Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon

DoryDory Fantasmagory
Abby Hanlon
2014 by Dial Books
ISBN – 9780803740884
Genre – Humor
Age – Elementary School
2 Stars

Dory is six years old. She has an older brother and sister, who never want to play with her. They come up with a story to scare her away from them and it backfires on them. Her wild imagination is more than enough to keep her busy!

I get what this book is trying to do, however, I am not sure it succeeded. Dory was just plain obnoxious in my mind. Her imagination was fun to follow, but insistence upon ignoring the real world got old. The complete lack of attention to her behavior (good or bad) by everyone in her family was also appalling. She acted well below her age, which might make it hard for appropriate readers to relate. I did find the rough illustrations to be fun and add to the story. Otherwise, it really fell short for me.

Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier

Loic Dauvillier
Illustrated by Marc Lizano Color by Greg Salsedo Translated by Alexis Siegel
2014 First Second
ISBN – 9781596438736
Genre – Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction
Age- Elementary
4 stars

A grandmother tells her granddaughter her story of the Holocaust. When she was a young child, the world started being cruel to her and her family as well as some of her friend’s families. She was made fun of at school, her dad lost her job, and her parents seemed to be on edge. Suddenly she was told she had to hide in a closet, and when she came out of hiding her parent were gone. Her downstairs neighbors took care of her and kept her safe, they even fled the country with her. She loved her new family, but she dreamed of being reunited with her mom and dad.

This is a very emotional graphic novel. It is about several generations of love and loss. It is about teaching family history to all of the generations that follow, to always remember your history no matter how painful it was. I loved the imagery, and the way that you really felt each scene. Not only were the emotions clear on the faces, but in the colors that were carefully chosen. I liked the theme of protection through the generations. Dounia’s father protected her from the Nazi’s, while Dounia tries to protect her son from the horrors that she faced. I also really enjoyed that the Grandmother was able to tell her story after many years, with maturity, but somehow still through the lens of a little girl. She tells the story with innocence. She is hurt and sad, but not angry and vengeful. I think that this would be a good book to read as an introduction to the Holocaust. It conveys sadness and injustice, but is not too brutal for children to read.

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonaky

GraysonGracefully Grayson
Ami Polonsky
2014 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9781423185277
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School, High School
5 Stars

Grayson is a twelve year old who lives with his aunt and uncle in Chicago. His parents both died in a car accident years ago.  Grayson’s parents encouraged him to express himself however he wanted, but when he came to live with his aunt and uncle, they were not as accepting. Now in sixth grade, Grayson has made a new friend. They hang out at lunch, they go to thrift stores on the weekend, and they ride the bus together. Everything seems like it is falling into a good place. That is until Grayson tries out for the female lead in the school play, and his new friend catches him trying on a skirt. Grayson has always felt like “he” is living in the wrong body, and now is the chance to show the real Grayson.

I am in love with this book. I love how amazingly honest it was, even when honest is not edgy or dramatic. I love that it didn’t exaggerate the everyday life of a girl who was living in a male body. Yes there was teasing, and yes there was bullying, but it was not overdone just for the sake of drama. I loved how strong and confident Grayson was. Despite the differences, new friends were made when the old ones weren’t accepting, Grayson was strong when someone was mean. Grayson felt more alive and honest than ever before. The characters felt true to life. Some were amazingly supportive, some were amazing jerks, some were owned by their fears, and some just didn’t plain understand Grayson. It is great to see an LBGTQ book that embraces a strong protagonist that refuses to let people control their identity. Yay for this book. Beautifully done. I don’t think my review does it justice.

Heap House, by Edward Carey

HeapHeap House
Edward Carey
2013 by Hot Key Books
ISBN – 9781471401565
Genre – Dark Fantasy
Age – Middle School, High School

3.8 Stars

Clod Iremonger lives at the Heap House. It is a strange mansion full of mazes surrounded by and built from lost and discarded items from London. Everyone in Clod’s family has a birth object, something that is chosen for them when they are born. They must keep this item with them at all times. Clod can hear these birth objects speak. Each one says a different name, his bath plug says James Henry. Things begin to get even stranger when Lucy Pennant arrives at the house. A big storm seems to be taking shape and the voices are getting louder. What will be left when the mysteries of the house come unraveled?

