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Monday, May 11, 2015

May Giveaway & More Great Reads

Apologies, blogfrogs, since I could've given these away last month. But as long as you're getting free stuff, who can complain? Here are my latest middle-grade recs from the wealth of great material on my TBR list:

title & author: Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans
pub info: Sterling Children's Books, 2012; 272 pp
audience: middle grade (8+)
genre: real-world magic & mystery
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:

As if being small for his age and also having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop.  Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.

my thoughts:
I'm hardly going to dislike a book featuring a smart, spunky narrator who, while exploring his new village in England, discovers that his family bears a remarkable secret. I kind of love stories about magicians, and the possibility that they're holding out on us--they know magic really does exist, and yet they're selling us this bill of goods about illusions. Stuart is a likeable character, as is his eventual helpmate, next-door neighbor April. My only complaint is that the book is deceptively short. It looks long, but the chapters are short and the print is large, and suddenly, just as the adventure seems to be taking off in a new direction, the reader stares woefully at the words THE END. However, more is to come in the next installment, so don't despair. Kids who love adventure will enjoy the marvelous writing and story, and they'll continue to nurture the wild hope that even in the most boring of lives, a bit of magic may lurk.

find Lissa:
Lissa has written several books, both for adults and children. The next one in the Stuart Horten series is Horten's Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery, and Another Very Strange Adventure (Sterling, 2012). While I'm anxious to get my hands on that one, I'm equally intrigued with Evans's Crooked Heart, a novel for adults about a boy and a woman who team up in a wartime scheme to profit from the London Blitz (I know--wha???). Connect with Lissa via her Twitter account here.
title & author: Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill; illus. by Iacopo Bruno
pub info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012; 424 pp
audience: middle grade (9+)
genre:  fantasy
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:

Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being—called the Nybbas—imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true—not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.

Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.

my thoughts:
Kelly Barnhill is the marvelous author of The Mostly True Story of Jack, which was one of my favorite books of 2011. In Violet, she brings her spot-on narrative voice to the story of a girl who's not just plain--come on, she's ugly, and everyone knows it. Haunted by the idea that she is not a real princess, Violet pushes the boundaries at every turn and winds up charged with saving her world through a series of events partly of her own making. The character of Violet is so beautifully rendered that the fantasy aspect pales beside her, though the world is stunning and well constructed. If the story went on a little long, I wasn't sorry, to be honest. Gorgeous.

find Kelly:
Kelly's website is here, and you can also find her on Twitter. Her latest novel for middle-grade readers is The Witch's Boy (Algonquin, 2014).

title & author: Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
pub info: Candlewick Press, 2012; 384 pp
audience: middle grade (10+)
genre:  historical fantasy / supernatural
caveats: better for strong readers (see below)
Goodreads summary:
The master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.
my thoughts:
This is a marvelous, gothic novel that takes place in 1860s London (and environs). The period detail places the reader right there, from Parsefall's Cockney slang to the costumes and mores of the time. The story is pretty creepy, which I love, and the characters endearing. I wouldn't call it a dense novel, exactly, but it would be a challenge for the reluctant reader trying to juggle a different time period as well as a sophisticated plot. Nothing too horrific for an 8-year-old, but better suited to the older set. Laura Amy Schlitz is a fantastic writer who won the Newbery Medal in 2008 for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! This book won a well-deserved Newbery Honor.

find Laura:
Laura Amy Schlitz doesn't maintain much of an online presence, but you can visit her Penguin Random House page here. Candlewick Press maintains an author bio page here.


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1 comment:

  1. I have so many books, I promise my self I won't enter any more book giveaways, then you temp me with great stuff like these. Who could resist a chance to win a book like Splendors & Gloom? Not me! Thanks for the chance tow in.