The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

imageby Scott Nash

355 pages of swashbuckling adventure

This book is fun for bird and pirate lovers alike!  Blue Jay, feared captain of the Grosbeak, was said to be the most fearsome and bloodthirsty pirate of the skies.  Those who saw the Jolly Robin flying from the mast offered little resistance and so Blue Jay’s gruesome reputation as a ruthless pirate grew and grew.  The crew, though pirate to be sure – in a ship faster than most of the merchant vessels sailing though the Thrushian skies – knew Blue Jay to be a fair, just captain, thoughtful and a stalwart optimist.

One habit that set Blue Jay apart was his fascination with eggs – not as food but as treasure.  “The trouble with eggs,” Jay would often joke to is adopted offspring, now part of the Grosbeak’s crew, “is that they sometimes grow legs!”  That statepment is rather prophetic as the adventure told of The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate begins with the finding of one very rare egg indeed.  A large oval beauty, plain, though with a certain elegant majesty. Brought onboard and stored with the other specimen in the Egg Gallery, the egg causes Junco, the chief navigator to behave oddly which precipitates an unusual meeting with the sparrows of  Briarloch which in turn leads to a confrontation with Teach, head of the murderous mod of crows plaguing and terrorizing the land.

A string of bad luck leaves the Grosbeak shipwrecked, many of the crew lost or wounded and the survivors left for dead with the flight feathers clipped on the forest floor – all seems lost, but Blue Jay – the eternal optimist and The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirateendless schemer will find a way out of the dilemma…if only there is enough time and a good wind for sailing.  Read The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate to see how the wind blows and who ultimately prevails – it won’t be all you expect.

I am hoping more adventures will come along.  I would like to know what happens to Henry and Gabriel and Hillary.  What about Poppa and what of Briarloch?  What do you think?

The Cabinet of Earths

The Cabinet of Earthsby Anne Nesbet

256 pages that will have you wondering how time and life could go – if you could live forever, would you?  If you could change others, would you?

The Cabinet of Earths is a beautiful thing.  A startling combination of glass, wood and metal – of sculpture, design and light that flows and buzzes with energy.  In the beginning – in the 1890’s – it seemed like a good plan to bring magic and science together.  The unity of the Lavirotte and Fourcroy families seemed to be a strong one.  They discovered away to capture the sands of time and store the essence of life away.  Granules of earth in a bottle, one for each person who would become immortal and live as long as the keeper of the Cabinet of Earths was able to keep them safe.  But in 1944, when brother betrayed brother and son killed son, the balance of life and time, of science and magic was upset.  The Cabinet has been waiting and now that Maya is close by change seems inevitable.

After Maya’s mom’s battle with cancer she has the opportunity to fulfill one of her greatest wishes – to spend a year in Paris with her family.  Maya’s dad was invited to work in a laboratory exploring his specialty, Physical Chemistry.  The Society offered to pay their moving expenses and had given them an apartment.  The offer was too good to pass up and that is how Maya and James, her five-year old brother, found themselves in Paris.  That is how they discovered the Salamander House, the man with violet-blue eyes and The Alchemical Theater.  That is how they discovered the fountain of the missing children, their long lost cousins, Henri-Pierre and seemingly invisible Louise and how they found themselves in a historical tangle of intrigue, science and magic.

Thank goodness for Valko, Maya’s school friend.  He helps Maya negotiate the social circles of school, the confusing roads and squares of the city and keeps her grounded when she could easily be caught up in her worry and questions.  Why does the brass salamander look at her?  How can glass move and flow?  What is anbar, the hourglass?  How can people be unseen and invisible?  How can people be perfectly beautiful?  Valko helps her plan and establish priorities.  But will he always be there? Read The Cabinet of Earths to discover what happens when captured time is let go and magic and science are released – does it end, does it change, what continues in its place?

Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)by William Alexander

223 pages telling the book of a play – a reenactment of life where you can be changed, have your will taken away and live with clockwork parts that seem unimaginable – but become more real as you consider their gruesome possibility

When I heard Goblin Secrets had won the National Book Award I thought I’d give it a try.  It is an unusual book to be sure.  It made me question and wonder.  I am glad I do not live in Zombay, but I would like to cross over the Fiddleway Bridge and cast a stone to say “hello”.  I would not want to be one of Graba’s children, but I do think that would be better than fending for myself on either the North or the South side of the city.  I would love to see the masks and I would love to see the plays – I think.  That the masks could change me makes me a little nervous.  And the way life and magic works in Zombay is unsettling to me.

Rownie is an orphan living with a host of “stray children” gathered up by Graba the witch. She orders them about to do her bidding and maintain her hold on her side of the city. Rownie’s brother Rowan is missing. He seems to have vanished from the city – but Rownie believes there must be more to it than that. Intrigued by the sign a troupe of Goblin players post on the bridge, Rownie decides to attend their presentation and even dares to participate though the Lord Mayor has outlawed acting. It seems that acting and actors are unpredictable. They are able to create a magic all their own – a magic that can change the world. Those in power don’t want that world to change. They like their power, but it seems to me there is little joy in Zombay on the best of days and change might not be such a bad thing. Rownie isn’t interested in power or change but he would like to find his brother and know the warm security of knowing your family again. That simple desire is caught up between two bickering sides and an angry river threatening to flood. Read Goblin Secrets – let us know what you think. Do you end with more questions than your began with?

Every Soul a Star

Every Soul A Starby Wendy Mass

middle and intermediate readers will be interested to discover who is who and how lives grow and unfold

A few years ago Josie and Lyndsey suggested that I read books by Wendy Mass.  The ones they most highly recommended were a Mango Shaped Space and Every Soul a Star.  I paid attention that recommendation and read many of Wendy Mass’ books.  At last Every Soul a Star came to the top of my “to read” pile.  Lyndsey and Josie were right.  It is a book to read.  It is amazing to imagine  how such diverse people, with different lives can meet – collide – regroup – and move on changed forever.

Ally and her family has spent her whole life preparing for on total eclipse.  They built Moon Shadow, a campground at the site for best viewing for this particular eclipse and have waited years for this event.  Their campground has Unusuals like the Star Garden – full of telescopes for endless nights of star gazing or the Sun Garden – full of sun dials of all shapes and sizes to tell the time, or the Labyrinth – that will allow you to meditate on a question as you travel the paths to the center.  Annual star parties mean that friends come to meet for Meteor Showers year after year.  This year, though, thousands will be coming to the campground for this one main event.  How exciting, but change is on the way now that their mission has come to an end.

Bree has lived in the suburbs working on her social status and planning for the moment she will be discovered  and become a cover model.  Her scientist parents don’t see the value in this, but Bree lives for fashion, her A-clique friends and being as beautiful as possible at all times.  They are always sorting through data, searching for grants and investigating the stars and working to discover new solar systems, planets and galaxies. Their dream grant comes through and they are moving – no one can stay behind.

Jack failed science, not because he couldn’t do the work, but because he didn’t.  He’d rather sit in the back of class and draw or find some quiet time where he can fly.  It’s a skill that SD3 (step dad)shared before leaving.  He was into lucid dreaming and Jack developed the knack.  Knack or no, Jack will either have to attend summer school or agree to help his science teacher on the trip he is leading for amateur astronomers into following eclipses around the world. While all he wants it to be alone, Jack chooses the trip over endless dull classes and plunges himself into a social world that he can’t fade from.

Ally, Bree and Jack are so different, but also able to help and support each other to grow in ways they hadn’t known they wanted to.  When the eclipse is over each of them has become more strongly aware of both their inner worlds and the world beyond their own lives – it is a vast universe full of wonder and dreams.  Read Every Soul a Star – what dream will you discover and follow?

The Luck of the Buttons

The Luck of the Buttonsby Anne Ylvisaker

224 pages for intermediate and middle grade readers who enjoyed Turtle in Paradise, Three Times Lucky or Moon Over Manifest

I like Tugs Button.  She’s her own person.  She’s a lover of words and of action.  She’s curious about what is happening around her and while she doesn’t have much, she makes the best of it.  Tugs is part of a family that gets by – nothing special or fancy.  She moves through her small Iowa town without many expectations.  After all, it’s mostly the same day in and day out, year after year.

But change is in the air.  First there is the man with the Panama hat, Harvey Moore claiming that Goodhue should have its own newspaper.  Then Aggie Millhouse notices that she and Tugs are the same height and invites Tugs to be her partner in the Independence Day three-legged race.  “The Independence Day three-legged races were the stuff of legend in Goodhue.  Children remembered the winning teams the way they remembered who won every Iowa Hawkeye football game.  Tugs had been paired with her cousin Ned for the past hundred yeas, and she was resigned to the same fate this year.” If that was not enough “different”, Miss Lucy, the librarian encouraged Tugs to enter the essay contest.  Tugs wrotes about patriotism and progress. She doesn’t think it’s too good, but Miss Lucy says that’s all up to the judges.  And then on top of those changes– just for helping Mr. Pepper unpack some boxes in his photo shop, Tugs is given the last few raffle tickets as a thank you.  Her name is in the drawing for a brand-new Kodak Brownie.  She has a chance.

Independence Day arrives and it seems that the whole town comes to the Green for the celebration and contests.  Ribbons and prizes surround the bandstand.  Tugs knows something will happen, but will it be different.  She is a Button after all and all of Goodhue knows the luck of the Buttons.


A Drowned Maiden’s Hair

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodramaby Laura Amy Schlitz

389 pages of wonder, spirits and trickery that will have middle grade readers turning page after page in amazement.

After I had  finished reading Splendors and Glooms, I kept thinking about it – the characters, the setting, the plot.  I kept smelling the smells and feeling the feelings, both real and emotional.  The writing stayed with me and so I began exploring and several different people suggested I read A Drowned Maiden’s Hair.  They thought of it as their Laura Amy Schlitz favorite.  So of course I gave it a try – wow!

Maud is a strong willed child.  She’s feisty and very likely to defy Miss Kitterage, the orphanage’s director.  That is why on the day that the elderly Hawthorne sisters come to the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans they find Maud locked in the outhouse singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  At once Maud is the child for them and they whisk her away to a new life, unlike any she has ever known or imagined.  Maud is entranced by Hyacinth, the youngest sister at 70.  She is fearful of the elder and stern Judith and troubled by argumentative Victoria.  Still she becomes the Hawthorne sisters’ secret child.  She is hidden away and must make sure she is never seen by outsiders.  She learns to hide at a moments notice.  She learns to speak clearly and prettily.  She learns endless manners and along with the secrets of the family spiritualism business – they run seances.  When Maud has practiced enough to be deemed worthy, she  becomes the centerpiece in an elaborate sham designed to get the Hawthorne sisters everything they need and want.  Maud, however, is not sure how she fits in to their plan or their future. What at first seems an innocent game, soon becomes tedious, treacherous and cruel.

How far will a person go to know forgiveness and feel love?  In reading A Drowned Maiden’s Hair you’ll begin to imagine depths of grief, loneliness, greed, compassion and wonder in ways you hadn’t even thought of before.  Better than Splendors and Glooms – I don’t know about that, but I am certain it’s just as wonderful.  Enjoy this delicious book from cover to cover.

Under Wildwood

Under Wildwood (Wildwood Chronicles, #2)Colin Meloy  and Carson Ellis continue the wonder and wildness of Wildwood in the second adventure that bring Curtis and Prue together in The Wood.

Mac is home.  Everything should be right for the McReel’s, but it’s not.  Prue faces a daily longing and emptiness and there is no one to share it with.  Curtis is back in The Wood training with the Bandits, but Prue’s story in Portland continues on in dullness that gnaws at her.  It seems as though the wood is calling her. Sometimes it seems to be sending for her and other times it seems threatening and menacing.  Somethings is unsettled, unclear, on the brink of change, but what?

Meanwhile in the Melhberg home, Curtis’ parents are desperate to find him.  Their most recent lead is sending them to Istanbul, Turkey, but for this trip Elsie and Rachel must stay behind.  The Melhbergs have found a temporary place for the girls to stay, The Joffrey  Unthank Home for Wayward Youth situated on the edge of the Industrial Waste and the Impassable Wilderness.