To be honest, it is hard to even describe this book. In a nutshell, it was strange. The fantasy of it was very dark. This book included elements of child slavery, cruelty, and just plain evil. I found it to be incredibly original and creative. It started a bit slow, but I think most of that came from my confusion. As I read more, I found that I could not stop reading. The characters were unique, and I liked them all, even if I liked them because they were evil. They were almost as well described as the setting of the house and its grounds. I would love to have a chance to wander the house and grounds. I also like that each chapter began with a picture of a different character in the book. It really helped to visualize such fantastical characters. I also enjoyed that the story was told from two different perspectives, Clod and Lucy. It allowed us to hear the story of the house from the side of privilege as well as the side of captivity. I really enjoyed this book, but I wonder if it would appeal to too small of a group.

Tesla’s Attic, by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

17197651Tesla’s Attic
Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman
2014 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9781423148036
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
5 Stars
Nick and his family just moved to Colorado Springs from Florida after a horrible house fire killed him mom. They move into an old Victorian house that was inherited from an old aunt. Nick is quick to pick out the room in the attic, when all of a sudden a toaster hits him in the head sending him to the hospital! When he returns he discovers a whole attic full of junk. What a perfect reason to have a garage sale! Despite the fact that he thinks no one will buy anything, people seem to flock to his sale offering way more than he is charging for the items. Its like they are drawn to them. But when a strange and official looking man shows up and offers him lots of money for the leftover items, he decides to investigate further. It turns out that each of the objects has special powers ranging from telling the future, to reanimating the dead. Then he find out that he is living in famous inventor, Nicola Tesla’s old house. That’s when things get hilariously strange!
This is one of the most enjoyable books for middle school aged readers that I have ever read. It is funny, it is creative, it is smart, did I mention it was funny? This book had me laughing out loud, a lot. I liked all of the characters, really all of them. There was heart, humor, strength, and weakness in each one of them, which just made them feel real. They were vulnerable and insecure despite how awesome they all were. I like that this book is smart enough to teach kids something by reading it, and interesting enough to make them want to investigate further. Who wouldn’t be curious about Tesla’s work in the field of science after reading about some of the neat inventions in this book? I know that it wasn’t particularly poignant or moving, but not every book has to be, especially for this age group. I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly

69136The Book of Lost Things
John Connolly
2006 by Atria Books
ISBN – 9780743298858
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
4.1 Stars

David’s father remarries shortly after his mother dies, then his dad’s new wife has a new baby. He spends most of his time in his new room of his new house mourning his loss, when strange things begin to happen. First, it all seems like a dream, when he sees a strange man lurking around. Things begin to seem more and more real, until one day he sees a soft spot in the garden that transports him into a strange new world! In this world he finds many mysterious creatures, some evil and some good, but he can’t seem to find his way back home. He then learns of a book that the king possesses that will show him the way home. So he begins his long and dangerous journey through this new land. While many of the strange creatures in this new land do not want him to return home, everyone seems to have different motives.

This is the second time that I have listened to this book. It was good the first time, but I wasn’t very good at concentrating on audiobooks, so I thought I’d give it another try. First of all, the narrator is amazing. He made me feel immersed in the story. The story also felt very real and very believable. Amidst a terrible tragedy, and a world completely changing around him, David must try to make peace with everything that is happening to him. This wonderfully odd story is about a boy who matures through a great and terrifying adventure. He meets friends, and he meets enemies, and sometimes he doesn’t know which is which. I love how brave David is throughout the whole book. I love that he is the kind of brave that still gets scared. He has great instincts and because of all of this, he truly lives an experience that he will never forget. It is uplifting and heartbreaking all at the same time.

The Last Wild, by Piers Torday

18079596The Last Wild
Piers Torday
2014 by Viking Juvenile
ISBN – 9780670015542
Genre – Fantasy, Dystopian
Age – Middle School
3.6 Stars

After Kester’s mom died his dad had him sent away to a school for trouble children without a word of explanation. The world is in shambles after a virus began to spread killing all of the animals, except cockroaches. Six years later, Kester is unable to speak and is still wondering what happened to his wonderful family. Then a cockroach approaches him, and begins speaking to him. Amazingly enough Kester finds that he can communicate with him. He tells him that he must break Kester out to complete an important mission. Kester never imagined that he would be going to see the last surviving pack of animals, led by a majestic stag, and he definitely never imagined that he would be the only one that could save the animals, and help the world return to normalcy.

