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Posts from April 2013

The Girl from Felony Bay: J. E. Thompson

Book: The Girl from Felony Bay
Author: J. E. Thompson
Pages: 384
Age Range: 9-12 

The Girl from Felony Bay is a middle grade mystery set against a deeply layered South Carolina coast backdrop. Abbey Force has had a bad year. Her father is in a coma after an apparent fall, accused of a crime that Abbey is certain he didn't commit. Abbey's home, Reward Plantation, has been sold to cover remunerations from the crime. Abbey is living with her snake-like Uncle Charlie, and Charlie's downtrodden wife Ruth. As the summer vacation after sixth grade begins, Abbey's number one goal is to prove that her father didn't commit the crime he is accused of. She is helped in her quest by Bee Force, the daughter of Reward's new owner. 

There's a lot to like about The Girl from Felony Bay. The mystery is well-developed, with clues parcelled out gradually, so that young readers can figure things out along with Abbey. I know that I read this quite quickly, eager to understand what was happening. I found the resolution of the mystery satisfying, but was pleased that the author didn't feel the need to fix every single loose end. 

Thompson's characterization is superb. Abbey fairly leaps from the page, and a number of secondary characters are revealed to have unexpected (but plausible) depths. The friendship between Abbey and Bee develops a bit quickly, but Thompson doesn't gloss over the awkward aspects of their relationship. Bee is living in the house that Abbey grew up in, sleeping in her very bedroom. And Abbey and Bee both understand immediately that Bee's family is descended from slaves that Abbey's ancestors owned (it having been common practice for freed slaves to take the last name of their owners as they left the plantations). These uncomfortable realities could have derailed the girls' friendship, but don't. 

Abbey's voice frequently made me smile. She has a wry humor, and a keen wit, with just a hint of the south in her diction. Like this:

"He sipped on his drink and squinted at me with the same face he'd use if he just discovered the meat in his lunch sandwich had gone bad. Uncle Charlie is about six feet two, nearly as tall as Daddy, but no longer thin. He's not exactly fat, either, at least not yet. He reminds me of a candle that's been sitting in the sun too long and is starting to bulge in the wrong places." (Chapter 2)

"She managed to hold back her sorrow when I told her I wouldn't be around for dinner." (Chapter 17, in reference to a neglectful and lazy aunt)

"Rufus was jumping up and down, which is what he did most of the time, since Labrador retrievers are just born happy. The only time they are even happier than usual is when there is a bowl of food nearby." (Chapter 29)

Thompson also does a fine job in portraying the South Carolina coastal region, including its beauties, inconveniences, and dangers. Like this: 

"We could still see the river through the trees off to our left, it's brown water glittering like hot butterscotch. To our right the heavy shrubbery of palmetto trees, live oaks, hanging drapes of Spanish moss, and tangles of honeysuckle and wild oleander and river oats and plants I couldn't begin to name cut off our view after only a few yards." Chapter 7)

"After another couple minutes, the cacophony of the frogs had become almost deafening, so I knew One Arm Pond had to be directly to our right. I couldn't see it through the leaves, not even moonlight reflecting off the surface, but I could smell the musty odor of pluff mud. I was studying every single root, vine, or stick with great intensity now, and that's when I came to a quick stop.

Two feet ahead of me, way to close for comfort, something that looked at first like a thick black root had just crawled from underneath a layer of dead magnolia leaves. It was maybe four feet long and as thick as a beer can in the middle." (Chapter 18)

So there you have it. An absorbing mystery for middle grade readers, with strong characters, and a setting that the reader can practically smell and taste. The fact that The Girl from Felony Bay also matter-of-factly takes on race relations in the south (including a sub-plot regarding heirs' property rights "and how a lot of African American people have gotten cheated out of valuable land over the years") is a nice bonus. 

Although the two main characters are girls (and there's a girl in the title), I think that The Girl from Felony Bay is quite boy-friendly. There are, after all, alligators and poisonous snakes, and hints of pirate treasure. The Girl from Felony Bay is a great choice for anyone looking for a middle grade mystery that has suspense and complexity as well as emotional depth. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Walden Pond Press (@WaldenPondPress)
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 3

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1655 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

ReadAloudEveryDayNewsletter Update: In this issue I have eight book reviews (five picture books, one middle grade novel, and two young adult novels). I also have one post with a recipe for growing bookworms. 

Not included in the newsletter this time around I have:

One other note about the newsletter is that I am still experimenting with my new template for sending the newsletter (since upgrading to the paid version of FeedBlitz). I welcome your feedback, and thank you for your patience. 

Reading Update: In the past 2 weeks, I finished 1 early chapter book, 3 novels for middle grade readers, and 2 novels for young adults. I read:  

Reviews are forthcoming for everything except Shades of EarthI did think that it was a satisfying conclusion to the Across the Universe series, but I rarely review audiobooks (since it's too hard to look back, find quotes, etc.). I do recommend the series to fans of straight up YA science fiction (of which there is not enough). I'm currently reading Fragments (Partials #2) by Dan Wells, and listening to The Madness Underneath (Shades of London #2) by Maureen Johnson

And, of course, I'm reading every day with Baby Bookworm. She is loving Byron Barton's The Three Bears and The Teeny Tiny Woman by Paul Galdone (both library picks). She is also fascinated by The Dark, from Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen (which I think is brilliant). She will be three later this week, and she is at the stage where she asks lots and lots (and lots) of questions as we read. Last night she asked me why she can't go inside the pictures in All the World. This testifies to the appeal of Marla Frazee's illustrations, I think. 

