October 28, 2017

The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 1: The Field Guide by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:12 pm by suebe2

The Spiderwick Chronicles:
Book 1: The Field Guide
by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

“Go away.
Close the book.
But it down.
Do not look.”

This is the warning on the back of the Field Guide. Yes, yes, you can disregard it.  After all, it is printed on a leaf and left lying on the book, but really?  If someone has gone through that much trouble, do you want to ignore it?

Jared and his twin brother Simon and older sister Mallory are forced to move into their great aunt’s house after their father leaves the family. Mom is especially worried about Jared.  After all, Simon has his books and his animals.  Mallory has her fencing.  Jared?  He got into a fight at school but that doesn’t seem to count for anything good.

Unfortunately this isn’t a cool old house.  Unless of course you think it is cool to live in a house with rotten floor boards, rooms that aren’t safe to enter and something scuttling around in the walls.  They are trying to find the source of the scuttling when Jared finds a hidden library.  Inside he finds a riddle written on a piece of paper.

Plot Spoiler.  No, really, this is going to mess up the plot.  But you were warned.

When Jared solves the riddle, he finds the Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.  Reading it, he start to develop a theory about what is in the walls, who pinched Mallory and Simon at night and got Jared in trouble, and how Simon’s poor tadpoles ended up in the freezer.

Mom doesn’t buy into the theory.  She’s sure that Jared is behind it all.  But he manages to convince his siblings that one of the creatures from the field guide is supposed to be watching the house.  Unfortunately, something has gone wrong.

This series isn’t new but my library just bought a new set of the books.  What is more inviting than a row of new books!?

I have to admit that one thing really bothered me.  I didn’t like that Mom was so ready to blame Jared.  Now, if I was 10 and had recently been blamed for something I didn’t do, as happened often when I was 10, I might feel differently.  But, as a mom, that bothered me.

My favorite part was the old house.  Like the characters in the book, I would want to explore and discover what is what.

With three young characters – one who is sporty, one who is bookish, and one who is having troubles finding himself – young readers will almost certainly identify with one of them.  If you have an older elementary student who is reading well on their own but isn’t ready for full length teen novels, try these books out.  They are fantasy and only about 100 pages long.  Each book has pen and ink illustrations that help bring the story to life.

–SueBE

April 5, 2016

Tithe by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:11 am by suebe2

Tithe
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Book

Sixteen year-old Kay is used to living a semi-nomadic life.  After all, Mom is a musician and when things with a band, or a boyfriend, go South, it can mean hitting the road.  Still, no boyfriend has ever pulled a knife on her Mom before but that’s what happens after the gig.  The problem is that this time Kay and her mother have nowhere to go.  They end up leaving New York City for New Jersey to stay with Kay’s grandmother.

They lived her when Kay was a child and she’s eager to return to the shore and the ocean and the wind and the trees.  It is all just too perfect except that it no longer fits.

Her bedroom is pink and frilly and cute.  In fact, it is perfect for the 8 year-old girl she was but much less so for the teen she is.  Her best friend Janet begs her not to act to weird and Kay tries.  She really and truly does.  But sometimes when she loses herself in her thoughts things happen — like the evening she bewitches a defunct merry-go-round horse to come to life and enchants Janet’s boy friend who suddenly wants her and no one else.

At first Kay blames the attraction on her exotic looks — blonde and Asian.  But then she meets Roiben, a beautiful warrior shot by an arrow. It is clear he isn’t human but can he truly be an elf like he claims?  And that’s when Kay’s world begins to unravel and she finds herself underground in the beautiful, wicked world of the faery court.  Slowly Kay unravels who, and what, she really is. The reality that she uncovers reveals a plot long in the making, a plot designed to bring a kingdom tumbling down.

If I’m not mistaken, this is one of Black’s earlier novels.  In it, readers will find a delicious blend and fantasy and reality, dark and decadent.  The voices of her teen characters are unflinchingly real even when an adult reader wishes they would chill . . . just a little.  Hint:  Beware listening to this as an audiobook without earphones, especially the first 1/3 of the book.  Yes, it was just my husband who overheard but still.

In this “Modern Faerie Tale,” Black blends fantasy and mystery and romance for an enticing read for your teen fantasy fan.

–SueBE

 

September 22, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:07 am by suebe2

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
by Holly Black
Little Brown

There are predators and there are prey.  Turn cold and you are somewhere in between.

Tana lives in a world very like our own.  “Reality” shows on television and the internet portray anything but reality.  Teens, convinced that what they have seen is true, make life altering decisions based on these facts.

Casper Morales was a vampire who, instead of draining his victims, let them life.  He thought he was being merciful, but those he had fed on all carried the virus.  As the infection grew within them, they became colder and colder.  Soon they were overcome by a thirst for warmth and for blood.  People thought they could quarantine their loved ones, keeping them and everyone else safe until the virus no longer coursed through their veins.  That’s how Tana came to be bit the first time.