Everything, we know, happens for a reason though that reason may not be immediately certain.  Prue and Curtis first came into The Wood together and that is how it seems they should be – together – for their role in confronting the tensions of the Wood.  But there are more denizen’s of the wood who have been hiding out in Portland and it seems that they will be called on if the evil waiting to take over is to be stopped.

Read Under Wildwood to learn more about how the history of the Wood as lead to its present challenges.  What does it take to reinstate peace to the Wood?  Is it possible to keep Wood Magic alive and whole?  What of those who cross in and out?  Are the two world really separate?  Should they be?  What do you think?  When you finish Under Wildwood you’ll be wishing for the next part of the story – I hope it comes soon!

The Word Eater

The Word Eaterby Mary Amato

The answer seems simple enough until you begin thinking your way through the 151 pages.  I wonder what you’d do.

What does the birth of a worm and the initiation of a sixth grader have in common?  Well in The Word Eater they begin in the same moment, neither go well and both set in motion actions that will change the world.

Reba – president of MPOOE (Most Powerful Ones on Earth) seems to rule sixth grade at Cleveland Park Middle School along with Randy.  They have divided the class into MPOOE members or SLUGs.  Lerner has just moved to this school, this town, this state and she is not too impressed with what she finds.  She doesn’t want to be a MPOOE, but she doesn’t want to be a SLUG either – she just wants to be left alone.  With Reba around that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Meanwhile in a mud circle at the edge of the playground a worm emerges from its casing.  The other worms of the clan sense its arrival and circle up for the naming waiting eagerly to feel the vibration.  The worm is teeny – almost nothing at all, but it is able to move on little skinch to earn the name Fip. Once named, Fip is carried on to the eating ceremony, but Fip doesn’t seem to be able to stomach the taste of dirt.  Fip’s clan always eats dirt and because he doesn’t he is left on his own.  He discovers he has a taste for sweet and crunchy, crisp and crinkly words.    And what he eats disappears.

No one understands this at first, but soon Lerner catches on.  She realizes that this worm, no bigger than a grain of rice has amazing power.  She is the one who can use that power.  Perhaps she will be able to undo all her recent moving misery.  But while as Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power, “ he also said, “Appetite for too much power caused the angels to fall.”  Lerner is faced with a dilemma – how can she best use this power?  Should she?  Can she changes things and make them better?  Everything, she discovers, is connected.  What would he do with the power to change the world?

The Fire Chronicle

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning, #2)by John Stephens

Kate, Michael and Emma have been hidden away by Stanislaus Pym, their guardian. They are not safe and he hopes that he’ll be able to discover more about the danger and the reasons with time. Time, though, is not on their side and Michael and Emma find themselves on a breathless quest to find the second Book of Beginning, The Fire Chronicle. At the same time Kate is transported by the power of the Emerald Atlas to the past.

Michael and Kate race from the Screechers and others who work for the Dire Magnus. They travel around and through the world in search of the magical book and clues to discover where and why their parents have been taken from them.  With the help of steadfast Gabriel, Michael and Kate join a dragon and an army of elves (not Michael’s beloved dwarves)  to gain control of the Chronicle and learn even more about their destiny as the prophesied three.  While their quest unfolds Kate is whisked through time to the exact moment when the magical world divided itself off and went into hiding. There she learns of another part of the children’s destiny and comes to understand more about the divide between the wizards and the Dire Magnus.

Only by being together will the children be able to do any thing – Kate is in past in New York City and Michael and Emma at at the bottom of the world in the lava chamber of vast volcano.  Magic can bring them together – but how and when.    There is a cost  for using magic but that won’t be fully understood until the story of the Books of Beginning is told from start to finish.  What is the  cost of bringing the three books together? Who will pay and how will the worlds be left? Are their more than two choices?  Are there only two sides –  good and evil?  The Fire Chronicle is a thrilling adventure that will leave you breathlessly turning pages, eagerly searching for information, connections and answers to your many questions.  I didn’t think a book could be better than The Emerald Atlas, but The Fire Chronicle just might be.  All I know for sure is that I cannot wait to read the final book in the trilogy – so many twists and turns, so many possibilities.  I can’t wait to find out discover what is in store for Emma, Michael and Kate – their parents and friends and the world.  Life is in the balance.