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Who are your favorite authors? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.  You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Trilogy): Robin LaFevers

Book: Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book 2)
Author: Robin LaFevers
Pages: 400
Age Range: 14 and up 

Dark Triumph is the second book in Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin Trilogy (after Grave Mercy). Dark Triumph is set in Brittany in 1489, as Anne, Duchess of Brittany, flees to Rennes with her advisors, an impossibly young monarch besieged on all sides. The primary protagonist of Dark Triumph, however, is Sybella, handmaiden to Death (aka Mortain). Trained for three years at the convent of Saint Mer, Sybella is a secret assassin. Her secret mission is to live as a spy within the entourage of her father, Alain D'Albret. Her deepest hope is to be able to kill her father, a man who has caused untold suffering for Sybella and many others. 

Dark Triumph has it all. High-stakes suspense, action, a complex protagonist, truly evil bad guys, and a gentle romance. It doesn't feel all that much like a second book of a trilogy, because it features a different main character (though Grave Mercy's Ismae does make an appearance). There is, as I think of the book in retrospect, perhaps a slight lack of forward movement on Anne's story. But Sybella's story is so fast-paced and utterly compelling that I didn't notice that at all when I was reading. 

Sybella is an intriguing character. She is ruthless, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. But she is also deeply wounded, vulnerable, and utterly loyal. She is not above using her feminine wiles to accomplish what she needs to accomplish, but she also hates herself for doing so. The family secrets that made Sybella who she is are revealed slowly throughout the book. This adds an additional layer of suspense on top of high-octane current events. 

As you might gather from the title and the cover of the book, Dark Triumph is indeed dark. Terrible things happen to people, particularly Sybella. D'Albret is one of the most loathsome, irredeemable villains I have ever encountered in a novel. Truly evil. There is also quite a lot of fighting and killing (yes, by Sybella - that's what she's been trained to do).

Dark Triumph is also a complex book. There are many characters, and quite a bit of political intrigue. I had to refer back to the Dramatis Personae from time to time, just to make sure I had things straight. 

And yet, I found Dark Triumph to be a fast read. Perhaps this was because I could scarcely bear to put it down. The stakes were always so high for Sybella that I had to keep reading. LaFevers does include some humor, too. And the love story between Sybella and a character who reappears from the first book is believable and lovely, that much more beautiful for being set against difficult times. 

I think that having a different protagonist for this book (but one trained at the same convent) was brilliant. This avoids what I think is my biggest pet peeve in young adult trilogies - the need to artificially keep apart a couple who clearly belong together, just to keep things interesting. Oh, some people do it well. And I get why it's necessary. But it's still tiresome. Here, we get a glimpse at Ismae's happily ever after with her beau, and are simultaneously able to move on and become invested in Sybella's story. Brilliant.

Fans of Grave Mercy will not be disappointed. Dark Triumph is, as I've said, dark. It does require a certain degree of focus to follow everything that's happening. It also requires a tiny willingness to suspend belief regarding the protagonists' fighting abilities (there are mild supernatural elements in effect, after all). But for those who are ready to take on these challenges, Dark Triumph offers great rewards.

Dark Triumph is compelling, well-written, and unforgettable. While it's not strictly necessary to have read Grave Mercy to appreciate Dark Triumph, I do encourage you to read the books in order. Both are highly recommended for teen and adult readers. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

ABC Puzzle and Book: Tiger Tales

Book: ABC Puzzle and Book
Author: Tiger Tales Books
Pages: 24 page paperback book, plus 30 piece puzzle
Age Range: 3-6

I don't normally review non-book items, but this one snuck it's way in as part of a package from Tiger Tales, and became an immediate hit with Baby Bookworm. It's a little box with a carry handle that contains a 30 piece puzzle and a paperback alphabet book. 

The puzzle offers the perfect mix of education and fun. One side has the alphabet (upper and lower case letters, white on black) across the top and bottom. The bulk of the puzzle consists of vivid photographs illustrating each letter, with the word included in small text. The pictures selected are fairly standard (ice cream, xylophone, zebra), but they're also kid-friendly, particularly a huggable-looking teddy bear and set of rubber ducks. Most of the images are overlap across multiple puzzle pieces, so that kids don't need to understand their letters to be able to assemble this side of the puzzle. There's a picture of the full puzzle on the box to help. 

The other side of the puzzle just has the alphabet, in order, with one puzzle piece dedicated to each letter (upper and lower case), plus four blank corner pieces. The pieces all have the same matte green background, making it easy to tell which side of each puzzle piece should be facing up at all times.

I expected my daughter (who will be three shortly, and loves puzzles) to favor the side with the photos. And to be sure, the side with the pictures is the only one that she can complete on her own at this point. But to my surprise, she is fascinated by the side with the letters, too. And she's learning. I've been using the book to help. When she wants to know which piece goes in a particular spot, I'll show her the page corresponding to that letter from the book, and let her pick it out. She's already starting to recognize letters that hadn't quite made it onto her radar yet, like V and K. 

So yes, the puzzle is the exciting part of this package. But the little book that comes with it is quite handy, too. There's a page for each letter. Readers can see the letter itself, as well as a series of photos of things that start with that letter (including the one from the puzzle). This fits well with my child's current fascination with naming people and things that start with a particular letter. (The letter that her name starts with is her favorite for this activity, of course). 

The ABC Puzzle and Book is fun and educational, and comes in a sturdy, bright package. I would recommend it for home or preschool use for kids who enjoy puzzles, and for kids who are starting to learn their letters (bonus when this overlaps, as it does in my house). It would make a nice component to a third birthday gift, too. 

Publisher: Tiger Tales Books (@TigerTalesBooks)
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook