3 Middle Grade Zombie Books

Posted by amanda on Nov 10th, 2010
Nov 10

The Curse of Cuddles McGee by Emily Ecton
I love Ecton’s books. They are just the right mix of laugh-out-loud funny and creepy horror. In this one, a hamster named Cuddles has returned from the grave to exact his revenge. Ty and Arlie are best friends tasked with saving the town from undead rodent wrath. The pair are likable as all get-out and even the minor characters like Tina, Arlie’s fashion obsessed older sister, have their shining moments. Mr. Boots, Arlie’s family’s exhibitionist chihuahua, is a faithful and fearful sidekick to our heroes. This has all the appeal of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series with the addition of quality writing and an excellent humorous wit. 264p., 2008.

Zombie Chasers by John Kloeper
This had great zombie attack sequences. The cartoon illustrations of zombie mayhem were excellent. I loved the zombified bodyparts twisted into the numerals replacing the number in the chapter headings. The action was non-stop and peril present at every turn. My problem with this was that all the characters were superficial and you can say it’s hard to have meaningful connections to characters in zany whacked-out plots, but I found myself really attached to the protagonists of both the other books mentioned in this post. None of the characters in Zombie Chasers seemed to care for much except themselves, popularity, video games, and attractive members of the other sex – oh, and surviving the zombie onslaught. So, this is for readers who like the idea of zombie action and will let character development slide to get it. 205p., 2010.

Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie: My Rotten Life by David Lubar
Nathan’s been picked on and left out enough to feel that his feelings may be a liability. When he experiments with a potion designed to deaden his emotions, he finds it has deadened the rest of him. The zombification is spreading and he’s racing the clock to avoid permanent half-dead zombie status. Being a zombie does afford him some benefits. Feeling no pain means he can do enough pull-ups to help his school win a contest and be a school hero. Zombies also don’t sleep leaving him lots of time to improve his video game skills. And if you’re already half-dead it’s hard to worry about the school bully. This is the start of a series of books about Nathan. I enjoyed Nathan figuring out his how his zombie-ness worked with his friends. I enjoyed the bits with his thumb falling off and still being able to be moved by him despite being removed from his body. Zombie good times! 155p., 2009.

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Posted by amanda on Sep 22nd, 2010
Sep 22

Olive Dunwoody has moved into the old mansion on Linden Street. Her parents decided to keep the furnishings and paintings that came with the house. Olive finds spectacles that when worn allow her to walk into another world inside the house’s paintings. Soon she discovers the spectacles also allow spirits trapped in the paintings to escape. When it becomes clear that the previous occupants of the house are ready to get rid of Olive and her family for good, she enlists the unlikely help of the mansion’s guardian cats to keep the house from being overtaken by the shadows.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dark and creepy story of another sinister world right lurking underneath our own. It was lighter than Coraline, but had that same dread and independent, lonely girl heroine.

I like cats and so the talking cat trio were definitely a feature for me as a reader. I wouldn’t have minded more cat in the book and hope they return as the series continues. The comic relief of the cat who thought himself to be an errant knight grated just a bit despite being generally endearing.

Recommended for the middle grade fantasy reader who isn’t afraid of the things that are watching us from paintings in the hall.

This is the first in a planned series called The Books of Elsewhere. 256 p., 2010.

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

Fifth grader Abbie is one of a family of witches. Her father, a witch doctor (in the medical sense of treating witches with maladies), is trying to come up with a cure for the Witch Flu. Her brother Munch is a lovable menace who just barely has ahold of his magic enough not to turn his kindergarten teacher into a toad and constantly needs Abbie’s help. Her mother is trying to become a real estate agent and fit into the non-witch world. Abbie is just trying to make it through school while keeping her magic controlled and secret – even from her best friend Callie. When Abbie receives a new pet kitten from her dad, she does not know that the kitten is in fact a young Thomas Edison trapped in feline form by a witch planning to steal his fame. Tom proves to be a great friend to Abbie while her parents try to return him to his own timeline. Abbie worries about how lonely she will be when he leaves and she has no one outside her family with whom to share her magical secrets.

The great thing about this book is that magic is just part of the story. There’s Abbie’s everyday school woes. She is in the school play and deals with stage fright. She worries about being a good friend when she’s keeping so many secrets. She lies to her parents when she gets in trouble. She’s just an everyday witch trying to get things right. There’s also the history of Edison’s inventions. I love the passage where Tom keeps asking Abbie if various things he sees are technology or magic. Microwave is technology. Levitating yourself up to the second story is magic. But really how would Tom know which was which without Abbie’s say so?

I would give this one to readers who like The Tail of Emily Windsnap. Also, girls who tend to like realistic school fiction, but have been assigned a fantasy might find this one right up their alley. It is a strong fun 5th/6th grade read. 256p., 2010.

Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

I listened to this as an audiobook and it made one heckuva great listen. It was the right mix of action/adventure and gorgeous world building to make one get lost in the listening. If you’ve got a long car trip or a dull commute and you love fairies (not dainty, tea-party fairies, but fierce fairies who are trying to save the world), then this would be a great audiobook for you.

Magpie Windwitch travels the world outside the faerie realm with her band of crows hunting devils that humans seem free from their bottles more often than they should. When the Blackbringr is loosed and threatens the fairie homeland of Dreamdark, Magpie knows that this is no ordinary devil for it was sealed in its bottle by the Djinn King himself. How do you fight a great nothing filled with malicious intent? Magpie is stubborn enough to be the one to try. She will wake the Djinn King and shake the very roots of Dreamdark. She is small, but she is loud, proud and loved by loyal friends.

This book was as fiercely good as its heroine.

