Saturday, July 13, 2013

Blog Tour: Penumbras by Braden Bell

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Penumbras (Middle School Magic #2) 
by Braden Bell, 2013, 320 pages
Middle-grade Fantasy
My Rating=5 stars

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. 

Since Penumbras is book 2, a little background might be helpful if you haven't read The Kindling yet. In The Kindling, we meet twins Conner and Lexa Dell and their friend, Melanie Stephens. Some weird things start happening and their school teachers seem to know what's going on. The music teacher, Dr. Timberi, takes a special interest in them. They find out that they are Magi and the Darkhands are after them. They each have special abilities so they learn what those are and how to use them. 

The Kindling is about survival and learning what they can while trying to save themselves from getting attacked by the Blackhands and the especially scary guy they call The Stalker. Conner goes through an especially harrowing experience and is afraid of what he's becoming. 

I enjoyed The Kindling but I absolutely loved Penumbras!! We've met the main characters and have seen them interact with each other and now they're getting the training they need. Conner and Melanie like each other and Lexa and Melanie are best friends so they each have a lot of emotions to work through. It's not smooth sailing for any of them and we certainly see some flaws. I liked that, though, because it's very realistic. 

I loved Dr. Timberi and look forward to learning even more about him. I also love the way Mr. Bell incorporated music into his story. I'm always excited to read a book where one of the main characters shares my name and Mr. Bell told me I'd like her and I do. Melanie is sweet and loyal and determined to protect her friends. Conner is also very likable and is a bit impulsive, which can get him into trouble. Lexa is the hardest one to like. In this book, she shows her less desirable traits and acts like a typical selfish 13-year-old at times. Towards the end, there are some emotional scenes that do give her a chance to reevaluate her behavior so we'll have to see what she learns in book 3. And the ending leaves me wanting to read book 3 right now!! Some questions left over from The Kindling are answered but we are left with new questions.

I felt that Mr. Bell did a great job with light vs. dark and good vs. evil and explaining the balance between them. This is a great discussion book for middle graders. It's geared toward that age group yet, as an adult, I am enjoying it. This is a series I definitely want my children to read and I highly recommend it to everyone! 

I hope you enjoy getting to know Mr. Bell better through the interview below and be sure to enter the giveaway!! And then, don't forget to pick up his books!

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. 

Author Interview

1. Tell us about Penumbras.
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.

2. Penumbras is a somewhat unusual title. Can you explain it?
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.

3. How did you get the idea for this series?
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.

4. What is your background?
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.

5. 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?
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.

6. Beyond the characters, are there any other events based on real life experiences? 
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.

7. What is your favorite thing to do, besides reading or writing?
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.


Braden Bell said...

Thank you so much, Melanie! What a thoughtful, thorough review. I really, really enjoyed reading that--and thanks for doing the interview as well.

Melanie said...

You're welcome! I'm looking forward to book 3 (and other future books)!

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