Review: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

 

Title:  Maggot Moon

Author:  Sally Gardner

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

In Sally Gardner’s stunning novel, set in a ruthless regime, an unlikely teenager risks all to expose the truth about a heralded moon landing. What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-colored eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the "train-track thinkers." So when Standish and his only friend and neighbor, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…One hundred very short chapters, told in an utterly original first-person voice, propel readers through a narrative that is by turns gripping and darkly humorous, bleak and chilling, tender and transporting.


Review:

Wow!  I was stunned and breathless when I reached the last page of Maggot Moon. I should have picked up from the book’s title that things are not happy in Standish’s world, but whoa, I wasn’t expecting something quite it dark.  Standish’s voice is compelling and haunting; here is one young boy who has seen too many things that he shouldn’t have.  Poverty, repression, violence against himself, his family , and others.  Standish’s world is dark and disturbing, and not a place that I ever want to witness first hand.

Standish is dyslexic, which on it’s own is enough to make him a social outcast.  To make his life even more difficult, he has different colored eyes as well.  In his oppressive society, he should have been sent away, to a school for those with impurities, or worse, to be maggot meat.  Instead, his parents enroll him in the school where they work.  Because he is different, he is mercilessly bullied, which only gets worse after his parents are vanish.  Alone with his grandfather, Standish just tries to keep his head down and not draw any more unwanted attention to himself.  Being at the bottom of the social ladder, that’s not really too tough.  It’s only after Hector and his family move in next door that Standish’s world is tilted on its axis.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’m trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum.   This is a fast-paced read, with explosive bursts of violence and action.  Standish is passive and takes his beatings without much of a fuss, until after Hector and his family are also taken away.  Then he’s had enough and all he wants to do is save his best friend.  When he learns that the government is pulling the biggest history in the history of hoaxes, and that if they succeed they will be an indisputable world power, he is determined to do something about it.  I loved this about Standish.  He realizes that he is David to a powerful, corrupt, and deadly Goliath, but he doesn’t care anymore.  He is going to find way to throw his stone and topple the monster that threatens the entire world.

A word of caution; while I loved this book, it might be too intense for younger readers.  Maggot Moon is a bleak story, with a bleak ending. Despite the affection and support from his Gramps, Standish’s life hadn’t exactly been a happy one.  Everyone he knows and cares about has either been taken away by the government or is in immediate, mortal danger.  It’s scary.  It’s overwhelming.  And at times, it will leave you just as numb as Standish has become to all of the brutality around him.   I wondered where Standish kept finding the courage to keep going on. This book was impossible to put down, and  I gobbled it up on a Sunday afternoon.  Standish’s voice will be with me for a long time to come.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Above World by Jenn Reese

 

Title: Above World

Author: Jenn Reece

Publisher: Candlewick

ISBN: 978-0763654177

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is in doubt. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt—growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains—here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.

Review:

After reading Dark Life by Kat Falls, I became fascinated by the idea of living in the ocean.  When I saw Above World by Jenn Reese, I was chomping at the bit to read it.  In this Middle Grade adventure, Aluna, a girl who lives in the ocean, must venture Above World to discover why the technology that allows her people to breathe underwater is failing.  I loved the spunky Aluna, and I also thought that her best friend, Hoku, was a wonderful character, too.  Both of them have to deal with very frightening situations, and as they face down death time and again, the thought of saving their people gives them the courage to continue on their journey. 

When Aluna finds the body of one of her friends, she discovers that the elders are keeping a secret from the residents of her city – the breathing tech that allows the Kampii to live underwater is failing.  Each Kampii has a bio-tech breathing necklace that keeps them from drowning.  Several of the necklaces ceased functioning, and the elders, including Aluna’s father, have quickly covered up the resulting deaths, not wanting to start a panic.  Instead of trying to discover why the necklaces are starting to fail, the elders are firmly denying that there is a problem.  The Kampii in her city have kept themselves hidden from the Above World for generations, and they don’t want to have anything to do with the surface world.  Aluna runs away from home, determined to save her people.

I loved the world building in this post-apocalyptic adventure.  As the population swelled and the available land was consumed by growing numbers of people, new environments were exploited with the help of bio-technology.  The Kampii, who are like mermaids, were allowed to live under the water with their necklaces.  Centaurs were engineered to live in the desert, and Aviars were given wings so they could live on top of mountains.  Disease swept through the human population, and chaos followed.  Now the remaining life forms are at war, battling for control of the old technology.

Aluna is a strong, determined protagonist, and I liked her a lot.  She is impulsive and stubborn, and these flaws work to get her out of many dicey situations.  She isn’t able to give up, and and she can’t accept failure.  That’s just not an option for her.  The thought of quitting never occurs to her, even when she is standing up to very scary enemies that would have had me running, screaming, in the opposite direction.  She is also self-reliant, which almost gets her, as well as her friends, killed.

