Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

April 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

imageI was captivated by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and have been waiting for the release of the second book, Hollow City (Quirk Books 2014).  Ransom Riggs did not disappoint.  Hollow City picks up just where the first book ends–with the peculiar children rowing the boats across the sea to reach the mainland and escape from the wights who are chasing them.

Once they reach the shore, their troubles have just begun.  Jacob, our hero, is now stuck in 1945 unless they can find an ymbryne who can open a time loop and send him back to the present.  While they search, the other peculiar children look to Jacob to lead them to safety–at least some of them do.  Others, including Jacob himself, aren’t sure he is up to the job and are sure he will never live up to his grandfather’s legendary feats.

Not only does Jacob discover the strength and power of his peculiar talent, but each of the children learns the strength they have.  Each of them is given the chance to be a hero and rescue the rest from near disaster and destruction.

Every page uncovers new secrets and reveals unexpected twists.  New characters from gypsies to peculiar animals help the children on their journey to London.  Along the way, nothing is what it seems to be.  The story races along, full of mystery and suspense.  The pictures that accompany the text are eerie and propel the story brilliantly.  I can’t wait for the next installment.

February 10, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Hidden Talents by David Lubar

imageIn the author’s note in the back (yes, I’m that geeky reader that reads those, too), David Lubar shared that he did not want to write a sequel to Hidden Talents.  I am glad he gave in to reader requests and wrote True Talents (A Tom Doherty Associates Book 2007).

Trash, otherwise known as Eddie Thalmeyer, wakes up in a concrete cell and knows he is in trouble.  He is seeing gorillas on the wall and has vague memories of pain.  A guy named Bowdler insists that he use his mind to move a marble across a table.  If he can use his powers and his strength and his wits, he just might be able to escape.  But who has him and why do they want him?  Who can he turn to once he escapes?

Even though this story focuses on Trash, all the other guys from Edgeview Alternative School find themselves drawn to Philadelphia.  As they come together to first help Trash and then rescue Lucky.  This time the bad guys are much worse than a few school bullies.  Along the way the pull on their powers, and more importantly, they count on each other to discover their true talents.

I enjoyed the shifting points of view that allow glimpses of each of the boys and their different paths to Philly.  Martin still runs his mouth, but he is learning to control it around everyone except his dad.  My favorite, though, is Torchie.  Torchie has taken up a new hobby–playing the accordion.  He is in constant wonder at the generosity of the neighbors, who gladly take up a collection to send him to accordion camp (in Philly, of course) and then to purchase a piano.  Too bad they won’t get to enjoy any more of Torchie’s traveling concerts.  Flinch has put his impeccable timing to use in a stand up comedy routine.  Cheater meets his match when he tries to outplay a group of poker playing friends who don’t like losing money.  Poor Lucky is finally driven over the edge by the voices of lost objects.

 

January 6, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Graphic Novel Roundup

My students love graphic novels, and my one small shelf cannot keep up with the demand. I’m excited to have several more to introduce after Christmas break.  One of the things I am enjoying as I explore more graphic novels is the great variety of stories that are told through this format.

Pandemonium (Scholastic graphix 2012) by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz

imageThe world of Pandemonium is dark and full of secrets.  Seifer Tombchewer is a hero in his small mountain village for playing skullball, but he longs to see what lies beyond.  One day he gets his wish, but it is not at all what he expected.  He has been kidnapped because he looks just like Prince Talon.  Now he is to take the prince’s place in order to fool the kingdom until the real prince can be found again.  He knows nothing of royalty, but begins to make a better prince than the one who disappeared.  I enjoyed this dark and fantastical twist on a tale of mistaken identity, but there are many more questions to be answered.  Where is the missing prince?  How did the royal advisors know of Seifer’s existence in a village that has forgotten the wider world?  Just what other secrets lie in Seifer’s past that even he doesn’t know?  Not only is this gem a dark fantasy, it rocks with British humor!

Resistance:  Book 1 by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis (First Second 2010)

imageTravel through history to when World War II raged across the globe and land in France, where part of the citizens support the occupying Germans, and where many of them fight against the occupation.  It is hard for Paul and his sisters to know who they can trust, but when their friend Henri’s parents are rounded up by the Nazis for being Jewish, they must decide which side they will take.  Their first action is to hide their friend Henri, but soon they find themselves delivering messages for the Resistance as well trying to reunite Henri with his parents.  I can’t imagine living in an occupied country and having to make the decisions faced by people such as Paul and his family.  I hope I never have to learn.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships (Dark Horse Books 2010) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck

imageHorror is not my favorite genre.  (The blood and gore and general scariness give me nightmares), but I see students who are horror fans devouring this graphic novel.  Lord Baltimre is fighting the vampires, but he is cursed and downright creepy himself.  The vampires definitely do not sparkle.  They and the other creatures of the plague are dark and deadly and horrifically ugly as they creep out of shadows and sunken wrecks.  Throw in a superstitious witch and her beautiful but stubborn granddaughter, and the sense of foreboding grows.  The dark illustrations with lots of black and red enhance the feeling of fear throughout the story.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Who is going to stay up with me and my nightmares tonight?

