Cursed

As some may have noticed, May has been a slow month here at Knight Reader. This is only my fourth post this month, and I typically do much better than that. My fellow educators, though, can probably figure out why this month has been “off.” In short, May is nuts. With testing, meetings, end-of-year reports, the general craziness of both students and staff, and so much other stuff going on, I’ve barely even felt like reading, much less blogging about it. (Believe it or not, this site takes a lot of energy to maintain.)

I’m hoping, however, that things will pick up soon. You see, this is the last full week of school in my district! (*Cue dance of joy.*) I’ll still have trainings, meetings, and other school stuff to do, but I also plan to devote more time to my family, my friends, and my reading. So don’t despair, dear readers. Knight Reader isn’t going anywhere yet.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s turn to my latest read, which brought it’s own set of aggravations. It was a good book (and it should be given that it’s a 17-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee), but, like a lot of readers, I get bothered when covers and titles change. This book, Cursed by Bruce Coville, was originally published as Diary of a Mad Brownie. It’s also known as The Enchanted Files #1. The cover was also completely redesigned (see below). I get that there are reasons for this, but it is a little jarring and confusing to readers. That being said, I did like the book, and I think many upper elementary and middle grade readers will as well.


Angus Cairns is a brownie–no, not a fudgy treat or a Girl Scout. He’s a wee magical creature who likes to do a bit of mischief while keeping things neat and tidy for the family he serves. For Angus, though, there’s not exactly a choice in which family he’s tied to.

Thanks to a curse, Angus is bound to serve the McGonagall family. It hasn’t been a bad life. He’s been with Sarah McGonagall for years, and he’s loved living with her in Scotland. As Sarah gets older, however, Angus realizes that he’ll soon have to move on to another McGonagall descendant. This move will take him from his beloved Scotland to the strange and mysterious land of America…and the household of the messiest girl he’s ever encountered.

When Angus arrives at the Carhart househould, he’s not sure what to make of the situation. To be sure, things are a mess, and he’ll have his work cut out for him just keeping Alex, his new assignment, in order. Alex, for her part, doesn’t help matters. She seems to enjoy being a slob, and it drives Angus bananas! Things do eventually improve when Angus reveals himself to Alex, but a whole new set of problems arrives to upset their delicate balance.

The curse that binds Angus to the McGonagall family also has another part. It causes all of the men in the house where Angus resides to become obsessed with writing bad poetry. This has a huge impact on Alex’s dad, who quits his job to write songs, and her brother, who starts wearing all black and talks about leaving the soccer team. There’s only one thing to be done before this family loses everything–Angus must find a way to break this wretched curse.

Well, breaking a centuries-old curse may be easier said than done, but Angus and Alex are not alone. They are joined by Alex’s little sister, Destiny, her brother, and, perhaps strangest of all, Destiny’s kindergarten teacher. All of these people will work together, journey through the Enchanted Realm, and uncover some interesting secrets in their quest to break the curse that binds them. But what then? What could the end of this curse mean for Angus and Alex? Answer these questions and many more when you read Cursed by Bruce Coville.


Readers who love books in diary format will definitely enjoy this book. It’s also a good fit for fans of light fantasy. It’s funny, sometimes suspenseful, and thoroughly captivating. Many readers may relate to both Alex’s disorganized manner and Angus’ short temper. I’m hoping they’ll also see how these two sorted out their differences and became stronger as a result.

Given that Cursed is the first book in The Enchanted Files, you may be wondering about the next installment. Well, as of right now, there is one more book, Hatched. It’s already out, and it presents the tale of Gerald the Griffin. It looks fairly interesting, and I’m certain I’ll be placing it on my next school book order.

To learn more about Cursed, The Enchanted Files #1, Diary of a Mad Brownie, or whatever you want to call this book, visit author Bruce Coville’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Enjoy!

Ella Enchanted

Once again, I bring you a book that I probably wouldn’t have read if not for the faculty book club at my school. This month, we’re reprising an old theme and reading classic children’s books and/or books we’ve always meant to read but never made time for. I had loads of books to choose from, but I decided to go with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

I don’t know if Ella Enchanted can be called a classic–even though it was a Newbery Honor Book in 1998–but I have always meant to read it. After all, I do love a good fairy tale. I know there’s a movie adaptation out there–which I’ve never seen–so I figured I’d read the book and then see how the movie compares. Well, as of yesterday, I’ve completed one half of that equation.

Ella of Frell was burdened with a curse when she was born. A well-meaning fairy named Lucinda “gifted” Ella with obedience. From then on, Ella had to obey any direct command given to her. When she tried to disobey, she would be afflicted with terrible pains, and they could only be assuaged by doing as she was commanded.

It’s difficult for Ella to be true to herself when, at any time, her own will can be subverted. She does, however, find little ways to counter some of the commands sent her way. Ella’s true wish, though, is to find a way to break this horrible curse, once and for all.

Following the death of her mother, it’s more imperative than ever for Ella to find a way to break this curse, especially when her father unexpectedly marries a wretched woman, and Ella is forced to become little more than a servant to her new stepmother and two stepsisters.

