Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Passage to Avalon by Mike Thayer

The world building in Passage to Avalon by Mike Thayer is breathtakingly magnificent! I was thoroughly impressed by the detail of this world; the magic systems that are in place, the unique species, the established government etc. Middle grade readers, especially kids who love fantasy, will absolutely enjoy this book!

Mike Thayer is a master at creating a unique and completely believable world; one that is separate but parallel to our own. And I might add, close enough that the main character is actually able to communicate on occasion, (when he can find enough bars) with the Earth side of the dimensional divide.

Passage to Avalon (c) 2018 by Mike Thayer
While Samwise (Sam for short) Shelton and a friend are pulling a mean prank on someone, they experience an earthquake and subsequently find themselves transported to Avalon, a world separate but parallel to our own. The particular geography of this parallel dimension seems to match ours, and Avalon is where New Zealand is on our half of the dimensional divide. There, he encounters a society that is similar in dress and thinking to the middle ages of Europe, but also with a magical system. When coming into contact with a couple of ne'er-do-wells, Sam unwittingly defeats them, because, as it turns out, he is what the people there call a "void" someone who isn't affected by magic at all, and can actually drain it from others. As the story goes along and as he meets new allies, he learns to use this odd skill as he sets about trying to rescue his friend who came over with him, but who landed in another part of Avalon.

What actually happens when he finally comes into contact with his missing friend was something I predicted would happen, but it was still very exciting, since the protagonist and his friends had not anticipated it.

For myself, and taking into account that I am not a member of the target audience, I really did not like Samwise. He is a downright cruel boy who plays mean tricks on people, thinking himself clever and witty as he does so, and calling the mean tricks "pranks" to justify them. I do understand the appeal of such books to many middle grade readers, however, and were I a younger person and a member of the target audience of this book, what Samwise did wouldn't have bothered me.

I hoped Sam would grow as the book moved along, but from what I saw of him, he largely didn't.  As the story neared the end of the book, he even said that the "pranks" he played were only done to people who "deserved" it. I wondered what the librarian at his school had done to him that was so terrible that she deserved to have her lunch ruined which is a difficult thing at best, and at worst could be outright dangerous if she has health issues and needs to eat regularly. (I mention this because I have witnessed first hand "pranks" being pulled on a teacher almost just like this, and the teacher spent the next day sick at home, and unable to keep anything down.) I also wonder what the vice-principal did that was so horrible that Sam believed that it was appropriate to risk causing serious eye damage to the man. Had the egg Sam dropped hit the vice-principal in the eye rather than the forehead, it could have seriously injured his eye or even blinded him, and Sam was old enough to know that. What he was doing right before the earthquake wasn't much different than chucking a frozen turkey off an overpass. Being young does not excuse him from being unkind or ignorant to such potential problems. He's not five years old; he's fourteen and at this point in his life, he has the ability to know better. If he doesn't know better, it's because he has consciously chosen not to learn better. He mentioned, also toward the end of the book, that pulling his so called "pranks" was something his dad (who is deceased when the story begins) had taught him to do. I was a bit surprised at this. If his dad would approve of and participate in such meanness, then alive or dead, he's not a great guy. But would his dad really approve of Sam treating people in such a cruel way and think it funny? I seriously doubt it; most likely, the mean pranks Sam has pulled on teachers, police, and likely others is more a misguided interpretation of harmless and playful jokes his dad taught him that would entertain everyone, not just the person doing the prank.

In addition, again near the end of the book, Sam still hasn't learned much about honor or honesty and shows it when he lies to one of the characters who asks him if anyone could learn to use his phone; he leads the person to understand that he, Sam, is the only one who can or ever could use the phone the way he does. The person who asked hadn't given any indication of being a bad or dishonorable person, and Sam had no reason to withhold the truth from the person.  The only reason he did it, is because he wanted others to see him as special, as the only one with the ability to control his phone and all the things it could do.

From his attitude, it appears that at the end of this first book he still hasn't learned a significant amount of character. It will be disappointing if, at the end of the series, he still sees half-truths as acceptable, or  teachers as dross, and as suitable brunts of cruel jokes like he does at the beginning.

That being said, much of his acting out in such mean ways may have something to do with the fact that his dad passed away before the story began. Sam does try to rescue his friend, and even endures difficult and dangerous situations in his attempt to find and save the other boy. It will be interesting to see if he learns to extend that compassion to others including his mom and other adults (teachers, the police and other authority figures) in our dimension (not just the cool cowboys and rebel leaders in Avalon's dimension) and if he learns to appreciate the often raw endurance that such adults exercise when dealing with a child like him and what they all do and go through for him by the end of the series.

Of course, this is just the first book of a series, and the following books may see Sam learn and grow in surprising ways. The world building, as I already mentioned, was absolutely astounding, and Avalon, with its environment, people, magic system and rules, and the deliciously corrupt government is completely riveting.

Middle grade readers will find this book engaging and exciting, and will look forward with much anticipation to the rest of the series!

