I struggled to read this book, and I worked and worked to finish it. I just never could get invested in the story or the characters. I thought the onlI struggled to read this book, and I worked and worked to finish it. I just never could get invested in the story or the characters. I thought the only redeeming parts of the story were the sections that deal solely with Zee, especially while he is visiting his grandmother. The narration of the story gets tired pretty quickly. The author is too repetitive and wordy, and she tries too hard to be witty or clever. The book could use some serious editing, as I felt it should have been half the length. The plot was just not intricate enough to justify the page length. The pacing was horrible. There was never any tension or suspense. I never felt that the characters were in any danger, and I just kept waiting for something interesting or imaginative to happen. I think the ground this book covers has been explored before and to better effect. Don't waste your time or money on this one!...more
It’s tough being twelve. And when you add things like duty and legacies to the equation, it’s even tougherOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
It’s tough being twelve. And when you add things like duty and legacies to the equation, it’s even tougher.
Karn Korlundr’s father talks of nothing but responsibility. As firstborn son, Karn’s next in line to be hauld and inherit the family farm. Though this is a position of rank in Norrøngard, Karn sees no honor in it. He has different dreams — his sights are set on seeing the world. He’d much rather hone his skill at the traditional board game Thrones and Bones than study farming and trading.
Family heritage also casts an uncomfortable shadow for Thianna. Her father is a giant, but her mother was human, so at only seven feet, Thianna cuts a puny figure for a frost giant. And bully Thrudgelmir never lets her forget it. His incessant mocking leaves Thianna ashamed of her differences and convinced that she’ll never measure up.
An annual trade gathering brings Karn and Thianna together. And when individual dangers have them each on the run, they cross paths and unite in a struggle for survival.
Too frequently in a book, you grow weary of exposition as you wait for the adventure to begin. Not so with Frostborn. Anders quickly develops interest and sympathy for his players, and it’s enjoyable to simply watch them in their everyday lives. Readers will relish the chance to explore Anders’ compelling world alongside Karn and Thianna. As future installments promise to expand the territorial map, fans of series like Ranger’s Apprentice should be eager to follow this adventure and watch the world grow.
There are worthy villains here: a mysterious stranger, a treacherous uncle akin to The Lion King‘s Scar or Hamlet‘s Claudius, two-headed trolls, and ghostly warriors. If that’s not enticing enough, there are also dragons, or “wyverns”. The story benefits from perfect pacing. Anders handily manages alternating narrative viewpoints, jumping from one hero to the other in the same chapter before the two finally merge.
Have I mentioned how fond I am of these characters? It’s a pleasure to watch Karn and Thianna interact. I’ve not found a young heroine as endearing as Thianna in some time. Since when have we seen a girl beam with pride when someone remarks how large she is! Karn’s fittingly awkward around Thianna, and there’s a lot of banter and silliness derived from the size differential between the two. Though our protagonists begin the tale as lovable little misfits (well, maybe Thianna’s not so little), they find they are made of stronger stuff than they once believed.
Verdict 4.5 of 5 hearts. A Delightful Fantasy That Will Entertain and Inspire.
Frostborn lies in a literary sweet spot — the gap between middle grade and young adult. Within its pages, kids aged 10 to 14 will find a perfect introduction to the fantasy/adventure genre, one with just the right mix of humor, suspense, and adventure. Lou Anders’ Norse-influenced work couldn’t be released at a better time. The popularity of Disney’s Frozen should make picking up this book feel natural!
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Random House Children’s Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Jackson Greene has swagger. Of mythic proportion. From the first glimpse of Varian Johnson’s protagonist iOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
Jackson Greene has swagger. Of mythic proportion. From the first glimpse of Varian Johnson’s protagonist in the halls of Maplewood Middle School, readers’ eyes will be peeled in anticipation. Though he’s “reformed”, you can sense Jackson’s new leaf hasn’t been turned over permanently. He’s on a slippery slope as far as scheming goes, and given the right motivation, he’ll be back in the game.
When his buddy Charlie de la Cruz comes to ask Jackson’s help with his twin sister Gaby’s student council election — Gaby’s running for School President — he turns him down. But the more Jackson learns, the deeper in he gets, until he is masterminding the “Great Greene Heist”.
There’s a lot to love about The Great Greene Heist. First, as the cover makes boldly clear, this a deeply diverse cast of characters led by an African-American boy. And the cover hasn’t been whitewashed! This in and of itself is no small feat in middle grade fiction. The kids who make up this book are lovably atypical. Their distinctiveness goes beyond their skin color. They are smart kids who dare to be different. Not only is Jackson a smooth operator, but he’s a baller who proves that even botany can be a cool pastime. Megan, the beautiful cheerleader, also happens to know how to program code and speak Klingon! And I have to say I had a soft spot for tech-geek wizard Hashemi who had me at “Kobayashi Maru”. That’s right! There are Star Trek references a-plenty! Varian Johnson tips his hat to Trek, and makes other popular culture references including Star Wars and Oceans Eleven.
Naysayers will claim this caper tale is far-fetched and they’ll be missing the point. This isn’t meant to be realistic fiction — it’s comedy! Saying The Great Greene Heist is implausible is like pointing out that no group of sane adults could be as dysfunctional and wacko as the cast of Seinfeld. Don’t rain on the parade. Sit back and remember what it was like to be a kid with a head full of dreams and schemes. And enjoy watching a grand plan play out!
Verdict: 4 of 5 hearts. A Charismatic Con Leads a Mad Middle School Caper. In Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist, Jackson Greene’s real life exploits are things of which middle school boys dream. Readers who like mystery, suspense, and humor, with a dash of comeuppance, will gobble this up. And when they’ve finished and seen the whole design come to fruition, they’ll want to read it again!
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Arthur A. Levine Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
**spoiler alert** I loved this book! I picked it up at the store for two reasons: The cover art is just amazing and really caught my eye, and a girl w**spoiler alert** I loved this book! I picked it up at the store for two reasons: The cover art is just amazing and really caught my eye, and a girl who could fly? That's always been a fantasy of mine, to be able to fly--free as a bird.
I saw the quote from Stephenie Meyer and was intrigued by what she called a mixture of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men. I read the first few pages and was taken in by the dialogue and feel of the language.
I'm so glad I bought this! Piper McCloud is a terrific character. Full of spunk and heart! I think the author does a great job of presenting characters well, showing complexities and potential for good and bad in everyone. Even the nasty villain Dr. Hellion turns out to be not really evil bud overzealous in a misguided attempt to keep people from harm due to her own traumatic childhood experience. This twist in the book was unexpected and very well-executed by the author. And the flying scene between Piper and Dr. Hellion shows that Piper's compassionate heart knows no bounds. This is a terrific book, and there are hints that there may be another. I hope so!...more
Move over Harry Potter. Stand back Percy Jackson. There’s a new kid hero in town. Only he’s not the “boy who lived” or a half-god/half-boy — he’s immoMove over Harry Potter. Stand back Percy Jackson. There’s a new kid hero in town. Only he’s not the “boy who lived” or a half-god/half-boy — he’s immortal! Tut’s the name, as in Tutankhamon. You think you know the story of King Tut, but you have no idea. You see, the storied Egyptian Boy King wasn’t actually killed and buried in the tomb. Who was? Well, as P.J. Hoover says in her afterword, that’s another story! Tut will hate me for that “boy king” remark, so I’ll make it up to him by letting you in on an important fact: Tut is NOT short. The history books got that wrong, too!
You’ll have to read Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life to find out exactly how Tut avoids death and gains immortality. But he escapes an attempt on his life and discovers that his father, mother, and brother were all killed by his traitorous uncle Horemheb. And, over 3,000 years later, we meet up with Tut in Washington, D.C., to find he’s still bent on revenge.
I like Tut. He’ll tell you he’s not an egomaniac, and he’s really not. But he has a definite swagger that naturally comes with being a pharaoh. And let’s face it, when you have shabtis — little funerary minions who’ve been spelled to serve you with unswerving loyalty and devotion — it’s hard not to enjoy it. Especially when you’re an eighth-grader and these little guys do your homework! The shabtis, who affectionately call to mind the film Night at the Museum, supply added smiles and laughter to the novel’s already healthy dose of humor. Tut has names for all of them, of course. And in his own way, Colonel Cody, the shabti leader, will become as near and dear to readers as Harry Potter’s loveable buddy Dobby. Only Colonel Cody is much cooler. And I haven’t even told you about Tut’s other friends Horus and Gil! But don’t let me spoil all your fun. Read the book and meet them yourselves!
Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life includes a rousing mix of Egyptian gods, curses, scarab plagues, and other assorted dangers, as well as interesting and mysterious characters — friends and foes — both human and immortal. But the story remains tightly focused on Tut and his unshakeable need for revenge. Your book won’t gather dust since the plot is well-paced. Indeed, you’ll take great pleasure in following Tut’s footsteps to find out whether or not he exacts his coveted retribution on his duplicitous uncle.
Verdict: 4.5 of 5 Hearts. A Living, Breathing Egyptian Treasure. Riordan readers hungry for a switch from Greek myth, or those who’ve finished The Kane Chronicles, will unearth a trove of excitement in P.J. Hoover’s absorbing adventure inspired by ancient history and mythology.
**Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
First, let’s talk about the cover. Let’s face it, goldfish and test tubes just aren’t all that attractive. Now that I’ve read the novel, I can appreciate the cover art, but it didn’t draw me in. My anticipation of reading this was tempered by the title and cover. However, since the author’s reputation precedes her, I was undeterred. I’ve never met a Jennifer L. Holm book I didn’t love, and The Fourteenth Goldfish is no exception.
Now, let’s talk about the book! Ellie and Melvin are some of the most interesting people I’ve met in a while. Ellie’s life is in flux. Sixth grade isn’t going so well since her best friend is slowly becoming her ex-best friend. Things get even weirder one night when her mother comes home with a teenage boy who bears a strong resemblance to her grandfather, Melvin. Turns out he is her grandfather Melvin, a scientist who has devoted years of research to searching for the fountain of youth — and, evidently, he’s found it.
Holm has a talent for characterization, and she’s crafted some doozies with Ellie and Melvin. Melvin ranks high on my list of coolest grandfathers ever. Given that he’s at once a cantankerous old man and a teenager who marches to his own drum, he occupies a place all his own. It’s interesting how advanced age creates a non-conformist, individualist attitude that translates into a bizarrely funny yet totally awesome form of swagger. This can be seen in Melvin’s fearless fashion sense. Throughout the course of the book, he wears anything from miniature versions of old-man polyester pants, Ellie’s pink ponytail holder, and, when he has nothing clean, he even dips into his mother’s closet.
Ellie’s a smart girl in a completely believable way. She’s not a geek or a prodigy, but she’s always felt a little out of step since her parents — who’ve split, albeit amicably — are both artistic, creative types. When Melvin comes into her life, she discovers that she does share family traits after all. Turns out she likes to cook, and Melvin shows her how things like food and cooking are actually everyday science. He opens her eyes to the possibilities contained in science and the passionate way that scientists question the world around them. In science, Melvin explains, failure is nothing to fear. It’s failure that results in answers that can eventually lead to breakthroughs. And scientists are willing to risk failure attempting to prove that what others may believe impossible is, in actuality, possible.
The characters who inhabit the pages of The Fourteenth Goldfish are so alive that suspension of disbelief at the far-fetched premise never presents a problem. Indeed, you accept these people and their world with such alacrity that you allow yourself to become completely submerged. Thematically, Holm manages to defy gravity, using humor to make weighty topics like the ethical ramifications of science and the potential downside when it pushes those limits seem light as a feather. Kids will happily plunge in with Ellie as she discovers her passion and gains both new friends and a deeper understanding of the circle of life. And until they turn the last page, they’ll not likely want to come up for air!
Verdict: 4.5 of 5 hearts. A Uniquely Humorous and Human Breakthrough Victory For Science. With its combination of strong characterization and easy humor, Jennifer L. Holm’s latest work, The Fourteenth Goldfish, will have kids — even girls — seeing science and life through brand new eyes.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
I had the chance to read this book as a winner of a Good Reads First Reads giveaway. One day, a nice hardcover arrived in my mailbox, along with a booI had the chance to read this book as a winner of a Good Reads First Reads giveaway. One day, a nice hardcover arrived in my mailbox, along with a bookmark. And the book was autographed! Pretty neat.
Well, it took me longer than I had planned to get around to reading this story, but I'm glad I finally did. It is a delightful little tale of a young girl named Penelope Grey, who wishes that something interesting would happen in her life, something like what would happen in a book.
Her father quits his job, the family has mounting debt and cannot maintain their large home. A telegram arrives with the news that her mother has inherited a house in the country. Surprise and adventure unfolds when the family decides to move into the inherited property.
The numerous references to reading and books help make Penny a charming character. The story's best moments happen when we get outside the family unit--particularly when Luella is present. Luella is a spunky girl with unruly curly hair who will say and do just about anything. She has a force that kind of takes over. And when she is in the book, she improves it. That said, my favorite parts were when Penny was accompanied by Luella and Duncan--when Duncan proceeds to eat everything that his overprotective parents fear he "might" be "allergic" to-- or later on, when she goes treasure hunting with Luella, Duncan, and Jasper. These secondary characters give the story more interest, and I found myself reading as much for them as for anything else. It was nice to see the Grey family grow happier, but Dirk and Delia Grey just never became characters that I felt like rooting for.
Overall, it was still a very fun read. If Laurel Snyder is to write another Penny Dreadful book, I hope it will focus mainly on the children and let the parents stay in the shadows. ...more
It would be an understatement to say that the opening two chapter’s of T. A. Barron’s Atlantis Rising captureOriginally posted on my blog, ReadLove.
It would be an understatement to say that the opening two chapter’s of T. A. Barron’s Atlantis Rising captured my attention. Less than two pages into the first chapter, the narrative hook grabbed hold, as the protagonist, throwing-knife in hand, eyes set on his target, takes aim. The scene built into an action sequence from which it was impossible to look away.
Atlantis Rising begins a saga, a three part trilogy, that will recount the secret origins of the legendary island of Atlantis. It’s the story of a journey undertaken by young Promi. Promi is a thief, and fittingly so, for he quickly stole my heart. He’s a likeable urchin, almost Dickensian in nature — a loner whose only familial tie is the scrap of a melody from a song sung to him by the ghost of a memory. Though it appears he’s an honorable thief with his own moral code (Promi steals sweets and baked goods to fill his hungry belly, and he won’t steal from kids, the elderly, or mothers with small children.), Promi would be the first to tell you that he’s “definitely not virtuous.” When the seemingly uncatchable boy thief is seized by the authorities and locked away in a dungeon, he meets some mysterious people who open his eyes and start him on a new path.
