The Map to Everywhere

Next week, an outstanding new book will be released to the masses. That book is The Map to Everywhere, the first book in a new fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. I was lucky enough to read a review copy of this book via NetGalley, and I was thoroughly enchanted. I would have liked to see the artwork that will be included in the final copy, but I guess that’s one way to ensure reviewers like me buy the book! (And I will buy several copies of this one for my school library.) I’m sure the illustrations will only add to what is already a wonderful, captivating story!

Fin, a young thief living in the treacherous land of Khaznot Quay, is a boy who is easily forgotten. Seriously. As soon as someone meets him, they forget he ever existed. Pretty handy if you’re a thief, especially one surrounded by pirates, con artists, and, well, other thieves. Not so much if you need help looking for something…or someone.

Marrill is a girl who’s just been handed a shock, and she’s trying to make sense of her new circumstances. That is going to be much more difficult after she sees a huge ship sailing through what was a parking lot just minutes ago. So what does Marrill, girl adventurer, do? She climbs aboard the ship…and quickly realizes that she can’t find her way back home.

Marrill does have a bit of hope, though. The ship she’s currently on is home to a wizard, Ardent, and his companion, Coll. This unlikely pair is looking for a mysterious map. The Map to Everywhere. This map will lead anyone wherever they need to go. So what’s the problem? Well, the map is in pieces, and it could be quite the quest to find the pieces and put them together. Marrill, Ardent, and Coll will have to navigate the magical waters of the Pirate Stream to even attempt their mission.

And that’s where Fin comes in…

Marrill and company sail into Khaznot Quay. After getting herself into a sticky situation, Marrill encounters Fin (who is also in a sticky wicket of his own). Unlike everyone else he’s ever met, Marrill actually remembers him, and Fin is eager to hold onto that tenuous connection to someone. He stows away on Marrill’s ride, and joins the crew’s search for the Map to Everywhere (an object that he’d also like to get his hands on).

Also, Fin would kind of like to get away from the Oracle, an evil wizard who spreads sorrow wherever he goes. Fin has something that the Oracle wants, and this shadowy figure will stop at nothing to claim his prize. It seems he is also searching for this powerful map, but what he wants to do with it could be devastating for everyone, everywhere.

Now, Marrill, Fin, Ardent, and Coll are on the hunt for the pieces of the Map to Everywhere, each for their own reasons. Can they work together to complete this dangerous puzzle before everything is torn from them? Will they succeed in their quest to bring the Map together, or will the Oracle beat them to it? Will Marrill ever find her way home? Will Fin find what he’s looking for? Nothing is certain, but one this is clear. We’re in for one heck of an adventure!

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I think The Map to Everywhere is an excellent addition to any library that serves upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s action-packed, full of humor, and it teaches some pretty valuable lessons–the importance of friendship, how horrible it is to be forgotten, the destructive power of rumors, etc. I can’t wait to add this book to my own school library and, more importantly, talk about the book with my students!

My favorite part of this entertaining read was probably Ardent, the wizard. This guy was as powerful as you’d want a wizard to be, but he was also kind of hilarious. He reminded me a bit of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. He didn’t take himself too seriously, but you also wouldn’t want to meet him in a fight. Ardent was very wise, but that didn’t always show. It seemed that he wanted those around him to learn lessons for themselves instead of him jumping in to save the day constantly. (And that came in handy when one of his companions had to jump in and save him.) An admirable character and one that I think readers will take an instant liking to!

I look forward to seeing the illustrations in the finished book. If they’re anything like the cover, I’m sure they’ll be just as fantastic as the book’s text.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the second book in The Map to Everywhere series, but I’m guessing we’ll see something in November of next year. Here’s hoping!

To learn more about this fantastical tale, go to http://www.themaptoeverywhere.com/.

 

Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic

I typically don’t have a problem “selling” books about the Titanic to my students, so I was pleased to see Dangerous Waters on this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee list. This adventure story, written by Gregory Mone, is a quick, exciting, entertaining book that young readers–especially those fascinated by the Titanic and its fateful voyage–will devour. (I’ll likely have to order more copies to meet demand.) I would definitely recommend this book for all libraries (and classrooms) that serve elementary and middle grade students.

Patrick Waters wants to work. He wants to be seen as valuable to his family, particularly his big brother James, who has a job in the engine room of the new ship, Titanic. One night, Patrick gets the chance of a lifetime. He finds a way to sneak aboard and work on the Titanic himself, but he’s not exactly cut out for the engine room. (He’s only twelve, after all.) Instead, Patrick finds a place as a steward on the mammoth ocean liner, and this position will change his life forever…

Patrick catches the eye of a wealthy passenger, Harry Elkins Widener, and eventually becomes the man’s private steward, not realizing that this new job will lead him down an intriguing and dangerous path. Harry is in possession of a rare and valuable book, and there are a couple of nefarious types on board who will do anything to steal such a prize.

