Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Spy in the House

The Agency 1: A Spy in the HouseThe Agency 1: A Spy in the House Y.S. Lee

Immediately after being sentenced to the gallows at the age of 12, Mary Lang is spirited away by the warden where she ends up at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for girls. In Victorian London, options for women are limited, and Miss Scrimshaw's tries to give girls that best chance they have to make their own way.

So, five years later, when Mary (who has changed her last name to Quinn, as Mary Lang is still a wanted criminal) isn't satisfied with any of the options available to her, she feels guilty and selfish-- Miss Scrimshaw's has given her everything-- who is she to say that it isn't enough?

But Miss Scrimshaw's Academy has one more ace up its sleeve-- The Agency. The Agency are spies for hire. Taking full advantage of women's role in society, they're allowed to go places and overhear things men aren't.

Mary's first job is to pose as a lady's companion in the house of a man suspected of smuggling Indian goods. But, nothing is as it seems. Mary's not the only person looking into Thorold's financial dealings. The daughter has her own thing going. The deeper Mary gets in the case, the darker and more dangerous she gets and the closer she comes to the really big secrets of her past (and no, not the fact that she's an escaped convict sentenced to hang.)

First off, OMG love. I CANNOT wait until The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower comes out in August.

I really liked how the female characters are strong and biting against societal conformities while still seeming historically accurate-- they don't openly rebel, they know their place, but find ways around the rules.

I also loved James, the engineer who's also digging around in the Thorold case in order to save his brother from a disastrous match.

Craft-wise, I loved the way that the omniscient third-person narrator changes focus between Mary and James, to further flesh out and add to the mystery and action of the puzzle. Also, this works as a stand-alone novel. I want to read the next one because I love the premise and Mary, not because it was a 335-page lead-up to a sucker-punch of a cliffhanger.

Overall, really super awesome. The plot took a million little twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat and wanting more, more, more. It kept me up waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay past bedtime.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (Book One)NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society Michael Buckley

Jackson Jones is an all-around good guy that everyone loves, until the day he gets braces. He loses his spot on the football team, loses his friends, and loses his ability to get away with anything. In loneliness, he starts spying on everyone at school. That's how he finds the secret lair under the building, that's how his braces get upgraded to a fighting mechanism. That's how he ends up joining NERDS-- a children's branch of the CIA.

Of course, the rest of the NERDS aren't so welcoming. They never liked Jackson-- he has always been a bully that tormented them mercilessly and he's really, really bad at this spy stuff. They (understandably) have no desire to help him become a better spy or to make him part of the team.

But, the mad scientist Dr. Jigsaw is currently trying to rearrange the continents in order to reunite Pangea. In order to obtain his goals, he's kidnapping various scientists from around the world to use their ideas, technology, and skills. Unless the NERDS can stop him first.

Lots of fun, with cool gadgets and action, and a good dose of silly fun. It's sure to be a hit with middle grade readers, especially boys. I didn't like it as much as I lurve Buckley's Sister Grimm series, but it is a lot of fun.

I most loved the character of the Hyena-- the tween femme fatale who wants to be a hired assassin, but can only find goon work. She can kick a lot of ass in heels, but keeps breaking them in the process, so needs to rethink her footwear. I liked her career conundrums, and really, just the thought process of a bad-guy for hire. She's my favorite character by far and I would love to read a series just about her.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Readicide

Today's Nonfiction Monday review isn't a nonfiction book for kids or teens, but rather a nonfiction book for adults who care about children and teen reading, and what we can do to promote reading in children and teens!

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About ItReadicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It Kelly Gallagher

The problem with this book is that the "What You Can Do About It" is really only pertinent if you're a school teacher, and this is a book aimed at school teachers.

But, I do think it's worthwhile read for people concerned about the state of reading and education in this country.

Gallagher's argument is simple--

The way we teach reading in this country is actively making students hate reading, and this hatred of reading is having severely negative consequences on their education. Due to our current over-emphasis on testing* we tend to teach reading by making students read short pieces or novels and then do worksheet after worksheet on them. When we actually let kids read novels, we either fail to give them any context to it, so they can't understand it, or we over-analyze it to death, so they never actually get to enjoy it.

We also don't let them read for fun anymore.

Gallagher's argument is damning and convincing. Luckily, he does have a lot of ways teachers can combat this-- including things to do in the classroom, but also ways to talk to the powers that be. His argument that kids need a balance-- some fun reading, some academic reading, some reading that just gets read, some that gets analyzed, making connections so they know why it matters is inspiring and he makes it seem so easy to implement (although I realize it's probably harder than it looks).