Ellegandia, Promi’s home, is a special place whose name means “a land set apart”. To give you a taste of the history and mythos of this enchanted territory: A golden flower, eternally in bloom, graces Ellegandia’s flag. In the Great Forest reside beauty and power, in the form of natural magic. There, animals and humans live in harmony. While in the city, those in power — the High Priestess Araggna, her Deputy High Priest Grukarr, and the Divine Monk — far from pure of heart, have taken the land in their greedy grasp, and like a ripe citrus fruit, aim to squeeze from it all they can.
In the Great Forest, we stumble across a forest girl named Atlanta as she sings of magic and mystery. Though young, Atlanta is a spiritual leader among her people. In contrast to the authority figures who value nature for what they can take from it, Atlanta looks upon the forest, and every creature and plant living there, as precious blessings to be not only respected but cherished and protected. Indeed, the trees and animals are part of her extended family. But just as the idyllic setting begins to whisper its story, the peace of the forest is upset.
Soon enough, our two young heroes cross paths and a new friendship is born. Together, Promi and Atlanta find themselves in the midst of a struggle that places them squarely into a riddled prophecy which hints that this battle between good and evil could be the end of all magic! The stakes are high, and the reader’s interest remains equally elevated. It’s a joy to follow the adventures of this unlikely pair as they learn more about one another and themselves. Atlanta serves as a beautiful foil to Promi, and teaches him a great deal. Over the course of the novel, Promi learns about sacrifice, family, home, and love. He finds, to his infinite surprise, that within him — indeed in each of us — rest the seeds of a hero.
Several times I lost myself in Barron’s Ellegandian world, occasionally pausing to reread sections with childlike enthusiasm and wonder. The dungeon scenes are remarkably vibrant, with gruesome bits you’ll not want to watch, but from which you can’t avert your eyes! The beauty of the natural landscape charms and entices with each leaf, mountain, and stream. And though I can’t say much more without venturing into spoilers, there are vivid descriptive passages in this novel that will transport you to another world, maybe even to another realm of existence.
Verdict: 4.5 of 5 Hearts. A Captivating, Inspiring, and Magical Fantasy.Atlantis Rising is a rewarding tale of two endearing young heroes who provide hope and love to one another as they strive to protect their land and all its wonders. Readers of the paperback version will be happy to find that the prequel to Atlantis Rising, Never Again: The Origin of Grukarr, has been included in the back. (Check my post about the prequel here, and be sure to read the Q & A I did with T. A. Barron here.)
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Goodman Media International, Inc., and Puffin Books for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Honestly, I bought this book because of the cover: I love Marla Frazee's artwork! Glad to find that I made a good choice!
This was the perfect kick-offHonestly, I bought this book because of the cover: I love Marla Frazee's artwork! Glad to find that I made a good choice!
This was the perfect kick-off to my October Halloween reading. Now I'm in the mood for Autumn, pumpkin pie, apple cider, ghosts, and goblins and all that this time of year brings.
Mildred is a likeable character. In fact, the whole cast was likeable. There were touching moments, humorous moments, and nothing ever got too saccharine or too ridiculous. I loved reading about giants pumpkins. I must confess that I checked to see if bigpumpkins.com and pumpkinshow.com were real websites. And I was tickled pink to see they were! The author did her research and it shows. But the story doesn't read like a how-to manual.
I'm left thinking that it would be loads of fun to go to Circleville for the Pumpkin Show! And I would love to see a second book written to watch her and her best buddy Jacob grow up. And there could be stories about her father's veterinary practice. Heck, I'd even like to revisit Aunt Arlene. There are plenty of directions that the author could take if she wants to write a follow-up....more
All Zack wanted to do was finish the final slice of leftover birthday cake in the fridge. But life suddenly gets dangerOriginally posted on ReadLove
All Zack wanted to do was finish the final slice of leftover birthday cake in the fridge. But life suddenly gets dangerous, and more than cake is at stake. His older sister is having a sleepover, and the girls have decided to kick off their night by taping Zack to a chair, giving him a makeover, filming the torture session, and threatening to upload it to YouTube. As if that’s not frightening enough, what started as a struggle to escape the clutches of Zoe and Company becomes a fight for survival when Zack discovers that his house is besieged by zombies!
During a long road trip, we stopped into a Barnes & Noble where I spotted this awesome little book. I’ve read YA zombie books a-plenty, but I hadn’t realized that Middle Grade authors were creating their own zombie canon for the younger crowd. Back in the car and headed home, I was so excited to discover what The Zombie Chasers had in store that I began to read it out loud. We quickly discovered this book makes the perfect read-aloud! We were happily entertained for the remainder of trip — about three hours — as I recited Zack’s zombie adventures.
Steve Wolfhard’s line drawings add to the pleasure while ramping up the creepiness quotient. I especially liked the chapter heading illustrations where each number is brought to life by an undead or two in various stages of decay. Kids will enthusiastically tear through each chapter looking forward to and relishing these and the other images that pepper the text.
Character development takes a backseat to plot which drives the story. Replete with humor, action, blood and guts, there is never a dull moment. Boys everywhere, even those reluctant to read, will be blissfully grossed out as they turn the pages. And when they’ve reached the end, which is a teaser of a cliffhanger, they’ll clamor for more!
4 of 5 hearts. A Zany Zombie Gross-Fest for the Younger Crowd. The Zombie Chasers is just the beginning of an already growing series. With subsequent titles like Undead Ahead, Sludgment Day, Empire State of Slime, Nothing Left to Ooze, and the upcoming Zombies of the Caribbean (October 7, 2014), Kloepfer will simultaneously slake his readers’ thirsts and whet their appetites. And you’ll never look at the coming Zombie Apocalypse the same way again!...more
Gasp! Oliver Crisp is actually excited at the prospect of going to school! Because he’s spent nearly the whol Originally published on my blog ReadLove.
Gasp! Oliver Crisp is actually excited at the prospect of going to school! Because he’s spent nearly the whole of his ten years in the wake of his explorer parents on one adventure after another, he’s never set foot in a school. So when the Crisps have mapped every uncharted territory and climbed every mountain imaginable, they set out to settle down. Though “the house he [is] coming home to [is] one [he's] only seen on vacations,” Oliver Crisp is beyond thrilled. But, as the Crisp family pulls into view of their seaside home, Mr. and Mrs. Crisp spot some unfamiliar islands in the distance. And before he’s even finished unpacking, Oliver’s domestic bliss has turned into another adventure — his parents have disappeared!
Reeve’s refreshingly original story has Oliver, who sets off to find his parents, meeting and befriending all manner of peculiar sea creatures: There’s a Wandering Albatross — excuse me, a Diomeda exulans named Mr. Culpeper — a near-sighted young mermaid named Iris whose ill-attempted siren song was actually directed at a walrus, and an utterly unremarkable island — a large rock, really — whom Oliver names Cliff. (Cliff, you see, was so unexceptional that passing sailors never bothered to name him. Unless you count that “Danger: Submerged Rocks” sign….)
In addition to finding his parents, Oliver is out to help poor Cliff win The Night of the Seawigs, a competition between the Rambling Isles who wander the seas collecting interesting objects to wear like crowns, or rather, wigs atop their heads.
