Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Answering The Call Could Be a Bit Risky

Think back to when you were 12. What were you doing? Meeting mysterious old (and I mean really, really, REALLY old) men who can stop time? Getting home to find an exact copy (or at least a close approximation) of yourself in your bedroom who is completely made from mud and who says he is a Golem and has been sent to take your place? How about battling a beautiful princess (at least when she’s not turning into a monster) whose mother is the Mother of Monsters and has been banished for eternity, or 3000 years, whichever comes first? My guess is probably not, but that is exactly what 12 year old David McAvoy, known as Mack, is doing in The Call, the first book in The Magnificent 12 series by Michael Grant.
It’s just another average day at Richard Gere Middle School with Mack about to get pounded by the Bully of Bullies, Stefan Marr, when time is suddenly stopped by Grimluk, the original Twelve of the Magnifica, a group of twelve who possess the enlightened puissance. The Magnifica were brought together “A REALLY, REALLY LONG TIME AGO…” (if you don’t believe me, just check out the chapter heading for the chapters about the time of the Magnifica) to try to defeat the Pale Queen. The Magnifica captured the queen and imprisoned her forever, “Or so we thought. It turns out three thousand years is still not forever.” (Just in case you hadn’t figured it out, people in Grimluk’s time were’t very good with numbers.) Now those three thousand years are almost up, all the original Magnifica except Grimluk are dead, and Grimluk is trying to convince Mack who is the epitome of “mediumness” that he has to find eleven other twelve-year-olds and convince them to help him save the world from the Pale Queen and her daughter Ereskigal, also known as Risky, who can be beautiful and sensuous one minute and a real monster the next (no, really… I mean an actual monster who would love to bite your head off, literally). Can Grimluk convince Mack to save the world, or better yet, can Mack convince himself that he can save the world?
I actually downloaded this book on my Nook app quite a while ago when I came across it as a Free Friday selection, but I never got around to reading it. Then a couple of months ago I added the series to my library collection without making the connection between the series and the title that was wasting away unread on my Nook. Then I happened to rediscover it on my Nook, realized that it was the series I had just processed for the library, and decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did. It is a fun adventure story written with lots of humor and word play, but also some “big words” that will have you accidentally improving your vocabulary. The story shifts back and forth between the present with Mack and his conundrum and the past with Grimluk and his becoming one of the Magnifica. As is the case with many children’s and young adult series, there is a companion website that allows users to learn more about the books, see illustrations of the creatures involved in the story and maps of locations in the story, and create a personal avatar to play games related to the book’s adventures. You can learn more about the series by visiting http://www.themag12.com/.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Divergent Movie: The Good, The Bad, and the Missing

Okay, I typically just use this blog to discuss books, but after seeing the Divergent movie this weekend, I had to get on my soapbox for a few minutes. SPOILER ALERT!!!! If you haven't seen the movie, and are planning to, don't read this blog until after you see it because I will be giving some movie specifics.

First of all, Divergent was a good movie, and most everyone I spoke to and the comments I read online were positive with most people saying they "loved" the movie. In fact, it was enjoyable, the sets were phenomenal, and the acting was true to the type of movie. My husband, who is not a reader, enjoyed this movie more than he enjoyed Catching Fire. I am beginning to think that the best way to enjoy a book-movie is to NOT read the book before seeing the movie.

While the actors were all (for the most part) good actors, Theo James, Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Kate Winslet, etc., I did not like the casting. Now, I know I'm getting into reader opinions here, and your reader opinions or the characters may be different from mine, but this is my blog so you get my opinions. So, here goes.... Four was too sexy and too old (don't get me wrong, he was nice to look at on the screen, but he just wasn't "Four-ish"), Christina was too short, Al was too skinny, Peter was too ugly, Marcus was too... not sure, really, but he just wasn't the evil Marcus I had in my mind, Eric was too clean and too thuggish, Molly was too pretty and too nice, and Edward was too MISSING!!! Which leads me to the next part of my blog title, The Missing. Where was Edward? How do you leave him out without completely screwing up the next two movies, and how do you decide to just omit the knife-in-the-eye incident?!? Where was the water at the bottom of the Chasm in the Pit? Where is the hard drive? And if there is not hard drive, how does Peter try to steal it in the next movie? AARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

