Reviews

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice: The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers. Little, Brown, 2010. 453 pages. Hardcover  $15.44, ISBN 978-0-316-00258-5 ; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-0-329-89179-4 ; TR $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-00259-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Mystery

Part of a series? Yes –the second book is The Candymakers: The Great Chocolate Chase

Plot Summary:

Logan Sweet is super excited and a little bit — make that really — nervous. The big candy making contest has arrived, and now Logan is one of 32 twelve-year-olds competing to have their candy be chosen as the next “it” candy. Being the grandson of Samuel Sweet, candy innovator and founder of the Life is Sweet candy factory means that Logan feels he has a lot to prove. But to win, he needs to beat every single other child competing, and as we are soon to learn, the other three contestants from his region also have a reason to win. Logan is also excited, however, to have the chance to spend time with people his own age — he has grown up inside the factory and has seldom gone into the outside world. Will Miles (a bit of a strange kid who has a tendency to talk about the Afterlife), Daisy (a bubbly girl with a weirdly heavy purse and a tendency to read out loud by herself), and Philip (a world-class snot) turn out to become his friends? Or are they simply competitors? (And is everyone exactly who they seem to be?)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book was AMAZING. A student recommended it to me, and once I started it, I could not put it down. This book is told through each child’s point of view, and as soon as we get up to the night before the big contest, we switch from Logan to Miles (who relates all of the action up to that point as he experienced it) to Daisy (who does the same) to Philip (who does the same), finally back to Logan. Each child has secrets that they do not share with each other, and each child is motivated by something beyond simply making the winning candy. (Do all of them even want to make candy? I’ll leave it to you to find out!) Deliciously, this book utilizes unreliable narrators, leaving kids to find out as they read whether or not we know who these people are.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is definitely a great read for anyone, particularly fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

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Reviews

Once upon a time … The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Read by Polly Lee. Harper, 2013. 488 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-48982-456-1; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-06-210490-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, fairytales

Part of a series? Yes — The School for Good and Evil series

Plot Summary:

Sophie of Gavaldon knows that when the mysterious schoolmaster comes to steal children (one for the princess school, one for the witch school), she’s a shoe-in for the role of the princess. She’s given her life to good deeds — just look at her best friend Agatha. Nobody likes Agatha!

Imagine Sophie’s shock when the schoolmaster does come for her … and drops her off in the School for Evil, sending Agatha into the hallowed halls of the School for Good! Is this a terrible mistake, or do the girls have more to learn about what makes “good” and “evil” so?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

While this book does not probe as deeply into “good” versus “evil” as I would have liked, this is still a delicious fairytale. Well, as an older reader, I struggled with some issues that felt a bit straw-feminist like to me? (Agatha’s early loathing of Tedros was fun, but it does not sustain itself over the course of the fairy tale. It feels like something she must grow out of…)  As well as some spoilers [Chainani plays with heteronormativity in ways that uphold heteronormativity, so I am not fully comfortable with that], but over all, I would hand this one off to a student who enjoys fantasy and stories about schools of magic.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Readalikes?

If you love Sophie’s need to be the BEST, pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. There’s a similar “pity best friend” plot line where the best friend (much like Agatha) is the better of the two kids. (Victoria of Cavendish does turn nicer a bit faster than Sophie does, but still — the plot is similar.)

Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series delivers on fairytale retelling and having ordinary children fall into a storybook world. Colfer’s series is contemporary fiction whereas the girls of Gavaldon appear to live in a more rustic era, but the “brave new world” feeling is similar.

Reviews

Run Like the River: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Code of Claw. Scholastic, c2007, p2008. 412 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-65712-3  ; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79144-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

Gregor has returned to Regalia to claim his sword and read the Prophecy of Time, another Warrior prophecy that appears to hold the key to his –and all of the Underland’s– fate. It is up to Gregor to save the Underland, and his sister must also play an important role. The rats are marching for Regalia, and the Regalians must keep them at bay. Can the humans of the Underland win enough allies — warmblood and other — to save their homeland? Or will the rats rule all?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is intense. Collins really delivers on the peril in this one, and there is a great deal of violence on the page. Characters we know and love are wounded (sometimes mortally), and unnamed figures are killed during the battles. Gregor struggles with the ethics of killing, so the violence (while intense) is not there simply for violence’s sake, but is instead handled thoughtfully. That said, I would still be mindful of a student’s age/sensitivities before handing this one to them. You will definitely be crying by novel’s end!!

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/07

 

Reviews

Despair and darkness: Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Marks of Secret. Scholastic, c2006, p2007. 343 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-1-42874-501-8 ; TR (mass market) $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79146-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

It is summer vacation in the Overland, which means that Gregor now has a great deal of free time to spend with Ripred for echolocation lessons. Gregor is less than thrilled with this development, particularly as his echolocation skills are not particularly strong. Ripred surprises Gregor with the news that he wishes to kill a creature who is dangerous, unstable, and who has the potential to be extremely powerful. The next day, Gregor is attacked by three rats who smash his flashlight and show him just how important echolocation is. Ripred goes missing, but Gregor is unsure of how to (or if he should) inform Vikus of Ripred’s intentions before his disappearance. During a birthday party, a bat scout drops off one of Luxa’s crowns, informing her that a nibbler had given it to him and said that Luxa would know what it meant. Luxa makes light of the delivery in public, but as she and Gregor know, it means that the mice are in grave danger. When Luxa, Gregor, and their bonds go to find the mice, the entire colony is empty, save for one dead mouse, her body hiding a strange carving on the ground. They return to Regalia, pack up for a “picnic” (so that they may escape Regalia and search for the mice without alerting the Council) only to need to take Hazard, Boots, Howard, and Nike along. They are soon trapped by an earthquake, and the peril is real. Traveling through Hades Hall to the Firelands in order to return safely to Regalia takes them through some dangerous lands with even more perilous inhabitants … what Gregor and his friends encounter in Hades Hall is enough to push the Underland past the brink and into a full-scale war. Will Gregor and his friends be able to help the nibblers? Or is all lost in the Underland?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book begins to take Gregor into more intense territory — there are absolutely some scenes (highlight here for spoiler >>>) for instance, a mass grave of mice, as well as a massacre that happens on the page that make me hesitate to hand this to a young reader. That said, the book is gripping, and Gregor grapples with some very real ethical dilemmas. A strong fourth installment to the Underland Chronicles that ends on a serious cliffhanger.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/06

Kirkus Reviews starred 05/15/06

Reviews

ARC Alert (with a book birthday today!) — The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

Thank you to Disney/Hyperion and NetGalley for the ARC. Below is my honest review.

Bracken, Alexandra. The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding. Disney/Hyperion, 2017. 362 pages. Hardcover $16.99, ISBN 978-1-48477-817-3

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? Appears to be — no spoilers, but the ending makes me think there’s a sequel!

Plot Summary:

Prosperity “Prosper” Oceanus Redding has had it up to here with his family’s nonsense. His evil grandmonster (grandmother, to most people) runs his hometown of Redhood, MA with an iron fist (it helps that she’s managed to remain mayor for the last ten years). His twin sister Prue (Prudence Fidelia Redding, thank you so much for the names, Pilgrim ancestors) has survived a weak heart and countless surgeries and emergencies, so for her, middle school is nothing to get worked up about. For Prosper, it’s torture. He isn’t successful, popular, or powerful — basically, he’s nothing like the rest of his family. A family dinner at the grandmonster’s house takes a turn for the sinister when Prosper’s parents call from out of the country demanding that Prosper grab his sister and run. A mysterious stranger crashes the party, rescues Prosper from his grandmother and the knife she’s trying to kill him with, and drags him to Salem, MA. The mysterious stranger is none other than Uncle Barnabas, a fellow Redding failure. He and his daughter Nell (an actual witch!) promise to save Prosper from both his grandmother and a much more sinister evil — an ancient demon by the name of Alastor who is currently residing inside of Prosper. How did the Reddings rise to power in the 1600s? Not through their work ethic! Rather, Alastor cut a deal with Honor Redding, the man from whom the town of Redhood got its name. After his rise to power, Honor enlisted a witch to help him get out of the deal, leaving Alastor to curse the family name and promise to return one day to destroy the Reddings once and for all. The time has nearly come, hence Prosper’s near-death at his grandmother’s get-together. Will Alastor succeed in destroying the Reddings, or will Prosper and his friends find a way to elude Alastor’s curse?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book has EVERYTHING. A snarky outsider narrator with a killer sense of humor? Check. A young witch whose first words readers encounter are lines from The Crucible? Check. A haunted house that is both tourist trap and actually haunted? CHECK! Family drama, mysteries, lies, and secrets? YOU GOT IT. A sassy demon? OF COURSE. A tiny black kitten that’s also a super powerful changeling who can fly? YES, FRIENDS! (Maybe I’m the only person who was looking for that? Okay.) Once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down. Prosper’s voice is intensely readable. This book delivers on creepiness, action, and humor. One scene can go from super creepy malefactor activities to an action-packed fight scene straight into Prosper’s deadpan reaction to the hoopla. The pace of the book is quick, but it never feels rushed. This is a great autumn read.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would totally hand this one to students looking for a deliciously creepy, funny, and action-packed adventure. It feels like a good fit for fans of Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand, and the Jackaby series by William Ritter.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 08/01/17

Publishers Weekly starred 07/03/17