No heroic quest is complete without obstacles. Just as Odysseus braved Sylla and Charybdis, Oliver stands tall against the insults of Sarcastic Seaweed and outlasts a swarming tide of sea monkeys. And, with the help of his new friends, the daring and brave Oliver confronts the evil giant island, The Thurlstone, and Stacey de Lacey, the piratical bully with a girlish name.
Happily, Oliver and his motley band of outcasts discover that even their perceived weaknesses can be strengths. And that there is no better prize than good friends.
Verdict: 5 of 5 hearts. A Delightfully Imaginative Tale of Derring-Do.
Philip Reeve’s Oliver and the Seawigs is an endearingly idiosyncratic tale that, together with the whimsical three-color illustrations of Sarah McIntyre, will capture the imaginations of intermediate readers ready to venture out from early chapter books into more challenging waters. (Since this is the start of a series, further fantastical journeys await! Next up: Cakes in Space !)
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Random House and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Life on Moon Base Alpha isn’t exactly out of this world. Especially when it comes to middle of the night triOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
Life on Moon Base Alpha isn’t exactly out of this world. Especially when it comes to middle of the night trips to the communal bathroom. Dashiell Gibson begins his telling of this lunar whodunnit by explaining the ins and outs of lunar living. Though, to be clear, aside from the honor of a place in the history books, Dash mostly covers the remarkably unglamorous downsides of being one of earth’s first “moonies” — bad food, the substitution of recycled urine for water, and the challenges presented by every day tasks like going to the bathroom. And it’s precisely there where the whole mystery unfolds.
You see, it’s while Dash is in the bathroom that everything gets crazy. First, he breaks the toilet. Then, he overhears Dr. Holtz’s phone conversation as the scientist is bubbling over with enthusiasm about a discovery that he plans to share with residents of the base in the morning. Only the new day holds a different kind of surprise — Dr. Holtz has died. And Dash is convinced that he’s been murdered!
If you’ve read Stuart Gibb’s FunJungle series, Space Case will feel familiar. As FunJungle series opener Belly Up places a young man (Teddy Fitzroy) in an unusual setting (living on the zoo/theme park grounds), so Space Case sees its hero on the moon. In each novel, there is a mysterious death whose investigation serves as our young protagonist’s respite from the usual doldrums of his day-to-day existence. Despite a small cast of characters, the suspect list becomes fairly long and complicated. Dash befriends new moonie, Kira, who becomes his partner-in-crime-solving.
Need-to-know facts about life in space, and more specifically, life on Moon Base Alpha are imparted through excerpted portions of The Official Residents’ Guide to Moon Base Alpha rather than related through Dash’s mouth, helping to keep his voice more securely that of a twelve-year-old. That said, there are still times when Dash sounds older than his years — most notably apparent to me when he says, “I managed not to evacuate my bladder” rather than something more typical pre-teen boy like, “It’s a miracle I didn’t pee my pants.” The occasional slippages out of convincing kid-speak are minor quibbles though, when one considers that Space Case is, on the whole, a smart, expertly-plotted, well-paced mystery with just the right amount of facts and humor mixed in to keep things fun and interesting. If that’s not enough, Gibbs throws in a stellar action sequence that takes place on the lunar surface, and an “I totally didn’t see that coming!” reveal when we find the nature of Dr. Holtz’s discovery. Indeed, when it’s time to return to Moon Base Alpha for the next voyage, be sure you don’t miss the shuttle!
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. Marvelous Murder Mystery on the Moon. Dashiell “Dash” Gibson cracks his first “space case” when he solves a murder on the moon. Space Case is a strong start to yet another middle grade series for Stuart Gibbs. Among Gibbs’ now three series — FunJungle, Spy School, and Moon Base Alpha — kids who crave mystery and suspense are sure to satisfy their appetites. Very likely, they’ll enjoy the variety afforded by reading all three!
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Randi Rhodes doesn’t want to leave Brooklyn — the neighborhood needs her! Operating anonymously under theOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
Randi Rhodes doesn’t want to leave Brooklyn — the neighborhood needs her! Operating anonymously under the name Glenn Street (the fictional heroine of her father’s popular mystery series), she’s been solving crimes considered too petty for the police. As the book opens, we witness Randi on stakeout waiting to catch a garden thief in the act with a tulip-planted trap.
Randi’s mother has recently died. Life hasn’t been the same for her and her father who are both still clearly in mourning. Her dad’s stopped writing and has decided to replant the family in the small Tennessee town of Deer Creek. Trading the big city for a stick in the mud town leaves Randi feeling like her life is over. She soon learns, though, that this town also needs her investigative skills!
Octavia Spencer has created a spunky heroine in fiery redhead Randi, and assembled an agreeable cast of characters around her. This is another title for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Two of the supporting cast are Latino and African-American — Dario Cruz, who goes simply by “D.C.”, and the ironically named “Pudge” Taylor. The small-town setting is well conveyed with all the expected players present — the town gossip, the town sheriff (who happens to be female), and the town eccentric, Angus McCarthy. The novel is well paced, and the mystery unfolds naturally, with clues left for readers to follow and unravel alongside the fictional friends. Though I figured out a large chunk of the mystery, it’s sophisticated enough that kids aren’t likely to solve it prematurely.
As kids read along, they are encouraged to stop at certain places (or do it afterward) and flip to one of the eight appendices at the back to complete different “Ninja tasks”. These creative additions, that are sure to be a hit with kids, include things relevant to the story like instructions for conducting a stakeout, getting rid of skunk stink, and making caramel apples. I am reminded of the Curious George title I read as a child that came with instructions on how to make a boat out of folded paper that you could then sail in the sink or bathtub. So much pleasure can be derived from such a small task! And here at book’s end there are eight such pleasures awaiting!
Spencer injects just enough pathos into the story to lend depth without getting too sad or too “mushy” for kids. Randi is a generous heart and she finds that by helping someone else, she forgets her own troubles. At its core, this is a novel about family, friendship, and team-work.
Verdict: 4 of 5 hearts. A Strong Opening to an Appealing Middle Grade Mystery Series. Kids will get a kick out of this charming, fast-paced tale. The “Ninja tasks” are a unique addition that may inspire kids to do their own sleuthing. Engaging full page illustrations by cover artist Vivienne To bring the story to life. Recommended!...more
The Quantum League: Spell Robbers is my first experience with Edgar Award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby, and I was not disappointed. While the plotThe Quantum League: Spell Robbers is my first experience with Edgar Award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby, and I was not disappointed. While the plot is not super unique at first glance, Kirby executes wonderfully. Readers’ imaginations will be sparked as they watch Ben learn how to “actuate,” or use his thoughts to create things like rain clouds and fireballs. And as Kirby tells the tale, he creates a nice comfortable routine for Ben before bringing a sudden surprise that will bring you to the edge of your seat, and he’ll keep your attention until the conclusion.
There are a couple of things I particularly enjoyed about the book. First, Ben’s character and several others’ are surprisingly well-drawn for a middle-grade action story. In this type of book, it’s common to let the plot do all the talking, but here the larger storyline is shaped by character development. The emotional impact lends more interest. Secondly, there is moral ambiguity. This is not your stock good guys vs. bad guys story. Ben wrestles with deciding whom to trust and it seems no one comes out entirely clean. Finally, Ben is motivated by his love for his mother and his desire to reunite with her, despite the “detachment” that the so-called good guys perform to wipe him from her memory. There is sadness and complexity in Ben’s story (and in the stories of others). And these somber notes inspire the reader to root for him; it’s not just bravery but heart that makes Ben heroic. Beyond caring about his mother, he’s also a compassionate friend.
