Review of Devils & Thieves

Thanks to Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Devils & Thieves. All opinions are my own.

Devils & Thieves is a YA fantasy about kindleds, people who have magical abilities, who are also in motorcycle gangs. Sort of like the older version of the Harry Potter kids with magic but without the wands joins Sons of Anarchy-lite. Sort of. I know this sounds strange. (It felt a little gimmicky and arbitrary to me.)

Here’s the premise. Jemmie Carmichael is the eighteen-year-old protagonist of this novel. She is a kindled who does not know how to use her magic to its full potential. She is best friends with Alex, whose brother Crowe is the leader of the Black Devils the motorcycle gang that Jemmie’s family has been associated with in the past. In addition, Jemmie has a spotty past with Crowe which causes her significant angst. As the novel progresses, the Black Devils get ready for a festival where rival gangs roll into town and conflict ensues.

This book is standard fare for soapy YA novels with magical beings. (Disclaimer: I love soapy YA novels with an element of magic. Yes, please!) Honestly, in the opening chapters I was ready to put the book down. These chapters were ineffective and disjointed in explaining this unknown world. When I read fantasy like this, I like the setting and the main aspects of the magical world to be clearly explained at the beginning so I can construct the world in my mind. These beginning chapters did not do this–the magical world felt muddled and confusing. I almost abandoned the book altogether.

Devils & Thieves does get more interesting in later chapters. I enjoyed the overarching story, although there is nothing new or inventive in the narrative as it unfolds. It feels pretty formulaic and surface. The characters have little depth, even though it feels like the author is attempting to give them depth with common plot points such as avenging a loved one’s death and battling personal demons. None of these attempts land particularly well, and thus I felt disconnected from the characters.

In terms of sheer entertainment value, this book isn’t bad. I did find myself wanting to keep reading. I also enjoyed the way the magical element is presented in the story. The magic is divided into different classifications with kindleds only being able to naturally perform a particular type of magic. However, they can create ‘cuts’ they can share and/or sell that will allow another kindled to perform bits of magic that is not his or her own. The most complicated element of this book is the magic, because of all the different types with unfamiliar names. I found myself having to look back in the book to reread to remind myself which magical name went which classification.

This is not a ground-breaking YA book, but it is okay. The audience it is intended for will likely eat it up. Crowe, Jemmie’s male counterpart, is mysterious, sexy, and damaged, which creates all kinds of angst that will delight the audience for this book.

One more note about Devils & Thieves: It has a lot of profanity and underaged drinking in it. At times, both feel gratuitous and excessive. So, if you are a teacher or a parent be aware of this. The book is fine for high school, but it would be a complete judgement call for middle school.

Bottom line: For me as a grown-up, I give it a 2/5. Looking through the lens of the YA crowd, I would bump my rating to 2.5/5. There is better YA out there, but I think there is an audience for this book, especially those who enjoyed books like Twilight and the read alikes it inspired.

Review for The Losers Club

Thanks to Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of The Losers Club. All opinions are my own.

The Losers Club is Andrew Clements latest book targeted at upper elementary readers. Clements is known for his large body work for this age group with books such as Frindle and No Talking. (And so many more.) Clements’s fans will not be disappointed with this newest addition to his collection.

Alec is a lover of all things books and reading. In fact, his love of reading gets him in hot water with his principal, because he is constantly reading instead of paying attention in class. To make matters worse, his parents have new jobs, which means Alec and his younger brother Luke have to go to an after school program where Alec has to choose between unappealing options to occupy his time. Enter his idea of The Losers Club, a club devoted to sitting and reading. Along the way, Alec has to deal with a bully who used to be a friend, his new feelings for Nina, a girl in his club, and the fact that the club is required to make a presentation in front of other students and parents.

The story is simple and fun, which is appropriate for its intended audience. I enjoyed Alec’s character and his development over the duration of the novel. One ingenious aspect of this story is that Clements intertwines book recommendations throughout the story. Because Alec is such a voracious reader, Clements is able to mention countless books appropriate for this age group. Among the books mentioned in the novel are Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and many, many more. At the end of the novel, Clements includes The Losers Club Checklist, a list of all the books mentioned in the novel. Love that!

Bottom Line: This book is definitely for upper elementary because of its simplistic, straightforward storyline. I really like it for this age group and would not hesitate to recommend it to my son, who is 9. I think the upper elementary crowd will love it! My rating is 5/5 for upper elementary.

 

A Review of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog!

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog! All opinions are my own.

Hilde is a precocious young journalist investigating a theft on her street, Orange Street. The story follows her investigation as she questions neighbors to find out who is responsible for a break-in in her neighborhood. Her big sister and partner, Izzy, is along for the ride, snapping pictures of potential clues. Who has committed the crime, and will Hilde get her story in time for her 6:30 deadline? All will be answered by the conclusion of the story.

What a delightful book for young readers, and a great foray into the mystery genre for readers who haven’t been exposed to mysteries. This book is well done and smart. I enjoyed it. As a gauge, I had my nine-year-old son read it, and he really enjoyed it. Even though he usually prefers books whose protagonists are male, he liked the mystery and the fact that Hilde is an investigative journalist (he didn’t use the words–“investigative journalist”–he IS a fourth grader, after all!) His direct quote on the book is, “I liked the mystery. When I read it I though every new character was the thief. I thought it was cool that Hilde and her sister worked together. My favorite character was Zeus, because he barked like Zeus’s thunder.” (Side note: My son is really into Percy Jackson, so the name of the dog could have (did) affect his choice of favorite character.)

I love that the book is based on a real-life girl who actually publishes her own newspaper called the Orange Street News. (Click the link to see her site.) Not only is the story great, but Hilde provides a great example for youngsters of loving something, in this case, journalism, and going for it.

Bottom line: Love the book, and love that it is based on a real-life girl. If you have young readers (ages 5-9), they should definitely read it. My rating is 5/5.

 

A Review of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code. All opinions are my own.

Lucy is a middle school student who is desperate to learn to code so that she can create an app that will help her sick uncle. She joins the school coding club, but is soon disappointed when after the first meeting members have not even touched a computer. Dissatisfied, Lucy complains to her parents and old brother, Alex, who advise patience. Dissatisfied once again, Lucy decides to try her hand and teaching herself to code. That is, until mysterious notes begin showing up on her locker written in code. She enlists help from her friends to figure out what the notes mean and who could be writing them. Is it Alex? A friend? Who could it be?

Girls Who Code Book #1:The Friendship Code is a mild, straightforward story with the ultimate goal of introducing young girls to coding. The characters are likable and the friendships presented in the book are standard fare for this genre.

This book would be an excellent choice for educators who are interested in introducing coding in a unique way. Definitions and coding jargon are explained in a way that will resonate with young readers. I especially appreciate the “real-life” examples that were used within the book to explain coding in an accessible way. For example, in one scene Lucy and her friend, Erin, complete an activity in which Erin is blindfolded and Lucy has to guide her through an obstacle course using only spoken directions highlighting the importance of being clear and thorough when coding.

One caveat–on Amazon.com, the grade recommendations for this are third through seventh.  The Friendship Code is definitely geared toward younger readers. Third and Fourth grade seem like a better fit for this book than middle school students. The simplicity of the plot and the lack of conflict make it better suited for upper elementary. I would not use this book for middle school students.

Bottom Line: A great introduction to coding for younger readers and for educators who are searching for an approachable way to present an introduction to coding for young girls.