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill is a touching middle grade novel about a young girl who doesn't know what to make of life and her relationships when her dad leaves, and she doesn't know where he is.

Three Rules of Everyday Magic, The (c) 2018
by Amanda Rawson Hill
The book gives young readers a good look at the realities of depression and dementia, and the readers learn, along with Kate, how to care and trust, even when the people she once trusted the most let her down.

Kate's dad, once her best friend and once so seemly happy, now has depression and doesn't seem to want Kate to know where he is.  Her grandma is sinking deeper into dementia and Kate doesn't know what to do about that.

She tries following her grandma's advice about "everyday magic" but at first, things don't seem to work, and even backfire on her. Or at least don't work out the way she expected. But as she learns about all the rules of "everyday magic" she begins to come to a greater understanding about what her dad is suffering and what her grandma is going through and is able to develop greater compassion for each of them.

This book is a good book for young people, especially those who have loved ones who are dealing with depression and/or aging.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a powerful book aimed mostly at older kids, but it's something that adults would appreciate as well.

Resistance (c) 2018 by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Chaya Lindner is a young Jewish girl whose family is torn apart by the Nazis during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Despite the terrible risks to her, she chooses to fight back by running messages, food, etc. into the ghettos. She even manages to sneak people out. She faces terrible risks, and great danger, but still presses forward.

The things that she sees in the ghettos, (starving people, etc.) and the terrible risks she faces may be scary for really young kids, but this is a story that needs to be told. I believe older kids and teens as well as adults will learn valuable lessons about WWII, the cruelty of the Nazis, and most importantly, the strength of human courage by reading this book.

History should not be forgotten if we do not want to repeat it, and the extent to which human depravity can sink should never be underestimated. And yet Chaya's example shows that the opposite is true, too. The extent of courage that can be shown in the face of great evil also should not be underestimated.

I recommend this book without hesitation to older elementary kids, teens, and adults.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Squint (c) 2018
 by Shelly Brown and Chad Morris
Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown follows Flint (Squint as some kids call him) as he works to create the graphic art of his original superhero Squint and his side kicks. As he makes friends with McKell, he starts to get to know her brother Danny as well, but not directly; only through the challenges he offers people through his youtube channel, that encourage them to do difficult things that stretch them and help make them better, kinder people.

As McKell and Flint work through Danny's various challenges, they grow and learn, sometimes in unexpected ways. But when tragedy strikes, will they be able to continue forward and work through the last few challenges?

Squint is a great book for young and not so young alike, and leaves the reader with something positive to think about.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Grump by Liesl Shurtliff

Grump by Leisl Shurtliff is a middle grade novel that follows the life of Borlen (also known as Grump) who ends up being one of the dwarves who help Snow White.

Grump (c) 2018 by Leisl Shurtliff 
Borlen is unlike other dwarves. Because of an accidental cave in, he wasn't born where most dwarves are born, deep down, in the best caverns, he is born near the surface, so close that his parents can see tree roots growing down into the cave where he is born. Because of this unfortunate predicament, the only things they have to feed their baby are pebbles, except for one nice ruby his father was saving for their child when he was born.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because of something inherent in his character, Borlen is fascinated by stories of the surface world and always wants to go there. One day when his crew of seven dwarves (they always dig in crews of seven) is digging in a tunnel, they come across his namesake, borlen, and realize they might be close to the surface. Few of the other dwarves want to stay here, but Borlen convinces them that he should, and bring back the borlen, which is a prized commodity in dwarf communities. They let him, but when he digs a little bit further, and finally breaks through a few more rocks, he sees sunlight streaming in. What happens after that? You should read the book and find out for yourself!

People who enjoy the story of Snow White would enjoy this unique look at the lives of the dwarves before they met Snow White, and especially at the life and background of Grumpy before and after their encounter with her.

This was a really fun book for me to read, and I think that adults as well as kids would enjoy it!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Rush Revere and the First Patriots by Rush Limbaugh

Rush Revere and the First Patriots by Rush Limbaugh is a fun way for kids and adults to experience history. It is the second book in the series, the first book being Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, and in my opinion, it is just as fun as the first.

In this second book, Mr. Revere, a substitute teacher at Manchester Middle School, is teaching in place of Ms. Borington, the regular history teacher. But Mr. Revere has something that Ms. Borington doesn't have. He has the ability to travel to any time in history where something happened that affected the United States. He doesn't have this skill on his own, though. He has a time traveling horse named Liberty who can talk, and can travel to specific events in American history.

In this episode, four students, Tommy, Freedom, Cam, and Elizabeth are able to travel through time to periods just before the American Revolution began. They meet people like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, King George, and others who were participants in that period of history.

Tommy, Freedom and Cam are nice kids, Elizabeth is not. She's a power hungry child who wants to change American history so that King George knows about the Boston Tea Party before it happens. She is a decidedly unpleasant child, and I would enjoy watching what happens to her in continued episodes. Perhaps she will change for the better, and learn that Freedom and Liberty both the concepts and the people) are pretty great.

I recommend this book because of its fun characters, and its exploration of historical events in a creative and entertaining way.