Saturday, April 28, 2018

Blog hiatus!

Due to several time-consuming events that are all happening this and next month, I won't have a blog post for the next several weeks. I should have an MMGM post for Memorial Day (Monday, May 28), and I will also be holding a summer signed book giveaway, so be sure to check back soon!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

MMGM (4/23/2018): Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

For MMGM, I am recommending Snow Lane by Josie Angelini.

Here's the publisher's description:

By turns harrowing and heartbreaking, this middle-grade novel tells a story of a family of nine kids and one very dark secret.

Fifth grader Annie is just like every other girl in her small suburban town. Except she’s starting to realize that she isn’t.

Annie is the youngest of nine children. Instead of being condemned to the bottom of the pecking order, she wants to carve out place for herself in the world. But it’s hard to find your destiny when the only thing you’re good at is being cheerful. Annie is learning that it’s difficult to be Annie, period, and not just because her clothes are worn-out hand-me-downs, and she suffers from a crippling case of dyslexia, but also because there are secrets in her life no one in her family is willing to face.

In Snow Lane, Josie Angelini presents a story about a resilient girl who, in spite of many hardships, can still find light in the darkest of places.

I first read about this book in an MMGM post on Greg Pattridge's blog, and I decided to purchase and read it, which was a great choice! Snow Lane is one of the most touching, incredible books I have ever read. The novel centers around Annie's life in a family of nine children and their parents. Annie's father works several jobs to support the family and is almost never around, leaving her mother to try (and often fail) to take care of the family. Annie's siblings (all but one of whom are girls) each have their own struggles, such as Miriam, who essentially raised Annie when she was born, Aurora, a dancer who is unhealthily thin, or Fay, who bullies her fellow siblings. The family is very dysfunctional, as illustrated by the immense clutter of their home or by the disturbing beatings the children receive when their mother is especially stressed (luckily, this awful event only happens once in the story). Angelini balances the horrible events of the book with pleasant parts, such as Annie's friendship with a quiet boy named Jordan who shares many interests with Annie, which do a wonderful job of preventing the book from being too depressing to read. Annie is a great narrator who is able to balance sympathy for her family members (even her mother) with knowledge that their family is severely damaged. Getting to know the personalities and backstories of each of the nine siblings will keep readers interested, as none of the siblings ever become copies of each other. The story ends happily, so readers won't finish the novel and feel unsatisfied. Snow Lane is a vivid look into the workings of a messed-up family, but it is also a wonderful, even humorous novel that will quickly become a favorite of all readers!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

MMGM (4/16/2018): Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

For MMGM, I am reviewing Nightfall (the sixth book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series) by Shannon Messenger.

Here's the publisher's description:

Sophie and her friends face battles unlike anything they’ve seen before in this thrilling sixth book of the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Sophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

In this spectacular sixth book in the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must uncover the truth about the Lost Cities’ insidious past, before it repeats itself and changes reality.

I've been a fan of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series since before the third book came out; it's actually the reason I discovered MMGM (which was until recently run by Messenger) and joined it! This book has many of the same qualities that have made the rest of the series great. The characters are so true to their personalities and so layered that I literally could imagine meeting one of them in real life. Parts of the novel are deep and poignant (the struggles involving characters' families and friends make sure of that), while others are hilarious and break the tension (just flipping through the book, I found several amusing lines). This novel has a special emphasis on the relations between the world's different intelligent species: new members of the warlike ogres are introduced, and the history  between the elves and humans is further explored (Nightfall itself plays a major part in this history). If I had one criticism of the novel, it would be that very few of the series's plot lines have been tied up, making the book seem slow at times. The seventh and final novel (unless Messenger extends the series again), Flashback, must now end the series properly without seeming disjointed. With all of the events that have occurred in this most recent book, however, I am still desperately excited to read the next book in the series, as any reader will be!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

MMGM (4/9/2018): The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long

After being sick one week and having a crazy Easter the next, I finally have a review! This week, I am reviewing The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long.

Here's the publisher's description:

The twisty-turny journey of a girl searching for her heart’s desire—glimpsed in a magic mirror. Perfect for fans of Rump or Catherine, Called Birdy

A foundling girl with a crooked leg and a crutch doesn’t expect life to be easy. Indeed, Maggie’s dearest wish is to simply not feel so alone. So when she spies a man behind bars in a magic mirror said to show one’s truest desire, she feels sure he is the father she’s always longed for—and she sets off on a quest to find him.

Along the way, Maggie meets both kindly pilgrims and dastardly highwaymen. She discovers she bears a striking resemblance to the princess Petronilla. Their connection is so remarkable that Petra believes Maggie must be her lost sister who fell from the castle wall and was swept downriver as a baby.

What a turn of fate! From reviled foundling to beloved royal! But being the lost princess turns out to be more curse than blessing given the schemes of the current king…  And if Maggie’s a princess, then who is the man she spied in the magic mirror?

This is a grand middle grade adventure story full of mistaken identities, lost loves, found families, and a tantalizing tinge of magic.

The Magic Mirror has numerous good qualities, but it also has several bad ones that should serve as a warning for authors. One of the good qualities is the vivid world that Long creates in the story. Every description and event contributes to the medieval setting that is at times a good representation of life during the era and at times a magical, mysterious place to be in. The plot starts out wonderfully, with Margaret leaving her small hometown and brusque, rude guardian to find a person that she saw in a magic mirror. She gains kind, fun friends, has exciting encounters with different villains, and passes through all sorts of areas, while her guardian, Minka, who had not left her home in years, goes on a quest to find her. However, the end of the story is simply not satisfying. One major mistake in the novel is that several characters who become important later in the story, such as a girl named Urchin, are never developed at all. In Urchin’s case, she never develops any personality or even does anything at all of relevance to the story, making a major plot twist involving her fall flat. Another character, Lucy, seems to be almost involved in some sort of conspiracy as she runs through the background of the story several times; however, there is no real conspiracy, and her earlier appearances foreshadow excitement that simply does not come. In the last several chapters, the plot becomes exceedingly hard to follow, and the villain at the end of the book is “defeated” by being knocked unconscious (what happens when he wakes up?). And to seal the deal, an arranged marriage between one of the characters and a rumored imbecile (who is much older than her) is validated at the end of the story when the man turns out to be a fine husband (who is still much older than her). First, then why was he rumored to be an imbecile? Second, are we now trying to teach children that arranged marriages between adult men and underage women don’t lead to horrible abuse and violations of basic human freedom? The point of this review is to show that the great qualities of a book can be undone extremely easily at the end If the author loses sight of the book’s main ideas and simply races to the finish line. If you don’t give up at the end of writing or accomplishing any other task, the result will be so much more satisfying to others and to you, as you will know that you gave the task your all and made something extraordinary!