Monday, September 23, 2013

Janitors: The Curse of the Broomstaff -- Tyler Whitesides

“Have you ever fallen asleep during math class? Are you easily distracted while listening to your English teacher? Do you find yourself completely uninterested in geography? Well, it may not be your fault. The janitors at Welcher Elementary know a secret, and it's draining all the smarts out of the kids. Twelve-year-old Spencer Zumbro, with the help of his classmate Daisy ‘Gullible’ Gates, must fight with and against a secret, janitorial society that wields wizard-like powers. Who can Spencer and Daisy trust and how will they protect their school and possibly the world?”

And thus begins the Janitors series for middle grade readers. Book one, Janitors, was loads of fun, even if the description of smelly, dirty janitorial supplies was a little too realistic for me as an adult reader. I wanted to head to the restroom and wash my hands at the end of each reading session, as though those nasty toxites had slipped through the pages and into reality.

It was with much anticipation that I opened book two, Secrets of New Forest Academy.   
“Now more than ever, Spencer, Daisy, and even Dez must fight to save schools everywhere. Toxites, the small creatures that love to feed on the brain waves of students, are just the beginning of their troubles. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) is after Spencer, and the Rebels hope to sneak him to safety within the walls of an elite private school. But danger follows Spencer and his friends, testing their loyalty and trust as well as their Toxite-fighting skills. Can they hold out long enough to discover the true secret of New Forest Academy and what it means to the future of education?”

Although this new chapter started out with much promise with the addition of just enough new material to garner my interest, soon the action slowed for me and I found myself having difficulty staying interested enough to slog my way through. I did finish, but it took me way too long, and by the time I reached the end, I didn’t remember much of what had happened at the beginning, a rare occurrence for me as a reader who typically can account for hundreds of books that I’ve read when someone asks me for a recommendation or wants to discuss some fine point of the story from their point of view.

So, it was with hesitancy that I began to read Curse of the Broomstaff.

“A secret society of Janitors with wizard-like powers continue their battle, and now, the stakes are even higher. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance is after Alan Zumbro and this time they mean business—deadly business. Spencer, Daisy, and their little team of rebels must find the source of all magical Glop and destroy it before it can destroy the world as we know it. No small task with the BEM and their monster toxites at their heels. It’s a wild and dangerous ride as they follow the trail of clues all the way to the hiding place of the mysterious aurans: guardians of a secret landfill. What they discover there will change the way Spencer sees himself, not to mention the fate of the rebels.”

Every day I have students in my school library, asking me when the new book will arrive because they want to know what happens next, so I know the anticipation among middle grade readers is high.

But for me, Curse of the Broomstaff was just another episode, filled with mostly the same running joke of janitor talk that tries too hard and becomes more annoying than anything to the adult reader. Characters named silly references like Mr. Clean, sudden magical elements appearing where none were evident before, and the constant head-hopping and lack of character growth all wore me out as I tried to maintain the enthusiasm I felt at the end of book one, and support of an author I like. I miss the school setting. I miss having a single character whose story I’m interested in enough to keep me reading. The series as a whole has become tedious to me, perhaps in the same way Fablehaven became so. I’m not seeing an overriding story arc to carry the series beyond “and then this happened” status. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the author does plan to bring us back around to the initial incident as set up in book one, but for right now, I feel lost in the mire.

The copy I bought for the school library has been checked out now for over a week. This is not a good sign. My biggest readers, the kids who have been anticipating a book like this usually read a new book like this overnight—two nights at most—before bringing it back, begging to know when the next book from a series will be released. I guess I will find out soon why it took this student so long and The Curse of the Broomstaff will be into the hands of the next anxious reader, but if I were to guess, I’d say perhaps what happened to them is the same thing that happened to me. I simply got bored in the middle of the read. I was easily distracted, and I wanted to just fall asleep. I guess maybe the series has taken me right back where it started, although that’s not where we should be in what is obviously the middle of a series. 

Update: Several students have now anxiously checked out the novel since I made the original post. All of them were excited to finally have their name come up on the waiting list. None of them have brought the book back with the same enthusiasm for the next installment, a usual occurrence when a series promises more to come (like Michael Vey and Rick Riodan's The House of Hades.) Whitesides will have to really knock reader's out the park on the promise of book 4 to keep them hanging on that long.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Penumbras (Middle School Magic) -- Braden Bell

Conner, Lexa, and Melanie are back! Just when they think life is normal again, a dangerous shadow creature begins to hunt them. The trio must develop their powers in order to conquer this new peril and protect their school. Filled with action and even more magic, this book continues the exciting adventure in the Middle School Magic series. (GoodReads)

Another fun book in the series by Braden Bell. Middle school students who have already read The Kindling will enjoy this one too. As the story continues, the kids work to balance not only their newly discovered capabilities to Kindle which allows them to protect their school, but also work in time for music rehearsals and auditions for The Sound of Music. Oh, and don’t forget the budding romance that Conner and Melanie develop, despite his twin sister Lexa’s jealousy and feelings she’s no longer part of the group.

