1947 Newbery Medal: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, was published in 1946 by Viking.

When Great-granny Brown packed up and moved to the Women’s City Club in Boston, Miss Hickory was faced with the problem of spending a severe New Hampshire winter alone. This might not have been so bad if Miss Hickory had not been a country woman whose body was an apple-wood twig and whose head was a hickory nut. Also, if her house had been built of stronger material than corncobs, however neatly notched and glued together. This is the story of how she survived those trying months, in the company of neighbors like Crow, who was tough, wise, and kindly; Bull Frog, who lost his winter clothes; Ground Hog, a surly man afraid of his own shadow, and a host of others. It is a fantasy full of the peculiar charm of the New Hampshire countryside, seen from an angle which most of us, city-bound in the winter, know little about.

Rating: 2/5

I’ve mostly liked and enjoyed all the Newbery Medal books so far, with a few notable exceptions (The Dark Frigate, *shudder*). Miss Hickory, unfortunately, falls on the side of the ones I didn’t like so much. It’s not that the quality is low or the messages are poor. I actually thought the message was quite good; there was a delightful little scene in the middle where Miss Hickory realizes the cost of hardheadedness.

My main problem with Miss Hickory is that the premise is strange (a living wooden doll existing alongside animals, with no explanation as to how she got there or as to why there isn’t any creature like her) and there is nothing that reconciles that strangeness, and the ending is downright creepy. Seriously, I read the end and almost couldn’t believe what was happening; there is also a rather frightening picture to go along with the event. If, as an adult, I feel creeped out by a book, how much more so would a child be frightened? I don’t think Bailey meant it to be frightening, of course, and the story does end happily, if strangely, but nevertheless, it was the wrong tone to end the book on.

Miss Hickory should have been like Hitty, Her First Hundred Years or similar, but the premise was too strange and unexplained (why does Miss Hickory even exist? Why aren’t there others like her?) and the ending was frightening. I enjoyed the book, I suppose, but it’s definitely not a standout nor is it a book I would recommend to anyone anytime soon. Not every Newbery can be perfect, but it’s still a little disappointing.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None, unless you count the end where Miss Hickory loses her head and then her headless body walks around.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Children’s

“You have seen through Great-granny Brown’s kitchen window how deep the snowdrifts are in New Hampshire. I’ll wager that there were days when you could not see through the windows. The winters are long and hard here, Miss Hickory. “

“What could one do?” she begged. She would not believe him yet.

“Don’t feel too badly, as if they had forgotten you,” he said kindly. “Ann has other matters than dolls to fill her mind now. Great-granny Brown was born and bred in New Hampshire. She expects you to be equal to any weather. You’ll have to move, Miss Hickory.”

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2HpZHcj

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The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson

The Dark Talent, by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2016 by Tor. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens.

Alcatraz Smedry has successfully defeated the army of Evil Librarians and saved the kingdom of Mokia. Too bad he managed to break the Smedry Talents in the process. Even worse, his father is trying to enact a scheme that could ruin the world, and his friend, Bastille, is in a coma. To revive her, Alcatraz must infiltrate the Highbrary–known as The Library of Congress to Hushlanders–the seat of Evil Librarian power. Without his Talent to draw upon, can Alcatraz figure out a way to save Bastille and defeat the Evil Librarians once and for all?

Rating: 4/5

It was a little bit strange starting off this book because the format of it was so different. Tor completely revamped the series, giving them much better cover art as well as illustrations, and the style fits the books really well—but the change was still jarring to me.

However, once I got used to it, I was able to enjoy all the usual Alcatraz nonsense. The footnotes were hilarious, especially the detailed list of deaths he never wants to die, and the book itself takes a drastic swing towards the dark as Alcatraz recounts his final tale. The change in atmosphere is abrupt, as the book is much more of a downer story than the first four, but I thought the bleak nature of it balanced well with the humor.

It’s actually quite hard to fully talk about this book, as the ending is quite surprising and saying too much would be a spoiler. It might be the best Alcatraz book in terms of mechanics (meaning it’s less formulaic), and Sanderson really upends and even makes fun of the prior books and what goes on in them. I appreciate authors who deviate from formulas, especially those who are willing to poke fun at what they wrote. And the illustrations really help the overall “serious-but-not-so-serious” nature of the books themselves—they are a great addition to the series.