January 1, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Bewitching by Alex Flinn

imageMy daughter is a huge fan of Alex Flinn and loves Beastly.  When I saw Bewitching at the school book fair, I grabbed it for her and wrapped it up to put under the tree.  She started reading as soon as she opened it, and as soon as she finished it, she handed it to me to read so we could dish on it together.  Here is what we loved about Bewitching.

  • It is funny.  No matter what Flinn writes, the humor and attitude shines through the modern twists.  In this case, Kendra always, well almost always, has good intentions, but her spells don’t always work out as planned.
  • It’s not just one fairy tale (one with stepsisters and stepmothers and a ball), but Flinn incorporates several more.  Kendra’s story starts with the Plague that swept Europe in 1655.  In escaping the plague with her baby brother, she learns of her magic and meets up with a witch who cooks children into gingerbread.  Somehow after she burns the evil witch and frees the children, Kendra is hung for the crimes (see point above).  It’s a good thing she is immortal.  Learn how she played a role in matchmaking for the little mermaid and Louis, Dauphin of France.  Those didn’t work out so well, either.
  • The modern updates to the fairy tales are fresh and surprising.  You never know what princesses and princes just might be hiding out in your local high school.
  • The ending is not predictable (well, not completely if you know the fairy tale), but it fits.  Emma does end up with the prince at the ball (of course), but even she is surprised at who the prince turns out to be.  So is Lisette, her evil stepsister, that everyone else believes is Cinderella.  Well, after all, Lisette is the stepchild (and Emma’s mom is warped, too), but she’s got everyone fooled.
  • Emma is a bookworm and a complete nerd!  I love this girl who finds her way in the world (with a little help from Kendra) without following anyone else’s script.

We can’t wait to see what Kendra is up to next.

December 29, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

imageWhat do you get when you combine fading magic, a dying dragon and a most unlikely heroine?  If you sprinkle it all with a dose of wacky humor (and a few very odd magicians), you get Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010).

Jennifer Strange has everything I want in a heroine:  She’s a foundling (yes, that’s your classic orphan raised by the sisters in the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster).  She’s very capable at running Kazam Mystical Arts Management (an employment agency/retirement home for magicians) ever since its owner disappeared months ago.  She is caught up in a greater destiny than she knows, and she doesn’t know it, but she will play a major role in the coming Big Magic.  Most of all, she has heart and wit.

The Ununited Kingdoms are quirky, to say the least, most of all the House of Kazam.  You never know when you will walk through the Transient Moose (one of the magical residents of Kazam).  Magic may be dying, but plenty of unexplained things abound.  The quarkbeast may look ferocious with its mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, but it is loyal to Jennifer until the very end.  Even the last dragon is not at all what I expected.

I love this book–the magic, they mystery, the humor.  The best news of all is that it is just Book One.  I have more adventures in the Chronicles of Kazam to look forward to, and hopefully will read much more of Jennifer Strange.

December 28, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time the Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

imageI hate being asked what my favorite book is because there are just too many good books to choose from, but Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is always near the top of my list of potential all-time favorites.  Actually, that’s not quite right.  I like each book in the Time Quintet better than the one before, but Wrinkle holds a special place in my heart for being the book that starts them all.

I was a little nervous to try Hope Larson’s graphic novel adaptation.  What if she didn’t get all the things I loved about this story where Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe travel through time and space to rescue her father from the dark thing that holds him captive on Camozotz?

I didn’t need to worry.  Larson gets it.  The blue and black drawings give an other-worldly feel, and the pictures and text capture the gist of the story.  I particularly liked her portrayal of the tesseract.  It is much as I pictured it when reading it.

More than anything else, I hope that this graphic novel introduces a new generation of readers to A Wrinkle in Time and leads them to journey through the rest of L’Engle’s books.  I can’t wait to share it with my students when I get back after Christmas break.

December 11, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Which book will survive?

Today is our rescheduled meeting for Survivor Book Club.  If you couldn’t make it, check out the books we presented.  Which book will you read?  Which book will be your favorite?

Hidden by Helen Frost

Two girls are brought together by a carjacking turned kidnapping.  Years later their paths cross again at summer camp.  The alternating voices in this novel in verse will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Emerald Atlas by John Stevens

Three children are taken from their parents and hidden in orphanage after orphanage.  At their last stop, they discover a magical atlas and a dangerous prophecy that says they must save the world from the power of an evil witch and her friends.  The only bad news—this is the first of three books.

City of Orphans by Avi

The streets of New York City in 189 are a tough place to be if you’re a kid like newsie Maks or orphan Willa.  Can they avoid the Plug Ugly gang and free Maks’ sister from jail with the help of only a washed up detective?