Let me just start by saying that I wanted this book to be better. I almost gave up because I just couldn’t get into it. However, in reading it for work, I kept on going. I am so glad I did, because the last 25% of the book was amazing. I just wish that the first 75% would have been just as engaging. Kester is a strange character, and I never really got to like him. I felt like he wasn’t very strong in any aspect. I like the animals so much more, and I am not really into talking animals in books. I couldn’t find a single character that I wanted to stand behind, except for one sick cat and a wolf. The story was imaginative, but for most of it I thought the execution could have been better. Really, there isn’t much bad I can say about it, except for the fact that it dragged. I just wanted it to be better, and it wasn’t. However, the end was great, and now I’m actually contemplating reading the second one.

Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

7118768Ninth Ward
Jewell Parker Rhodes
2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316043076
Genre – Realistic/Fantastical Fiction
Age – Middle School

3.3 Stars

Lanesha is just starting a new school year, when the weathermen start to talk about the big storm headed her way to New Orleans. Her mother died while giving birth to her, and the rest of her relatives want nothing to do with her, so she lives with the healer who helped birth her. Mama Ya-Ya is known around the neighborhood to have special visions and healing powers. In late August 2005, she starts having strange dreams about the storm. She seems to be falling deeper and deeper into her dreams as Lanesha has to prepare for Hurrican Katrina for both of them, and hopefully she will be able to keep them both alive as well.

I wanted this to be a five star book, I really did. I even battled with not giving it four stars. I thought the idea was great, but it was filled with too much fluff to satisfy my needs. It was so filled with New Orleans mystical nuances, that it detracted from the story. The story should have been about an incredibly brave girl who had to fight to keep herself and her loved ones safe, instead it was about magic, mysticism, and my frustrations! Honestly, even without the magic, I’m not sure I believe Lanesha as a 12-year old character, she was almost too brave and strong. So, the positive, I loved the setting and the building of the setting. I felt the culture and the community of the place before the storm. I loved the suspense, and how just when it seemed to fade away it came back tenfold. I liked some of the characters enough to hope for them and root for them, but some I didn’t care enough about when tragedy occurred. I also liked the language. I thought it was very beautifully written. Here is where I contradict myself; I don’t feel like the writing would have been so lyrical without the magic and mysticism that I thought hurt the book. Honestly, I’m confused about my feelings on this one, and may change my mind after a little time.

I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora

18465605I Kill the Mockingbird
Paul Acampora
2014 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN – 9781596437425
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
3 Stars

Best friends Lucy, Elena, and Michael begin the summer with a lofty reading list for their next year. Included on this list is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Lucy becomes upset when she realizes that lots of people don’t want to read it, even though it is her favorite book. So the three thirteen year olds take matters into their own hands. They begin a plot to make the book high demand again! Somehow their plot succeeds beyond their wildest imaginations. People are enacting it across the country, celebrities are spreading the word through social media, and now that it is bigger than them, will they ever be able to stop it?

This book was a slight bit of a let down for me. I think it had received too much hype. While I enjoyed the characters, I thought that the plot was lacking. It was made out to be this super exciting narrative including “literary terrorism,” and call me a nerd all you want but that sounded cool to me. It just seemed to fall a bit flat. I also want to mention that just about all of the adults in the book were more interesting and more likable than any of the kids. My ideas upon this book may have a lot to do with the fact that I really don’t like coming of age tales. Even though To Kill a Mockingbird is far from my favorite classic, this book just wasn’t up to par.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee

17910570Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Karen Foxlee
2014 by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN – 9780385753548
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Elementary, Middle School
4 Stars

Ophelia and her family are mourning the death of her mother, when her father takes a job at a museum in a town where it is always snowing. Ophelia is a scientist, and she doesn’t believe in anything unless it can be proved. One day, while exploring the museum, she comes across a boy who is locked in a room. He tells her that he has been locked there for centuries, and he must find the sword to defeat the snow queen and save the world! At first she doesn’t believe him, but the more she explores the museum, the more she realizes that something really fishy is going on. Will Ophelia be able to help the boy and save the world in time?

I really enjoyed this book. It gave me that warm feeling that you get when you start believing in magic again, despite the fact that you know it can’t exist. I for one, think it is very important for kids and adults to believe in a certain degree of magic always and forever. Ophelia is a great star of the book. She is a strong, smart, and brave female leader. Despite the fact that she is sensitive to the heartbreak in her life, she is able to persevere. She not only helps the boy to save the world from the snow queen, but she also tries to save her family from completely breaking down. She is the kind of girl I wish I could be! I like the way there is a fairy tale set within a present day story. I like the way the setting of the town lends itself to this kind of story. I understand that it is an adaptation of another fairy tale, but that doesn’t really detract from the story for me.