House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block

Posted by amanda on Aug 16th, 2010
Aug 16

This very slight story reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit. It was filled with sadness – a very pretty sadness.

The story is about a little girl who envies her dollhouse dolls their safe and loved life. She takes things away from the dolls. Her grandmother recognizes the problem after a magical note from the dolls and comes to the rescue sewing a special dress for Madison that seems to solve her loneliness by showing her she is loved. As is always true of Block, the descriptions are rich and filled with the fanciful. The story was poignant, yet I wonder how it would play with an actual child. It feels like it may be more for the teen or adult reflecting on childhood.

I will admit a bias towards action and plot in my fiction and this was more atmospheric and allegorical. So, perhaps for those with tastes different than my own.
2010, 61p.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell

Posted by amanda on Aug 3rd, 2010
Aug 3

This book has a great villain. I find I sometimes need someone to *boo* and *hiss* and the nanny Miss Barmy with her plans to orphan Emmy and steal her fortune is perfect. She channels Cruella deVille with her willingness to stomp on a lonely little girl, her goodhearted bookseller parents, and some defenseless rodents on her route to personal wealth.

This book has some great rodents – rodents with magical powers from the sweetly mind-reading Endear Mouse to the braggart Rat of the title whose second bite shrinks people to rodent size.

Emmy herself is a grand heroine. She figures out Miss Barmy’s plans with help from some rodent and human friends. It is nice to see a balanced girl who can do a lot for herself and is independent, but also find friends she an rely on for the help she needs. I love a smart girl who succeeds against evil and makes good choices to treat her friends well. Emmy makes the right choices even if she thinks they may cost her. Luckily, the author makes sure all comes right for Emmy because I don’t think I could have stood it if she weren’t left happy.

Jonathan Bean’s artwork and most especially his flipbook edging were a delightful addition. Frosting on a well-written delicious story. 346p., 2007.

Found by Sarah Prineas

Posted by amanda on Jul 5th, 2010
Jul 5

This is the third book in the Magic Thief series. It is the story of Connwaer, a young pickpocket turned magician turned protector of his city. The city of Wellmet’s magic is in danger from a rogue magic that wishes to destroy it. Conn due to his generally bad reputation for being in the thick of trouble has been exiled from Wellmet just when he knows his city needs him most. He won’t let the threat of execution keep him from trying to save the city he loves.

Prineas brings back all the characters her readers have come to love and throws in dragons too. I really enjoy these books for their warmth. There’s many a dark fantasy written. These books have dark moments and the danger is palpable, but the love and friendship that ties the characters together is what matters most. I know comparisons to Rowling’s Potter grow tiresome in the world of children’s fantasy books, but I must say this warmth and caring between characters both child and adult is a reading pleasure that Prineas and Rowling capture beautifully. I also find that while each of these books tells a complete story I still want to know more at the end of each book in this series. I think that is indicative of a gifted storyteller to give a book that is satisfyingly complete, but leaves one wondering and thinking about the characters. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. 368p., 2010.

Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan

Posted by amanda on Jul 1st, 2010
Jul 1

*** Spoiler Alert ****
If you haven’t read Demon’s Lexicon and think you will (and I think it’s well worth it) then don’t read the following review.

The author said her 2nd book in this series was harder to write than the first. This second book also had me thinking even more than the first – I like to think as a reader.

This is the story of Mae. Mae is the non-magical, human sister of a magician. She’s befriended Alan and his brother, Nick, a demon who’s been raised as a human. Nick cannot lie, but is cruel and inhuman by definition. Alan, in contrast, is kind to a fault, but lies to everyone almost all the time. Mae is drawn to both brothers, though there is no traditional love triangle here. Sibling love seems to rule the day as the two brothers alongside Mae and her brother all try to protect their sibling from magicians and demons alike.

Mae comes to life in this book as a more full-fledged character than in the previous title. This is her book. She tries to figure out her attractions to the boys in her life. She tries to understand her love of the Goblin Market with its magical trade and beautiful dancers who dance to ask favors of demons.

This book had characters with complex motivations and a well articulated magical world. Those who liked the first book will be impressed with this one. I’d also give this to fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. 440p., 2010.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Posted by amanda on Mar 22nd, 2010
Mar 22

I finally got around to reading our new Newbery winning book for 2009.

I really enjoyed it as anyone who loved Madeleine L’Engle as a child and early teen would. I still love her, but that’s where the love started. My dad read Wrinkle in Time aloud to me and I was hooked. Rebecca Stead clearly felt the same love of this author in her youth.

I would tell parents who enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife that this is a juvenile book with similar reading appeals. Sure, this was about time travel, but really it is was about life which is made of time. It’s also about that special time of realization that each child experiences when they lift the veil of their childhood world to see the wider world. I’ll join everyone else in highly recommending this title. 208p. , 2009.

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Posted by amanda on Mar 14th, 2010
Mar 14

The ninja who sneak about under cover of night are vampires. This gives them their superhuman stealth and strength. Of course!

Nick Lake clearly knows his Japanese culture and it soaks out of this epic story of young Taro who is foretold to be the next shogun. Taro and his devoted friend Hiro travel with the vampire ninja, Shusaku, to hide from the assassination attempts of Lord Oda. There are also revenge plots, sword masters, beautiful & deadly ladies, ancient objects of mythic power, ninja trickery, and plenty of combat.

It took me a chapter or two to become immersed in this ancient Japan where vampires were real. But, once hooked the epic journey of Taro to discover his heritage and avenge his adoptive father had me. I picked it up for the ninja vampires, but will continue reading for the drama, romance, beautiful world and just to see how Taro overcomes all to be the next shogun.
368p., 2009

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