Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone

I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best :).

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers :).

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

Research, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE SHADOW CABINET by Maureen Johnson

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I posted a review. It’s not because I haven’t been reading any good books. I have. I just … haven’t been in a review mood? Mostly I’ve been so entrenched in revision mode that reviewing hasn’t broken through that focus–until now.

So. THE SHADOW CABINET is the third book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, and if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you should! THE NAME OF THE STAR was one of my favorite reads of 2012, although I don’t have a review because I read it before I started this blog. The second book was equally mysterious and chilling, but I still didn’t review (probably because I was waiting for the third), so I’m making a point of reviewing this one. However, if you haven’t read THE NAME OF THE STAR and THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH, you should STOP READING NOW because there will be spoilers for those in the description below and my review.

Still reading? Okay …

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen JohnsonRory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they’ll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The mystery – So many unanswered questions. What really happened at the end of THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH? Rory has to figure this out and then unravel a trail someone has left behind (trying to stay unspoilery here) in order to save the team. Each of these books has a self-contained mystery, and they’re all well-done.

2. The characters – I love how real these characters are. In particular, what struck me as I was reading is that often characters in this type of book–hero-type characters–will make the right choices all the time, the kind of choices that will save the world. The characters in this book sometimes make more reckless choices that seem right to them at the time but don’t end up being the best choices at all. Unfortunately, that’s often how things happen in real life.

3. The villains – Ms. Johnson introduces two completely new villains in this book, and they make everything the villain in the previous book did suddenly (ok, maybe not suddenly) make sense. The prologue is downright chilling in how cold-blooded these villains are. There are villains you have some empathy for, and there are villains you hope never know your name. Sid and Sadie fall into the latter category.

4. The trippiness – I just made up a word there, I know. There’s a definite seventies theme going on with this book, with the flashbacks forty years before to Sid and Sadie and Jane. I was barely alive in the seventies, so it’s not my time. And yet, I could see how it permeated this story, and I found it interesting. From the weird style of the villains to some craziness that happens toward the end of the book … yeah, I’ll just call it trippiness.

5. That it’s not the end – I went into this book expecting it to be the last one. I figured out at 602 of 661 (I was reading this in the Overdrive app on my phone) that there was no way the overall plot was wrapping up in this book, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Because more Rory! More mysteries! More psycho killers! Wait, that last part makes me sound a little bloodthirsty …

Who else has read this series? Are you anxiously awaiting the final book? Because I checked Maureen Johnson’s website, and she says there will only be one more …