he makes, and the maturity with which he makes them seemed incompatible with his age. Yes, some hard life circumstances have required Gregor to step up and take on more responsibility than your average 11 year old, but that responsibility wouldn’t be enough to justify the maturity level he displays. Fourteen years old would have been a much more accurate age for his behaviors and thought processes. And still he would be a mature 14 year old, so 11 was a little unbelievable. About halfway through I was able to just start picturing him as 14 and that helped.

Had the book been written for a slightly older audience then some of those background details and explanation that were missing could have been appropriately added. It would have made for a stronger and more enthralling world. The plot and action is certainly interesting enough for older readers, and I think it should have been written for them.

A unique world, fast pace, likable characters, and pleasant writing make this an overall satisfying reading adventure.

View all my reviews

Age Recommendation: 9 and older. Easy to read, but not too dumbed-down.

Appropriateness: There is war and death related to that. The darkness of an underground world and the creatures there may seem disturbing, but the writing is not graphic. This would be a fun read aloud for parents and kids or for teacher and classroom. 3rd graders would especially enjoy it.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this one you should read Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Fablehaven and Beyonders both by Brandon Mull, The City of Ember by Jeane DuPrau, Holes by Louis Sachar, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman