Ok, so a monthly post is better than no post, but honestly I had high hopes of accomplishing something a little more substantial and certainly something more than book reviews. It feels a little one-dimensional. However, I love participating in IMWAYR! It’s a great way to connect. I’m sure anyone here has found me through that, but on the off chance someone not connected to it is here, go check out either Jen at Teach Mentor Texts or Kellee at Unleashing Readers, they cohost this very fun, weekly event.
The Door by the Staircase
by Katherine Marsh
E-ARC available via the publisher and NetGalley
I love Baba Yaga stories. The chicken legged house, the fence made of the skeletons of eaten children, the MORTAR and PESTLE! It’s all just so different from the fairy tales I grew up with and it all just feels so weird and twisted. What’s not to love?
I think I had forgotten the summary of this one when I started reading, and didn’t realize until about halfway through that it was a Baba Yaga story, but my investment immediately quadrupled as soon as that realization sunk home. Of course, I was already pretty invested because I absolutely loved Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, the only other Katherine Marsh that I’ve read. She does not disappoint here. The writing is lovely and dense and a wee bit dark; the characters are both real and absolutely fantastic, and mostly I just loved the slow build of the story. People and elements are introduced intentionally and then filled out carefully that the whole thing just feels so substantial and deep.
Twelve-year-old Mary attempts to escape the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies by crawling up the chimney and then dropping to the ground below but is caught up in a magical whirlwind that pins her against the wall, preventing her escape and forcing her back inside. Orphaned years ago by a fire that took her mother and brother, Mary has never really known a loving household and longs for more than the orphanage can offer. When Madame Z offers both comfort and companionship, Mary jumps at the chance and can’t quite believe her good fortune. But, as is true in most stories, if things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Madame Z has secrets and is surrounded by what seems like magic and Mary, ever curious and oh-so-slightly mischievous, is determined to figure it all out before she allows herself to trust completely. And, thus begins her quest. She befriends a boy in town who becomes her partner in detective work, and they work to uncover all they can about Madame Z, find a way to protect themselves from being eaten, and master the magic that is all around them.
It’s an engrossing and sophisticated read. I’ll hand it off to kids who love the more complex fantasies, who love the fairy tale novelizations and who can appreciate the slow build of a good story. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students.
by Ursula Vernon
Gr. 4 and up
Copy from my library
Castle Hangnail is in desperate need of a new master, otherwise it will be decommissioned by the authorities and the minions who work there will be thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. Enter Molly: 5 feet tall and 12 years old, announcing that she is the new mistress of the castle. Most of the minions are overjoyed at the news, but the butler is skeptical, she doesn’t really look or act like a proper mistress; she’s far too nice. But, Molly really wants the job, despite the fact that she’s not entirely qualified and lying about it, and the minions really don’t want to leave the castle, so everyone perseveres. This title by the author of the Dragonbreath series is really quite wonderful and fun. Molly is so completely lovable and the various minions include a couple of minotaurs, a steamy genie living in a teakettle and a clattering suit of armor, all unique and fully realized in their own way. It’s a fun, quirky tale that will have a wide appeal.
Saving Montgomery Sole
by Mariko Tamaki
Gr. 9 and up
E-ARC made available via publisher and NetGalley
Montgomery (Monty) Sole feels like an outsider in her own home town. She’s not a jock or a cheerleader, she’s got two moms and she’s the leader of the Mystery Club at her high school which is most definitely not about reading Agatha Christie novels. She, and her two best friends, outsiders in their own right, make up the full membership of the Mystery Club where they get together to talk about all sorts of supernatural phenomena such as telepathy, crystals, and whatever else strikes their fancy. There’s really not much of a plot going on here, it’s more of a slice of life kind of thing. Monty’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, sure that people around her are judging or making fun of her, and she’s certain that the new boy in school who’s father is an evangelical minister is really out to get her. I found Monty to be so extreme in her reactions, so quick to judge others, that I really couldn’t sympathize or like her. Her friends and family were much more reasonable and compassionate, but I mostly thought of her as a whining little brat. Without any real plot and lack of a likable protagonist this book was a bit of a slog for me. The language and some of the situations make this too old for my up to 8th grade library, but following on the heels of This One Summer, I can see where it might have a place in some high school and public library YA collections.