Why do directors choose to change so much of a perfectly good story? I know that there is no way to fit a 487 page book into a two hour movie so things have to be omitted, but changing the very essence of a story by modifying the plot is just wrong.  Jeanine is a major character in the books, but she is way too prevalent in the movie. She opens the choosing ceremony, she's at the final examination of the Dauntless initiates, she is constantly showing up at Dauntless headquarters, she is in the control room controlling the simulation when Tris breaks in even though, according to the book, Four, alone, is controlling the simulation at that time. Why the need to add a fight scene between Tris and Jeanine in this movie when it was already written into Insurgent? I think the thing that makes me the maddest about the movie changes is that the author was very involved in the film-making process even appearing in a small scene in the movie. Why didn't she fight the changes? I know the answer, money. Film-makers want to make the movie the way they want, and if the writer interferes too much, the movie may not get made. The back of my copy of Divergent says,


Veronica Roth's choice to give the directors free reign definitely showed me her loyalties and, most assuredly, transformed the story of Divergent into a good movie, but a not-so-good book-movie. Now, don't not go see the movie just because of my soapbox rant here. Go enjoy a good movie, but just don't spend your time picking out all the differences (more than I even included here) like I did.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Find the Seventh

If the seven stones dishonored be,
And slain the noble willow tree,
Revenge will come each thirty year
Til seven infant deaths bring fear.
These lines are from the Prophecy of Blind Meg. So far six Minerva children have died, all on Solstice Eve, and now Jim, who has just moved onto the Minerva Estate with this father and sister, is hearing a ghostly voice telling him to "Find the Seventh".  Now Jim is getting ghostly visions of how each of the six previous children died, and he's trying to figure out what these ghostly children want him to do.  Is he supposed to save Henry, the autistic son of the mean-spirited owner of the Minerva Estate who is supposed to be away at boarding school, but who Jim has seen wandering the grounds of the estate? And how can he figure anything out when Lord Minerva is watching his every move with a plethora of security cameras and keeps threatening to fire Jim's dad if Jim doesn't quit roaming the estate? When Jim finally hears the end of Blind Meg's Prophecy, "The let the skytale tell a stranger, How he may prevent this mortal danger", Jim knows that he must defy Lord Minerva and his father to solve the mystery  that could cost more than one person's life.
The Hunt for the Seventh is a classic ghost tale set on a sprawling British estate. The mystery of what or who the "seventh" is and what exactly Jim is supposed to do when he finds the "seventh" takes twists and turns until the very end. Jim spends most of his time alone trying to figure out the mystery of the estate because he doesn't feel that he can or should involve his dad or his sister. The characters that Jim encounters along the way are not always who they at first appear to be which sets up the biggest plot twist of the book.
Overall I enjoyed the book. The story kept me wondering how Jim was going to overcome the obstacles that his dad and Lord Minerva were putting in his way. The story is set in Great Britain, so I was a bit unfamiliar with some of the British slang and colloquialisms in the book, and there weren't always enough context clues to help me figure them out. I was expecting a good ghost story, but I wasn't really expecting the paganism that is a part of the story. The story is supposed to be set in modern times, but the people in the story seem to still believe in "cunning women" (healers/witches) are still making offerings to nature spirits. In spite of this, I still think it is a mystery that kids will enjoy reading.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Not Your Average Vampire Tale

