Review * Author Interview * Tour Giveaway
Author: Braden Bell
Publisher: Sweetwater Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.
Published: July 2013
FTC FYI: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Purchase: Author Site | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Conner Dell didn't meant to blow up the school bus.
Or the bathrooms.
In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.
But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
Conner Dell wants to be good--he really does. But he is terrified that he might be turning into a Darkhand, especially when new powers start to surface. What's worse, the Stalker is following Conner, but no one else seems to be able to see him. The Magi think he might be hallucinating, the guilt of what happened in the Shadowbox keeps weighing on him, and his relationship with Melanie Stephens is complicating things. Even for a Magi, Conner knows his life is anything but normal.
Click here to read the first three chapters on the author's website.
Penumbras is the second book in Braden Bell's Middle School Magic series. I read the first book, The Kindling, over a year ago, so I particularly liked that Penumbras includes some recap (and that it's included in a way that feels smooth and shouldn't be redundant to readers who just read book one).
The story starts off with a bang, and then slows down as the kids are trained and Conner tries to figure out what he's become. I'm a bit of an impatient reader, so I was glad when the action really picked up. I found myself very emotionally involved-I even cried a few times!
There is a little bit of awkwardness with the pet names Dr. Timberi uses with the kids, and Lexa's quest to break down his emotional wall with lots of hugs (what with teacher/student etiquette), but I enjoyed getting to learn about Dr. Timberi's past and what makes him tick.
The ending is pretty exciting (and a bit of a cliff hanger). Sadly, book three isn't written yet, but this is a fun (and clean) series that I'd recommend to middle grade readers.
A bonus to Penumbras is that it's more than just an entertaining story. There is a great reminder about the good in people, and how the adversary wants us to think the worst of ourselves. Readers get to feel the importance of not giving up on the light within. Well done Braden Bell!
Q: Tell us about Penumbras.
A: Penumbras is the second volume in The Middle School Magic series. The first installment, The Kindling came out last summer. I am currently working on the third volume, which will hopefully come out next summer.
Q: “Penumbras” is a somewhat unusual title. Can you explain it?
A: A penumbra is a vague, shadowy, area, neither fully light nor dark. The Kindling, the first book in the series was about the sparking of new and exciting powers. This particular book follows the characters as they confront the complex consequences of those initial events and confront the shadowy places in their own hearts.
Q: How did you get the idea for this series?
A: One night during a sky-splitting spring thunderstorm, my kids came home from a church activity and told me about a man they had seen driving home. He had a black cape and was walking across people’s yards in the storm. Wondering about who he was and what he was doing triggered the idea for the book.
Q: What is your background?
A: I am a middle school choir and theatre director at a small private school. I’m the father of five children and the husband of one wonderful wife.
Q: Speaking of that background, is it a coincidence that a middle school theatre and choir teacher has such a prominent part in the book? How about the students and other teachers in the book? Are they based on anyone specific?
A: Well, writers write what they know! Dr. Timberi is admittedly similar to me in some ways. However, that’s not because he’s modeled on me. Rather, it’s because he is someone I would like to be. As far as the other characters, in the very beginning, I did sort of model their voices on some specific people—but that changed within a few pages of the first draft and they quickly become their own unique characters.
Q: Beyond the characters, are there any other events based on real life experiences?
A: There is a sad scene towards the end between Dr. Timberi and one of his students. While it is not an exact replication, being a theatre director means I have dealt with disappointed and/or angry students (and parents!) for many years. I tend to have a pretty thick skin. However, there are occasional times when this gets to me. This scene was actually inspired by a particularly difficult confrontation with a student of whom I was quite fond. I wrote the scene as a way of working through the incident—and ended up keeping it. The only other thing that might be based in reality is the degree to which teachers truly do care about their students. I don’t think the students often realize just how much teachers and other adult figures care about them and what they would do to protect and help them.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do, besides reading or writing?
A: My wife and I love to watch old movies, or adaptations of literary classics. Nearly anything by the BBC! I also love working in my yard.
About the Author:
Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog.
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