Archive for the ‘Middle Grade’ Category

Modern Day Classic: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

April 24th, 2012    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade

Some books just feel timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books. It could have been written during World War II (the same time period it’s set), although it was published in 2011. The language has a classic, poetic feel and the story is timeless.


Twelve-year old September is bored with her life in Omaha. Her mother works long hours for the war effort, and her father is abroad, serving his country. The Green Wind offers to take September on an adventure, and they head to Fairyland. Luckily September has the tools to save Fairyland.


September is a strong character, and the friends she makes add to the story. She faces real problems and has to find courage within herself.  This is a great novel for children and young-at-heart readers who enjoy fairy tales, fantasy, and whimsical writing.




Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Source: Purchased an e-version

Read: March 2012

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Black Dog Reviews’ First Annual Gift Guide

December 11th, 2011    Posted in Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Literary Fiction, Middle Grade, Mystery, Non-Fiction, Other Genre, Pop Culture, Popular Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.

Literary Fiction
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.


Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.


Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson


Southern Gothic
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt


Beach Read
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.


Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan


Pop culture
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell


For Writers

On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder


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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

September 7th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children took me by surprise. By the back cover copy, I thought it would more of a ghost story with maybe some light horror type elements. It’s actually a fantasy novel along the lines of an X-Men type story with no technology and a little more magic.

In the present day, teenage Jacob loses his World War II grandfather to what police and his parents call a vicious dog attack. Jacob knows this isn’t true, as he found his grandfather and saw the hideous monster responsible for the attack. Jacob falls apart, and eventually his father takes him to a Welsh island for six weeks. The island is interesting to both Jacob and his father. To his father, it’s a birdwatchers paradise. For Jacob, it’s a chance to research his grandfather’s past, as his grandfather was evacuated from Poland to an orphanage on this island during World War II.

Jacob’s grandfather showed both his son and grandson photos of ‘peculiar’ children, like a girl floating a few inches off of the ground. He told them tall tales of his life in the orphanage before he enlisted in the Army. As Jacob finds the bombed-out orphanage, he realizes that maybe those tails weren’t quite as tall as he’d assumed.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a great novel for both older middle-grade and younger YA readers. There’s a little romance but it’s inline with novels like Rick Riordan’s Olympian series. The old photos add a nice visual touch to the novel. This is clearly the first novel in a series, with an end that clearly sets up the adventure for the following books.

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Source: Nook e-book
Read: August 2011

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Pre-review of Wildwood

August 8th, 2011    Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Kim, Middle Grade, Urban Fantasy

For Portlanders, the word Wildwood will probably conjure up images of the popular restaurant in Northwest Portland. But for everyone else, it is the title of a three-book series written by Decemberists lead singer and songwriter, Colin Meloy and his wife (and illustrator) Carson Ellis.

The book has instant appeal, largely in part to the authors’ strong following in other media, so we thought we’d review the first four chapters (now available online) to see what this “middle-grade fantasy adventure novel” had in store.

Wildwood tells the story of Prue, a slightly unlucky big sister, who loses her little brother to a murder of crows when the birds pluck him off her Radio Flyer wagon and retreat into the Impassible Woods. Trying to avoid trouble, Prue is able to conceal the event from her parents just long enough to come up with a plan: to enter the Impassible Woods and do the impossible—come back out alive… and with her little brother.

The book has an element of instant likability and the sense of environment is very Portland. The first four chapters introduce the reader to Prue just enough so that we’re completely invested in her plight. I thought the cut off for the initial excerpt was well planned, ending with a cliff hanger that serves as the reader’s first glimpse into the fantastic (and possibly terrible) elements of the Impassible Woods. There were some areas that seemed predictable in terms of plot, but overwhelmingly enjoyable and fun to read.

To read the first four chapters yourself, click on the link below. The book is available August 30, 2011.

Wildwood Chapters 1-4 Excerpt <– Click here for the download!