It's a short and easy read, but powerful and I've been thinking about it ever since I finished, wondering what I can do to help, even though I'm not in a classroom.

*Seriously, the SAT, ACT, GRE, and AP tests are all about 3 hours long, and completely grueling. I needed a nap and day off after taking each of them. And I was an adult, or an almost-adult. The standardized tests we make our kids do now are days long. Jobs and school funding depend on these tests. The amount of pressure they're under is insane. Do you know that you can buy study guides for the standardized tests? That everything is around test prep these days? The kids are so stressed that they make me stressed! There's no way this is healthy, and there are so many studies showing how much this hurts learning. But, when in doubt, test! test! and test some more!

See the Nonfiction Monday roundup over at In Need of Chocolate. Check it out!

Book Provided by... interlibrary loan

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia

Alcatraz Versus The Knights Of CrystalliaAlcatraz Versus The Knights Of Crystallia Brandon Sanderson

Either you like Alcatraz or you don't. He plays with narrative and is very much talking directly to the reader which really annoys some people, but personally, I find it hilarious, which is why I keep reading the series.

Alcatraz has finally made it to the free lands, only the find that his dad's an emotionally distant, self-obsessed jerk and the librarians are all over the place, including his mother. Meanwhile, Bastille risks being stripped of her knightship because she lost her sword at the end of the last book.

Lost of sands changing hands, weird freelander technology, and many evil librarians trying to rule the world.

Like I said, it's not the story so much that keeps me reading, but just that I love Alcatraz's voice.

Brace yourselves. Something very, very strange is about to happen. Stranger than talking dinosaurs. Stranger than glass birds. Stranger, even, than my analogies to fish sticks.

Bastille got teary eyed. Then she hugged me.

Girls, might I made a suggestion at this point? Don't go around hugging people without warning. To many of us (a number somewhere near half), this is akin to pouring an entire bottle of seventeen-alarm hot sauce in our mouths.

I believe that at this point in the story, I made several very interesting and incoherent noises, followed--perhaps--by a blank expression and then some numb-faced drooling.

If you've enjoyed the earlier books, you'll like this one too. If you didn't, this won't change your mind.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder

Doctor Proctor's Fart PowderDoctor Proctor's Fart Powder Jo Nesbø translated from the Norwegian by Tara Chace

With a title like this, you know it will be a silly story. (Hee hee FART)

Lisa is sad because her best and only friend has moved away. But, when Nilly, a very very very small boy moves in to the empty house, everything's about to change. What Nilly lacks in size, he makes up in personality. Together, the two children befriend the mad scientist on their block. Dr. Proctor's sad because all of his inventions are useless-- until the kids point out that his powder that makes you fart loudly, but without a stink, is the greatest invention ever and that kids will pay a lot of money for such a thing, especially with the Independence Day celebrations coming up.

Not only does the fart powder prove highly successful (which leads to complications as a family of bullies tries to steal it for themselves) it ends up saving the day in very unexpected ways.

Yes, a silly story, but also a sweet one about friendship, optimism, Jell-O, and everything working out in the end. It does have a rather old-fashioned feel to it (despite all the farting) which may stem from the fact that Nesbø is actually well-known as a an adult crime novelist and this is his first children's book. But, there's enough silliness (like giving the bullies the extra-strong fart powder, which makes them fart so explosively they end up stuck in a tree) it doesn't feel nostalgic or like the book is talking down to the reader. Very silly and very fun.

Book Provided by... my local library.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Much thanks to Liz B for reminding me that Kidlitcon 2010 is on its way! I'm still trying to make the dates work, but I hope I'll be able to be there.

The organizers are looking for presentations, still, if you have an awesome idea about presenting stuff...

I don't have any awesome ideas on what to present, but I do have an idea of what I want to see--

I'd love to have a session or two about the nitty-gritty technical stuff. Like, here's how to use some basic CSS to tweak your template to make it look the way you want it to look without paying anyone else to do it for you. Here are things to keep in mind when designing your blog-- no white text on dark background, etc. Or, here are things you need to know to make your posts appear ok across browsers and for people who read your blog directly, or on an RSS feed, etc. Or 10 widgets you should consider using and why, and how to add them to your blog.

Does anyone have those skills? Because I'd love to take that session!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Guardian Challenge June and July Reviews

I'm sorry I never got the June post up, so here's a one post for June and July. Happy Reading!

China Challenge: June and July Reviews

I apologize for never getting the June challenge post up! I know some of you put your June reviews on the May post, which is great! But, if haven't linked to your June posts yet, you can do that here for the June and July list!