Ella’s curse even causes her to break ties with her closest friend (and possibly the love of her life), Prince Char. If any one of Char’s enemies learns that she could be commanded to do anything, that could put Char at risk. Ella simply can’t allow that to happen.

Ella despairs of ever being free of this curse, but a series of events–including a few royal balls and a bit of fairy magic–may just change things. Ella may find that the power to break her loathsome curse lies within and only needs a little push to be gone from her life forever.

What will give Ella reason enough to break her curse? Find out when you read Ella Enchanted!


Ella Enchanted is, of course, a spin on the traditional Cinderella tale. Readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales or fairy tale retellings will delight in discovering the similarities to the tale they know and the differences that make this version so distinctive. They may even be prompted to seek out even more versions of the tale. Some novelizations that could pique interest are: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer, just to name a few.

I think Ella Enchanted is a great read for anyone in upper elementary grades on up. It’s fun, aggravating at times, and bewitching. It could lead to discussions on why being obedient could be seen as a bad thing or why the other “gifts” bestowed by Lucinda weren’t gifts at all.

All in all, I’m glad I finally read Ella Enchanted, and I will definitely recommend it to my students. Now, I have to settle in to watch the movie version and see how it compares to the book.

For more information on Ella Enchanted and other books by Gail Carson Levine, visit the author’s website.

 

Uncommon Criminals

*Note:  Read Heist Society by Ally Carter before proceeding!*

Sometimes, life has a way of presenting me with material for this blog.  When I first started reading Uncommon Criminals, the second book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, I thought a story about a bunch of teenage thieves was kind of fun.  After this week, however, I feel a bit differently.  I came home from work Thursday to find that my house had been burglarized.  Now, a book about thieves isn’t what I would call fun.  As a victim, I can say that being robbed leaves one feeling violated, depressed, anxious, scared, and generally unsafe.  I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone (except maybe the people who made me feel this way).  So, halfway through Uncommon Criminals, I was approaching it from a different viewpoint, and it did change how I felt about the book.  (I couldn’t even look at this book Thursday night.  It made me want to hit things.)  It’s still an interesting story, and the characters in this book are really only stealing what’s already been stolen, but I can’t let go of my own recent experiences and embrace the glorification of thievery in this series.  Maybe some time will make me feel differently.

After robbing one of the most secure museums in the world (all for a good cause, of course), teenage thief Katarina Bishop continues to feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with pulling one over on her marks.  The rush becomes even more powerful when she’s asked to steal one of the most famous gems in history, the Cleopatra Emerald, and return it to its true owners.  Nevermind that the emerald is said to be cursed.  Surely something like a pesky little curse can’t stop Kat and her crew–including the wealthy, gorgeous, enigmatic Hale–from pulling off the job of the century.  Can it?

Well, curse or no, this job isn’t exactly what Kat was expecting.  Almost from the beginning, things go bad, and Kat soon realizes that she might be the mark in this situation.  Who would have the nerve and ability to play her for a fool? And how can Kat right a wrong when she’s growing more and more unsure of herself and her prowess as a master thief?  Can she pull of the ultimate heist…twice?  Read Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter to find out.

Even though Kat and her crew (Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, the Bagshaws, and a few other characters) were ultimately the “good guys” in this book–and the previous one–I can’t forget that they are thieves.  Yes, they are simply seeking to return items to the rightful owners, but it still bothers me.  I’m also bothered by the lack of parental supervision in this series.  It’s kind of disturbing, but I guess one does have to suspend reality a bit when reading a series like this one.  I will say that I liked the first book, Heist Society, more than this one.  (Yes, I know that my reasons for feeling this way are, shall we say, a little skewed at present.)  Who knows how I’ll feel about book three, Perfect Scoundrels, due out in February of 2013…

If you’d like more information about Uncommon Criminals, the Heist Society series, or other books by Ally Carter, visit http://allycarter.com/.  Please don’t let my paranoia and personal issues drive you away from this series.  It’s pretty good (kind of Ocean’s Eleven meets Gossip Girl), and I think a lot of teen readers will enjoy it.

The Serpent’s Shadow

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read The Red Pyramid or The Throne of Fire, turn back now!  If you don’t want to know what happens in the third book of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, The Serpent’s Shadow, turn back now!  This will be your only warning.

Last night, I finished reading the third and final book in The Kane Chronicles.  This book is The Serpent’s Shadow, and it’s already getting a lot of buzz at my school.  (Honestly, Rick Riordan could write a book about almost anything, and my students would have a fit over it.)  The book has only been out a week, and I’m already getting offers of food, school supplies, and money to have certain students moved to the top of the list to check it out.  (One kid offered up his dog.)  While I cannot be bribed (yet), I am thrilled that this book is so in demand.  Like Riordan’s other books, The Serpent’s Shadow is a great read and will appeal to readers from third grade on up.  It’s full of action, suspense, intrigue, humor, a heavy dose of Egyptian mythology, and even a little bit of romance.  Everyone will find something to enjoy.