The crafting of story and development of character was much better this time around, something that adult readers will especially notice. Middle school readers will appreciate the action scenes galore, although at times I felt like we should have less action and more understanding of how the characters were feeling. About halfway through it seemed we were sitting back, watching the action from the sidelines as event after event was being thrown at us, almost as though we were watching a highlight reel from this summer’s action movies.

But no matter, my students loved The Kindling and I think they will not only love this one as well, but be anxious for more, a treat Bell promises us in the final line.

An exciting second book, worthy of being added to the library shelves.(Review copy provided by NetGalley)


Monday, July 8, 2013

Shahira & the Flying Elfs -- Anna del C. Dye

Book Giveaway Jun 29 to July 16
(See details at the end of the interview below)

I have the pleasure of welcoming author Anna del C. Dye to my blog today. Anna and I first met on a panel of self-published authors at the LTUE (Life, the Universe and Everything) conference at Utah Valley University two years ago. I was delighted with Anna’s easy-going personality and the inroads she had already made in the Indie market. I was also impressed with the life story she had to tell, so much so that I brought her to Payson Jr. High this past year to give a presentation to our Latinos in Action group, ESL and Spanish classes, a presentation I highly recommend. Both teachers and students loved it, and they loved Anna. Her books have surged in popularity among this group after meeting her and feeling of her love for both them and the written word.

Lu Ann: Anna, welcome. Can you tell my readers, what is your latest book about?

Anna: Shahira & the Flying Elfs is about giant eagles in the land of the elfs and her story. Shahira is a she-eagle and lives with her father, mother, and younger brother in the high cliffs of Eagle Mountain. Her dream is to find a stripling young eagle to mate. But mating is a ritual that happens in the sky and she can’t fly. She has told herself that one day she will be able to, but every time she tries, she falls.

Lu Ann: What inspired you to write fantasy instead of another genre?

Anna: Movies, I think. Star Wars, Start Trek, Willow, Arturian Tales, etc., and most of all The Lord of the Rings.

Lu Ann: How much of your books are planned out ahead of time, and how much of them are made up as you go?

Anna: They are all different. The Elf and the Princess was 90% planned. I sat to write the first page and tweaked it as I went. Shahira & the Flyng Elfs was 90% made up as I went. This was quite hard.

Lu Ann: So it sounds like having an outline works best for you. When it comes to Elves in fantasy, what do you consider to be some of the common elements of their race? Have you seen that completely changed or ignored in other books?

Anna: The common elements in elfs are that they live forever and know much. Also, that they are graceful, quiet, pretty, and overall much better that mankind. I have always expected elfs to be beautiful and perfect in many ways. Yet, when I read one book in the Shannara series they were ugly, in another book they were cannibals, in a third one, they were dark and delighted in killing. That set very heavily in my heart. I never picked up those books again. I consider elfs better than man and those three examples made them human or less, not better. Still, as authors we have the right to create our characters as we please…those are just not my cup of tea.

Lu Ann: It’s great that readers allow us that sort of freedom to craft our own characters. How do you pick the names for your characters?

Anna: Usually the characters come with their names to me. Seldom do I have to invent one. I have, though, and I usually pick a letter and then start saying words until one sticks with me. I usually sound the name of my characters in Spanish and I am picky about how they are pronounced. For this reason I have a table of pronunciation at the beginning of my books.

Lu Ann: I’m sure they are much more beautiful that way. Such a romantic sound to the language. Where can people go to find out more about you and your other works?

Anna: My website, and they can find my books also at Amazon: or Barnes & Noble. It was a pleasure to visit your blog today, thank you very much.

Lu Ann: Thank you for joining us, Anna. Our readers will be interested to know, they have a chance to win a PDF book of the Young Adult Novel, Shahira & the Flying Elfs. Anna will be giving one E-book to every blog that participates in the blog tour, so leave a comment if you want to be entered. 

Also, I’ll be adding my review of Anna’s book to this blog in the next few weeks. Thanks again! 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Far World: Air Keep -- J. Scott Savage

The adventure continues…

It’s been six months since Marcus and Kyja obtained the help of the land and water elementals. But before they can get help from the mysterious air elementals they have to figure out how to open a box with no key.