Patrick isn’t sure what’s so special about this old book, so he does whatever he can to learn more. It seems this book may have the key to unlocking the most powerful force in the world, and some people will do anything–even kill–to learn its secrets. Patrick does his best to help Harry protect the book, but the Titanic is on a path that could put Patrick’s quest–and his very life–in jeopardy…

As the Titanic makes its way to its eventual demise, Patrick is trying to keep himself, his brother, Harry, and his precious book safe. In the process, Patrick discovers his own strengths and what really matters to him.

Will Patrick be able to save Harry’s book from those bent on stealing it? And will he be able to save himself from the tragedy that is to come? Join Patrick on his adventure aboard the Titanic when you read Dangerous Waters by Gregory Mone!

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The author’s note at the end of Dangerous Waters lets readers know that many of the characters in this book were based on real people. With the exception of Patrick, his brother, and a few others, all of the people mentioned in this book were actually on board the Titanic. (The Widener Library at Harvard University is named for Harry Elkins Widener.) I think that healthy dose of historical fact will make this event more real to young readers, many of whom think the story of Titanic is “cool” but don’t really think about those who died when the ship sank or had to go on with their lives after losing family and friends in the tragedy.

*An interesting exercise–following a reading of the book, of course–could be to write about the aftermath of the Titanic‘s sinking from the perspective of someone who survived. Putting students in touch with primary sources could make this even more poignant. Something to think about for this school year!*

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Dangerous Waters is an easy sell to most students. I know my students will love it, and I hope it will lead them to further research about Titanic, the people on board, and the books that were so important to Harry Elkins Widener.

For more information about Dangerous Waters and author Gregory Mone, check out his website, blog, Goodreads page, or Twitter. Enjoy!

The Vengekeep Prophecies

Once again, yours truly is here with another nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, I bring you The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey. This book, the first in a new series, brings to mind the wonderful fantasy stories of Tony DiTerlizzi, Rick Riordan, and, J.K. Rowling (also known as The Queen of All Things), and I think it is a great fit for readers–young and old–who are looking for a bit of magic in their lives.

In The Vengekeep Prophecies, author Brian Farrey introduces readers to the Grimjinx family. This family of thieves is rather notorious in the town of Vengekeep, but no one can ever really prove that they’ve done anything wrong. Young Jaxter Grimjinx is supposed to be a master thief like everyone else in his family, but he has a bit of a problem. He’s clumsy. So clumsy that he can’t pick a simple lock. So clumsy that he sets a house on fire during his first solo job. A life of thievery doesn’t look promising for Jaxter.

But Jaxter is skilled at one thing that his family values. He can create natural mixtures that break low-level magical locks. Pretty handy when his family runs into trouble beyond their skills. And trouble is definitely on its way…more trouble than the Grimjinx clan has ever seen.

Each year, a tapestry is unveiled in Vengekeep that reveals a prophecy. This prophecy provides a sort of guide for the town on how they should proceed during the year–what troubles to avoid and the like. Well, this year, the tapestry is especially disturbing. It foretells the utter destruction of Vengekeep and essentially states that the Grimjinx family may be the town’s only salvation.

Jaxter knows his family isn’t really hero material, but they may not have an option this time. Even though they did so without intending to, the Grimjinx clan set events in motion that could actually level Vengekeep, and it’s up to them–or, more specifically, to Jaxter and his friend Callie–to set things right.

Jaxter and Callie set off on a mission to ultimately destroy the magic surrounding the tapestry. Their journey will be perilous, and they will encounter both friends and foes–and it won’t always be easy to tell the difference between the two.

Will Jaxter and Callie be able to get what they need before Vengekeep is destroyed, or will their efforts be for nothing? Will Jaxter Grimjinx be the savior Vengekeep needs, or will he be its ultimate end?

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The Vengekeep Prophecies reads a little like a mix of fantasy and historical fiction. There’s some vocabulary that many of my students won’t be familiar with. Some of that vocabulary seems to belong in a work of historical fiction. (The words “cistern” and “gaol” come to mind.) Other words, of course, are unfamiliar because they are unique to the world built by the author. Readers who give this book a whirl, though, will be able to use the vivid descriptions in the text to overcome most of the issues they may have with vocabulary.

The Vengekeep Prophecies is an ideal read for upper elementary and middle grade readers who are looking for a great fantasy. I know I’m always looking for more books to give to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or Spiderwick fans, and now I’ve got one more series to add to the list.

The second book in this series, The Shadowhand Covenant, is already out. As soon as I return to school, I’ll be adding it to my first order. I look forward to learning more about the fascinating Grimjinx family!

If you’d like to learn more, check out Brian Farrey’s website or Twitter. You may also want to check out the video below from HarperKids. It features the author telling a bit more about The Vengekeep Prophecies…and doing so much more eloquently than I ever could!

Perfect Scoundrels

Warning:  Read Ally Carter’s Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals before proceeding. The third book in this series, Perfect Scoundrels, is not a stand-alone novel! You need prior knowledge of the characters to really grasp what’s going on!

It’s my last day of spring break, and, to be totally honest, I am not ready to go back to school. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, most of the people I work with, and my students…but this week has been kind of awesome. I’ve shopped, taken lots of naps, watched what some would say is way too much Doctor Who, and I’ve read several fantastic books. One of those books, Perfect Scoundrels, the third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, has me wondering how I would fare as part of a crew of top-notch thieves. For a rather large woman, I’m often overlooked in a crowd, so I think I would be great at gathering intel. I’m also fairly decent with computers and research, so that’s another strength. I’m horrible, though, when I have no plan, and you can forget anything that requires even the smallest amount of athletic prowess. So, I guess, at least for the time being, I’ll stick with being an elementary school librarian and part-time book blogger. Oh well…I have my Knight Reader persona for now.

If you’ve read Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals (and I assume you have if you’re still reading this), you probably have something of a crush on the character of Hale. Who wouldn’t? He’s cute, rich, funny, talented, and totally loyal to Kat and her merry band of thieves. So what could possibly happen to cause this seemingly perfect guy to go completely off the rails?

In Perfect Scoundrels, Hale is forced to finally deal with his family after the death of his beloved grandmother, Hazel. Kat doesn’t know how to help him through this, especially when it becomes crystal clear that she does not fit into his high society lifestyle. When Hale is named Hazel’s heir, though, Kat finds herself drawn into a bigger mystery than any she’s ever faced before. Why would Hazel leave her company to a teenager? And why would she leave her oldest, dearest friend out of her will? Something is up, and Kat is left to figure things out. But can she do this without Hale knowing? And if he finds out, what could it mean for their somewhat tenuous relationship?

As Kat and her crew begin to put the pieces together of the events surrounding Hazel’s death, a tale of corporate espionage comes into focus. She discovers that Hazel’s will might have been an elaborate forgery. What will this mean for Hale? And how can Kat prove that the will is a fake when the person who is sabotaging the Hale family seems to always be one step ahead of her?

Kat and crew will have to pull the biggest con of their lives if they have any hope of restoring order to Hale Industries and reclaiming the boy who has come to mean so much to all of them…but most especially to Kat. She feels Hale drifting away from her and toward the life and family he was born into. Can she expose the truth of what’s going on while keeping the boy she’s come to love? Can she convince him that his real family is the one he’s chosen? No matter what, Kat will have to pool every resource, every family member, every friend she’s ever known to reveal the truth of Hazel’s will. The real question is…will it be worth it if she ends up losing Hale? Find out when you read Perfect Scoundrels, the thrilling third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series!

Perfect Scoundrels is an excellent book, and it provides a lot of insight into the enigmatic character of W.W. Hale the Fifth. (We still don’t know what his initials stand for, though. Dare I hope we’ll find out in future books?) We learn that his nickname in the moneyed world of Manhattan is Scooter…which totally doesn’t fit the Hale I’ve come to know in previous books. We also learn a lot about how he and Kat met and how he interacts with his family (the majority of whom are cold, greedy snobs.) In my opinion, readers also discover a bit about just how much Hale really means to Kat. (Even Kat didn’t realize just how much she cared for him until she was in danger of losing him.) Kat also realizes how much it means to have friends and family who are always there for her. Even though she’s part of a family of thieves, they’re an honorable group, and family means everything to them. It’s touching.

I really hope that we haven’t heard the last of Kat, Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, Angus, Hamish, Uncle Eddie, and assorted other colorful characters. There’s already a novella that combines the world of Heist Society with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. It’s called Double Crossed, and I read it yesterday before I began Perfect Scoundrels. It’s a pretty cool story, and it leads me to hope that these two worlds will intertwine once more.

If you like mysteries or tales of teenagers with very little adult supervision and seemingly unlimited resources, you definitely want to check out the entire Heist Society series. You may have to suspend reality a bit while reading these books, but the stories will definitely keep you guessing, and you’ll find yourself eager to see what happens next. It’s kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the YA crowd.

For more information on Ally Carter, the Heist Society series, and several other books, visit her website at http://allycarter.com/. There’s also tour information and how to interact with the author through Twitter and Facebook. All you visual people may also like the book trailer from Hyperion Teens below. Have fun!

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.