Amelia Lost:  The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming

I thought I knew a lot about my favorite flyer, but I learned much about her life and the search for her after her plane disappeared.  I loved the photographs!

November 1, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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House of Hades

imageAfter the cliff-hanger ending in Mark of Athena, I was ready to strangle Rick Riordan.  How could he do that and then make us wait for an entire year to see what happens?  Now that I’ve read House of Hades (Disney-Hyperion 2013), I may have to admit it was worth the wait.  I do think this one is my favorite Riordan book yet.

House of Hades picks up the story with Hazel and Frank and Jason and Leo and Piper and Nico and Coach Hedge back on the Argo II, trying to return the statue of Athena to its rightful place and fulfill the prophecy and reach the Doors of Death.  All they want to do is go after Percy and Annabeth, but all they can do is hope the two survived their fall and meet them on the other side of the Doors of Death at the right time.  How many things can go wrong with that plan?

One of the things I loved best about this book was seeing the transformations in Hazel, Frank, Leo, and even Piper.  Each of them must confront their own monsters and their own fears in order to embrace their unique strengths.  As they do, the demigods from the two camps learn to trust each other and work as a team.

Don’t worry.  We do hear from Percy and Annabeth as they make their way through Tartarus to reach the Doors of Death.  Along the way they meet some unexpected friends and receive help from monsters who just might not be monstrous.  One of my favorite scenes in the book comes when one of those monsters comes riding up (on the back of another monster, of course) once he decides he can change his fate after all.  All through the book demigods and gods realize that they do have the power to change their fates.

While there is still one more book to come, at least Riordan ended this one with a little breathing room while we wait for The Blood of Olympus.

October 11, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

imageKate, Michael, and Emma have been shuttled from orphanage to orphanage–each one worse than the one before–ever since their parents left them on Christmas Eve ten years before.  Now they find themselves in a run-down castle on a remote island that time seems to have forgotten.  As they explore the deserted rooms, they discover that magic is real and that evil waits for them behind every shadow.

Enter the darkly textured world of The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens.  Our three heroes may be young, but they dare take on all that the evil witch, the Countess, can throw at them as the travel in and out of the past.  Isn’t there always an evil witch wanting to take over and destroy the world?  The countess was surely inspired by the White Witch of Narnia, but her desire for power is all her own.  Kate, the oldest, takers seriously her promise to protect her little brother and sister.  She does not understand all that it means, but she rises to the challenges placed before her–from ghoulish monsters to howling wolves.  Michael is bookish and knows everything there is to know about dwarves.  It’s a good thing since they are captured by a dwarf patrol who arrest them for trespassing.  Emma will take on anyone in a good fight and usually win over much bigger opponents, including bullies and grown men.  She can even say “please.”

Fortunately, the children do not have to fight alone.  They are helped by the mysterious wizard Mr. Pym, who keeps showing up in different times; the gruff butler/groundskeeper/photographer Abraham, who gives them just the right pictures when they need it; the strong and scarred fighter Gabriel, who finds a kindred spirit with Emma.

I didn’t intend to read all of this book today, but once I fell into this magical world, I didn’t want to leave.  The good news is that there are two more books to come.  The bad news is I have to wait for them.

October 9, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac

imageNot only can Joseph Bruchac write historical fiction, he can also rock fantasy.  Dragon Castle is now one of my go to books of classic fantasy.  Bruchac intertwines two stories–those of Rashko and his legendary ancestor Pavol–that pulse with magic.

Rashko is the only one in his family that seems to have a clue–other than the servants who really keep the household going.  His mother and father have ruled their kingdom with kindness and peace, but not much wisdom that Rashko can determine.  Still, when his parents disappear just in time for the evil Baron Temny to show up with a formidable army, he’s not sure he’s ready to defend the castle and kingdom.  To make matters worse, his brother Paulek quickly falls under the spell (entirely magical) of Temny’s beautiful daughter Poteshenie.

Rashko has grown up with the tapestry that shows the story of his ancestor Pavol–who rescued the kingdom from the Dark Lord.  It is said that he defeated a dragon and raised their castle, Hladka Hvorka, overnight from the mountain.  Pavol supposedly survived the Dark Lord by pretending to be Pavol the Fool, but during his reign he became known as Pavol the Just.  Can Rashko live up to Pavol’s legacy and rescue his kingdom from the threat of evil again?  It will take every bit of his swordplay and wit to turn away Temny.  It’s a good thing he doesn’t have to do it alone.  Help comes from unexpected places as Rashko discovers that not everything is as it seems and that there is much magic hidden underneath appearances.

I wish I had read the author’s note at the end before reading the story.  In it, Bruchac explains the inspiration for the story that comes from his grandparents’ heritage in Slovakia.  I think I just discovered a whole new world of folklore to explore.