Normal is not a word that the Carter and Sadie Kane are familiar with.  They are magicians descended from Egyptian pharaohs, and they often communicate and take on the forms of Horus and Isis, gods of ancient Egypt.  They run a school for young magicians out of their house in Brooklyn, their dad is Osiris (god of the afterlife), and their mom is a ghost.  Sadie has feelings for two different guys:  Walt, a descendent of King Tut who is cursed with a very short lifespan; and Anubis, god of the dead who tends to take on the form of a really attractive teenage boy.  Carter is enamored of a fellow magician, Zia, who spends most of her time babysitting Ra, a senile sun god.

As if life is not abnormal enough, add in a god of chaos, Apophis, who wants to swallow the sun and destroy the entire world.  The incredibly ginormous job of stopping him falls to Carter and Sadie and their merry band of misfits.  It’s up to them to unite magicians and gods in fighting Apophis and his minions, but how can they possibly destroy something so huge, terrifying, and powerful?  Well, they may have found a way, but it involves trusting an evil psychopath (not usually a smart move) and risking their own lives (also not preferable).  Carter and Sadie will have to face unbelievable horrors to save the world, and it still might not be enough.

Can the Kanes defeat the god of chaos without losing themselves?  Can they save those they love in the process?  Is there any hope for a normal life if their longshot of a plan actually works?  Probably not, but they have to try.  In a world that is falling into chaos, it’s up to two teenagers to restore order.  (I was laughing as I wrote that last bit.)  Read The Serpent’s Shadow to find out if their completely crazy heroic quest saves the world or destroys it forever.

Like The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire before it, I can’t say enough good things about The Serpent’s Shadow.  The humor alone was enough to keep me reading.  When you throw in a whole bunch of action and, you know, destroying stuff, I’m totally hooked.  This book was the perfect conclusion to The Kane Chronicles, but it definitely left the door open for more of Carter and Sadie Kane and friends.  (I’m hoping we’ll see them in some Percy Jackson crossover kind of thing…maybe in The Mark of Athena—the third book in The Heroes of Olympus series—which comes out this fall.)

To learn more about Rick Riordan, The Kane Chronicles, and Riordan’s other fabulous books, visit http://www.rickriordan.com/home.aspx or follow the author on Twitter @camphalfblood.  You may also want to check out this book trailer for The Serpent’s Shadow from Puffin Books.   It’s short, the cover is different (at least, it’s different from my copy), and the trailer gives nothing away, but it still may be worth a look.  Enjoy!

Beautiful Creatures

So, I just finished Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and let me just say that I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!  It’s got everything a weirdo like me could love–witches, curses, true love, secrets in a sleepy Southern town, eccentric relatives, and a kooky librarian.  Best of all, the action takes place right here in South Carolina.  Yay!  Because of this setting, I could definitely relate to some things the main characters experienced.  Living in a small Southern town can be a blessing or a curse, depending on one’s point of view…but that’s another story.  I also loved that this book was presented from a male perspective.  That’s something that a lot of fantasy books are lacking.  In Twilight, we get the story from Bella’s perspective; in the Mortal Instruments trilogy, we hear Clary’s side of things; but, in Beautiful Creatures, Ethan tells the story, so it’s an interesting twist and one I think a lot of readers will appreciate.

In Beautiful Creatures, we meet Ethan Wate, a sophomore in high school who is counting the days until he can leave Gatlin, South Carolina, forever.  His mom died last year, his dad is a shell of his former self, he’s tired of the people in Gatlin, and he just wants out.  Things begin to change, however, when he encounters the new girl in town, Lena Duchannes.  She’s strange, she lives in the oldest town in Gatlin, she’s immediately hated for being an outsider, but Ethan is drawn to her.  See, Ethan’s been dreaming about Lena for years, and, when they finally meet, the electricity is instant.  Ethan is sure there is something magical here.

How right he is.  Magic is definitely involved.  Lena is a Caster.  (“Witch” is such a cliched term.)  On her sixteenth birthday, she will be claimed as either a dark or light caster.  Her birthday is in less than six months, and she’s freaking out.  It doesn’t help that everyone in the town seems determined to hate her, and some of the “concerned” citizens even try to throw her out of school.  Her one port in the storm is Ethan.  For some reason, they are connected.  They can even communicate telepathically.  They don’t know why.  As Lena’s birthday draws closer, she and Ethan grow closer as well even though they may be ripped apart when Lena is claimed.

Ethan is determined to find a way to help Lena.  He knows she cannot be “turned to the Dark side,” for lack of a better phrase, but he must find some way to make sure that she stays in the light.  He and Lena seek out the help of Amma, the strange woman who helped raise Ethan, and Marian, the town’s weird librarian.  They also receive help from a couple of unlikely sources.  (You’ll have to read to find out what I’m talking about.)  In the process of their search, they are engulfed in a story as old as the town itself and the possibility of history repeating itself.  What will happen?  Will they find a way to save Lena from what seems to be her fate?  Read Beautiful Creatures to find out.

By the way, the sequel to Beautiful Creatures comes out on October 26th.  The title is Beautiful Darkness.  For more information, visit http://beautifulcreaturesthebook.com/.  Enjoy!