The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau
Published: October 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
Format: Paper Book
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Cultural, Poverty
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon
Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico in the 1950s. There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cars, just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, eleven-year-old Teo’s life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan’s Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat, and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles-even death-to fulfill their impossible destiny. Inspired by true stories derived from rural Mexico, The Lightning Queen offers a glimpse of the encounter between two fascinating but marginalized cultures–the Rom and the Mixtec Indians–while telling the heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship that spans generations.
I was surprised with how much I liked The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. I usually like my books with more action and excitement; but The Lightning Queen was rich and magical and I found myself unable to put it down. Teo and Esma’s story was genuinely interesting. The book did have its harsh elements. The sexism of both the Romani and Mixteco cultures made me livid and the racism both cultures experienced was heartbreaking. It is a harsh look into civil rights issues in the past and a reminder that we are still dealing with those same issues in the present day. I felt both sadness and anger seeing the mistreatment within another culture, even if I’m not familiar with the Mexican culture as a whole. It was fascinating to peek into a different world.
The Lightning Queen is what I call a ‘small story’; that is, the storyline is very focused. Small stories are driven by the characters, rather than grandiose plots and events. So the characters are very important and I don’t normally pick up such books because it usually falls flat for me. More often than not, I end up bored. Here, the characters were amazing. You connect with Teo and Esma and care about what happens to them. We end up with a charming story of friendship and understanding. I was a bit concerned with it being set in both the past and present but for the bulk of the story we are in the past and most of the present timeline events are at the end of the book, allowing the main storyline between Teo and Esma to unfold without interruption. I hate it when books jump back and forth multiple times during a story but, thankfully, we avoided that. The only other major peeve I have is the mother, who spends the book so deep in depression after the death of her daughter as to be catatonic, despite having a living child that desperately needs her care. I wanted to crawl into the book just to slap her. I can’t imagine ignoring a child to the point where you have no reaction when that child is slowly dying himself, no matter what happened in the past.
The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau is original and well-crafted and the story flows easily. The desert landscape is beautiful but it is the characters in this book that are the real magic; from Esma who refuses to abandon her dreams no matter the personal cost to herself, to Teo, who retains his kindness despite his own pain and misfortunes. The Lightning Queen is a compelling look into cultural and ethnic differences and how two young children overcome those differences to be friends and help each other. The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau was mesmerizing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published April 5th 2011 by Atheneum
Format: Paper Book
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magical, Historical
Goodreads | Amazon
Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them.
But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost.
If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis has been on my to read shelf for some time and it’s only recently that I’ve gotten off my butt enough to go through my backlog of books. I’m sorry I waited so long! Kat, Incorrigible is a middle grade book and has the same original and imaginative quality to it that I expect from really great middle grade books. There is a host of likeable characters, a spot of magic, and a plot that ended up being more than I expected.
What I Liked
The plot of Kat, Incorrigible surprised me with a bit more depth than I was expecting. The book has a type of Matilda feel to it and the introduction of the Guardians extended the plot further than I was assuming it would be. It took a book that might have been just merely cute and predictable into something with a bit more meat on its bones.
I liked all the characters. Everybody has depth to them and I didn’t feel as if I were reading about cardboard cutouts. Kat is hilarious, her sisters are spot on in their rolls and play an active part in the plot rather than just being there for scenery, and even the bad guys are awesome, in a mustache twirling type of way.
I liked the setting and timeline. I found the Victorian aspects of proper manners and dress to be interesting. It added to the plot without being stifling. Younger readers might not care for the focus but older readers will find it to be a good detail.
What I Didn’t Like
There are times where Kat seems kind of bumbling. I know she’s young, only twelve, but at times she sort of annoyed me. She makes up for it by being stubborn, feisty, and independent. The sisters aren’t much better sometimes. Elissa is insipid and needs a good whack and Angeline is so self-involved and arrogant that I want to kick her. There were times when I just wanted to start throwing things.
There is not enough information given about the magical system and the Guardians. We’re left kind of wondering what the big fuss is all about. I’m hoping the sequel corrects this and we learn more as Kat’s training starts.
The plot and dialogue are a little wandering. I found myself waiting for things to happen, especially at the beginning, and some conversations between the three sisters are rather like beating your head against the wall. Yes, it’s very “family” but it’s also annoying.
Middle grade books are often my favorite and Kat, Incorrigible is no exception. It was a quick and fun read at under 300 pages and made my Saturday afternoon very enjoyable with a cup of tea and a comfy chair. If you are looking for a magical adventure but don’t want anything too heavy, than this novel is what you are looking for. There is nothing ground breaking but Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis is a great weekend read nonetheless.
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Published February 5th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk, Spy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Mystery
It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.
Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail Carriger’s legions of fans have come to adore.
