MMGM, Reading

MMGM: THE SECOND SPY

MMGMI’m so excited to share this book with you today because it’s the third in a series I really love. I’ve been waiting for the library to get on the ball and get this book in for two months. I even made a special trip to get it the day it came in. So really I’m recommending more than this book–you should read the whole series. It’s The Books of Elsewhere series by Jacqueline West, and it starts with THE SHADOWS. For today’s MMGM, I’m focusing on the third book, THE SECOND SPY, and what’s most exciting to me is that it’s not just a trilogy. There are more books coming, and I’ll consider it my personal mission to get everyone to read them.

Here’s the description:

What lurks below the house might be as dangerous as what’s hidden inside…

Some terrifying things have happened to Olive in the old stone house, but none as scary as starting … junior high. When she plummets through a hole in her backyard, however, Olive discovers two things that may change her mind: First, the wicked Annabelle McMartin is back. Second, there’s a secret below-ground that unlocks not one but two of Elsewhere’s biggest, most powerful, most dangerous forces yet. With the house’s guardian cats acting weird, her best friend hiding something huge, and her ally Morton starting to rebel, Olive isn’t sure where to turn. Will she figure it out in time? Or will she be lured into Elsewhere and trapped there forever?

I love so much about these books it’s hard to narrow my list down to five, but here we go.

1. The premise – A house haunted by a family of witches and wizards? Three familiars–cats, of course–with very distinctive personalities who become Olive’s companions? Magical spectacles that allow her to enter paintings and interact with the subjects? Yes, please! There is so much more to all of these pieces of the story, but I hope that’s enough to entice you to read the series because I refuse to give anything more away.

2. The descriptions – Jacqueline West is a master of description, in a completely different way from the book I reviewed last week. These descriptions are rich and detailed, and they take up quite a bit of the story–in a good way. Here’s an example:

“Sometimes when you put change in a vending machine, there’s a long, mysterious pause while the inner workings catch and turn, and the coins slide into the right slot, and you wonder if the drink you ordered is actually going to fall through the swing door at all. And then, suddenly: Clank. Thud. The can of pop appears in the doorway, and it’s icy cold, and it’s exactly what you wanted. This is what happened in Olive’s brain when the little orange wave started to move.”

There are dozens of descriptions like this in the book. Ah, metaphors. They are my treasured friend.

3. The friendship – This book gives such an excellent example of what friendship is like at that age. Olive has two very different friends–Rutherford, a boy with secrets of his own, and Morton, a boy who was trapped in a painting decades earlier and has turned to paint himself. When Rutherford tells her he might move away, she ignores him and runs away. There’s one particularly poignant scene where she almost calls him. It’s a long passage, but I love it, so here you go:

“On Saturday morning, a strange thing happened.

It wasn’t that Olive managed to find a matching pair of slippers under her bed, although this was unusual. And it wasn’t that she both brushed and flossed her teeth before she tromped downstairs, although this was also very unusual. It wasn’t even that she remembered all the digits of someone else’s phone number when she picked up the receiver and started dialing, although this was extremely unusual. The strange thing was that the phone number she was dialing was Rutherford’s.

Olive dropped the receiver back into its cradle before it could begin to ring.

What was she thinking? Had she forgotten overnight that Rutherford was deserting her? Olive stared at the silent telephone, chewing on a strand of her hair. She couldn’t depend on him anymore. She couldn’t tell  him about her horrible mistakes with the paints, or about Ms. Teedlebaum’s visit. She would have to face her troubles alone.”

Her struggle to stay angry at Rutherford jumps off the page. And we see the other side of things when Olive does something that hurts Morton and must make amends. Jacqueline West shows us that friendship isn’t always easy and that forgiveness is required to make it work.

4. The twists – Oh, there are some great twists in this book that of course I can’t give away. They’re the kind that make you go, “Oh, of course!” and wonder why you didn’t figure them out in advance. I think those are the best kind of twists because even though the information is planted early on, you don’t realize it’s important until later.

