The Sword of Summer

I’ve been a huge fan of Rick Riordan’s books since I first picked up The Lightning Thief nearly six years ago. (Notice I said “books.” The movie adaptations of The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters are horrible and should be avoided. I’m pretty sure Mr. Riordan agrees with me.) Since then, I’ve devoured the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. (I still have Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Greek Heroes in my to-read pile. I’ll get to those soon.)

Anyhoo, I say all that to introduce Riordan’s latest book–the first book in a new series–The Sword of Summer. Previous series gave us tastes of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. This one, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, provides readers with a closer look at Norse mythology. As you’ve likely guessed, this series focuses on Magnus Chase (notice the familiar last name) and the realization that he’s got a pretty major role to play in preventing the end of the world, or Ragnarok. No biggie, right?

For the past couple of years, Magnus Chase has been on his own. Following the traumatic death of his mother, Magnus left his home behind and survived on Boston’s streets, relying only on the help of friends Blitz and Hearth to get by.

Magnus always feels as though he’s being watched, and he soon realizes that people are actively searching for him. His Uncle Randolph eventually does track him down only to saddle Magnus with some rather huge pieces of news: Magnus is a Norse demigod, he must find his father’s sword–the Sword of Summer–and do whatever he can to delay Ragnarok. No pressure.

As soon as Magnus learns the truth about his father (or some of it, at least), he knows a huge target is on his back. It quickly becomes abundantly clear that he’s absolutely correct. The fire giant, Surt, is determined to get the Sword of Summer, and he’ll do everything in his considerable power to obtain the weapon, including kill Magnus.

For Magnus, though, death is when the real adventure begins…

_______________

I’m going to stop here before I give too much more away. A lot happens in this book, and it’s really something you need to experience for yourself. Suffice it to say that Magnus Chase is everything we’ve come to expect from one of Rick Riordan’s heroes. He’s sarcastic, brave, and totally real…and he’s only one of the amazing characters in this book. I haven’t even touched on the wonderfully diverse cast of this book. I will say, though, that it includes a fashion-savvy dwarf, a deaf elf who doesn’t let his “disability” slow him down, and a Muslim Valkyrie. (Yes, you read that last bit right. It’s awesome.)

Now, I must confess that most of what I know about Norse mythology comes from Marvel, both comic books and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had to throw a lot of that out the window almost immediately. I’m only a little sad about that. I do love Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki…so much so that I’m looking at a stand-up of him as I write this. Don’t believe me?

2015-12-22 20.01.38

The view from here…

At any rate, even though I had to forget most of what I thought I knew about Norse mythology, that didn’t slow my reading down at all. Riordan is great about explaining unfamiliar phrases (and there is a handy glossary in the back of the book), so it didn’t take very long to become familiar with the Norse gods and other assorted creatures. (After reading The Sword of Summer, I have to say that I’m particularly intrigued by Ratatosk, the immortal squirrel that terrorizes people in Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Makes me think twice about making the squirrels in my yard mad at me.)

I would say that The Sword of Summer is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers. Upper elementary may be a bit of a question mark, depending on your population. There are a couple of instances of cursing, but it’s really nothing gratuitous. I made the decision to place a couple of copies of this book in my elementary library, and I’ve had no complaints. It’s mostly 4th and 5th graders reading the book, and they’re gobbling it up. My students who love all of Riordan’s other books love The Sword of Summer just as much, and they’ve only had positive things to say. I call that a win.

The next book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series is The Hammer of Thor. (One guess what that focuses on!) It’s slated for an October 4th, 2016, release. As usual, we’ve got a wait ahead of us.

Never fear, though, my fellow Riordan fans! There’s another series to look forward to! On May 3rd, we’ll get our hands on The Hidden Oracle, the first book in The Trials of Apollo. In this series, the god Apollo is made a human teenager after angering Zeus. (The horror!) He has to navigate the human world and try to find a way to be welcomed back to Olympus. And where does he go for help? Camp Half-Blood, of course! Exciting stuff!

If you’d like to learn more about The Sword of Summer and the other outstanding books by Rick Riordan, check out the author’s website. You can also catch up with him on Twitter, Tumblr, Blogspot, and Facebook. Additionally, here’s a trailer for The Sword of Summer produced by Disney Books. It doesn’t give too much away, but I hope it whets your appetite for this wonderful book.

Manhunt

Warning: Read Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek before proceeding.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scholastic, I was fortunate enough to read Manhunt, the third installment in Kate Messner’s mystery series for young readers, just a little early. The book won’t officially come out until June 24th, but I was too eager to wait that long, especially since the first book in the series, Capture the Flag, is nominated for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award this year. (My hope is to promote the entire series when I encourage my students to pick up the first book.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and I suspected that the third would be no different. How right I was!

In Manhunt, Henry, Anna, and Jose are once again embroiled in the business of the Silver Jaguar Society, the secret agency tasked with protecting the world’s most valuable art and artifacts. This time, the adventure begins in Boston after it’s discovered that the Serpentine Princes, the bitter enemies of the Silver Jaguar Society, have somehow managed to steal priceless art from museums around the world. How did they manage to pull this off without alerting anyone? And what could be their next target?

Soon enough, the quest for answers takes our trio and their guardians to Paris…and that’s where things really get complicated. It seems that someone within the Silver Jaguar Society is passing information on to the Serpentine Princes, so no one really knows who can be trusted.

One thing is clear, though. Something big is happening in Paris. We’re talking huge here. The bad guys, led by the horrible Vincent Goosen, are trying to get their hands on the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world. While the adult members of the Silver Jaguar Society go off to figure out what to do, they leave Henry, Anna, and Jose in a Parisian bookstore with an enigmatic young man named Hem.

Now, Henry doesn’t quite trust Hem, but he can’t deny that this kid definitely knows his way around Paris…and when the adults mysteriously disappear, Henry and his friends will need Hem’s knowledge to solve their biggest mystery yet. Where is the Mona Lisa, and, more importantly, where are the senior members of the Silver Jaguar Society?

This epic adventure takes these young people all over–and under–the bustling city of Paris, and danger lurks around every corner. These kids will have to evade enemies, decipher clues–written in French–navigate an unfamiliar city, and face their fears to make sense of what’s going on. But what happens when they are betrayed by a supposed ally? When they are separated, and the success of this operation depends on just one kid, one who makes it clear that he just wants to go home?

Can the junior members of the Silver Jaguar Society solve one more mystery? Can they battle treachery, terror, and nearly crippling self-doubt and emerge victorious? Will the Mona Lisa be restored to its rightful place and the Serpentine Princes vanquished? For these answers and more, join Henry, Anna, and Jose on a manhunt like no other!

_______________

Any reader who enjoyed the first two books in this series will find another winner in Manhunt. And, while the previous book cured any desire I ever had to visit Costa Rica, this one definitely made me want to spend some time in Paris. (It doesn’t hurt that the other book I’m currently reading, Just One Day, also takes place in the City of Light.) I hope to make it across the pond eventually, but I hope I don’t have quite the adventure that Henry, Anna, and Jose did!

In a stroke of serendipity, I will be attending an IB conference next week, and I have been asked to bring with me a book that illustrates the IB learner profile and/or elements of international mindedness. I fully intend to share this entire series with my fellow librarians. This series has already taken us to several destinations in the U.S., as well as Costa Rica and France. People from all over the world work together to protect art and artifacts, and, if that doesn’t illustrate international mindedness, I don’t know what does. Hopefully, my colleagues will agree.

Manhunt, like Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, is a highly recommended purchase for any elementary or middle school library. I hope that we’ll see more of the Silver Jaguar Society in future books. In my opinion, these books illustrate just how much a group of kids can accomplish when they use their wits and work together. This latest book may even inspire readers–no matter their ages–to face their fears and do something great.

For more information on Manhunt and other books by the brilliant Kate Messner, visit her website at http://www.katemessner.com/.

Fall of Night

I’ll dispense with the pleasantries.  Those who haven’t read Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series up to this point should stop right now.  I finished book #14 earlier today, and your reading experience will be all kinds of spoiled if you continue with this post without reading the first 13 books.  The books in this series thus far are:

You’ve been warned!

For those still with me, let’s get right to it.  Rachel Caine has once again ripped my heart out…or staked me in the chest, if you prefer to stay with all things vampish.  Just when I thought things were starting to get sort of normal for Claire and the gang, a major wrench gets thrown into the works, and everything spirals out of control.  In Fall of Night, the fourteenth book in this addictive series, Claire is finally heading for MIT, but what she thought would be a dream come true is turning into a nightmare.  It seems that dark and scary isn’t exclusive to Morganville…

It isn’t easy for Claire to leave Morganville behind.  Despite the horrors she’s witnessed–and even been part of–she’s grown rather attached to the place, especially her dear friends Michael and Eve, her boss Myrnin, and her boyfriend Shane (even though things are a bit tense with them of late).  She just can’t pass up the opportunity to finally go to MIT, her dream school.  Sure, she’ll be working with Dr. Anderson, one of Myrnin’s former assistants, and eventually returning to Morganville, but this is Claire’s chance to finally prove that she can be on her own and have a life outside of the vampire-controlled town that she’s come to call home.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Boston, Claire wants to return to Morganville.  Things just aren’t what they thought she’d be.  Her friend, Liz, is acting really weird, and working with Dr. Irene Anderson isn’t all Claire had hoped it would be.  In fact, Claire may have gotten herself involved in something more dangerous than living in Morganville could ever be.