It took me a little bit of time to wander my way through Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger. I heard great things about her Parasol Protectorate series and this was my first steampunk novel, so I was excited to read it. My excitement waned after a while and I finished Etiquette & Espionage in fits and spurts. It pained me that I didn’t love this book more. It had all the makings of an awesome novel with an original world (I haven’t read the Parasol Protectorate yet. So this was my first experience in this world.), a healthy dose of paranormal (Vampires! Werewolves! Oh my!), and some really interesting characters. But while it had all the pieces of a great book, is lacked any actual plot to focus on.
There are two things that keep Etiquette & Espionage from being a complete flop; great characters and the humor. All the girls at the finishing school are quirky and interesting. Sophronia, the main character, is spunky but could have had a bit more depth to her. Frankly, I was more interested in the characters she interacted with, like the other girls, teachers, and the sooties, than I was in Sophronia herself. There are great one-liners and fantastic humor. But all the cheeky jokes and turn of phrase wit in the world won’t hide the thin plot and slow moving action in Etiquette & Espionage. The setting gets the most attention, giving us a rich world with the finishing school, but leaving other aspects of the book languishing.
I feel as if I’ve read someone’s first draft and that I’m missing half of the book; the half where something actually happens. At the end there is some action involving the mysterious prototype and what could be some suitable villains but then the book ends before anything really exciting can evolve from it. We’re left with some funny characters and a fantastic world in which nothing much happens. I’m pleased with my first real foray into steampunk. That aspect of Etiquette & Espionage was fantastic but just didn’t have the support of a good plot to make the book really great.
I am intrigued enough that I’ll check out Parasol Protectorate. I loved Carriger’s world building and want to see more. Etiquette & Espionage read more like a middle grade book than a young adult book. The age of the characters and innocent and almost not there nature of the romance lends itself better to younger readers. (Not that that stops any 30 year old women from reading it.) But humor and quirky characters cannot disguise the slow and boring pace or the underdeveloped plot in this book. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger was great for a steampunk novel but ultimately fell a little flat.
Merry Lee and the Cursed Grandfather Clock by Amanda L. Kidd
Published September 6th 2012
Format: Kindle ebook (Freebie)
Length: 280 pages / 3371 KB
Genre: Adventure, Magic, Fun & Scary
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon
Every town has dark secrets, all of Fortunateville’s just so happen to live on U.N Street.
Merry Lee thought moving to Fortunateville was a dream come true but when the movers came screaming from the rickety house like little babies, she realized that something wasn’t right. And when she discovers the previous tenet still lingers in the shadows; watching, waiting, it becomes clear that U.N. Street is the most UN-Fortunate place she could have moved to.
The neighbors are strange, kids at school run at the sight of her, and if she can’t convince her mother to move soon the previous tenet has promised they will not make it out alive. Things go from bad to worse when an old grandfather clock is found in the basement and Merry uncovers that it just might be the root of the problem.
There is nothing worse than being the new kid, unless you are also the new target.
I downloaded Merry Lee and the Cursed Grandfather Clock by Amanda L. Kidd as a Kindle freebie. I was attracted to the book because of the great cover and was very pleased to find some awesome art inside too. There is no illustrator listed, so I have to assume Kidd is both the author and the artist for her book. In that case, she is doubly talented. There is no publisher listed, so I have to assume Kidd is also self-published. (I’m assuming a lot here. Sorry.) If that’s true, then a huge kudos to Kidd for her achievements. This was a fun read. Middle Grade books are always the most creative and original books I have the pleasure to read and Merry Lee and the Cursed Grandfather Clock did not disappoint.
I adored the ‘animal characters’, like Bandit and Bad Kitty-witty, and the setting is prefect. It’s very Pleasantville with a dash of mad scientist thrown in. The action is a bit bumpy and I think could have benefited from some grooming to smooth things out. It’s a Middle Grade book but sometimes does not read like one. There is some vocabulary that I think might be a little beyond the target audience. It can also get a bit wordy in places. Merry Lee irritated me occasionally because she’s incredibly naïve and goody goody while Ally and Blake are more realistic children. (Honestly, every time I read a kid character saying they have never lied to their parents I have to laugh. It’s ridiculous and just makes me roll my eyes.)
Merry Lee and the Cursed Grandfather Clock by Amanda L. Kidd is a great adventure book and an excellent read for a lazy afternoon. It’s not perfect. It has its rough patches and it takes a bit to get up to speed. But it is an entertaining book, funny and original, and worth a couple of dollars to get the Kindle ebook. If you have a younger kid that likes some scary fun or if you yourself enjoy adventurous books without the clichés of Young Adult, then Merry Lee and the Cursed Grandfather Clock by Amanda L. Kidd will be a good book for you.