When she wakes up in a bathtub, it takes a few moments to realize why she is there.  A party.  She came to the farmhouse for a sundown party.  In an attempt to avoid her ex-boyfriend, she took refuge in the bathroom and fell into a drunken slumber.  The sun is high in the sky as she slowly realizes that someone should have awoken her hours ago in a bid to use the shower.  Why is the house deathly quiet?

Soon she finds herself on a drive to the nearest Coldtown.  With her in the car are her ex-boyfriend, going cold, a vampire hiding from the sun in the trunk,  and, potentially, a virus growing within her veins, a virus that infected her when she was scraped by a vampire’s fangs as she escaped out the window.  Tana wonders just how cold and hungry she will be by the time she reaches Coldtown.

I am NOT a fan of vampire books.  That’s in caps because it really can’t be emphasized enough.  I honestly don’t think that I’ve read 10 in the last 3 years and given the number of books I read, that says a lot.

But I really love Black’s writing.  She has a deliciously sarcastic sense of humor and has much to say about our plugged in global society.  When a site I read recommended this, I gave in and gave it a chance.

Yes, it is a paranormal romance in that she is human(ish) and he is vampire.  But she is not helpless, he is not trying to turn her, and just what a vampire is is called into question in the course of this novel.  Are they truly damned and posessed by a supernatural evil that makes them something other than their human selves?  Or are they infected by a virus, the symptoms of which drive them to do things they would never contemplate as humans?  Or is answer something else?  Something less comfortable? Perhaps they are simply removed from the rules and ethics that keep our true selves from shining through.

As always, Black’s characters are wonderfully drawn.  Tana, our heroine, is delightfully snarky and doesn’t take anything from anyone — including her ex.  Aidan is the bad-boy, or at least the troublesome player, that you just can’t help but love.  He’s adorable and irritating and everyone has known a boy just like him, darn it all.  Gavriel, the vampire in the trunk, is clever and endearing and crazy – or is he.

Pick this one up for the fast moving plot and keep reading it for the characters, the humor and the social commentary.

–SueBE

March 3, 2014

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:06 am by suebe2

Doll Bones
by Holly Black

Zach gets it.  He’s growing up.  But he and Alice and Poppy have been friends ever since they were little kids.  And that whole time they’ve been telling stories, using a wide variety of action figures and dolls as characters.  The scariest character of all is the Queen, a palid china doll locked in a glass cabinet at Poppy’s house.  They aren’t allowed to touch the expensive antique, but they still work her into their stories.

Zach knows it looks babyish, like they’re playing with dolls.  And he doesn’t want the guys on his middle school basketball team to know anything about it. But he loves the excitement of not only finding out what happens next but sometimes being the one to make it happen.  He loves the thrill of being able to break the rules and save the day.

Then he gets home from school and can’t find his backpack full of figures.  His father has decided he is too old for them and thrown them away.   He didn’t mean it in a bad way.  He says he’s just trying to help Zach out, but it doesn’t feel like help.

Hurt and confused, Zach starts avoiding the girls.  Then one night they come knocking at his window.  They’re carrying the Queen and they’ve come with a story Poppy swears is true.  This isn’t just a china doll but a bone china doll and the bone used to make the china strong were those of a girl their own age who was murdered and baked into china.  She has been haunting Poppy’s dreams and she isn’t going to stop until they find out what happened and place her in her grave which has been lying empty for over 100 years.

Zack isn’t sure if he believes Poppy but this is their chance.  Finally, they can have the kind of adventure they are always telling stories about.  This is their chance to save the day if only they can find the nerve to do it.

As popular as this book is, I have to admit that it took me a while to get into it.  Why?  Because we spend a great deal of time with the Zach, Poppy and Alice in their regular routine before the adventure begins.  And, as we all know, the regular routine really isn’t all that exciting.  That’s what makes telling their stories so much fun.

But without this foundation, what happens later would be much less creepy and the plight of the little girl from long ago would seem much less plausible except we are able to trace elements of her story through the lives of the three friends.   And I had to laugh at how difficult they found certain aspects of a real adventure vs all of the books they had read — Percy Jackson and Legolas don’t need to remember to pack sunscreen.

This is a fun middle grade adventure and the creepy isn’t too terribly creepy.  My one concern is that with the china doll on the cover, it will be difficult to get your boys to pick it up.  With Zach as the main character, the book will work for them if only you can get them to give it a try.  Once the adventure takes off, it drags the reader along for the ride.

–SueBE

November 19, 2013

Black Heart by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:08 am by suebe2

Black Heart
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry

In a world much like our own, magic is illegal.  In our world, that wouldn’t be a huge problem but Cassel was born with magic.  Imagine having amazing abilities and not being able to use them unless, of course, you are willing to be a criminal.  To some people, it might seem like that Cassel was born into a criminal family, small time but a criminal family nonetheless.

One brother, now deceased, was a curse worker.  Another works memories.  Mom can work someone’s emotions.  Cassel?  Cassel is the rarest of them all.  He can transform people, changing faces or changing them completely.  It isn’t surprising then that big criminal families want him for their own and so does the government.

What Cassel wants is getting complicated too.  When he was a child, back before he knew he could transform, he wanted to have magic just like everyone else he knew.  Now that he has it, he wishes that he could forget the things that he’s done with it.  More than anything, he just wants to be a good person, a person his friends can trust.