The Dark Talent takes the series into a darker, bleaker place, but is almost arguably the better for it. The new look to the series adds to the overall atmosphere, and this novel in particular is the perfect balance of funny and serious. Sanderson is particularly devious in his plot mechanics in this book, though saying more would be spoiler-ific. This may be my favorite book in the Alcatraz series.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2GyP8Dw

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, was published in 1983 by Doubleday (1979 in Germany).

This epic work of the imagination has captured the hearts of millions of readers worldwide since it was first published more than a decade ago. Its special story within a story is an irresistible invitation for readers to become part of the book itself….The story begins with a lonely boy named Bastian and the strange book that draws him into the beautiful but doomed world of Fantastica. Only a human can save this enchanted place—by giving its ruler, the Childlike Empress, a new name. But the journey to her tower leads through lands of dragons, giants, monsters, and magic—and once Bastian begins his quest, he may never return. As he is drawn deeper into Fantastica, he must find the courage to face unspeakable foes and the mysteries of his own heart.

Rating: 4/5

The Neverending Story is a movie that I’ve heard referenced many times, especially in college. I’ve never seen it, and I had forgotten that the film was based off a book until I saw it at the library. I like fantasy, so I decided to give it a try.

The Neverending Story is a story-within-a-story, cleverly written with different colors of ink to represent two different worlds, and solely designed to have the reader imagine that they, like Bastian, are able to participate in Fantastica. Even the cover art was carefully chosen to match the description given in the book. It was quite clever, one of the more creative uses of the story-within-a-story trope that I’ve read. I feel like this is what Cornelia Funke was trying to get Inkheart to be like, except reversed (characters coming into the real world rather than humans going into the fantasy one).

I always enjoy protagonists who fluctuate a bit in likeability—like Johnny Tremain in Esther Forbes’s book of the same title. Bastian starts out as the passive protagonist, then switches to the active one—and along the way experiments with villainy as his power gets away with him. Ende does a remarkable portrayal of the corruption of power, as well as the way living too much in your imagination results in your real life slipping away from you.

There is some grand message to the whole book, of course, but I feel like it’s done rather well, without being laid on too thick. Either that, or it’s interwoven well enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s too much. Ende has a lot to say about imagination, and the role that the reader has in participating in the fantasy world, and the way readers shape stories.

The Neverending Story gets a little bloated at times—it’s a long book—but I enjoyed the character development, the way Ende visualizes the writing process and the role of the reader, and the adventure feel to the whole thing. Now, I guess I’ll have to watch the movie!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“My life belongs to you,” said the dragon, “if you’ll accept it. I thought you’d need a mount for this Great Quest of yours. And you’ll soon see that crawling around the country on two legs, or even galloping on a good horse, can’t hold a candle to whizzing through the air on the back of a luckdragon. Are we partners?”

“We’re partners,” said Atreyu.

“By the way,” said the dragon. “My name is Falkor.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2DqT7zl

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

Like a River Glorious, by Rae Carson, was published in 2016 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger.

Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her. But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity. Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?

Rating: 2/5

All my worries about a potential sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, a book that stood alone with little to carry into another book, came to fruition in Like a River Glorious, which is ultimately a pointless sequel that tells the same story as the first book, only without the going west part.

The only character change in this book is that Leah’s gold-seeking changes in depth and power. Otherwise, the characters are the same: Hiram is flatly evil, and little is revealed about his relationship to Leah’s parents or why he killed them (specifically, why he killed Leah’s mother, since it seems pointless to have done so. Carson reiterates over and over that women are powerless in the eyes of the law, so there’s really no reason for Hiram to have killed Leah’s mother. Rage, perhaps, at her apparent betrayal?). Jefferson is typical Love Interest Boy, meaning he’s uninteresting, and Leah spends most of the book being criticized for what other people are doing.

Speaking of the latter, Carson uses this book as a mouthpiece for her modernistic ideas of 1849, and spends the majority of the events making sure the reader knows exactly how Leah is responsible for the abuse of Native Americans and how she should feel terrible about it, and how people should feel guilty for owning land and never own land because it all belongs to the Native Americans.

By the way, Carson, I hope you’re practicing what you preach and don’t own any land yourself.

Also, wow, does she take some liberties with history. Some of it is explained away at the end in an author’s note (mostly consisting of “I wanted to bring this to light earlier than when it actually happened so it would fit my narrative”), but Carson conveniently left out the fact that women could actually own property at that time, despite the many, many times it’s stated to the contrary in the novel.

Highlighting the abuses of the time isn’t a bad thing, but filtering it through modernistic views is problematic. And regardless of accuracy of depiction, Carson’s constant preaching and guilt-tripping only caused me to want to never pick up the last book in the trilogy. I also can’t see what would be in a third book, since once again, everything is wrapped up neatly in this book.

Like a River Glorious reminded me of what I hate about young adult literature: the constant authorial preaching, the filtering of events through modern lenses, pointless romance, and the manipulation of historical data to fit one’s particular narrative. I have no desire to pick up the last novel in the trilogy, or read anything by Carson ever again.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Slow down,” I tell Olive. “You have to let the gold settle. Do you see it?”

“Where?” she asks.

All I mean to do is point, but it seems as though the flake lifts out of the water and sticks to my finger, just as if I called it. It’s the strangest feeling, like a static shock when it touches my skin.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ttmBwS

The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens (republished title The Shattered Lens), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2010 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia.

Alcatraz Smedry is on a mission to save the day! The boy with all the wrong Talents has a lot to prove and, as always, little time in which to do it. Ib this final adventure, Alcatraz faces an army of librarians—and their giant librarian robots—as they battle to win the kingdom of Mokia. If the Librarians win the war, everything that Alcatraz has fought so hard for could end in disaster. With his incredibly Talent for breaking things, some explosive teddy bears, and the help of his friends, Alcatraz must face the glass-shattering gigantic robots, an entire arm of evil librarians, and even his ow manipulative mother! But will he be able to save the kingdom of Mokia and the Free kingdoms from the wrath of the librarians before everything comes crashing down?

Rating: 3/5

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens is a step-up from the too-short-yet-too-long Knights of Crystallia. The conflict is decently long, important things happen throughout the book, and the ending is suitably intriguing.

I like the deeper look at the Talents that Sanderson gives us in this book, starting with Aydee’s math Talent and ending with Alcatraz manipulating the Smedry Talents to fit his plan. It also makes one of the main events at the end that much more important. The Talents are the most interesting thing about the Alcatraz series, in my opinion, so I’m glad we got to explore more of their mechanics in this one.

Something I found interesting about the background of this book is that you can sense Sanderson’s rift with Scholastic coming. Not only does the blurb say that this is Alcatraz’s final adventure, even though the series has stated that there will be five, but the fifth book is published by a different publisher. Not to mention Sanderson’s dig at the ridiculous cover art of the series (probably my favorite joke besides the Wheel of Time inside joke). (By the way, I’m displaying the republished art in these posts since it’s so much better). I’m not sure of the details behind Sanderson’s break with Scholastic, but I know that at least the cover art issue is fixed with the fifth book (thank goodness), so the change is likely a good one.

I still wouldn’t say this series is my favorite of Sanderson’s; it’s funny, but lacking in depth, with shaky plot mechanics at times. However, I’m looking forward to seeing how Alcatraz manages in the next book, given the revelation at the end of this book, and Sanderson has never yet disappointed me in the long haul (perhaps in the short, but never the long).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

A clanking sound came from behind us. I glanced over my shoulder.

No fewer than fifty Knights of Crystallia were rushing down the hallway in our direction.

“Gak!” I cried.

“Alcatraz, would you stop saying—” Bastille looked over her shoulder. “GAK!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2FhxFSz

The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia (republished title The Knights of Crystallia), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Scrivener’s Bones.

When Alcatraz and Grandpa Smedry make a pilgrimage to the Free Kingdom city of Crystallia, the Smedry home base, Alcatraz is shocked to see that he is a legend. When he was a baby, he was stolen by the Evil Librarians—and his mother, a Librarian herself, was behind it. Now, with his estranged father, who is acting strange; his best friend, Bastille, who has been stripped of her armor just when they need a good knight; and Grandpa Smedry, who is, as always, late to everything, Alcatraz tries to save a city under siege. From whom? Why, the Librarians, of course! And, in particular, an especially evil Evil Librarian who has followed the Smedrys to Crystallia in hopes of shattering the city: Alcatraz’s very own mother!