Together, Marcus and Kyja travel into the Is, the Was, the Will Be, and the Never Was as they try to open the box, save their city, free Land Keep and Water Keep from water and land elementals who have joined the Dark Circle. Marcus still has to find a way to change the future, and save Kyja’s life, but there’s a catch; any changes they make in the Abyss of Time may destroy the doorway, trapping them forever…

Even with his physical disability, Marcus is able to accomplish great things. It is a story of determination and friendship, and of having the courage to make those hard decisions.

Another brilliant addition to the Far World saga. Although J. Scott Savage is in my critique group, I really had only previewed a few early chapters in this episode, so reading the book was an exciting adventure for me, filled with surprises, twists & turns, familiar characters, as well as new ones, and an ending that made me yearn to read Fire Keep right away. (In other words, get busy writing, Jeff!)

I have loved the Far World series from the very beginning. Kyja is a wonderful role model. She truly cares about people and would give her life to protect another. The frightening part of this trait is that in Air Keep, if Marcus’s visions of the future are right, she might just be called upon to do that very thing. Despite his fears and the limitations of his disabilities, Marcus will do everything he can to protect his best friend and maintain her trust.

Because I have used Far World: Water Keep as one of my key literature studies with my English classes, and because these students went on to read Land Keep on their own, there was much excitement at the release of Air Keep throughout my school. I arranged for a school-wide assembly by the author, which was very well received by students and faculty alike. I would highly recommend both the book series and the assembly for grades 4-9.

And, by the way, I was so excited to see the return of the ishkabiddle. I’ve love the fur-ball almost as much as I love saying its name!  


Friday, May 24, 2013

Wednesdays in the Tower -- Jessica Day George

A castle that is constantly rearranging itself, and a young royal family sworn to protect it . . . Celie, Rolf, and their beloved Castle Glower are back in this exciting sequel.

Strange things are afoot in Castle Glower: new rooms, corridors, and even stables keep arriving, even when they aren't needed. Celie's brother Bran, the new Royal Wizard, has his hands full cataloguing an entire storeroom full of exotic and highly dangerous weapons, while Celie has her hands full . . . raising the creature that hatches from a giant egg she finds! Will they be able to find out what's making the Castle behave this way in time?

An absolutely delightful sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle. I felt I knew the characters better this time, and I was more familiar with the castle's quirks, which made the story easier for me to follow. I bought two copies for the junior high school library and had a half dozen students read it before the library closed for the school year. All of them loved the book as much as I did.

This series would be an excellent addition to literature circles or read aloud to the class for grades 1 through 7, or I highly recommend the book as a welcomed gift for wither boys or girls in the same age range. 

The book opened in the New York Times Bestseller list. Bravo, Jessica!

Only one thing to note, I'm not looking forward to waiting an entire year before I know what happens on Thursday!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Clockwork Angel -- Cassandra Clare

Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

Deliciously gruesome steam punk, not for the feint of heart. I could hardly devour this one fast enough to satisfy my curiosity. Happy that book two is already sitting on my to be read pile. It's no wonder the students and teachers have made it hard to keep this one on the shelves.

Some content is graphic, and I would not recommend this to anyone younger than 9th grade.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cragbridge Hall: The Inventor's Secret -- Chad Morris

Abby and Derick have been accepted to the most prestigious secondary school in the world: Cragbridge Hall. Due to the inventions of their grandfather, Oscar Cragbridge, they will be able to experience history in 3D, use their minds to literally project visual interpretations of classic literature, and become animal avatars for zoology. But when their grandfather and parents go missing, Abby and Derick must follow clues Oscar left for them that will reveal a dangerous secret. Along the way, they discover there is much more to one of their grandfather's inventions than anyone has ever dreamed. Saving their family will take all of Derick's mind and Abby's heart as they come face to face with a crazed scientist who desperately seeks to change the past. If they fail, the world past and future will never be the same.

Shadow Mountain has brought us what appears to be another delightful, and popular fantasy series for young readers. In the vein of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Missing series, The Infinity Ring series under the tutelage of creator and author James Dashner, and a dash of the 39 Clues series tossed in for good measure, Morris's novel takes us to the delightful possibility of time travel in an incredible school, unlike any in existence, and teaches a bit of history along the way.

Although some of the history was obscure and likely not familiar to the majority of young readers, they will immediately recognize, and experience the suspense, of the sinking of the Titanic. A little more development about Ernest Shackleton, Hugh Glass and John Colter, and the complete omission of the reference to Joseph Smith would have improved the historical aspects of the novel. The paragraph about Smith was confusing, causing me to reread three times and still not understanding why such an obscure event to the non-Mormon world was even included, other than to serve as an all-too-obvious head-nod to the local community of readers.

With that one exception, I loved the book and will recommend it to my junior-high students. The addition of discussion questions lends the book to small group study, such as literature circles.