But how can anyone trust you when you don’t trust yourself?  Cassel has signed a deal with the feds and that should make things easier.  But when your family is criminal, a deal with the feds means death so he has to hide what he is doing.  And then there are the things that they ask him to do.  Transforming a person into a living thing isn’t the same as murder but when they ask him to transform a state governor, Cassel starts to ask himself questions — why have them come to someone with no experience, someone they clearly don’t trust?  And why should he trust them?

This is an amazing conclusion to the Curse Worker trilogy. It isn’t often that the books get better later in the trilogy but that is what Black has pulled off. Themes of goodness and evil, and personal responsibility play out in an amazing way.

And, the reality is, that the louder Cassel shouts that he is bad, the more convinced the reader is that deep down he is a good person, a person who cares deeply about even those who have hurt him.   That said, he has a truly wicked sense of humor that will appeal to male readers.

–SueBE

October 14, 2013

Red Glove by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:20 am by suebe2

Red Glove
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry

As a child, Cassel dreamed of being a worker like everyone else in his family.  His mother works emotions.  His brother Baron works memories.  His oldest brother Phillip is a physical worker, able to inflict damage and pain, but that’s nothing compared to Grandfather.  He is a death worker, able to kill with the touch of an ungloved hand.

As luck would have it, Cassel is a worker but he is the rarest worker of all.  A Transformation Worker, he can change anything or anyone into something else.  Eventually he learns that he can even change himself in order to make a hasty escape.

Now that Cassel knows he is a worker, he finds himself hip deep in one con after another.  His mother wants him to help her find a new mark to finance her lifestyle and his education, and the richer the better.  His brother, now on the outs with the Zacharov crime family because of Cassel, want him to join another family, but still in the role of assassin.  Lila Zacharaov has been worked to believe that she loves him and wants to pose as his fake girlfriend.  Even the feds are involved, wanting him to find the killer behind a series of disappearances as well as his brother’s murder.

Surprisingly, Cassel always thought of school as a place full of phonies but he finds himself making at least a few friends who know who he is and don’t try to use him.

This is the second book in the Curse Workers series.  While I think you could follow this book without reading Book #1 (The White Cat) first, there are subtleties and reasons behind various events that you would miss.  Read The White Cat first.  

This is an easy book to like because, messed up as Cassel is, he is incredibly likable, more-so than many of the other characters.

But this is also a very hard book to describe because it deals with some complex moral issues.  What does it mean to be a good person?  Can you be a good person if you do bad things but for someone’s own good?  How much should you risk to protect a family member who has forced you to murder and then erased your memories?  Does the end result purify the motive behind it?

This is an urban fantasy.  The characters walk in our world if we lived in a world in which magic is possible but feared and despised.  You will adore some of the characters as much as you dislike others but they will all make you think.

–SueBE

 

 

 

September 9, 2013

White Cat by Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:50 am by suebe2

White Cat
Book 1 in the Curse Workers
by Holly Black
(Simon & Schuster)

Cassel almost never takes his gloves off even around his family.

Cassel lives in our world, or at least what our world would be like if there were people who could do magic.  And I don’t mean pull the rabbit out of a hat slight of hand.  I mean cause people to dream, and possible sleep walk to their deaths.  Erase people’s memories, causing them to forget or planting substitute memories.  The rarest ability of all is the ability to change something, or someone, into something else.

That’s why the gloves.  You have to make skin to skin contact by hand to curse someone — because although these gifts can and are used for good, the fear that it could be used for bad is just too strong.  Curse work.

Most workers grow adept at hiding their abilities, especially since using them is illegal.  Not that Cassel is a worker.  Everyone else in his family is but not Cassel.  He has other things to hide even if he can’t wipe them from his memory.  Again and again, his mind drifts back to the night he came too standing over the body of his best friend.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s holding the bloody knife and . . . he’s happy about it.  What kind of a monster is he?

These are the thoughts that separate him from his fellow students until the night he wakes up standing on his dorm roof.  He doesn’t know how he got there or even what path he took but the fact that he might have sleepwalked gets him expelled from school.  After all, he might have been worked.

Out of school until he can finagle his way back in, Cassel has the time to poke around and what he discovers changes his whole world.  Because he has been worked. And he has killed.  But not in the ways he remembers.  And now he questions how much of what he remembers even happened.

This isn’t a new book — it came out in 2010 — but it is an amazing piece of young adult literature.  And it is young adult.  This isn’t the magical world of Harry Potter — not that I’m panning Potter but this magic is very different.  Every time a worker uses their gift, they suffer blow back.  If they use it for good, the blow back can be good, but if they use it for ill?  Unpleasant things happen, especially if you’re a death worker.

Not that this story is all dark.  Black has worked an amazing amount of humor into this story.  While some of it is still quite dark, it does lighten the overall mood.  And Cassel does discover that he has some really good friends.

This is a real page turner and readers will be rooting for Cassel as he struggles to figure out just what has happened and where he fits in to this incredibly complicated world.

–SueBE

 

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