Though the conclusion sets up the next installment, you won’t feel like you’re dangling from a cliff when you finish. But you will be excited about continuing the story to find out what happens next! I know I am!...more
Cranford Abbey is on the edge of financial ruin. Abbot Aelian’s plan to save it hinges on harvesting a rare vaOrginally posted on my blog, ReadLove.
Cranford Abbey is on the edge of financial ruin. Abbot Aelian’s plan to save it hinges on harvesting a rare variety of apple — the Hallelujah — which grows in the abbey orchard. But a threatening menace stands in the way — unicorns with an insatiable hunger for the golden fruit. Will a hero emerge in time to save the abbey?
Young James Callander is heir to an earl. Curious and garrulous, he’s tried the patience of many a tutor. James’ father, one of the abbey’s greatest benefactors, has gone missing on the battlefield. So when his newest tutor quits, James is sent to the abbey for schooling and protection.
Yolen’s charming medieval tale is told in a style reminiscent of the fables and fairy tales from which she draws inspiration. Though the novel is brief (it was a short story that Yolen decided to revisit and expand), Yolen quickly draws her world and her characters, gains her reader’s interest and sympathy, and packs in plenty of humor and adventure. Illustrations peppered throughout the text add even more appeal, particularly during the section of story where a slew of bumbling heroes attempt to solve the abbey’s unicorn problem.
Parents will be pleased to know there isn’t even a hint of sarcasm in the young protagonist. By contrast, he adores his older sister Alexandria who devotedly honors even the most outrageous of his questions. I love that Alexandria takes James to the family library to help him uncover the answers. And even cooler, she tells him that books are sacred!
It’s a treat to watch James grow in confidence and mastery at the abbey – he eventually learns to find his own answers to most of his questions. But perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel is that the eventual hero is found in an unexpected corner.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. Strong Medieval Historical Fiction with a Sprinkling of Fantasy.
Simultaneously entertaining, edifying, and inspiring. In addition to teaching a bit of history and a few Latin phrases, Yolen’s A Plague of Unicorns demonstrates to children that even the smallest of us has the capacity to be heroic.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zonderkidz through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
"Get Lost, Odysseus!” That’s what a blinded Polyphemus exclaims after having been duped by ancient mythicOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
"Get Lost, Odysseus!” That’s what a blinded Polyphemus exclaims after having been duped by ancient mythic Trojan hero Odysseus. And that’s exactly what happens. Odysseus is blown off course and survives an eventful ten years’ journey before finally making it home. Here, our friendly narrator Hades, God of the Underworld, fills us in on all the details in this updated telling of Homer’s The Odyssey.
Get Lost, Odysseus! is the tenth book in Kate McMullan’s Myth-O-Mania series. The good news is that the book works perfectly well as a standalone, so there is no need to have read the other nine books. This isn’t a reworking. McMullan faithfully includes most of the events of Homer’s epic (gone was any mention of the Lotus Eaters or any hint of seduction by Circe or the sirens). Odysseus’ healthy ego remains squarely intact, while McMullan, through Hades, goes off-script injecting a whole lot of humor into the explanation that Zeus didn’t actually tell the whole story when he took credit for getting Odysseus safely home to Ithaca.
Fans of Rick Riordan should enjoy the chance to read more about the Greek gods. I enjoyed the goofy bits that I’m sure kids will notice. Hades puts on his helmet of darkness when he travels and POOF! disappears. So it makes sense that when he takes it off, the opposite happens – FOOP! And here, just as in Riordan’s series, Hades gets the short end of the stick. So he’s keen to set the record straight and point out how folks have got him all wrong. I laughed at every instance where the reaction to Hades’ sudden presence is a panicked shout of “We’re all going to die!” Hades, of course, explains that he’s the God of the Underworld, not the messenger of death. And You can picture him rolling his eyes. Oh maligned, misunderstood Hades!
In addition to learning the major players and events of Homer’s The Odyssey, readers will learn more about the Greek gods and myths. McMullan’s cast includes the short-tempered Poseidon (or to Hades, Po), Zeus (who is self-absorbed and more than a little vapid), Athena, Hermes, the Fates, Demeter, Persephone, and Hades’ trusty pooch Cerberus (Cerbie’s not too happy with Hades!).
In addition to tracing Odysseus’ voyage and detailing his impediments to reaching home, McMullan does a particularly fine job of showing the readers what transpires once he gets there. We also find out why Odysseus’ victory over Penelope’s many suitors isn’t such a boon for Hades. Alas, poor Hades!
Verdict 4 of 5 hearts. A Funny, Faithful Modern Distillation of The Odyssey. With her Myth-O-Mania series, Kate McMullan’s Get Lost, Odysseus! makes ancient Greek myth accessible. In this tenth volume, Hades relates Odysseus’ tumultuous ten year return trip home from the Trojan War. Hand these tales to fans of Rick Riordan who want to continue to explore the myths — and the gods — that inspired the series they love.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Capstone and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Cynthia Lord was awarded a Newbery Honor for her 2008 title Rules. I haven't read Rules, but having seen whatOriginally posted on my blog, ReadLove
Cynthia Lord was awarded a Newbery Honor for her 2008 title Rules. I haven't read Rules, but having seen what she can do with Half a Chance, it's easy to see why Lord was given such a prestigious distinction. Indeed, Half a Chance is a gem of a book. Its lake setting becomes a character unto itself. And Lucy recognizes how the lake can feel different depending on one's mood: "On a gray, calm day the lake becomes a mirror, reflecting other things... It matched how I felt. Upside down and not really myself."
Lord's gift for simultaneously capturing the voice of young Lucy while imparting her with wisdom is uncanny. Lucy is endearingly normal and, like any girl, has insecurities. I love this line which perfectly communicates the discomfort a shy girl feels trying to fit in with new people: "It's horrible and itchy to stand in someone else's living room when you don't know everyone, but they all know each other." Lucy has moved around a lot, so she's searching for approval from her peers. But she also craves love and respect from her famous photographer father. She struggles to deal with his frequent travels and the difficulty of trying to talk to him while he's on location: "How could I want to talk to him so much and then feel worse when I finally did?"
Half a Chance uses photography to frame Lucy's summer adventures and demonstrate her creativity. Readers will likely want to try their own hand at taking pictures! Lucy and her new friend Nate have some genuinely thoughtful and moving conversations, sharing their wish to hold on to the happy moments even, or especially, when life is topsy-turvy: "It's too bad you can't make everything exactly the way you want and then freeze it to stay that way."
Lucy eventually learns how to experience life rather than trying to capture it all on film. And she learns many valuable things about herself and others. Lord expertly weaves in themes like friendship, honesty, trust, jealousy and insecurity, aging and loss, and forgiveness. The tenuous nature of life is examined from several different angles. Kids will learn about life and loons. And with the book's focus on nature and wildlife conservation, they will likely develop a greater awareness and appreciation for all forms of life.
Quotables are many and memorable, as are the takeaways to be gleaned from them:
Discernment: "When two things matter, how do you know which one matters more?"
Gratitude: "Good things matter, even when they don't last forever."
Integrity: "You can't do the wrong thing, even for the right reasons."
Perseverance: "Sometimes people are like shooting photos. It takes a bunch of misses before something good happens."
Hope: "Sometimes you don't get an answer, though. Sometimes 'I hope so' is the only answer you get."
