Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Cover image for The charmed children of Rookskill CastleKatherine has been sent away from the bombing in London to a school in Scotland with her younger brother and sister, Robbie and Amelie. When they arrive at Rookskill Castle, where the school is housed, Katherine senses instantly that something is very wrong and that evil lurks in the halls and walls of the castle.  Her fears are confirmed when other children from the school begin to change or disappear.  Luckily, before she left London her aunt gave her a strange peace of jewelry, a Chatelaine, an told her it has magical powers. As more children disappear, Katherine, and her bold new American friend, Peter, must figure out what is going on and how they can stop it before time runs out.

One of my friends at work really liked this book and I liked it alright.  It is pretty spooky, with a seriously creepy villain.  The author switches point of view between Katherine and the evil villain. The scariest part of the book is to see how the villain's mind works, justifying her actions at first, and finally abandoning all pretense.  I don't think this one crosses the this-is-just-too-horrifying line (like Coraline did).  It was scary, but many children, especially those who like spine-tinglers, should be able to read it without serious trauma.  Don't give it to anyone prone to nightmares, though.  The author leaves the book wide open for a sequel.  (388 p)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sink or Swim by Sarah Mlynowski

Cover image for Sink or swimHere is book 3 in the Whatever After series.  In this one Abby and Jonah travel through the magic mirror to the island of Mustard just as the Little Mermaid, Lana, is saving prince Mortimer from the shipwreck.  The arrival of the kids scares Lana away before Prince Mortimer wakes up so he doesn't get a chance to meet her.  Now the kids have a dilemma.  Do they want to fix Lana's story, knowing how it originally ends (not they Disney ending, but the H. C. Anderson depressing ending)?  This is about like the other Whatever After books; a little humor, a little moralizing and a happily-ever-after ending that is different from the original fairy tale. It is cute, and it gave me something simple but mildly entertaining to listen to while I did a big weeding project today.  (165 p)

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh

Cover image for The door by the staircaseMary is an orphan who is adopted by a kindly old lady, Madam Z.  For the first time since her family's death Mary has someone who seems to care about her.  Her new guardian lives in a village full of fake practitioners of magic, but as time goes by Mary begins to wonder if some of the magic might be real.  She also wonders if Madam Z is as harmless as she seems.  Luckily Mary has a new friend in town, the son of a two-bit magician, and together they make plans to find out what is really going on.

I enjoy stories that draw on traditional folktales, especially cultures with which I am less familiar. This one is full of references to Slavic folktales, including, of course, Baba Yaga, but also Koschei, the Firebird, a Domovoi and others. Mary is a likable character, intelligent and brave, who is very wary of her new life and caregiver.  Madam Z is also a complicated character, and I honestly didn't know, half way through the book, where the author was going to take their relationship.  This is a great middle grade fantasy,  exciting, interesting, and just a little scary. 273 p.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Detective's Assitant by Kate Hannigan

Cover image for The detective's assistantRecently orphaned Cornelia (Nell) gets sent to her maiden aunt who is her only remaining relative.  The year is 1859 and Aunt Kitty is the first and only female detective in the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  At first Aunt Kitty wants to find a respectable boarding school for Nell, to get her out of her hair, but gradually she comes to realize that Nell is not such a bad detective operative herself.  Together they solve some pretty tough cases, but the most difficult mystery of all--what really happened when both Nell's father and Kitty's husband were killed--is the one Aunt Kitty is not quite ready to tackle.

This was a cute historical mystery.  The characters of both Nell and her aunt are endearing and well rounded and their relationship develops in a charming (if predictable) way. It turns out that much of the information about Aunt Kitty is based on a real historical person, Kate Warne.  She was, indeed, the first female detective, and the cases they solve in the book are ones that Pinkerton wrote about in his memoirs.  (359 p.)

So here is the question.  What kind of genre sticker do I put on this book, historical fiction or mystery? (I have just started a project to put genre stickers on the J Fiction section in my library and am finding that designating genre is trickier than I thought.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Beware the Power of the Dark Side by Tom Angleberger

Imagine you are invited to Tom Angleberger's house to watch the old classic, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. You have popcorn and drinks and are sitting in comfortable chairs and there is a kid or two in the room with you.  As the movie plays, Mr. Angleberger starts making comments about what is going on.  Occasionally he will freeze the frame and go into the a long and funny story about a random extra in the background.  If it were the first time you had seen the movie, this would be annoying, but since you have seen this movie more times than you could count, it is just lots of fun. That is basically what this book is like.  In this book Angleberger (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, 2010) retells the story with vivid play-by-play narrative and plenty of funny and insightful commentary.  Most of the book sticks closely to the action of the movie, but occasionally, Angleberger will sidetrack to illuminate the backstory of a less known character, and in at least one spot adds a conversation that foreshadows the action in the new movie, The Force Awakens. One thing I really appreciate about the book is that Angleberger tactfully pulls back from description or detail that would be too much for and upper-grade-school age reader. This is a great choice for Star Wars fans, young and old. 412 p.