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain
Published February 26th 2011 by Julian Rosado-Machain
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 238 pages / 746 KB
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magic, Adventure
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon
GUARDIANS INC.: THE CYPHER is two stories in one. A glimpse into a multinational company that is in reality the oldest of secret societies, one that spans close to seven thousand years of existence, weaving in and out of history, guiding and protecting humanity from creatures and forces that most of us believe are only mythology and fairy tales.
The other is the story of Thomas Byrne, a young man thrust into secrets he shouldn’t be aware of and dangers he shouldn’t face but, that he ultimately will, for he is a Cypher. The only one who can steer humanity’s future.
The ultimate conspiracy theory is that Magic is real. Kept in check by technology but, every five hundred years the balance can shift and, if it does, technology will fail and those creatures we’ve driven into myth will come back with a vengeance.
To protect the present, Guardians Incorporated needs to know the future.
I adore middle grade books because they are usually the most creative, original, and adventurous of the books I read. I love young adult books but they often fall into a couple established patterns. Middle grade books seem to avoid doing that somehow. I’m more likely to take a chance on an unknown middle grade book than I am a young adult book for that reason. I took a chance on Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain because the Kindle ebook was being given away as a freebie. The story sucked me in from the get go and I’m so glad I took the chance.
There is a bit of a fake out in the beginning of the book where we think we might be getting a story that focuses on two people. But Thomas’ Gramps is soon shuffled off to the side and we get to focus on Thomas’ adventure with being the long awaited Cypher and the new and unusual world of magic and mythical creatures and a mansion that is more than what it seems that he has suddenly found himself in the middle of. The world-building in this book is fantastic and I found myself walking a couple blocks to the left just in case I could find those brick pillars. I couldn’t help it. The characters are likable and interesting. There is more than one twist and all are surprising and well done. The dynamic that we see a very short glance of between Thomas and his Gramps, Morgan, is interesting and I can’t wait to see grandson and grandfather pitted against each other in the second book.
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain is a prime example of why I love middle grade books. It displays the type of pure imagination and adventure that I look for in books of this reading level. The first book is short and a bit of a tease. I was able to get it as a freebie from Amazon and sure enough, I was sufficiently interested to go buy the second book. So, well played author, well played. You have hooked this reader.
The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz
Published October 2nd 2012 by HarperCollins
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 288 pages / 438 KB
Genre: Adventure, Superheroes, Kids
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon
The Cloak Society: An elite organization of supervillains graced with extraordinary powers.
Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.
Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak’s underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents’ footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.
But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak–and what, exactly, he’s been fighting for.
The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz is another fantastic book I really should have gotten off my butt and read sooner. I couldn’t resist this middle grade book. I mean, come on! A superhero story told from the angle of the super villain? Who could pass that up, I ask you? I have to say that I was a little blown away with this book merely because it deals with some pretty serious stuff (or at least that’s what I got from it) and I’m not even quite sure Kraatz meant for The Cloak Society to be as serious as it turned out for me.
I was surprised when I started seeing themes of brainwashing and manipulation and the morality of killing your opponent in a middle grade superhero novel. The adults of The Cloak Society are out for revenge and domination and have turned their own children into weapons and sacrificial lambs. The children are brainwash into following Cloak’s agenda. Those who are not powered are treated like second class citizens and basically slaves. The prejudice and elitism is discomforting to read. Alex, our protagonist, struggles with his own morality and the concept of the innocent bystander and collateral damage and what it really means to be a hero or a villain. He has his eyes very forcible opened to exactly what his parents are prepared to do to take over Sterling City. I was very surprised to see such serious themes and I’m not sure if Kraatz meant to sneak those in there or if I’m just thinking about it too hard.
That being said, I loved the book. I enjoyed the unique perspective of reading a story told from the villain’s point of view. Alex is an excellent protagonist and his struggles are believable. He doesn’t suddenly turn good overnight, or because of a pretty girl (gag), but he goes through an evolution where he is exposed to other points of view and comes to his own conclusions. The bank robbery is Alex’s first foray into the real world outside of the Cloak headquarters and now he sees beyond the doctrine his parents have been feeding him all his life. Titan and Julie are a bit lackluster, being just the stereotypical bullies. Mallory is a nice, complicated character and Kirbie isn’t too annoying with her bubbly, self-righteous attitude. Altogether, a nice cast of characters.
I don’t know if the author meant for such seriousness to sneak into a children’s book but I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz. It deals with some serious themes and I think comes off better for it. I’m hoping for a quick sequel so I can know what happens now that the children are on their own, abandoned by Cloak and bereft of guidance from the now trapped in the Gloom Rangers of Justice. I want to see how Alex continues to evolve. After all, don’t you think Knight would make the perfect superhero name?