Paranormal fiction is all the rage right now with beautiful teens falling for sexy vampires and such, but the vampire story I just finished is most definitely NOT your typical vampire story. In fact, there are no sexy vampires and not even any blood-sucking anywhere in this book. There is, however, a cute, fluffy little vampire bunny who will suck all the juice (and color) right out of your vegetables.
The Editor's Note at the beginning of the book tells you that the manuscript for this book was dropped off at the editor's office by a sad-eyed dog. With the manuscript was a letter from the author who identifies himself as the family dog, Harold, and claims that the story in the manuscript is indeed factual (though the names have been changed to protect his family). Harold's story tells how the family (identified as the Monroes) found the orphaned bunny in a seat at the theatre where they went to watch the movie Dracula (which is what led them to naming the bunny Bunnicula). Strange things begin to happen in the Monroe home, mainly to the vegetables which mysteriously turn white over night. Chester, the family cat, is certain that the bunny is a vampire and a threat to the family (even though the only thing Bunnicula seems to be biting is the vegetables).  Chester, who is a very well-read cat, turns to The Mark of the Vampire to help him and a reluctant Harold figure out how to rid the family of the alleged vampire bunny. The effects, while not necessarily effective at getting rid of Bunnicula, are quite hilarious.
Bunnicula has been around for quite a while being first published in 1979, and I'll admit that the real reason I read it was because I had some students doing a project on it and needed to know the book to be able to evaluate their projects. With that said, I really liked the book! It was cute and funny and had enough wordplay to appeal to adults as well as kids. At one point, Chester reads that you can kill a vampire by pounding a stake into the vampire's heart, but the "stake" he uses is actually a sirloin "steak" (after I finished reading the book I had to apologize to one of my student groups for correcting their spelling).  The book is a quick but fun read. Probably the best recommendation for the book came from one of my students who is VERY picky about the books he reads (he only likes to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Puppy Place books and pretty much refuses to try anything else). After he finished Bunnicula, he was anxious to read others in the series. When I told him I didn't have the entire series, the told me that I really needed to get the rest of them so he could read them. Isn't that what a good book is all about?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Going Viral

Tory Brennen is good at science (which isn't surprising since her aunt is Temperence Brennen, renowned forensic anthropologist), but also good at getting into trouble. When she and her friends Hi, Shelton, and Ben find an old dog tag while searching for a wolf-dog family on Loggerhead Island, an island off Charleston, SC that houses a facility for sea turtle research, Tory sets off a chain of events that not only endanger her life and the lives of her friends, but also change their genetic makeup. When Tory and her friends sneak into LIRI, the research facility where her dad works, to borrow the lab's equipment to clean the dog tag she found, they end up rescuing a wolf-dog puppy that has been infected with a mutated strain of Parvovirus that can be passed to humans. Now, in addition to trying to save the puppy, they are also fighting an illness that is mutating their DNA and giving them "powers" similar to those of a wolf, and she and her friends have stumbled across a decades-old murder mystery that could bring down one of Charleston's most powerful families, that is, if it doesn't get them all killed first.

Virals is the first book in a series of young adult books by Kathy Reichs, author of the Temperance Brennan novels and inspiration for the television series Bones. Fans of the no-nonsense Brennan portrayed on Bones may be put off a bit by the element of supernatural of this series. Tory and her friends develop "superpowers" after being exposed to the experimental parvovirus; powers like super strength, smell, vision, and hearing. I enjoy watching Bones and I enjoyed Virals, but I couldn't help but hear the TV Brennan whispering, "This doesn't make sense. It's not logical." If you can get past the voice of TV Brennan, Virals is quite an exciting ride.

The story is written for teens, so you get lots of teen situations. There is quite a bit of profanity, so I would not recommend it for anyone younger than middle school. You can learn more about all the books in the Virals series at http://kathyreichs.com/virals/.

"War has many unexpected casualties"

I almost hate to make this statement, but I like Holocaust literature. Now, I'm not talking Mein Kampf or anything that glorifies the atrocities of Hitler and his Nazi goons. I'm talking stories of heroism and survival like Night by Elie Wiesel, Ashes by Kathryn Lasky, Number the Stars by Lois Lowery, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Now add to that list The Klipfish Code by Mary Casonova.

I'm not a big history person, so it often amazes me just how many places and people were directly impacted by Hitler's desire to create a perfect race. The Klipfish Code tells to story of Hitler's invasion of Norway. Marit Gunderson, her brother Lars, and their parents are all jolted from their dreams and from their lives when bombs start raining down on Isfjorden in the middle of the night of April 9, 1940. After the bombing ends, Marit's parents decide to send Marit and Lars the island of Godoy to live with Bestefar, their grandfather, and Aunt Ingeborg, while they remain behind to help with the resistance efforts. Marit is crushed not only because she wants to stay with her parents, but also because she and Bestefar do not get along.