Verdict: 4.5 stars of 5. Heartily Recommended! Half a Chance would make a quality summer read for an introspective, creative type. There is enough thought and nuance that parents might enjoy reading along and discussing the philosophical moments with their child. With its slower-moving plot, Half a Chance is not for reluctant readers, but kids who appreciate stories like Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks or Deborah Wiles' Each Little Bird That Sings will feel at home on the lake with Lucy of the Loons, and they'll be richly rewarded for their time and effort! ...more
The year is 1848 and twin sisters Elizabeth and Katherine are looking forward to a grand birthday ball. EverOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
The year is 1848 and twin sisters Elizabeth and Katherine are looking forward to a grand birthday ball. Everyone is going to be there! They’ve even invited the Queen (sadly, Queen Victoria is unable to attend as she has recently given birth to Princess Louise).
This third book in the Secrets of the Manor series transports us back in time to where the Chatswood family secrets began. Elizabeth and Katherine are the great-grandmothers of Beth and Kate from books 1 and 2. It’s interesting to watch the birth of this tale, and book 3 could easily serve as an entry point to the series. Though, if you then went backwards to the first pair of books, you’d spoil the secrets held therein. That said, I’d recommend starting at the beginning – which is, interestingly enough, the middle of the timeline (books 5 and 6 jump ahead to 1934).
Elizabeth and Katherine aren’t altogether very different from their future great-granddaughters. Though the novel’s brevity prevents in-depth character development, the two sisters are drawn precisely enough that the reader can separate one from the other. As in prior installments, our protagonists are at the center of some upstairs/downstairs drama. This time, the headstrong Elizabeth and her graceful other half Katherine are swept into a 20 year-old mystery surrounding an Irishman who has traveled to Chatswood Manor looking for his wife. Against the wishes of the butler, Mr. Fellows, the girls are determined to help the stranger. The twins’ heartstrings are tugged by the mysterious man, especially as they’ve recently learned of the devastating effects of the Irish Potato Famine.
Whitby has successfully penned another pleasing period drama. Though careful, clever readers may guess where the signs are pointing, the author steers her ship with dexterity, maintaining the reader’s interest and emotional investment throughout. With Elizabeth’s Story, 1848, Whitby once more tells a satisfying complete tale. However, at story’s end, I’m again ready and willing to jump into the next installment to follow the progression of the larger story arc.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. Sentimental Period Drama For Tweens.Elizabeth’s Story, 1848 affords a glimpse into the lives of sisters Elizabeth and Katherine Chatswood. As readers get to know these twins, they’ll learn about the importance of family, witness an unbreakable bond of sisterhood, and discover the origins of the secrets of Chatswood Manor....more
Kate has a lot to look forward to: Her twelfth birthday is coming up, her cousin Beth is visiting from EngOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
Kate has a lot to look forward to: Her twelfth birthday is coming up, her cousin Beth is visiting from England, and there’s a Fourth of July parade and picnic on horizon. Of course, foremost in her mind is her birthday, because that’s when she’ll receive the Katherine necklace. Then, she and Beth will each proudly wear their own family heirloom jewels!
Tensions continue to mount in Europe as war looms. As it happens, on June 28th, the day Beth boards a ship to travel to America, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated. So no sooner does Beth reach Vandermeer Manor in Bridgeport to be united with Kate than a telegram from home arrives. Beth’s family wants her safely on a transport back to England the next day! Will the girls be able to have their long-awaited extended summer stay together? Or will external forces tear them asunder?
Just as with book one, there is mystery afoot surrounding family secrets. As an added bonus, Vandermeer Manor has an eerie, unused wing that’s haunted. This time the mystery remains more tightly under wraps, since the resolution is difficult to surmise prematurely. Historically, we witness women suffragettes, and once again, we have a sympathetic girl’s first person narration: Kate is even more likable than her British counterpart. The result is another smashing success!
Kate’s Story is independently complete and could even be read without familiarity with its predecessor, Beth’s Story. Understandably, though, one would benefit from reading in the proper sequence. At book’s end, the larger story arc closes with a satisfying portion of the questions answered, yet with enough unrevealed secrets to propel readers into the next series installment. (Books 3 and 4, Elizabeth’s Story, 1848 and Katherine’s Story, 1848, release on August 26th.)
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. A Charming Continuation of a New Historical Fiction Series For Tweens. Family mysteries continue to unravel in this second installment of the Secrets of the Manor series set in Rhode Island. During their sleepover stay at Vandermeer Manor with Kate, readers will enjoy unearthing more Chatswood family secrets!...more
f you are a quester in pursuit of the next good read for your child, your hunt begins and ends right here.Originally published on my blog, ReadLove.
f you are a quester in pursuit of the next good read for your child, your hunt begins and ends right here. The Seven Tales of Trinket is no trifle; it’s a small treasure filled with seven interconnected timeless tales of fantasy, adventure, and suspense that collectively form a whole. You’ll feel transported to another time and place, as if you are gathered ’round the fire listening to the tales of a traveling storyteller. Like the bards in her tales, Shelley Moore Thomas spins yarns that spark the imagination and hold her audience happily captive.
After her mother’s death, aided only by her young neighbor Thomas and a hand-drawn map, eleven-year-old Trinket sets out to find the father who, when she was six, left home and never returned. Trinket is a loveable heroine with a strong voice and a pure heart. So as you journey with her and Thomas, you’ll be emotionally invested in their safety and success.
At their first stop, Trinket forms an unlikely friendship with a young gypsy seer who tells her that she will find her answers while expounding that “every question has more than one answer. Every story more than one ending.” She advises Trinket to create her own destiny and “find [her] own tales for the telling.” Thus Trinket, aspiring to follow in the footsteps of her famous father James the Bard, embarks on a voyage to collect seven tales. Her goal is to be armed with a story to tell each night, so she may comfortably stay in one place for a week.
Along the way, Trinket and Thomas encounter both worldly and otherworldly dangers, obstacles, and challenges, including a selkie, a wee banshee, a faerie queen, a pooka, and a ghostly highwayman. If you note that these narrative episodes posses a timelessness and magical quality akin to fairy tales, it is for good reason: Shelley Moore Thomas draws from Celtic folktales to weave her own version of those classic tapestries.
Be sure to keep reading all the way to the back cover. In addition to an author’s note relating the origin of and inspiration for each tale, a discussion guide, and an interview with Thomas, there is a brief bonus story which was alluded to in one of the main tales.
Verdict: 5 of 5 hearts. Seven Magical Tales of Wonder and Adventure. A perfect family read-aloud, The Seven Tales of Trinket is a small treasure filled with seven interconnected tales of fantasy and suspense that form a beautiful, memorable whole you’ll want to visit again and again!...more
Imagine discovering that the ancient celestial map you’ve always prized was the first piece of a worldwide treasure hunOriginally posted on ReadLove
Imagine discovering that the ancient celestial map you’ve always prized was the first piece of a worldwide treasure hunt and an adventure of a lifetime. Sounds like some kind of dream, right? For Wade, it’s real. He goes from watching meteors to jumping on planes and trains, traversing tunnels, searching tombs, and more — all while trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys!
Stars are like, messages from way out there to us down here. If only we could read the code….
