When You Reach Me – Do You Believe In Time Travel?

Book Review : When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: 

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

This was a weird book! I have read a lot of odd books, and this one tops the list because it is written for a young audience, has some mature material and references A Wrinkle In Time. I have my doubts that lots of kids have read Madeleine L’Engle award winning book from 1963, and without this background it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Because of this I feel like When You Reach Me was written for adults within the format of a children’s book. I don’t think many kids will enjoy this book (I could be wrong, I’ve seen a review where a teacher shared it with her 4th grade class and she said they all loved it). The lexile level is listed as 750 which roughly corresponds to a 4-6th grade level. (I don’t actually like the lexile system because it doesn’t take into consideration the content.) It is suggested for ages 11-14 which is about 5-9th grade.

Gritty, unpleasant subjects are also explored; a slightly mature content.  To me the most prominent was the homeless man who the children were frightened of, who lived under the mailbox. Other subjects touched on included rehabilitation in prisons, racism, single mothers, consequences of getting pregnant when not married and dead-end jobs. It was sad to see how Miranda and Sal fell out of their friendship. I think many children could easily identify with subject because friendships are often fragile, especially as they transition in the teen years.

For me the main reference to A Wrinkle In Time was to provide a literary device to explain time travel. It just didn’t feel right, though I loved A Wrinkle In Time, I’m fuzzy on the details since I haven’t read it in a long time. It just didn’t feel like a pertinent reference. (I hate to say it since I know someone will jump all over me for saying this, but that’s just how I felt.) Time travel always has certain rules, like you can’t see yourself in a different time or you could go crazy. Does the time traveling character go a little crazy in When You Reach Me? The plot became very obvious to me, as an adult. I believe a younger audience will find the end surprising and sad.

I did like some of the characters, like Miranda, who was filled with self-doubts, but I just never felt emotionally connected to the story. I never understood Miranda’s mother as all. It seemed to have a slow start and it seemed like the course of action Miranda was encouraged to take wasn’t safe. I wouldn’t want my child to follow mysterious letters, and keep secrets about a stranger watching their every move, seeming to know the future.

I didn’t hate When You Reach Me, but I didn’t love it either. When I saw it again in the library I had no desire to share it with my child, which is telling of my overall impression. I don’t know how books are chosen to be Newberry Award winners. The winners frequently seem to be edgy, thought provoking or have content that will interest adults. I frequently like readying the Newberry books for my personal enjoyment.

I would love to see a respected award given to books that kids will love. My hope is to have children love reading when they are young so they will continue to read as adults. I think there is plenty of time to read thought provoking novels later, when teens are questioning who they are and how they fit in the world, and children’s books could go back to being fun for children.

I would love to hear about Newberry books that your kids have loved reading.

3 out of 5 stars
3 star
– Michelle

If you like this one  try The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (I don’t know how much children will like this one.)  and Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett.

I liked both of these much more than When You Reach Me.

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The Candy Shop War – A Moral Tale

Book Review: The Candy Shop War

By Brandon Mull

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

What if there were a place where you could get magical candy? Moon rocks that made you feel weightless. Jawbreakers that made you unbreakable. Or candy that gave animals temporary human intelligence and communication skills. (Imagine what your pet would say!) Four young friends, Nate, Summer, Trevor, and Pigeon, are befriended by Belinda White, the owner of a new candy shop on Main Street. However, the gray- haired, grandmotherly Mrs. White is not an ordinary candy maker. Her confections have magical side effects. Purposefully, she invites the kids on a special mission to retrieve a hidden talisman under Mt. Diablo Elementary School. However, Mrs. White is not the only magician in town in search of the ancient artifact rumored to be a fountain of youth. She is aware that Mr. Stott, the not- so- ordinary ice cream truck driver, has a few tricks of his own. (Courtesy of Goodreads.com )

Adult Point of View

I had no idea how much I would like this book. We’ve all heard the adage not to take candy from strangers. Another saying we all know is to never judge a book by its cover. Mull provides compelling reasons to follow such sage advice.