Once on the island, things continually get worse. The Nazis come to the farm weekly to collect their "donations" of milk, eggs, and produce; they confiscate all the families' blankets for the soldiers to use; and they demand that all radios be turned over to the soldiers. Marit admires her Aunt Ingbeborg who teaches at the local school but refuses to give in to the Nazi's demands to teach the Nazi Philosophy, but she is angered at her grandfather who seems to give in to any demand that the Germans make.When her aunt is taken from school by German soldiers, Marit fears she will never see her again, but she is also more determined to find a way to help the resistance. She gets her chance when she stumbles across an injured Resistance soldier in the mountains one afternoon. She wants to save him and help him complete his mission, but will it put her whole family at risk?

The Klipfish Code follows Marit over a period of five years. While Marit's family faced hardships because of the Germans, until her aunt is taken by the soldiers, they are not directly threatened. The Germans hoped that Norway would move over to their side, and it only took two months for the Norwegian army to be defeated, but they were not expecting the resistance by ordinary citizens. As with all the other Holocaust literature I have read, I am always amazed at the strength and endurance of those who found themselves under Nazi domination. According to the author's note at the end of the book, all the major details of this story come from the life of a personal friend who grew up in Nazi-occupied Norway.

The author, Mary Casanova, writes primarily middle grade novels and picture book. For more information about the author or any of her books, visit www.marycasanova.com.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Two For One: Infinity Ring Books Six and Seven

The Infinity Ring series is the latest print and online combination series by Scholastic that takes a story that starts in the books and continues it online through a game that is accesses using a special code from the book. Scholastic's first attempt at this combination was the popular 39 Clues series which is still going strong with it's third spin-off series. Like the 39 Clues series, each book in the Infinity Ring series is written by a different author. Where this series differs, however, is that the online game tells a part of the story that isn't included in the books. While you don't HAVE to play the online game to understand the series, you do miss details and part of the adventure if you don't signup and play the game.

Behind Enemy Lines by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Book six in the series has Dak, Sera, and Riq landing in Europe in 1943 during World War II. Just after meeting the local Hystorian, a bombing raid causes a building collapse that kills the Hystorian and destroys their SQuare, leaving the group with no guidance as to what the break is or how to fix it. Dak and Sera are  forces to travel back to their time to try to get a new SQuare, but instead of finding the Hystorians, the find Tilda, leader of the SQ. While trying to escape teh SQ and warp back to 1943, Dak and Sera inadvertantly take Tilda with them. Now, in addition to trying to figure out and fix the break, they also have to try to stay away from Tilda and the additional danger she brings to their mission.

With a new SQuare in hand, the group learn that this break is the one that led to the SQ rising to power, so it becomes even more important to them to fix this particular break. The break involves a covert mission called Mincement Man which tried to distract the German forces away from the Allied's true target. In order to fix the break, the group must split up. Riq stays in Scotland while Sera goes to Spain and Dak heads to Germany. If the kids can pull this off, the Allies will win the war and the SQ will not rise to power. Can they convince the Germans of Mincement Man's authencity, or will they end up prisoners themselves? Will they be able to stop Tilda, especially now that she has her own time-travel device or will she mess up everything they have fixed and bring on the Cataclysm?

The Iron Empire by James Dashner

Dak, Sera, and Riq have traveled up and down the timeline of history and have finally ended up in Ancient Greece, the site of the Prime Break. If they can fix this break, they will have defeated the SQ and prevented the Cataclysm that ends the world, but in order to do it, they'll need the help of Aristotle, the founding father of the Hystorians. They must stop the assassination of Alexander, heir to the throne and Aristotle's favorite former pupil, and they only have three weeks to stop it; however, as the group is talking with Aristotle, a messenger arrives to announce that Alexander has just been killed by a woman that the time travelers identify as Tilda. Now the kids and Aristotle must travel even farther back in time to try to stop Tilda and the original assassin and save Alexander so that they can prevent the great Cataclysm from destroying the future. Can they fix the Prime Break, and will it really save the future?

Much like Margaret Peterson Haddix's Missing Series all the books in the Infinity Ring series take place around actual historical events, but one of the things I miss in this series that Haddix includes in her series is an author's note giving some factual information about the time period, event, or people. When reading both of these two books, I found myself pulling out my phone to look up details to see if they were factual or fictional. While the factual note isn't necessary to understanding the story, I think it would enhance the reader's experience with the historical side of the historical fiction.