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The Unwanteds: Dystopian Middle Grade novels mixes an idyllic magical world with a cold, repressive regime

August 2nd, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, ARCs, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade

In Quill, the people are divided into three groups: wanted, necessary, and unwanted. The unwanted are eliminated. Permanently. When thirteen-year old Alex is declared unwanted, he tries to stay strong and be grateful that his twin brother Aaron is wanted.

When Alex arrives at the eliminated site he’s shocked to find that instead of being killed he’s taken to the magical world of Artime. Created to protect the unwanted, who tend to be artists, musicians and other creative folk, Artime is a magical paradise with fun classes, talking statues, and more. Alex is finally able to express himself, as drawing, creative thinking, and expressing emotion are encouraged in Artime while banned in Quill.

Meanwhile, Aaron progresses in the Quill University and has come under the eye of the country’s dictator, Justine. Alex wishes Aaron was with him in Quill, feeling a bond between them that increases over time. This bond could destroy Artime’s very existence.

The Unwanteds would make a nice combination gift pack with The Giver by Lois Lowry and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Fans of Harry Potter might also enjoy it. The world is a fun mixture of cold, repressive regime and colorful world in which children are taught to use their creativity to solve problems. Alex makes his own choices and faces consequences, yet he also has a strong mentor able to both understand and guide him.

Definitely recommended for middle grade readers.

Read by: Kelly

Title: The Unwanteds
Author: Lisa McMann
Date read: July 2011
Source: ARC

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Return to Camp Half-Blood in The Lost Hero

February 26th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade

I opened up The Lost Hero curious to discover whether Riordan could replicate the success, humor, and suspense of his first series revolving around Camp Half-Blood. The original series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, ended with a new prophecy for the demigods to fulfill, but that prophecy could come to pass anytime in the future.

The Lost Hero opens from new character Jason’s point of view as he finds himself on a school bus holding hands with a girl, yet with no memories of who he is, and how he ended up on the bus. As he visits the Grand Canyon, storm spirits attacks them. Neither Jason nor his two new friends, Piper and Leo, know they’re demigods. After fighting the storm spirits, they’re whisked away to Camp Half-Blood by Annabeth and another demigod. The new story begins not long after the events of the original series.

As the story progresses, the narrative is also told from the perspectives of Piper, daughter of Aphrodite, and Leo, son of Hephaestus. Occasionally the reader sees the same scene from multiple viewpoints. All three narrators have a similar voice even though the characters have their own sets of challenges, problems, and heartaches. As Jason, Leo, and Piper embark on a quest to save Hera, who has been captured, Annabeth leaves on her own journey to find her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, who is missing. Annabeth’s journey is not shown, although it will come into play in the later books, as Percy’s disappearance is bound up with Jason’s appearance.

Jason is very much in the Percy Jackson/Harry Potter mold; he’s a natural leader who does what he needs to do, even if it involves putting himself into danger to save his friends. Riordan gives his characters a mix of cultural backgrounds (Leo’s mother was Mexican-American, Piper’s father is Cherokee), and the diversity is appreciated.

There’s a similar mix of action and age-appropriate romance to this series as the first. Yet the story is unique enough and Riordan subtly (and logically) changes the rules of the world of the books to entice fans of the original to enjoy this series.

The second book in the series, The Son of Neptune, comes out in the fall of 2011.

Read by: Kelly

Title: The Lost Hero, Heroes of Olympus Book One
Author: Rick Riordan
Date read: February 2011
Source: Public Library

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2010 NBA Winner: Mockingbird

January 30th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Award-Winning, Fiction, Middle Grade
Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird

I’m always curious about books that earn major awards as hype and quality don’t always overlap. With Mockingbird, I  immediately saw why it won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The novel tackles several difficult subjects—Asperger’s Syndrome, school shootings—and blends them into a moving story. Writing about these subjects in a way appropriate for middle grade readers is impressive. The ending is fairly pat, but it makes sense for the intended audience and honestly: who doesn’t like a reassuring (if not happy) ending?