As a child I remember eating moon rocks that crackled in my mouth and walking around in moon boots (it was a popular item in the 70’s-80’s). I definitely would have wanted to eat moon rocks that would make me weightless, even if given to me from a stranger. Though I did refuse candy from the crossing guard, who I didn’t know, but she only offered regular candy so it wasn’t tempting. Nate, Summer, Trevor and Pigeon get snookered into trying Mrs. White’s candy and  it ends up being a lot more trouble than they expected. The candy has dire consequences for their families and everyone in town.

Mrs. White, a sweet grandmotherly figure who makes candy. Who could be more trustworthy? Surely not Mr. Stott! Once again, the kids see that appearances can be deceiving. Now they have to figure out how to get out of the trouble they started. Mrs. White wasn’t what she seemed and has nefarious things in mind. Maybe next time they will listen to their parents’ advice.

I highly recommend this book for the tween audience. It’s fun, full of action, fast paced and has a feel good quality that much of young adult literature is missing. In fact, I like most everything written by Brandon Mull. I went to a book signing and it was going to be at least a four hour wait because the high school auditorium was full of fans. I wasn’t committed enough to stay to get a book signed, but I can tell there are a lot of people who agree that he writes books that kids love.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

Some of my other favorite tween and early teen books include:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave, The Natnat Adventures By Brydie Walker Bain (e-book)
Chasing Vermeer By Blue Balliett
The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Talking To Dragons by Patricia Wrede (This one is a little more advanced.)
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Also for more advanced readers.)

There are more, but that should get you started on more ideas for young readers.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell -What Would It Be Like If England Had Magic?

Book Review : Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

By Susanna Clarke

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me…

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

As I hefted the book out of the library I thought it looked a tad daunting; as I opened it and saw the size of the type and the extent of the footnotes I knew I was right. Some books are written in a straight line, going straight from beginning to middle to the end; while other books take detours. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has many ungainly limbs spreading out into different paths, that really have nothing to do with the main story line, but add background, depth and humour. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression and think I didn’t like the book, because I actually liked it quite a bit, but I also think future readers might like to know that  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will be a journey. In my mind this would be a book more typically enjoyed by women, however, it was recommended to be by my friend’s husband. It was also a man’s review online that gave it a glowing report. This novel has also been a New York Times Best Seller! So, before you read any further I want you to know that I recommend it for all audiences. It is appropriate for a young audience though the style and thickness might be overwhelming. Ultimately this is a book about people and their choices, and not all choices are as simple as right and wrong.

I thought it would be helpful to have a readers guide to characters. There must be 100 characters, but only a dozen or so are important enough to remember.

As per the title, you can guess two key characters, and the rest of the characters that I would consider to be of the utmost importance are as follows:

Mr Gilbert Norrell – fussy bachelor, magic book aficionado, vain and anxious, first modern practicing magician of England, power hungry and devious while being unassuming
Jonathan Strange – landed gentry, without direction until he happens upon magic, obsessive, also vain, student of Mr Norrell, second modern practicing magician, driven

Childermass – servant of Mr Norell, though so much more knowledgeable and capable than such a description would suggest
Drawlight – a gossip, a gentlemen strung out on credit, vain, brings Mr Norrell into society
Lascelles – has a studied demeanor of boredom, advisor to Mr Norrell, schemes with Drawlight to stay popular through their association with Mr Norrell
Sir Walter Pole – distant relation of Mr Norrell, a politician, brings government’s attention to magic and Mr Norell
Lady Pole (former Miss Wintertowne)– example of Mr Norrell’s magic prowess as she is raised from the dead, she grows to hate her life and dancing
A Gentleman with thistle-down hair – King of Lost-Hope, a fairy kingdom, with a love of revelry and reenacting the glorious (and often bloody) past
Stephen Black – the black servant of Sir Walter with regal mannerisms, the reluctant companion of the Gentleman with thistle-down hair and commiserator of Lady Pole
Mrs Strange (former Arabella Woodhope) – sister in circumstance with Lady Pole and wife of Jonathan Strange
Vinculus – curtain magician, fraud, thief, seer and rather smelly man with 5 wives
Mr Segundus – a theoretical magician, a genuinely kind, unassuming person
John Uskglass – also known as the Raven King, the Black King, the King of the North, the greatest historical magician of England and author of English magic; some revere him while others hope to push him into obscurity
Jeremy Johns – loyal servant of Jonathan Strange
Lord Wellington – Army commander, directs Johnathan Strange in useful magic against Napoleon’s forces
Greysteele family – friends of Jonathan Strange, met while traveling on the Continent, spend a considerable amount of time together in Venice