I also loved the pacing of this novel.  The reader is never given the opportunity to become bored.  Aluna and Hoku meet one challenge after another, in rapid succession.  They barely have a chance to catch their breath before they are thrown into danger again, which made it difficult to  put the book down.  Their race against time to save their people from drowning kept me on the edge of my seat.  Both Aluna and Hoku had some major sacrifices to make, and they never hesitated to do whatever was necessary to save the Kampii.  I completely bought that these two young kids could save their underwater city.  Aluna is fierce and Hoku is clever, and together they make one heck of a team.  I loved their interaction, and how they complimented each other.  Where one was weak, the other was strong.

I can hardly wait to read Aluna and Hoku’s next adventure.  Above World has a satisfying conclusion, and left me content with the thought that they had saved the world, for the time being, at least.  There isn’t a huge, disappointing cliffhanger, just the sense that there are more conflicts to resolve in the near future.  I hate cliffhanger endings, so this conclusion worked for me.  I wasn’t all twitchy at the thought of Aluna and Hoku, frozen in time, facing an early demise, until the release of the next book.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

 

Title: Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen

Publisher: Candlewick

ISBN: 978-0763645045

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

To Mr. & Mrs. Watson, Mercy is not just a pig–she’s a porcine wonder. And to the portly and good-natured Mercy, the Watson’s are an excellent source of buttered toast, no to mention that buttery-toast feeling she gets when she snuggles in to bed with them. This is not, however so good for the Watsons’ bed. BOOM! CRACK! Welcome to the wry and endearing world of Mercy Watson.

Review:

Mercy Watson to the Rescue is a cute, and very silly story about a pig who loves buttered toast, and the people in her life.  When Mr. and Mrs. Watson get into a life or death situation, all of their hopes for rescue are pinned on their beloved pet pig, Mercy.  Mercy, being a pig, doesn’t realize the gravity (sorry for the pun!) of their perilous situation, and instead goes off searching for some buttered toast.  Through a comedy of errors, her people are rescued, but they need to thank their lucky stars more than Mercy.

This book is for readers aged 4 – 8.  There is a ton of action as Mercy trots off in search of her favorite snack, and the events occur rapidly, guaranteeing that wandering attention spans will be kept to a minimum.  The colorful illustrations are playful and eye-pleasing, and the book wouldn’t be half as fun without them.  There is so much personality packed onto every page that readers young and old alike will have a hard time putting the book down.

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from my local library

Review: The Nine Lives of Aristotle by Dick King-Smith & Bob Graham

 

Title: The Nine Lives of Aristotle

Author: Dick King-Smith

Illustrator: Bob Graham

Publisher: Candlewick

ISBN: 978-0763622602

 

May Contain Spoilers

This was another random check out from the library.  I saw the fuzzy mop of a kitty hanging onto the tree limb for dear life, and suddenly needed to know how he had gotten himself into such a pickle.  After reading The Nine Lives of Aristotle, a book aimed at Grades 2 – 4, I have my answer – Aristotle is just too curious for his own good!

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that fond of this book.  The main premise didn’t agree with me, and if I had read the jacket flap instead of judging the book by its cover, I would have known that going in.  This story follows along as the curious kitty burns through most of his nine lives.  His new person, the kind witch Bella Donna, spends most of her time fishing him out of one deadly adventure after another.  When it seems that he would ignorantly waste all of the lives available to him, I started to get pretty depressed.  He is such a cute ball of fluff, and he didn’t deserve to fall down chimneys, almost drown, not once, but twice! and narrowly escape being eaten by a very large dog.  Gasp!  It was all too much for me.

That is not to say that the book is all gloomy and almost gruesome finales for our cat.  In the end, Aristotle lives a happy, cushy life with his witch.  I think the fate of Old Gripper, the dog, is what bummed me out the most, because there wasn’t much reason for his final fate.  It didn’t move the plot forward, and it left me rather sad. 

The illustrations are whimsical and more cartoony in nature, which softened the suspense of Aristotle’s close calls.  A kitty that round and fluffy can’t die, after all.  There is a wonderful sense of humor bundled up in all of the watercolors, and I quite enjoyed the art.

While I was not charmed out of my socks by The Nine Lives of Aristotle, I did enjoy it enough to want to read more by both Dick King-Smith and Bob Graham.  I just hope there are fewer dire circumstances in my next picks!

Grade:  C+

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit by Joan Carris & Noah Z Jones

 

Title:  Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit

Author:  Joan Carris

Illustrations: Noah Z Jones

Publisher: Candlewick

ISBN: 9780763621513

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Grampa’s menagerie of pets are rubbed the wrong way when a needy little critter arrives in this lighthearted chapter book.

