Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Middle School Monday – The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

MSMI was so pleased to find that The Copper Gauntlet more than lived up to the promise of the first book in the Magisterium series, The Iron Trial. Initially as I read The Iron Trial I thought it was a good fantasy that my students would enjoy, but maybe lacking in the depth I was looking for…until I got to the end. It turned out that almost the entire book was set up for several very important plot twists that I never saw coming. That’s a difficult one to pull over on someone who reads as much MG and YA fantasy as I do. I was duly impressed. This next installment in the series  keeps both the action and the plot twists coming.

If you haven’t read The Iron Trial, stop here and go read it. Very little of what comes next will make sense to you. I’m going to try to convey a sense of how good this book is without giving away any spoilers – wish me luck.

Callum is at home for summer break with his father. Things are tense, since Alastair never wanted Callum to attend the Magisterium, or know anything about his magical abilities in the first place. Add to that the presence of Callum’s chaos ridden wolf pet, Havoc, and you start to get a feel for how things are going. Callum ends up running away from home in fear for his life and finds himself taken in by the family of his classmate and friend Tamara (whom is also hosting the third in their group of friends from the Magisterium, Aaron, the Makar, wielder of chaos magic.)

Meanwhile, someone has attempted to steal a magical item called the Alkahest, a gauntlet that gives it’s bearer the ability to separate a magician from his powers. While everyone fears that it is The Enemy and his forces who have attempted the theft in order to use it on Aaron to separate him from his chaos magic, Callum has a different theory. He believes that it is his father who has tried to steal the Alkahest in order to use it on him. To understand why, you need to have read The Iron Trial.

Once they are back at the Magisterium for their second year of school, it slowly becomes clear to Callum that he must leave and try to stop his father, all the while protecting him from the council, who would probably have him killed rather than allow him to use the Alkahest. In leaving, he manages to take along both Tamara and Aaron, who refuse to let him go on his own, as well as his pet Havoc and the reluctant Jasper, who tries to stop them from leaving. The action continues apace, until the end when there are several plot twists and interesting developments.

13612962One of my favorite things about this series is how it deals with the conflict of good and evil on so many different levels. It ripples out from the heart  of the story (Callum) and touches every person and all of their decisions. We see multiple times individuals who are otherwise ‘good’ do something ‘wrong’ because they believe it is the only way to save someone or something they love. We see otherwise ‘evil’ people protect what they believe in with a matching devotion. We see people who are only out for themselves. Within all of it, we see flawed, multidimensional characters in high stakes situations unsure of whom they can trust. It makes for a fascinating read as well as an interesting foray into the complexities of real life for readers at an age where they are just beginning to see beyond the black and white they’ve been taught into the myriad shades of grey that make up our world.

I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone serving ages 10 and up.

Middle Grade Monday – Award Day!

In case you missed it, today was the day that the American Library Association announced its 2014 Youth Media Awards. Also known as ‘Youth Librarian Christmas,” among other titles. It’s so exciting!

I want to start off by saying that the dedicated committee members who basically sacrifice a year or more of their lives to read these books and discuss them have done an amazing job! Every one of them is deserving of our gratitude.

Today, I just want to highlight a few of the winners that I am especially excited to see on this year’s lists. Let’s start with the big list for Middle Grade, The Newbery Medal. This year’s winner is Kate DiCamillo for Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures. DiCamillo has won the Newbery Award previously, in 2004, for The Tale of Despereaux, and in 2001 her novel Because of Winn Dixie was recognized with a Newbery Honor. I’m not sure how well this would go over in a middle school, but it looks like a perfect elementary title. Kate DiCamillo is also currently serving as our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (looks like they made a good choice!)

The 2014 Newbery Honor Books are The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, and Doll Bones by Holly Black. I haven’t had the opportunity to read the first three (although I am a super fan of Henkes’ picture books) but I think I scared the students who were using the library when Doll Bones was announced! I was so excited I started jumping up and down. All of her novels are fabulous, but I think Doll Bones is particularly genius. It’s so fun to see someone you’re really invested in as an author be recognized for all of their hard work! Yay! (Read Heather’s review here.)