Rating: 2/5

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia is as fun-filled and crazy as the first two books. Sanderson continues to build up the mystery and suspense by revealing things in small increments and hinting at bigger mysteries to come. Knowing Sanderson, everything will come to a whiz-bang finish and all the foreshadowing will make sense—after things get worse, as Alcatraz-the-narrator states in the book.

Overarching-plot-wise, I don’t really have too much negative to say. Sanderson is clearly setting things up in this book, introducing new faces and new mysteries for our heroes to solve. I know some of what is coming, so I can also tell he’s weaving in lots of foreshadowing and clues.

However, while I don’t have much to say about his plot technique, I do have quite a bit to say about the way he chose to develop it. Frankly, I found Knights of Crystallia too short of a book—the main conflict began and ended quickly, the pace was all over the place, and after reading it, I set it down and thought, “Wow, I feel like this was a waste of a book.” Even with all the plot building he’s doing in this book, it still feels like it is twenty pages long rather than almost two hundred, or at least, it feels as if the important parts only encompass twenty pages.

The book is clearly a bridge between plot points, a way to have the characters advance in knowledge without revealing too much at once. It’s too short, yet oddly long for what little happens. It’s stuffed with filler, even more filler than what the Alcatraz series is known for. There’s also no satisfying moment to make the book seem worthwhile. And the annoyance is that the book has to be read to understand some plot points; it’s not skippable, yet it begs to be skipped.

The Knights of Crystallia is basically a paradox. Too short, yet too long. Too important, yet not important enough. The whole novel is a plot device to bring the characters to a certain point, something that would take too long to do if entwined with more plot. I love Sanderson, but this book was difficult to get through.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“So…what does this have to do with me?” I asked.

“Everything, lad, everything!” Grandpa Smedry pointed at me. “We’re Smedrys. When we gave up our kingdom, we took an oath to watch over all of the Free Kingdoms. We’re the guardians of civilization!”

“But wouldn’t it be good I the kings make peace with the Librarians?”

Sing looked pained. “Alcatraz, to do so, they would give up Mokia, my homeland!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BraGCi

2013 Newbery Medal: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, was published in 2012 by Harper.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living in a shopping mall, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Rating: 3/5

The One and Only Ivan is apparently based on a true story. The real Ivan, like the one in the story, was in a circus-themed mall for twenty-seven years before enough information circulated about it that he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta. As an animal fantasy, The One and Only Ivan crawls into the head of book-Ivan and explores a similar story from the perspective of the gorilla.

It’s a very sentimental story, and it would be especially heartwarming if you really loved animals and don’t mind good zoos. For me, I found the whole thing a little bit too sentimental for my tastes. I also had a hard time accepting the point of view of a gorilla. I get it, it’s an animal fantasy, but it still rang false in my view.

That’s not to say the story isn’t good. Applegate does raise awareness of inappropriate and unsafe conditions for animals, and she does emphasize that good zoos are beneficial for animal welfare. The story, as a story, is lovely and heartwarming and has a good happy ending. It has a good lesson about treating animals correctly. But, at times, its sappiness sours the story. I’m glad it’s not all gloom and doom like some Newbery Medals, but the overt sentimentality of this book is almost as bad, in my opinion.

The One and Only Ivan is a good story, perfect for children who love animals, and has some good things to say about taking care of animals, but I found it to be too sentimental throughout. I’m not calling for Newbery Medals to be full of darkness and sorrow, but I would prefer a balance, and this book, though it has some sorrow in it, goes too far in the sappiness category for me to really like it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic

When the Big Top Mall was first built, it smelled of new paint and fresh hay, and humans came to visit from morning till night. They drifted past my domain like logs on a lazy river.

Lately, a day might go by without a single visitor. Mack says he’s worried. He says I’m not cute anymore. He says, “Ivan, you’ve lost your magic, old guy. You used to be a hit.”