The majority of the scenes take place in drawing rooms, through conversations, some letters or published works and of course over books of magic. There are two drawn out battles with Jonathan Strange working to thwart Napoleon as well as the time he spends in Italy. And finally, there are scenes that take place in the fairy world, which are most discomfiting. The writing style reminds me distinctly of Jane Austen, with the fussy, proper characters and social prejudice inherent to the early 1800’s.

Here are a few quotes to give you the flavor of the book.

A commentary on politics:

“The Foreign Secretary was a quite peerless orator. No matter how low the Government stood in the estimation of everyone, when the Foreign Secretary  stood up and spoke – ah! how different everything seemed then! How quick was every bad thing discovered to be the fault of the previous administration (an evil set of men who wedded general stupidity to wickedness of purpose). As for the present Ministry, the Foreign Secretary said that not since the days of Antiquity had the world seen gentlemen so virtuous, so misunderstood and so horribly misrepresented by their enemies. They were all as wise as Solomon, noble as Caesar and courageous as Mark Antony…” (p 69)

A typical character description (this one is of Vinculus):

“His face was the colour of three-day-old milk; his hair was the colour of a coal-smoke-and-ashes London sky; and his clothes were the colour of the Thames at dirty Wapping.” (p 127)

A typical passage that I found humorous:

“He believed that he had done everything she wanted in the way of reforming his behaviour. His card-playing and other sorts of gambling had all dwindled away almost to nothing and he drank very little now – scarcely more than a bottle a day.” (p 208)

I hope you enjoy reading this book, I definitely recommend it!

4  out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you liked this one try Sorcery & Cecelia: Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede, another Regency meets magic novel.

A little about the author, Susan Mary Clarke:

Clarke began Jonathan Strange in 1993 and worked on it during her spare time. For the next decade, she published short stories from the Strange universe, but it was not until 2003 that Bloomsbury bought her manuscript and began work on its publication. The novel became a best-seller. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Date Night On Union Station – The Perils Of Dating Aliens or Where Is A Good Man When You Need Him?

Book Review : Date Night On Union Station
EarthCent Ambassador #1

e-book

By E. M. Foner

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Date Night On Union Station had me laughing the whole time. Though I would classify it as science fiction, the science is light and focuses more on the antics of the character’s lives. Foner is very clever and I would like to see what he will do in future series. The glib lines, omniscient presence and quick sporadic inventiveness reminds me of Larklight, the steampunk series for young adults written by Philip Reeve. The content is completely different, and Date Night On Union Station is written for adults. It’s a clean book, though there are some mature innuendos.

One warning I would issue would be, ignore the cover! The book is much better than the cover would indicate.

The book switches between Kelly’s point of view and Joe’s experiences. They both have received a dating service subscription, where the promotion claims “We know you better than you know yourself.” Kelly’s infamous dates lead to sticky problems to solve in her job, but she is compensated with promotions. However, there is a technicality that she has to pay for the expenses solving the problems and she continues to have a decrease in pay with each promotion. At one point she says that she cannot accept another promotion if it will cut into her pay more deeply, but she is informed she cannot refuse the new position. Such is life at Union Station.

Joe has equally dismal results. My favorite is when he notices a clause for a “sacrificial king” which quite put off the Queen, his date. Joe has changed his mercenary ways to care for Paul, an orphan, and as the owner of a junk yard. Joe easily get hustled by the little flower girls and Jeeves, the A.I. robot, gets under his skin with his snide remarks. Joe really was hoping this dating service would have some good results.