When Dr. Anderson gets wind of the machine that Claire has been working on–a machine that could potentially disable the powers of vampires–Claire’s already tumultuous world takes another nosedive.  Friends old and new are in extreme danger, and much of the blame can be laid at Claire’s feet.  How can she deal with what she’s done?  And is there any way to get out of this mess with her sanity, her relationships, and her life intact?  If not, what could it mean for those she loves and the town that means so much to her?  Has night finally fallen in Morganville?  I guess there’s only one way to find out…

So…yeah…I love this flippin’ series.  Even though each book makes my blood pressure go up, I just can’t stop reading them.  Part of me can’t believe that there’s only one more book in the series, especially when you consider how things ended in Fall of Night (major cliffhanger).  I just don’t see how things can possibly be neatly wrapped up in just one more book.

The fifteenth and, at least to my knowledge, final book in the Morganville Vampires series is Daylighters, and it is due for a November 5th release.  The title alone makes me nervous…and that nervousness will make plenty of sense to you when you finish reading book #14.  Given the journey I’ve been on in the past fourteen books, I think my anxiety is totally justified.  What do you think?

The Secret of the Sealed Room

In honor of Independence Day, I decided to read Bailey MacDonald’s The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin (which just so happens to be nominated for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award).  Those of you who follow this blog at all know that historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but I had to read this book anyway, so I decided to read it on a day that had at least some connection with one of the story’s characters–Benjamin Franklin.  The events in this book, as far as I know, are completely fictional, but the story gives readers a glimpse of what life was like in the early eighteenth century (especially for poor young people) and a look at what one of America’s founding fathers may have been like in his younger days.  Even I have to admit that’s kind of cool.

In The Secret of the Sealed Room, readers are introduced to Patience Martin, a fourteen-year-old girl who is an indentured servant in the household of a rather horrible woman, Mrs. Worth.  When Mrs. Worth is found dead–and it is determined that she was poisoned–people begin to wonder just who had the opportunity to kill the wealthy woman.  There’s also a valuable box missing from Mrs. Worth’s room–which was locked from the inside until the woman’s body was found–and all fingers point to Patience as the thief.  Patience knows she didn’t steal anything, but she sees no way to prove her innocence…until she runs away and forms an unlikely friendship with a printer’s apprentice, a young man named Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin helps Patience to disguise herself, and he provides her with food, clothing, shelter, and even a paying job.  Patience and Benjamin also begin to investigate the mysterious circumstances around the death of Mrs. Worth.  Benjamin is rather brilliant (and Patience is no slouch in the intelligence department), and the two young people combine their considerable brain power to uncover what really happened to Mrs. Worth.  But time is running out.  Patience is sure to be caught soon, so she and Benjamin must work quickly to clear her name before she and another innocent bystander pay for a crime that someone else committed.

Can Patience and Benjamin discover the truth…before one or both of them end up in even more trouble than they thought possible?  Find out for yourself when you read The Secret of the Sealed Room by Bailey MacDonald!

To my great surprise, I did enjoy this book, but I do have a couple of complaints.  First, there is no author’s note at the end of the book detailing how much of the story is fact–or at least based on fact–and how much is fiction.  I would have loved to see a bibliography of resources and a narrative of the author’s research process during the creation of this book.  If this information was readily available on the author’s website (http://www.baileymacdonald.com/), that may have satisfied me somewhat, but I can’t find any information about this book’s historical background on the site.

My second complaint is that this book is on the Children’s Book Award nominee list at all.  (Of course, this is not the fault of the author.)  It’s a great book, but I think it’s more appropriate for middle school (and some very high level elementary readers).  The language is a bit difficult, even if it is true to the time period.  Even I didn’t know what some of the words in the book meant, and I pride myself on having a very large vocabulary.  I think the difficulty in understanding many words will turn a lot of readers off, especially if they pick this book up as part of their recreational reading.  It’s going to be hard for me to push this book as an SCCBA nominee.  I’ll try my best, but it definitely won’t be easy.

Despite the issues I had with The Secret of the Sealed Room, I think this is an enjoyable book for any readers who would like to see what Benjamin Franklin may have been like as a young person.  We all know him as an inventor, statesman, and revolutionary, but his experiences as a younger man made him one of the central figures in American history.  Even though this story is fictional, it’s fairly easy to imagine a young Ben Franklin being inquisitive enough to get himself involved in a murder investigation!

