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More Middle Picks
For those of you who have been following the adventures of Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Nurd and the rest of the crew in Biddlecombe (and other, less salubrious locations), John Connolly’s The Creeps is a must-read. It’s hard to say much without giving things away, but Mrs. Abernathy is back despite having her atoms scattered all about, Nurd is bored, the Great Malevolence is threatened by something even worse than it is, and there’s an upbeat and generally happy gelatinous cube sliming around.
From the very first book, The Gates, John Connolly’s narration of the events surrounding Samuel and Boswell have charmed me to the point of goofy grinning. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve stopped perfect strangers to read passages aloud, generally the footnotes, quite honestly. They make me laugh as well as being informative! And The Creeps is no different. The footnotes are brilliant, the story races around incredible twists and turns but never loses its traction, and I was sorry to see it end, although the ending is quite satisfying.
It looks like John Connolly has wrapped up his YA series with Samuel Johnson and faithful Boswell in The Creeps, but he has left himself wiggle room for more books, should he decide to revisit these fabulous people. Although you don’t have to bring Miss Moffett back, John. She truly gave me the creeps!
(Amber Here: The Gates age range is, according to the publisher, 12+, and I suspect The Creeps is the same!)
Dead City is a great introduction to Molly Bigelow, where you learn the important essentials about who she is - how she misses her mom, why her sister is both evil/awesome at the same time and about her goofy dad. You learn how she marches to the beat of her own drummer - hanging out at the morgue (where her mom used to work), learned a martial art instead of ballet, was an avid junior birder and learned the periodic table backwards and forwards. These fun activities have however caused her to be, well, less than popular among her fellow classmates at MIST (Metropolitan Institute of Science)…..
These activities, which make her unpopular are what make her a natural Omega.
What’s an Omega you ask? The Omegas are a small, select team of students, like Molly, who are smart and driven, tasked with policing or peace-keeping (depending on your view) the zombies population of Manhattan.
Yeah it was hard for Molly to wrap her head around as well.
This is a great first book. Ponti gives the reader enough information to know exactly what is going on, while leaving a large number of crumbs/hints about what the reader will find in the next installment of the series, Blue Moon, giving the characters greater depth in the next book.
I enjoyed the fact that the book started mid-action. It forces the reader to catch up, and think when you go back a bit in Molly’s timeline, to understand how she became an Omega and learned about zombies (which, btw, they don’t like to be called, just in case you need to know). Plus Molly is a wonderful heroine, and her teammates are just as good with both strengths and flaws; while they are all over achievers, none of them are so over the top they are unbelievable.
I would recommend this book to any girl (or open-minded boy as there are several really great male characters) nine and up. While this book is good, the second book in this series, Blue Moon, is Fantastic! However the events make much more sense and have more depth when you read the first book first!
One thing you can count on when you begin a Jasper Fforde book is that it will be chock full of memorable characters. And surprises.
The Eye of Zoltar, the third in The Chronicles of Kazam series - following The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast - runs off in several directions at once, and they're all fascinating. Jennifer Strange, indentured orphan and manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, has already accomplished a great deal, but her skills are put to the test when The Mighty Shandar (who never gives refunds) insists that she find the missing Eye of Zoltar, a powerful magic gem. Of course, no one knows where it is or if it even really exists, but Jennifer must find it or a horrible fate will befall Colin and Feldspar, the last dragons.
I can't say more without giving too much away, except that we get to meet a whole new set of people. Jennifer's only companion is Perkins; the rest of the crew must stay home. But the people that Jennifer and Perkins meet along the way, including a spoiled princess, an intrepid guide, and various hungry beasts, will charm you to no end.
I had been afraid The Eye of Zoltar would complete the series but no, this opens the doorway to an incredible adventure, and I can't wait to see what comes next. My only regret is that there wasn't enough Quarkbeast in it, but I feel confident that in upcoming books, there will be plenty of Quarkbeast action.
If you're looking for a fun, fantastical series, this is it. Ignore the fact that it's considered Young Adult (unless you are a young adult, in which case, carry on), and simply immerse yourself in the fabulous, magical world that Jasper Fforde has created!
What do a strong man/giant, a woman with trick rats, an assassin, a monkey boy and a wolf girl all have in common? They are part of a Victorian era freak show. Before the times of political correctness, people looking for cheap entertainment would spend a penny or two and visit these side shows to stare at two headed lambs and people with unfortunate appearances.
Till is a mudlark a little kid who, due to her dire circumstances, looks for tossed away junk in the Thames. Items she and her family can sell to traders in order to keep body and soul together. One night needing a bit of relief and entertainment she sneaks into show, Plumpscuttle’s Peculiars, where she meets Sheba.
Sheba is a wolf girl, with very few good memories, no idea where she came from or who her parents are. Sheba has always been a side show freak, which doesn’t bother her very much, thing could be a whole lot worse. When Till meets Sheba they find the beginning of a friendship between them.