If you’re ready for something fun, light and set in space this is the right book for you.

3.5 out of 5 stars
3-half-star-hotel
Michelle

If you enjoyed this book try The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, Larklight by Phillip Reeve, Cinder by Marissa Meyer and Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

Whoo hoo! The author has informed me he has new covers for this series!!!!

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Fields of Iron – A Steampunk Adventure Novel With Witches As A Bonus

Book Review : Fields of Iron
Magnificent Devices #11

By Shelley Adina

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

“What do you propose, sir?”

He held her astonished gaze as he went down upon one knee. “Why … I propose.
Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife, so that I may accompany you to San Francisco de Asis and help you stop this war?”

Gloria Meriwether-Astor, determined to end the invasion her father and a power-hungry diplomat started, has found safety with the witches of the river canyons in the Wild West. But how can one young lady without so much as a hat to her name challenge a kingdom? Confronted with the solution—marriage—she has two choices: accept the help she needs, or return to Philadelphia alone and a failure.

So, in the company of riverboat Captain Stan Fremont—the dashing rogue she must now call husband—she sets off for the capital to negotiate with the Viceroy. But with an entire country mobilizing between herself and her objective, the attempt could mean her life—and the life of the one person she is beginning to care for … (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

For the record I hate the covers on this series; they are so garish. However, I always love the content. The Magnificent Devices are filled with strong female characters, inventive devices and a plot that clips along at a fast pace.

Gloria Meriwether-Astor has grown through the novels from being a spoiled debutante to a woman who strives to do the right thing, even in impossible situations. Gloria was brought under the witches protection in the previous volume. In history women accused of being witches have been those on the fringe or outside of society; easily maligned by men because they didn’t have protection. The witches in Fields of Iron are the epitome of witches through history, however, they have banned together in an inhospitable environment to protect one another and have even developed their own religion. I have really enjoyed the witches, but worry that they will become man haters.

Romance takes on a new suit of clothes in this book. The shy, bookish man has extended himself in great feats to try to rescue Gloria, and even though she likes him she doesn’t love him. Aha! A failed romance between two good people. Gloria finds herself married to Captain Stan Fremont to try to travel safely through the territory to reach the Viceroy in her quest to stop a war. Stan is a lot more than Gloria bargained for, and the Viceroy puts her in an even bigger pickle!

Good luck Gloria! And good luck Shelley Adina on writing yourself out of this mess.

These are a fun, fast read.

3.5 – 4 out of 5 stars
4 star

  • Michelle

If you like steampunk try reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams.

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The Little Selkie – Definitely Not A Mermaid

Book Review : The Little Selkie
Timeless Fairy Tales #5

e-book

By K. M. Shea

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Dylan—a selkie—makes a terrible mistake when she brashly chases an evil sea witch onto land. Captured and stripped of her pelt—leaving her unable to return to the sea in her sea lion body—Dylan’s only chance of survival is to serve as the sea witch’s tool. Instead of allowing the sea witch to use her selkie ability to control water, Dylan asks a wandering enchantress to seal her voice, rendering her unable to use her selkie magic. Stranded—with no allies and no way to contact her family—Dylan fears she will never successfully steal her pelt back.

Luckily, Dylan is not alone. She is befriended by Prince Callan, a kind, human prince whose country is being pulverized by the sea witch. Combining the strength of humans and the intelligence of the selkies, the pair unites to save their people.

But when the storm is over will Dylan choose to stay with Callan, or return to the sea and leave him behind…forever?

THE LITTLE SELKIE is a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It is a story of distrust, friendship, and unexpected love, and it is part of TIMELESS FAIRY TALES. The books in this series take place in the same world and can be read all together, or as individual, stand-alone stories. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I love to see how different authors approach fairy tales. The Little Selkie is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, though Dylan is horrified when Callan had mistakenly thought she was a mermaid.

I easily related to Dylan because she is always hungry. She couldn’t care less what is going on when she is eating and is thinking of her next meal opportunity when not eating. Dylan was reluctant to have to bother to save a human when she spotted him in the storm, but did it because her family had pounded it into her head that it is a silkie’s job to save humans from drowning. It even takes her a few days after coming onto land to realize that Prince Callan is the human that she had saved two year ago. She definitely is not in love with the prince at first sight.

Prince Callan is an interesting character because he has social anxiety, though it isn’t said in those exact terms. He has a public mask he wears, with a false smile for others. Dylan brings out his sense of humor because she is authentic, unassuming and brash when he has been surrounded by courtly mannered sycophants. The problem with a character that doesn’t do well socially is trying to get the reader to feel like he is making a genuine connection with the love interest. I felt like there needed to be more as to why Callan trusted and fell in love with Dylan.

Shea’s books are all light reading, clean and fun. The plots and characters are fairly shallow, but have small twists that are interesting. This book is appropriate for a young audience.

3.25 out of 5 stars
3 star
– Michelle

Other retold fairy tales that I enjoy include Beauty by Robin McKinnley, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and Enchantment by Orson Scott Card.

ps- After all of this reading of Shea’s novels I can say that Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and the Colonel were my favorites because they have a more complex plot and vary more widely from the original tales.

 

 

 

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Rumpelstiltskin – Would You Give Up Your Firstborn Child To This Mage?

Book Review : Rumpelstiltskin
Timeless Fairy Tales #4

e-book

By K. M. Shea

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

When 17-year-old Gemma, a seamstress, is ordered by the insane King Torgen to spin straw into gold or be put to death, she knows her life is forfeit. Unwilling to give up, Gemma tries to escape her prison, earning her the respect of the mysterious mage, Stil. Stil offers to complete the impossible task…for a price.

Greedy and unsatisfied, King Torgen demands more and more straw to be spun into gold, and decrees that he will “reward” Gemma by marrying her. With death or marriage to a crazed king clouding her future, Stil offers Gemma a bargain that seems too good to be true.

Will Gemma’s trust in Stil be her downfall, or will he defy the entire country to save her? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Once Upon A Time, a woman got caught in reading a particular author and can’t seem to stop. In this case, I just finished Rumpelstiltskin and like it less than Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and the Colonel, but more than The Wild Swans.

Rumpelstiltskin is riddled with errors in the text, spelling and word choice. I find these errors to be jarring while reading. One other item on the neutral side would be how similar the tent was to J.K. Rowling’s tents in Harry Potter, The Goblet of Fire. Unfortunately, her work is so well known it makes this idea, of a richly furnished tent disguised with a tatty exterior, feel like it only belongs in Harry Potter even if other authors had previously used the same schtick.

Gemma’s character is fun because she is so focused on sewing clothes that she sees little else, and certainly has no desire for personal wealth. Stil, short for Rumpelstiltskin, was my favorite character in this book. He is whimsical, unpredictable, knows his short comings as a mage and falls in love with Gemma because she is his opposite. In the past, Rumpelstiltskin has seemed a bit creepy asking for the first born child of the woman he is helping; and in this case he has the same deal “your firstborn child will be mine”, which Gemma agrees to since she isn’t even convinced she will ever have children. Later, Gemma truly realizes what she agreed to with Still and I believe her response was to smack him, while my response was to laugh with the author. My favorite secondary character was the young lady Gemma served because she is so interested in becoming a soldier and has to hide her sword practice and heart felt desire. She is bold, unrealistic and loyal to those she loves.

I believe anything by this author is appropriate for any audience and I enjoy that she adds her own twist to famous fairy tales. Next, I’m reading her version of The Little Mermaid.

3.25 out of 5 stars
3-half-star-hotel
Michelle

If you enjoyed this fairy tale try Enchantment by Orson Scott Card or any of the fairy tales by Robin McKinley, Beauty being a favorite as well as Spindle’s End. Though not a fairy tale you may also enjoy Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede. I believe The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley would be a great selection because it has a lot of girl power in it, and horses! Happy reading.

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