How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog)

So, one of my goals this summer is to read all of the nominees for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  (Those that regularly follow this blog have probably already figured that out.)  I’m about halfway through the list, and there have already been some standouts (The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and a couple of others).  Unfortunately, there have also been a couple that I wasn’t overly fond of.  (The worst was probably What’s for Dinner?, a poetry book about animals’ eating habits.  It was nothing short of disgusting.  Then again, I probably shouldn’t have read it right before lunch.  Lesson learned.)  Anyway, my latest read, How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau, is one of the SCCBA nominees that I didn’t particularly like.  Don’t get me wrong.  The story was decent.  I just didn’t find the main character, Nicky Flynn, to be especially likeable or admirable.  Maybe my students will disagree with me, but I kind of hope they use Nicky’s character as an example of what not to do in most circumstances.

Nothing is going well for eleven-year-old Nicky Flynn. His parents are getting divorced. He’s been forced to move from his big house in a great neighborhood to a small apartment in a less-than-great neighborhood. Nicky’s mad at his mom because he thinks she always lies to him and tries to keep him away from his dad.  He’s in a new school and is becoming the target of bullies. He has to go to therapy every week to talk about his feelings. And now, his mom has decided to bring a dog into his life (totally without talking to him about it, by the way).  She got Reggie, a German Shepherd, from the animal shelter, but this is no ordinary dog.  Reggie is a retired seeing-eye dog, and, right away, he makes Nicky’s life a bit more interesting…

Nicky and Reggie grow closer (become best friends, really), and Nicky wants to know more about Reggie’s former life as a guide dog.  He investigates a little and learns more about Reggie’s previous owner.  He lies A LOT in his quest for the truth about Reggie’s past.  Will he ever figure out what happened between Reggie and his former owner?  Well, kind of, but that won’t really help with the mess his life is becoming…

Nicky is on the verge of losing everything, including Reggie.  As his whole life spirals out of control–and his lies are uncovered–how can Nicky hold on to the one being that is always there for him?  And what will Nicky do when his own selfishness and recklessness places both him and his beloved dog in a situation that is more dangerous than he can possibly realize?  Will Nicky ever get back in control of his own life?  And will he be able to stay with Reggie when the truth is revealed?  Find out when you read How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau.

As an elementary librarian in South Carolina, I will promote this book as part of the SC Book Award program, but I definitely plan to discuss this book with my students.  I’d like to talk to them about why Nicky is not a character to be emulated.  Sure, he had some strong points–his love for his dog, for one–but, like I said before, he was not a very admirable character.  He lied at the drop of a hat, he had a rather bad temper, and he didn’t think about how his actions impacted those around him.  He did learn a few things in the end, but the adult in me still cringes at some of the stunts he pulled throughout the book.  (I wasn’t impressed with the adults in this book either.  They were clueless.)

There were a few things I did like about this book (lest you think I’m being completely negative).  I enjoyed how Nicky wanted to learn more about seeing-eye dogs.  He applied his research and knowledge to strengthen his relationship with Reggie.  I also liked the setting of this book.  It’s set in and around Boston, and Nicky and Reggie explore several sites that are of interest to readers learning about the American Revolution.  The ending was also kind of satisfying.  Nicky learned a little about himself and his mom, and I think, if there are future books about this character, those lessons might make him a little more likeable.

There are a couple of instances of bad language (not too bad, though) in this book.  That, in combination with the discussions that need to take place about Nicky’s behavior, make this book more suitable for upper elementary (mature 4th and 5th graders) and middle school students.

For more information about this book and others by author Art Corriveau, visit http://www.artcorriveau.com/.

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park

If you haven’t read Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year:  A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park, drop whatever you’re doing, go to your nearest library or bookstore, and get this book.  It’s awesome!  The story is funny, sometimes sad, funny again, and heartwarming.  I’d love to see more young adult novels like this one.  If the characters were real, I’d want to hang out with them.

T.C. Keller and his merry band of misfits live in Boston (in case the Fenway Park reference in the title didn’t clue you in).  T.C. is obsessed with the Red Sox and Alejandra Perez.  His brother, Augie, is getting ready to come out and loves musical theater.  Alejandra is an ambassador’s daughter who really wants to sing and dance, and she’s trying to deny that she has the hots for T.C.  The characters’ lives mish-mash into a hilarious tale that sometimes pushes the bounds of reality (but I personally think reality is for people with no imagination).

My Most Excellent Year is the story of the best year of their lives–9th grade.  I won’t tell you everything that happens.  You really must read the book.  But I will say that there is a special guest appearance by the great Julie Andrews.  When reading this book, I learned more about the Red Sox and musical theater than I ever really wanted to.  (As a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan, it is difficult for me to admit that I now have a soft spot for the Red Sox.)

No blog entry that I post could possibly do justice to this wonderful book.  Steve Kluger, you’ve hit this one out of the park!