Grampa Bender wouldn’t be able to run the Bed and Biscuit animal boardinghouse without the help of Ernest the pig, Gabby the mynah bird, and Milly the cat. In fact, the three animals have always thought of themselves as Grampa’s family — and they assumed he felt the same way. But when Grampa comes home with a mysterious bundle and stops paying attention to his loyal companions, they start to question his affections. Engaging illustrations by Noah Z. Jones, capturing every endearing trait of this oddball family, complement Joan Carris’s humorous, heartwarming book for middle-grade readers.

Oh, this was so cute!!  One look at the cover, and I had to bring this home from the library.  This is another book that skews much younger than I normally enjoy, but this captivated me.  It has talking animals, a favorite plot device of mine, and lots of adorable, deceptively simple illustrations throughout the book.  I thought this was a lot of fun.

Ernest is a Vietnamese pig, and he helps Grampa, a vet, run a boardinghouse for critters.  Gabby the mynah bird and Milly the cat make up the rest Ernest’s family, and he’s as happy as…well, a pig in slop.  Life is peaceful, everyone is happy, and there’s always plenty to do at the Bed & Biscuit.

Everything changes after a devastating fire at the neighbor’s.  Suddenly, Grampa is distracted and fussing over a bundle that he keeps in a basket in his room.  Milly gets jealous, because she’s used to being the baby in the family, and her unhappiness is causing all kinds of grief for Ernest.  When Milly runs away, he knows he has to find her and smooth out everyone’s ruffled feathers.

I love Ernest!  He is so cute!  This is one hardworking and dedicated pig!  He’s also got a ton of common sense and is incredibly kind-hearted.  He will do anything to fix his broken family, even go out to the pasture and talk to the llamas.  That shows how determined he is, because everyone knows that llamas spit!  Plus, they are just plain difficult to deal with.

Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit was fun to read, and it had a great message, too.  Families are important, and working out misunderstandings is worth the effort.  Even though Milly causes Ernest a lot of worry and even more work, he never once judged her; he just wanted her to come home safely.  Offering a little suspense and a feel good ending, this will be a winner with animal lovers.  I was tickled to learn that there is a sequel, and I promptly added it to my hold list at the library.  If you are looking for a light read that will bring a smile to your face, you don’t have to look any further.

Grade:B+

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

 

Title: The Night Fairy

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz

Illustrator: Angela Barrett

Publisher: Candlewick

ISBN: 978-0763636746

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

What would happen to a fairy if she lost her wings and could no longer fly? Flory, a young night fairy no taller than an acorn and still becoming accustomed to her wings — wings as beautiful as those of a luna moth — is about to find out. What she discovers is that the world is very big and very dangerous. But Flory is fierce and willing to do whatever it takes to survive. If that means telling others what to do — like Skuggle, a squirrel ruled by his stomach — so be it. Not every creature, however, is as willing to bend to Flory’s demands. Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz and world-renowned illustrator and miniaturist Angela Barrett venture into the realm of the illustrated classic — a classic entirely and exquisitely of their making, and a magnificent adventure.

The Night Fairy was a random find at the library.  It was on the new arrivals shelf, and a quick glance through it interested me enough to check it out.  I’m glad I did.  This was an enchanting tale with magic and a surprising amount of character development for such a short book.

Flory is a young night fairy, and one evening, she has a disastrous encounter with a bat.  The bat mistakes her for a moth, and bites her wings off.  Injured and alone, Flory hides in a garden, determined to become a day fairy so she won’t ever have to deal with a bat again.  Transiting to her new life isn’t easy, and Flory finds that there are dangers even during the day.

Flory is a little tyrant at the beginning of the book.  Her unfortunate run-in with the bat doesn’t do much to improve her personality, either.  Since she has been isolated from other fairies, she never had the opportunity to learn any manners, and it shows!  She bullies a squirrel into being her servant, and she expects all of the animals in the garden to do her bidding or she’ll sting them with her magic.  She is not a nice fairy at all, and I didn’t like her much at the beginning of the story.

As she encounters other creatures in her new neighborhood, she is forced to take a long, hard look at herself and how she behaves.  Making an enemy of everyone is not a good idea!  She learns this the hard way, but as she re-examines her behavior, she begins to understand that being nice has some advantages.  She even learns the  benefits of forgiveness.  I loved how Flory was able to move beyond her fear and learn to trust again.

The Night Fairy was a solid, engrossing read.   Angela Barrett’s colorful illustrations gave the story added depth and brought Flory’s world to life.  This was a lucky find at the library! 

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from my local library