Readers of Rick Riordan, The 39 Clues, and Pendragon will love this series. Similar to Peter Lerangis’ Seven Wonders series, The Copernicus Legacy feels less fantasy-oriented, though the groundwork is laid for some sci-fi elements. The characters are just regular kids (even if two of them are super smart). In addition to the clues and codes, the story incorporates science, math, and history in a way that doesn’t distract from the immediacy of the action or feel like info-dumping. Though the narrative is driven more by plot than character, the cast is well-drawn. Unlike Seven Wonders where I struggled to remember and distinguish the motley crew, I had no problems with Wade, his step-brother Darrell, cousin Lily, and her smart sidekick Becca.
One aspect of the novel that I particularly enjoyed is the fact that the family relationships are healthy. The step-brothers get along and care about one another, and the kids love their parents. In fact, the importance of family is a thematic focus.
In addition to a solid hero, any good adventure tale is in need of a menacing bad guy. In this case, the bad guy is a worthy and fascinating villainess! As far as heroes go, Abbott manages to quickly connect his reader to the Kaplan family. The kids, a mixture of smart, tech-savvy, bookish, and athletic, should, as a whole, function like a sort of everyman to the reader. I expect different kids will identify with different characters. This should translate into good sales for the series, which is projected to be twelve volumes: six books and six novellas (one for each relic). The novellas will function as diary entries from varying perspectives giving the author a chance to further develop his characters. The first novella, Wade and the Scorpion’s Claw, comes out in September, and the second hardback installment, The Serpent’s Curse, follows in October.
I thoroughly enjoyed tagging along with Wade and the rest of the gang on this globe-trotting adventure!
4 of 5 hearts. A Smart, Rip-Roaring Adventure. The Forbidden Stone is well-paced and engaging. You are immediately embroiled in mystery and intrigue, and before you know it, will be whisked away on an epic journey!...more
As this is the seventh in a ten-book series, I can't divulge too much without spoilers. Therefore, I'm goinOriginally published on my blog, Read Love.
As this is the seventh in a ten-book series, I can't divulge too much without spoilers. Therefore, I'm going to do a mini-review. I'll tell you what I like about this series and what I enjoyed about Erak's Ransom in particular.
With the Ranger's Apprentice series, John Flanagan has created a host of endearing characters. In this book, a great number of them are thrust together for the latest quest. The strength of the series is these characters, so I was thrilled to see so many of my favorites in one book: Will, Halt, Gil, Horace, Evanyln, and Erak. The comraderie and humor shared by the characters is always a highlight, and there is plenty of that here.
Although number 7 in published order, according to the series timeline, Erak's Ransom fits between books 4 and 5. Flanagan explains that he realized he failed to address a key moment in Will and Halt's story. Glancing around the web, there are some readers grumbling that the author went backward in the timeline, annoyed by the knowledge that certain characters will survive, or frustrated at the delay in waiting to find out how the events later in the timeline will play out. I am thrilled that Erak's Ransom rewinds. For one, the story allows us to spend quality time with Halt whose presence was lacking in books 5 and 6. And I always love those rowdy Skandians!
Erak's Ransom introduces a new desert landscape and three groups that inhabit it: the Arridi, the Bedullin, and the Tualaghi. With this new world and new people, we have an opportunity for a different kind of adventure. And we meet various people, gaining new friends and allies, as well as facing new foes and creating new enemies along the way. I like that Flanagan's worlds and races are loosely based on our own. This can be a good opportunity for kids who are reading the books to use them as a launching point to study real-life people and their histories. For instance, the Arridi are an Arab people, the Bedullin informed by the Bedouin, and the Tualgahi based on the Tuareg.
I highly recommend both this book and series! It's full of adventure, bravery, honor, and action, while also alive with humor. Clean and intelligent, these books are never dumbed down and are always fun! Think The Lord of the Rings meets Robin Hood for a young audience....more
Ravens today have a bad rap. They’re associated with death and dying and portrayed as ruthless carrion-eaters. In Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, George Hagen’s first foray into Kids Lit, we learn that long ago, ravens and humans spoke to and aided one another. Though that dynamic has since changed, the men in Gabriel Finley’s family have a peculiar connection to ravens. Gabriel’s uncle Corax and his father Adam have mysterious pasts. And unbeknownst to him, Gabriel’s destiny ties in to their disappearances and their bonding with birds. As he approaches his twelfth birthday, things start to get really interesting.
Hagen has borrowed inspiration from the Norse myth Huginn and Muninn to create a unique urban fantasy world where good and bad birds (ravens and valravens) play major roles in a struggle between good and evil. The early part of the book is fascinatingly dark and foreboding. I thought more than once that the novel would make for perfect October/Halloween material. The reading experience is a slow burn. As Gabriel learns more about the stories of his father and his uncle, the world expands gradually but enticingly so, like a bird unfurling its wings. Inserted among the darkness are lighthearted moments of humor and whimsy — the most notable involving a magical desk that rearranges itself.
Unfortunately, before this promising premise has a chance to take flight, the novel’s wings are clipped. Once Gabriel discovers and undertakes his quest, things get bumpy. It’s difficult to effectively communicate just where and how things go awry. But somewhere along the way, the mood shifts markedly from ominous to almost hokey. Additionally, once the assembled heroes embark on their journey, it becomes difficult to ignore just how thinly drawn these characters are. When some of the avian members are more fully realized than the humans, you know you’ve got a problem. Mostly, it just felt as if the inspiration fizzled out, leaving behind a book that followed an expected script in plot, message, and theme. There may be brighter skies in subsequent offerings, but I fear I could trace the breadcrumbs dropped for a future installment to their likely endings.
Verdict: 3.5 of 5 Hearts. Intriguing, Macabre Mystery-Ride Morphs into Mediocre Sentimental Journey. George Hagan’s first flight into middle grade fiction begins with beautifully melancholic notes teeming with promise. Sadly, Gabriel Finley and The Raven’s Riddle trades in its singular garb mid-flight for ill-fitting Harry Potter hand-me-down clothes.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” ...more
It’s June 1914, and fast approaching is Beth’s twelfth birthday when, according to family custom, a treasuOriginally published on my blog, ReadLove.
It’s June 1914, and fast approaching is Beth’s twelfth birthday when, according to family custom, a treasured heirloom will pass to her called the “Elizabeth necklace”. Her cousin Kate also sits in great expectation for her own banner day later in the summer when the “Katherine necklace”, the other half of the joint legacy jewels, will be bestowed upon her. The two necklaces together form a heart. And though Kate and Beth have never met, the two bosom cousins are avid pen pals. (We get to see one of Beth’s letters to Kate, though we aren’t privy to the reply.)
Beth is flustered in anticipation as she sits in her chamber within the family’s English manor house awaiting relatives who are coming to help celebrate her special day. Only there’s a small snag: her lady’s maid isn’t answering her rings for help because, as it turns out, she’s left her post. Beth will be devastated if she’s not ready in time to greet her cousins from France!
So begins this first book in a new historical series that follows branches of the Chatswood family, both in England and in America, through several generations. When mysterious things start happening in the household, Beth investigates and finds that more awaits her than she imagined. There are family secrets!
Beth’s tale begins just months before The Great War breaks out and makes English Manor Houses a thing of the past. This volume is a nice start to a series that promises to be a charming addition to the historical fiction genre for the tween crowd. Though there are other similar avenues for girls to explore, like the American Girl® books or Scholastic’s Dear America titles, Secrets of the Manor links American girls to their extended English family to show what life was like on both sides of the Atlantic. In this case, we are regaled with a lovely Downton Abbey mystery drama for younger eyes.