It’s true that some of my visitors don’t linger the way they used to. They stare through the glass, they cluck their tongues, they frown while I watch my TV.

“He looks lonely,” they say.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2EhEHHq

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson, was published in 2015 by Greenwillow.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it. When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

Rating: 3/5

Some of my least favorite tropes (and probably everyone else’s favorite tropes) are present in Walk on Earth a Stranger: a girl who dresses up as a boy, a girl who doesn’t follow historical/traditional female roles, and enough modern-day social justice to satisfy the people who want modern thought imposed on their historical fiction.

Leah is not my favorite type of protagonist, but Carson is a good enough writer that I didn’t immediately dislike her despite the presence of tropes I dislike. I did find her overbearing, patronizing, and at times almost narrow-minded. Someone so compassionate about slaves while growing up in the South is also completely dispassionate in terms of religion and traditional female roles. The former could have to do with Carson’s portrayal of Reverend Lowrey, which was almost laughable in its extremes and stereotypes. As for the latter, well, Leah herself seemed to hold contradicting points: at one point, she decried anything that would make her beholden to a man and then the next minute, she was thinking about her relationship with Jefferson and wanting to marry him.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I did enjoy the book, though I can’t imagine how Carson is going to make a trilogy out of it. In my mind, the book could have been a stand-alone (with some slight changes, of course). I suppose there’s a little bit to explore in sequels: the mystery of Leah’s parents’ past and the presence of Uncle Hiram. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trilogy without a love triangle, so I’m fully expecting some new character to come in and sweep Leah off her feet before she realizes in the third book that Jefferson is The One.

I do love Oregon Trail stories, though, and this one is a good one—lots of danger, realistic scenarios, and compelling enough characters to carry the plot through when it could have slowed down.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is full of tropes I don’t like, but despite all that, I ended up enjoying this Oregon Trail/Gold Rush adventure. I’m hoping Carson doesn’t fall prey to more overused tropes in the next two books, and also that Leah becomes a character that I can actually relate to, but at least I’m intrigued enough to see what happens next.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“I have a gold half eagle in one hand. Which is it?” There’s a twinkle in his eye that reminds me so much of Daddy that my chest hurts.

The coin sings to me clear as spring runoff from his left fist. I point to the right.

He smiles. “You can’t keep secrets from me, Leah.”

I sigh and point to the left.

“That’s my girl.” He opens his fist, and there it is, shining yellow-bright.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BPc1iP

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.

Imagine it were possible to bring the characters from a book to life. Not like when someone reads a book with such enchantment that the characters seem to jump off the pages and into your bedroom…but for real. Imagine they could actually climb out of the pages and into our world! Then, imagine if those characters brought their world into ours. One cruel night, young Meggie’s father, Mo, reads aloud from Inkheart and an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Somehow, Meggie and Mo must learn to harness the magic that conjured this nightmare. Somehow they must change the course of the story that has changed their lives forever.

Rating: 3/5

I read Inkheart way back in the day when it, and its two sequels, were incredibly popular. I remember liking it; I must have, since I own this book and its sequel, Inkspell. However, the only thing I remembered about it was that Mo had the ability to read characters out of books. I remembered nothing about the plot (and the things I thought were from Inkheart must be from Inkspell, since none of what I remember happening actually happened in Inkheart). So, in a way, it was like I was reading this book for the first time.

As with Dragon Rider, I thought this was a fairly well-written book. It’s entertaining, there’s suspense, there’s a plot with twists and turns. The characters are fine, though I wish they said “OK” less. Dustfinger tended to get slightly annoying, but we didn’t get many chapters from his point of view, so it was bearable. One thing I enjoyed the most is how very European this book is; it was translated from German and the setting shows its European roots, from villages in the mountains to the names used.

The main problem with Inkheart is that there wasn’t any “wow” factor with me. In fact, I thought the book was overly long; some cutting of extraneous materials would have been beneficial for quickening the pace, especially in the middle. It never got incredibly boring, but there were definitely parts that dragged more than others. I’m not actually sure why this book got as popular as it did, to be honest; it’s remarkably simple, for a book about someone who brings characters from books to life, and there’s nothing terribly exciting that happens for a majority of the book.

