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Book Review: Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (Series, #3) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

A girl in old-fashioned clothes looks at hersself in a mirror.Summary:
When Charlotte goes away to boarding school for the first time, she’s very excited to get the bed with the particularly pretty wheels right next to the window.  When she wakes up, though, the view from the window looks different, and people are calling her Clare!  She discovers she’s traveled back in time to the same bed in the same boarding school, but during World War I.  The next morning, though, she wakes up in the present again as Charlotte.  This pattern continues, meaning both she and Clare are Charlotte….sometimes.

Review:
I picked this book up because I have an affinity for both boarding school books and time-travel books.  This looked like the best of both worlds to me.  A fun middle grade book that introduces to the reader to two different past time periods–the 1970s of Charlotte’s present and the nineteen-teens of Clare’s present.

This book is the third in a series, but it is completely possible to read it as a standalone.  No mention is made of the events in the first book, and the second book is actually about what Charlotte’s little sister does while she’s away at boarding school.

The concept is intriguing, because instead of time-travel happening once and landing the person stuck in the past (or future), Charlotte keeps switching, spending every other day in the 70s and every other day in the teens.  In addition to the usual issues time-travel books bring up, such as what stays the same and what is actually different throughout time, it also brings up the key question of identity.  What makes Charlotte Charlotte?  Is she still Charlotte when she’s being called Clare?  Why does hardly anyone notice that Clare has changed? Or Charlotte for that matter?  The book thus addresses identity issues that middle grade readers might be going through, but in a subtle way through the time-travel trope.

Were you some particular person only because people recognized you as that? (page 66)

The time-travel itself is left as a fantastical mystery, rather than being given a scientific explanation.  There’s something magical about the bed that only makes Charlotte and Clare switch places, but no one else.  This works without an explanation because the young girls being subjected to the time-travel just accept it without explanation.  This is their reality, and it doesn’t matter why it’s happening, they just have to deal with it.  Some readers, though, might struggle with the fact that the time-travel itself is never explained.

The one thing that disappointed me about the book, and that I think would have made it a classic and a five star read, is that the book only explores what happens to Charlotte when the girls switch places.  Clare, her experiences, and her perspective are only heard about through third parties.  The book, while in third person, is entirely Charlotte’s perspective.  Clare, a reserved, proper girl from the nineteen-teens must have been shocked by both the technology and the mores of the 1970s she suddenly found herself in.  So much more could have been explored by telling both Charlotte’s and Clare’s story.  The book misses an opportunity by only focusing on the modern day girl going back in time.  The girl being thrust into the future, a future where she finds out Britain wins the war, and there is suddenly no food rationing or flu epidemic, that is such a cool story in and of itself, and Farmer just never ventures out to tell it.

Overall, this is a book that sets up a fantastical world of time-travel within a boarding school.  It utilizes the switching of two girls with each other in time to explore questions of identity in a way that surely will appeal to many middle grade readers.  The book does not fully explore the story the way it possibly should have, but the young reader will probably enjoy filling in those gaps themselves.  Recommended to all fans of boarding school, time-travel, or historic fiction set during World War I’s homefront.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Previous Books In Series:
The Summer Birds
Emma in Winter

Book Review: The Prometheus Project: Captured by Douglas E. Richards (series, #2)

Alien buildings.Summary:
Brother/sister duo Ryan and Regan are back only this time they’re officially part of the team of scientists working in the top-secret alien city discovered deep underground in Pennsylvania.  They rush off every day after school to work in the city of Prometheus.  One weekend they convince their parents to let them sleep over in the city, only to wake up to discover all of the adults captured by a ruthless alien escaped convict whose mind control abilities mysteriously fail to work on the kids.  It’s up to them to save not just the adults, but the earth itself from alien rule.

Review:
This follow-up to The Prometheus Project: Trapped (review) brings even more action and science than the first time around.  It’s also a longer length that is more suitable for the older middle grade crowd.

Ryan and Regan’s relationship with each other has progressed from sibling tolerance to a level of respect for each other clearly due to working together in the city.  It’s nice to see a healthy sibling relationship modeled in a middle grade book.

Again the plot fooled me with a twist ending I didn’t see coming, but that made perfect sense when it was revealed.  This is the sort of thing I’d have loved as a middle grade reader.  A mystery that manages to out-wit me without playing any tricks.

The villain is threatening without being too frightening.  Although the kids’ parents are held captive, no undue violence is shown.  Predominantly the scientists are held with plastic ties on their wrists and a simple verbal threat of “do this or else….”  It seems an appropriate level of suspense for the age-range.  The enemy is formidable, but it is possible to out-wit him.

Although the science, plot, and characters are strong, something just couldn’t let me jump from liking it a lot to loving it.  Perhaps this is because I am out of the age-range intended, but it does seem to me as though sometimes the story expects a bit too little of the young reader enjoying it.  I hope in future books that Richards challenges young readers a bit more with the writing in addition to the science.

Overall, this is another strong entry in this middle grade series.  I firmly believe the series will keep young readers with an interest in scifi and secret government operations happily engaged while parents and guardians can have peace of mind about what they are reading.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Won copy in exchange for my honest review from the author via LibraryThing

Previous Books in Series:
The Prometheus Project: Trapped, review

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Book Review: The Prometheus Project: Trapped by Douglas E. Richards (series, #1)

August 23, 2011 1 comment

Silhouette of two kids standing in outerspace.Summary:
Ryan and Regan can’t believe their scientist parents made them move from San Diego to the total snoozefest of Pennsylvania practically overnight just so they can work at a boring science corporation, Proact.  But when they accidentally overhear their parents talking, they realize there may be more to Proact than meets the eye, and they’re determined to find out!

Review:
I don’t think I realized when I entered the giveaway for this (a really long time ago, sorry about that, Richards!) that it’s a middle grade/children’s series.  I don’t usually read below the YA level anymore unless I’m reading to my four year old nephew, but I am a librarian, so I put my librarian cap on for this book.  I also tried to hearken back to what I would have enjoyed at the age of eight or nine.

Ryan and Regan are a cute brother/sister pair.  Ryan is older and thus underestimates his sister sometimes.  They tease each other, but never cruelly, and it is evident that they truly love each other.  The sibling dynamic is definitely well-done.  It was refreshing to see the adults depicted as adults and not idiots or mean-spirited.  What Ryan and Regan accomplish is because they’re the smart kids of smart parents, not out of any short-comings of the adults.

The science is really well-done.  Richards’ author bio states that he used to write for National Geographic Kids, and it shows.  He explains things eloquently without talking down to kids.  All of the science found in the book is factual.  I would have loved stumbling upon such learning in fiction as a kid.

The ending has a twist that even I didn’t see coming, and I was sort of expecting to being a grown-up reading it, haha.  It’s not cheesy or over-the-top, and I’m betting kids will love the surprise.

My main criticisms are that sometimes the descriptions of the characters focus too much on their hair and eye color to the exclusion of other things, and the book felt too short.  It just seemed a bit short for the grade level.  Mentally I compared it to Nancy Drew which are generally like 25% longer, and I think that length would be ideal.  The sequel is longer though, so that’s a good thing.

Overall I think if you have middle grade reading level kids who like science, mysteries, or scifi you should feel completely confident in handing them this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won copy in exchange for my honest review from the author via LibraryThing

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