5. The continuity – As I mentioned in the intro, this book is the third in a series, and there aren’t a specified number planned at this point. Each book continues a few overall story lines while highlighting a specific mystery Olive must solve. The villains remain the same, although their form changes. I know that sounds vague, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. As soon as I finished this one, I wanted to go on to the next one, but it won’t be out for a year! Ah, the angst of reading a series before it’s finished…

Ok, so who else loves this series?

For querying writers, Jacqueline West is represented by Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary.

MMGM, Reading

MMGM: HECK: WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO

MMGMSince my novel features the Devil in the title, it seemed appropriate for me to read HECK: WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO. I was intrigued by the premise, and once I started reading, I thought it was just so darn clever … but I’ll leave that for my five things I loved. First, here’s the blurb:

When Milton and Marlo Fauster die in a marshmallow bear explosion, they get sent straight to Heck, an otherworldly reform school. Milton can understand why his kleptomaniac sister is here, but Milton is—or was—a model citizen. Has a mistake been made? Not according to Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the Principal of Darkness. She doesn’t make mistakes. She personally sees to it that Heck—whether it be home-ec class with Lizzie Borden, ethics with Richard Nixon, or gym with Blackbeard the Pirate—is especially, well, heckish for the Fausters. Will Milton and Marlo find a way to escape? Or are they stuck here for all eternity, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first?

And on to the five things I loved:

1. The names – The cleverness of this book starts with the names of the main characters–the Fausters. Anyone else notice the connection to FAUST, DOCTOR FAUSTUS, etc.? And that’s just the beginning. There’s the Principal of Darkness, Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the KinderScare for infants and toddlers, the Netherworld Soul Exchange (NSE), the Unwelcome Area, hall demonitors, and the Department of Unendurable Redundancy, Bureaucracy, and Redundancy. It goes on and on. And on.

2. The descriptions – I just love the way Dale Basye describes things. His use of metaphors is brilliant. When they die:

“Milton felt like someone had ripped a full-body Band-Aid off him, one that covered both sides of his skin, outside and in. Sure, you’d expect a fiery end at least to sting, but this sensation didn’t exactly feel ‘physical.’ It made Milton feel like a weird echo of himself.”

Or, when they arrive in Heck:

“They cautiously stepped out of the garbage pool into a small, sweltering cavern filled with thick, greasy smoke–a cross between a giant’s fireplace and the worst Upchucky Cheez restaurant ever. Above them, housing the spiral slide, was a towering stone chimney with no visible beginning. It was as if they had tumbled down a gargantuan garbage chute.”

I could go on with these examples forever. I was continually impressed by the way he could capture a scene using things and places that were familiar in a completely unusual and yet spot-on way.

3. The tortures – Some of the tortures he comes up with kids won’t get, but there are enough they will. A cafeteria full of brussel sprouts and liver, with tasty food protected by steel traps. One bathroom stall for all the girls to share. Lederhosen uniforms. Christmas Eve that never turns into Christmas day. On the adult side: never-ending traffic, waiting in line for a teller only to have your number called and be told it’s time to close. Think of something you hate, and he probably included it.

4. The teachers – Lizzie Borden teaching home economics. Richard Nixon teaching ethics. The inventor of Coca-Cola (I assume because he doesn’t name the soft drink) teaching chemistry. Blackbeard teaching metaphysical education. Maria Von Trapp making a guest appearance as an angel doing an exchange teaching position. Need I say more?

5. The ending – Usually I have a good idea what the ending will be in a book–not how they will get there, but what will ultimately happen. This story was different. Obviously the goal was escape, but they’re dead, so what did escape mean? While the ending made total sense once it happened, it wasn’t what I expected, especially as I know this book is the first in the series. I’m not going to give it away. I’ll just say well done, Mr. Basye.

A couple of other notes. Boys will love the bathroom humor. There’s a lot of it in this book. That part didn’t appeal to me, but it’s worth mentioning for those who do enjoy it. Also, this book does an excellent job of standing alone while leaving several questions unanswered to make you want to read the next one.

Has anyone else read this series? What did you think?

For querying authors, Dale Basye is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.