I decided to give Funke another chance after Dragon Rider, but now, after Inkheart, I’m not so sure that was a wise decision. Inkheart had all the same problems as Dragon Rider, but also suffered massive pacing problems and seemed way too long overall. If I get bored, I might read the sequel, Inkspell, but nothing else is compelling me to continue the series.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“Meggie, listen to me!” Dustfinger looked at her intently. His scars were like pale lines that someone had drawn on his cheeks: two slightly curved marks on the left cheek, a third and longer line of the right cheek running from ear to nostril. “Capricorn will kill your father if he doesn’t get that book!” hissed Dustfinger. “Kill him, do you understand? Didn’t I tell you what he’s like? He wants the book, and he always gets what he wants. It’s ridiculous to believe it will be safe from him here.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2DlbGGd

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones (republished title The Scrivener’s Bones), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2008 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians.

Alcatraz Smedry has an incredible talent…for breaking things! It generally gets him into a lot of trouble, but can he use it to save the day? In this second Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz finds himself on a mission to meet Grandpa Smedry when he gets swept up by a flying glass dragon filled with his unusual and mouthy Smedry cohorts. Their mission? A dangerous library-filled one, of course! They are on their way to the ancient and mysterious Library of Alexandria (which some silly people think was long ago destroyed!) where they must find Grandpa Smedry, look for clues leading to Alcatraz’s potentially undead dead father, and battle the creepy, dangerous soul-sucking curators who await them.

Rating: 4/5

I found Evil Librarians to be annoyingly self-indulgent, but either I was more prepared for it in Scrivener’s Bones or I didn’t notice it as much, because I enjoyed the tone much more in this book. The humor is definitely pointed at a select group of people (I think you have to enjoy a certain type of humor to really enjoy these books), but Sanderson utilizes the humor to give some important (and funny) lessons on author manipulation and other plot devices, all while selling his Alcatraz narration as someone who desperately wants everyone to know how much of a liar he is, even while telling a story he wants people to believe.

Sanderson also starts peeling back at his intricate plot in this book. Most of the book takes place in one location, the library of Alexandria, but you tend to forget that because it’s so fast-paced and interesting once the characters reach that point. There’s the overall plot being developed, as Alcatraz and Bastille wonder about and puzzle over the nature of technology and magic in general and Alcatraz’s Talent in particular. Then, there’s the “book plot” being developed, as they make their way through traps to rescue Grandpa Smedry and discover more about Alcatraz’s father along the way. Even while being funny and self-indulgent, Sanderson knows how to craft a plot.

Perhaps the one thing holding this book back from a higher rating is, well, for one, I do tend to do the gymnastics-judge thing of holding back higher scores for later books, but, for another, a few things struck me as a little odd and out-of-place that kept me from really enjoying this book.

It wasn’t so self-indulgent as before (or I didn’t notice it as much), but there were still points when Alcatraz backing away from the action to wax philosophical about bunnies and bazookas was a little annoying. However, the one thing that struck me the most at the end was Grandpa Smedry’s apparent lie that no one bothered to correct, or even appeared to think, “Why did he lie?” The only thing I can think of is that I’m misremembering details and that what I thought was a lie really wasn’t; if not, it means that Sanderson goofed up. I’m willing to guess it was my mistake, but still, that didn’t stop me from being completely and utterly thrown at the end of the book by an apparent authorial error.

I found Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones much more entertaining and much less self-indulgent than the first book. I was able to get into the tone of the book more easily and enjoy myself throughout the adventure, admiring some of the more prominent bits of foreshadowing Sanderson is throwing in (as I’ve mentioned, I’ve read this series before, up until the most recent book). Some things still threw me off a bit, but, overall, this book was an improvement over the first.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Do you really have the Talent of Breaking Things?”

I shrugged. “That’s what they tell me. What’s your Talent?”

Australia smiled. “I can wake up in the morning looking incredibly ugly!”

“Oh…how wonderful.” I still wasn’t certain how to respond to Smedry Talents. I usually couldn’t ever tell if the person telling me was excited or disappointed by the power.

Australia, it seemed, was excited by pretty much everything. She nodded perkily. “I know. It’s a fun Talent—nothing like breaking things—but I make it work for me!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2CTNZ7q