I’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon and, inevitably, I thought of it while reading Mockingbird. Both books are told from a narrator unable to relate to the people around them, and both authors use a disability as a way to shine light on delicate emotional situations.

Caitlin grows throughout Mockingbird, learning words like “closure” and “empathy” as she tries to relate to the people around her. While this can be a tad heavy-handed, it works. This would be an excellent book to use to teach the concept of metaphors to younger readers. For example, Caitlin prefers to draw in black and white, since colors muddle the world. Yet by the end of the story she starts using colors since she understands the world is nuanced and she can’t hide her head under couch cushions when facing problems.

Read by: Kelly

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

January 21st, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Kelly, Middle Grade

The first thing I appreciated about Coraline by Neil Gaiman is its epigraph by G. K. Chesterton: “Fairy tale are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaimon's Coraline

Coraline has her own dragon of sorts to defeat over the course of the novella. When the story begins, Coraline is exploring her new home and neighborhood. One of the fourteen doors in Coraline’s new flat usually opens to a brick wall. But Coraline finds a passageway from that door to leads to a flat identical to her own, but with better food and toys. But it also contains a creepy “other” mother and father who have buttons for eyes. They also want to keep Coraline. Forever.

The Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s real parents, and locks Coraline behind the mirror when she doesn’t behave. Will Coraline be able to escape her other mother and resume her real life?

I really enjoyed the sparse language and the sinister creepiness of the story. I like the way the paranormal world echoes her life, but with details I didn’t expect but enjoyed (like the paranormal stage show attended by dogs who eat chocolate).  The eccentric neighbors in both worlds were great. The story reminded me of a very dark fairy tale, and Coraline had the resources within herself to solve her problems.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Date Finished: January 21, 2011
Source: Public Library

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The Graveyard Book

January 13th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kim, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Neil Gaiman is and will continue to be one of my favorite writers. So after setting down my last book (The Magus by John Fowles) I was more than ready for something like The Graveyard Book. Light, airy, and a Newbery Medal winner. Simply put, this book seemed like a slam dunk.

The book begins when a small child, our protagonist Bod, whether by luck or by fate, wanders into a graveyard. In doing so, he avoids suffering the same fate as his family: killed by a man named Jack. In the graveyard he is taken in by a community of ghosts, primarily the Owens and given the name Nobody Owens. You know him throughout the story as Bod. Over eight chapters Gaiman outlines Bod’s life in the graveyard, formatting each chapter like a  short story, each one providing a glimpse of Bod at a different age.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 4, when Bod leaves the graveyard for the first time. Although he is trying to do a good deed for a new friend, he unknowingly puts himself in great danger and almost back into the hands of Jack. As the story unfolds so does Gaiman’s wonderful world, where we learn exactly why Bod is so important and what he must do to survive.

This book is classic Gaiman and I love him for it. Expertly written, endlessly creative and heartfelt, I would recommend The Graveyard Book to adults and children alike. If you’re unfamiliar with Gaiman, I would suggest perhaps one of my favorite short story collections of all time, Smoke in Mirrors.

Reviewed by: Kim

Novel: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read: January 2011
Source: Local book store (Powell’s)

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Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid

January 5th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Fantasy, Middle Grade

When reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, I enjoyed the way Rick Riordan manipulated Greek mythology to make a fresh, clever story. So of course I had to pick up Riordan’s next series.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Red Pyramid. I appreciated the take on Egyptian mythology, although at times it reminded me of Stargate SG-1. The concept of godlings reminded me of Goa’uld, or more specifically Tok’ra, hosts.

The novel is told as if the protagonists, siblings Carter and Sadie, are talking into a microphone, and Riordan transcribed their story. Overall this worked well as a plot device, although occasionally the narrative asides as the siblings sniped at each other jolted me from the story.

I don’t think this series sparked my imagination as much as the Percy Jackson series, but that series will be tough to top. I’d definitely recommend this to middle grade readers, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Kane family saves the world over the rest of the series.

Reviewed by: Kelly

Book: The Red Pyramid
Author: Rick Riordan
Read: January 2011
Source: Public Library

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