On to the Coretta Scott King Award. I have to say I was even MORE excited when I found out that Rita Williams-Garcia had won for P.S. Be Eleven! If you want to know what I really think about it – read my review here. I had hopes that it would also be recognized by the Newbery committee, but win some, lose some…

Most of the other awards I got excited about fit more into the YA category than Middle Grades, but I guess that what I get for working in a Middle School. Although I think I might be able to justify a copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass for our collection now.

For a list of all the award winners, click here.

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Tana wakes in a bathtub after a night of partying only to realize that everyone else in the house has been slaughtered by vampires. Well, everyone except her former boyfriend, Aidan*, who has been bitten and saved for a snack.  In the process of saving him (oh, and the ancient vampire, Gavriel, chained up with him) Tana gets bitten. She decides to enter one of the ‘Coldtowns’ – a place where vampires roam free and humans live inside the walls with them. 

You see, in Tana’s reality, getting bitten doesn’t make you a vampire, it just makes you ‘go cold.’ You don’t become a vampire until you drink human blood. If you can survive the 88 day incubation period and deny yourself despite the overwhelming cravings, the virus will be out of your system. Tana is determined that she will live through going cold and come out on the other side. Once she gets to Coldtown, however, she gets drawn into the intrigue of centuries old vampires (thanks to Gavriel) and must learn how to survive.

I have to admit, I was a little wary of this book. While I LOVED (yes, all caps) Holly Black’s Curseworker series, I’ve never been able to get in to her Modern Tale of Faerie books. And then there is the horror aspect. Make no mistake, this is not a book that glosses over the horrific reality of living in a world with vampires. I’m good with suspense, but I have a strong tendency to shy away from horror and violence. Making the decision to read this book was a struggle for me, but OH, it was SO WORTH IT.

Holly Black has created one of the strongest, most realistic, heroines I’ve ever read. Despite her scars – physical, mental, and emotional – from her mother’s going cold and the aftermath, Tana is a survivor. Incredibly flawed, she is a character who draws you in and will not let go. All of the characters, however briefly present, are amazingly well drawn. The world the story is set in is completely realized. The story is highly engaging, with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes while maintaining a solidly realistic thread.

I honestly cannot say enough good things about this book. It is certainly no surprise to me that it has already garnered multiple stars from reviewers. I will be very disappointed if it is not recognized by one of the awards committees.  Holly Black is a master of her craft. (All the stars – ALL OF THEM.)

*I couldn’t help but think while reading this, that it would make an excellent manual for teenage girls of what to avoid when choosing a boyfriend.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black will be available on September 3, 2013 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (ISBN 9780316213103.) This review was done from an electronic Advance Reader Copy provided by Edelweiss.

Take 5: Late Summer/ Fall 2013 Books Christie is Looking Forward To

One of the best things I like about conferences is getting ahold of ARCs. Yes, you can get eARCS but sometimes I just like paper. I may be techie but sometimes I’m old-fashioned. And I flew Southwest this past conference, so instead of the huge post office line, I checked ALL of my ARCs. Love the two free checked bags! Here are five of the titles that I am absolutely looking forward to coming out….

Third in the Circle Reforged series, this picks up the story of Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy as they face dangers in unexpected places, and war on all fronts. Expected publication October 2013.

First in a new series by the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Athena and Hermes try to solve the mystery of their slow deaths, only to find enemies and allies in unsuspected places. Can Cassandra hold the key to it all? Expected publication September 2013.

Final book in the Fire and Thorn Series, can Elisa save her kingdom, her love, and discover her true destiny? Expected publication date August 2013.

When Tana wakes up from a party to discover that she, her boyfriend (on the edge and infected with the vampire virus) and a boy who won’t divulge his secrets are the only survivors, she has to save them in a race against the cold in the only way she knows how- straight into Coldtown. Expected publication date September 2013.

First of the Legion series, Kennedy must take her mother’s place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth of her mother’s death and stay alive, racing to find the weapon that might be able to destroy the demon aiming for her and her companions. Expected publication date October 2013.

What awesome titles are you drooling over for late summer/fall?  Share! Share!