Lovely cover illustrations by Jaime Zollars will surely grab the attention of young girls. And it won’t hurt that the pretty necklace might remind them of their own special friendship tokens (of less value). For all her status and privilege, Beth is not haughty, but is kind and likeable. Although the mystery is straight-forward and easily solved, author Whitby’s pen produces enough narrative tension and suspense to keep young readers motivated to follow the clues to novel’s end. Fear not, dreaders of cliff-hangers! Despite being the first of two companion novels set in 1914, and though it dovetails nicely into book two, Beth’s Story takes its tale to a satisfying conclusion. However, I’d recommend having book two on hand when your little princess finishes!
Verdict: 4 of 5 hearts. Delightful Downton Abbey Era Mystery For Tweens.Family secrets come to light in this charming period piece filled with historical detail. As they roam the halls of Chatswood Manor with Beth, girls of today will discover how very different their world is from the daily life of this girl from 1914....more
Liesl & Po reads like a fairytale. Young Liesl, hidden away in the attic by an evil stepmother, eventualOriginally published on my blog, Read Love
Liesl & Po reads like a fairytale. Young Liesl, hidden away in the attic by an evil stepmother, eventually finds her way to freedom and adventure. While there are common tropes here, the story is not derivative. Liesl & Po is a magical tale with a unique premise and original ideas.
The story feels at once period and timeless. While it seems at times like the novel could be Victorian, there is nothing that pins it down to any one time or place. You'll instantly fall in love with the characters. Liesl is brave, artistic, and smart. She is befriended by Po, an unusual character whom I could never adequately describe. The reader is drawn to it with both curiosity and compassion. You really should find out for yourself what makes Po so loveably unique! Along the way, we also meet Will, who is taken with Liesl from the start. Each of her friends is drawn to Liesl for different reasons, but as the story progresses, the three are united in both mission and friendship.
The whole cast of characters, be they villainous or sympathetic, comes vibrantly off the page and into your imaginative space. You'll be transported into another world as you journey along with Liesl and friends. You'll laugh, sneer, cheer, and maybe even cry. For while this tale has sprinkles of magic, humor, and adventure, it is most importantly about love and relationships. At book's end when you discover the real-life inspiration behind the novel, you'll understand why Lauren Oliver put so much genuine heart its telling.
Lauren Oliver's Liesl & Po, with its spirited heroine, its fresh take on ghosts and "the Other Side," and its tender portrayal of love and loss is nothing short of a joy to read.
Maybe more like 3.5. I vacillate between enjoying the books and being annoyed at Riordan's jokes that aren't all that funny. This book redeemed itselfMaybe more like 3.5. I vacillate between enjoying the books and being annoyed at Riordan's jokes that aren't all that funny. This book redeemed itself in the end when the stupid jokes stopped and some substance came out....more
2.5 stars, I think. Very disappointing as I had enjoyed the earlier books. Much of the charm of Molly Moon books is the relationship between Molly and2.5 stars, I think. Very disappointing as I had enjoyed the earlier books. Much of the charm of Molly Moon books is the relationship between Molly and Rocky. By the middle of this book, Rocky was absent from the story and the plot just plodded along and got way too ridiculous. Could have used serious editing. Perhaps a younger reader would enjoy some of the silly, over-the-top weirdness, but not sure a young attention span could have stayed with it long enough to do so. The book dragged on and on, and I found myself reading faster and faster, trying to quicken the ending and put myself out of my literary misery. When the resolution finally did come, it was all too clean, quick, and easy. Just not a well-executed story all-around....more
Bestselling author David Baldacci is the newest comer to the fiction for young folks party. Not having read hisOriginally posted on my blog, ReadLove
Bestselling author David Baldacci is the newest comer to the fiction for young folks party. Not having read his works for adults, I came to The Finisher without expectation, beyond the usual trepidation I reserve for popular writers venturing into the Kids/YA market.
My reading experience started with the thrill of having won a copy of the book from a This is Teen giveaway. With a beautiful new hardback in my hands, I was primed and ready for excitement.
Did Baldacci deliver? Yes, and no, and yes….
Let me explain. (The following contains slight spoilers. Be warned!)
First things first: The Finisher is not for reluctant readers. There are some issues with pacing and editing that require patience and persistence. While Baldacci grabbed my attention immediately by thrusting Vega Jane into mystery, danger, and suspense, I was initially frustrated by what I considered random digressions and distractions. The plot would move along, until suddenly, in what felt like detours, the author threw random beasts and creatures in Vega’s path. I grew restless and testy waiting for Vega to leave Wormwood and venture into the Quag. If you read this waiting for that to happen, you’ll be disappointed. Because that’s book two.
Back to book one….
Just past the midway point, I was bogged down in what was beginning to feel like a bloated novel of seemingly disparate elements, all popular trends for young audiences — magical objects, fantastical beasts, a manipulative governing body (Council), and tournament fighting (the Duelem). Things just weren’t meshing. I was afraid the book would end up less than the sum of its parts. One of my greatest quibbles surrounded the fantastic. When magic was introduced, it felt random and unexplained. Without grounding in logic or a set of rules and explanations, it was difficult for me to suspend disbelief and buy into this reality.
Having now finished the book, I can breathe a sigh of relief and say that part of the fault for the bumpy ride was mine. For once I threw all expectations and judgment out the window, and sat down to give the book a good chunk of my time, I began to finally take pleasure in the reading. While my questions still remain, they have quieted. For instance, after further thought, I have decided that it wouldn’t have made much sense for Vega to go into the Quag without first beginning to uncover the truth about Wormwood. We need a context for her to leave behind.
After my love/hate tug of war, I was happy to discover that I wanted to learn what would happen in the sequel. If the measure of a series’ success is in engaging and keeping readership, Baldacci has succeeded. He’s made me anxious to read the next installment. And, going into book two, equipped with all the knowledge and experience Vega has gained, readers will presumably have enough familiarity with Vega’s world that Baldacci should be able to hit the ground running and focus on the story without detours. This could make for a very good volume two.
In the end, Baldacci’s biggest win is his heroine, Vega Jane. Though the novel could have benefited from an editorial diet, the author manages to use the many pages, even the seemingly disjointed episodes, to affect character development and growth. He has crafted a brave, determined young woman for whom readers will develop a real affection. And with a movie deal in the works, who knows, Vega Jane, like Katniss Everdeen, could become a household name.
3.5 of 5 stars. The Finisher weaves together elements of adventure, fantasy, magic, and mystery. Not for reluctant readers, the novel will require patience and persistence. Though a bit uneven due to pacing and editing issues, readers who stick with it will not only be rewarded with a likeable, kick-butt heroine, they’ll await the next volume in hopeful anticipation.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Scholastic’s This is Teen for their book giveaway contest in which I was awarded a copy of the book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
I love this series and its characters. This books was lacking just a little something. Now, it could be that I wasn't feeling well. But it seemed to lI love this series and its characters. This books was lacking just a little something. Now, it could be that I wasn't feeling well. But it seemed to lack a bit of energy--either in the action, the humor, the suspense. Somewhere. Maybe it was the absence of Halt. I thought the last few chapters were great, though, when the focus was on the characters and their relationships. We got to see Tug again, we saw a glimpse of Halt, and characters had a chance to deal with their feelings after the resolution of the conflict. This series strength is in it's human element. Love, love, love the characters. Can't wait to read the next installment....more