A day or two later there is a knock on the gate of the Peculiars’ house; it is Till’s parents. Till has disappeared without a trace while she was picking in the mud and they are beside themselves with worry. The police won’t help them, they are to poor and low class for the authorities to take notice of their problem. So they come to Plumscuttle’s Peculiars and ask them for help finding Till, and the other missing children.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a great historical middle book, that never tries to cram extraneous knowledge into the book. The author did a great job in making the Victorian era slums come alive with the vocabulary, people and smells. While the author is dealing with characters who are part of a side show, he does a wonderful job in making them human and accessible. Weaving messages, camouflaging lessons and showing ideas without beating the reader over the head about accepting people for who they are and not judging them by their cover, or appearance.
The mystery is fast-paced and engaging, never a dull moment. You root for Sheba and the Peculiars on in trying to find Till and the other missing children before it is to late. I would recommend it for girls (or open minded boys, since Monkeyboy is a fantastic character for them, full of well gross boy humor) 9-12. The other great thing the author does, is the last chpter goes over the history he uses in the book, side shows and their employees, Victoria era London, The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 the poor and much more!
I highly recommend this book!
Bartholomew Kettle lives in a very different Victorian era England from the one we know. His England contains clockwork men, animals and gadgets all powered by steam and filled with grease. When the city of Bath disappeared one day under a cloud of millions of feathers, the inhabitants were never seen again and only ruins remained. It is what crept out of the ruins which changed everything: faeries or Sidhe as they are sometimes called, had come to England. They went to war. Angry they could not return to their homes, the faeries were accused of crimes and persecuted….They lost. So they created New Bath, full of smoke, slums and decay.
This is where Bartholomew lives, reviled by humans and the faeries alike due to his changeling heritage (his father was Sidhe, his mother was human). He and his sister Hettie stay hidden from prying eyes to stay safe, as children like them don’t often live very long.
This is more true that even he knows. There is a silent menace stalking changeling children - nine bodies devoid of blood, bone and muscle have been found - all with the same strange red writing covering their entire bodies.
Mr. Jelliby is a man happy to drift through his life, filling it with days at his club, spoiling his wife and sleeping until noon. Even his seat in Parliament was a job he just fell into by chance. He was happy to continue his life in just this manner, however luck and fate decided to conspire against his indolence. He discovers, by a twist of fate, who exactly is abducting and killing these changeling children. Despite his indolence, Mr. Jelliby is a good man and decides to help save the people who are caught up in this evil and begins his own private inquiry.
When Bartholomew witnesses his almost-friend being bought by a strange woman in plum and is seen himself….this sets these two very dissimilar people on a collision course and endangers everyone Bartholomew loves in the process.
It is Halloween and Cole Randolph and his friends have heard nothing but great things about the new haunted house in town. Deciding this sounds like more fun than trick-or-treating, a group of kids from Cole’s school head out to be scared out of their costumes.
The haunted house hides a much more sinister secret, a trap - one which Cole and his friends unwittingly walk into. While Cole is able to remove himself from it, his friends are not so lucky. Cole, unwilling to abandon his friends to an unknown fate, willingly follows them and their captors….to the Outskirts.
The Outskirts is an in-between place where, if you have the power, you can shape the world around you into a thing of dreams or nightmares, depending on your nature. The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms, each very different but ruled by a single high king. An evil king, whose only love is power….
Cole, who is quickly discovered by his friends captors, is sold into slavery to the sky raiders. His quest to rescue his friends begins when he meets a unusual girl named Mira.
The biggest wrinkle in Cole’s rescue efforts? It is free to enter the Outskirts, but near impossible to leave. And even if you do, almost everyone will end up back in the five kingdoms, forgotten by everyone who loves you….
This is a fantastic start to this new series. It is action-packed and very dense (in a good way). Filled with well rounded characters, a well thought out magic system and dynamic over arching story lines, I cannot say enough good things about this book!
Now, do not read anything into the characters being sold into slavery. In this case, Mull is using it as a plot device to scatter the friends across the five kingdoms, making Cole’s self appointed task more difficult. Mull does a great job of not philosophizing on the subject or creating some sort of moral lesson, which would harm the story. Instead, this can be used as a talking point with your kids…such as how children have been sold into slavery through the centuries and even today in many parts of the world they still are not safe. But Mull does not do any of this for you. It is simply the reality of the situation the kids find themselves in, nothing more.
I enjoyed the fact there is actual crime in the book - a theft of sorts, faked deaths, people in hiding and others on the run. There are a lot of layers to this story, as it quickly turns from a simple plan to rescue his friends to rescuing a kingdom with some new friends. Mull is great at providing hints of what may come, details to speculate (read “obsess“) over and wonder about long after you have finished the book.
I would recommend this book to any boy (or open minded girl as Mira plays a very significant role in the book and is wonderful to read) 8+. I think the action-packed adventure and Cole’s determination will appeal to most anyone.