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Friday, September 11, 2015

Sky Raiders, Book #1 in the Five Kingdom Series by Brandon Mull

Sky Raiders
Book #1 - Five Kingdom Series by Brandon Mull

SUMMARY FROM  SIMON & SCHUSTER: Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level.

After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them €”and ends up in The Outskirts.

The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. Its an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds.

And once you come to the Outskirts, it'€™s very hard to leave.

With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it's up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home before his existence is forgotten.

Brandon Mull does it again! I've enjoyed two exciting. action-packed series from Mr Mull's, The Beyonders Series and the Fablehaven Series, so was hoping this series continued with high action adventures. He did not disappoint in the new "Five Kingdom" series! 

It was very easy to get caught up in the action when Cole and his friends are kidnapped to a different dimension. Cole is then thrust into a world where he has to decide what direction he needs to make that will be in the best interest for saving his friends. My one concern is that the original quest, find Cole's friends, was a long and drawn out process throughout the book which didn't actually get resolved at the end of book #1. I also found areas of the book where the extensive dialog slows down the momentum of the story. This could frustrate a young reading who is anxious to find out what happens. I listened to the novel as an audioCD so maybe the action will seem quicker for someone reading a print of eBook format. 

All in all, The Five Kingdom's is a great choice for those looking for the next high action story, Percy Jackson or Beyonders book series. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Publisher's Summary - 
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

From the remarkable imaginations of bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a heart-stopping, mind-blowing, pulse-pounding plunge into the magical unknown.

Review - (4 stars) When I saw there was a book written by BOTH Holly Black (author of Doll Bones and co-author for the Spiderwick Chronicles) and Cassandra Clare (author of The Mortal Instruments series) I was intrigued! Who wouldn't be!? Both authors have amazing reputations for fantasy for middle and high school fantasy. The Iron Trials, book one in the Magisterium series was an sure to get any fantasy fiction enthusiasts attention. 

I agree with the reviews who are saying there are similarities for the Harry Potter series. The three main characters include Callum who is unaware of his famous magical past, Aaron who epitomizes the hero figure and Tamara the ultra bright, slightly snobbish type (yes, two boys and one girl). They are sorted into groups to be led by a magician in the ways of magic. They find there is an ultimate evil magician they must defeat eventually.  The book series is definitely geared towards lower to middle grade students. 

But given there are similarities between the Rowling's famous trios and Black/Clare's group of fledgling magicians; it seems there are enough differences in the story line to "get over" the comparisons. 

The length of the book is good for a "quick read", there is plenty of action and suspense and the characters are a nice mix of personalities to keep the readers interested. Perhaps the similarities to the Harry Potter series is just what the story needs to help kids open the book to a new series. Personally, I liked the book and can't wait to read the next in the series, "The Copper Gauntlet" due out September 2015.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Crossover by Kwame Alexander
·         Hardcover: 240 pages
·         Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
·                                       215 Park Avenue South,  New York, NY (March 18, 2014)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0544107713
·         ISBN-13: 978-0544107717

                    Twelve year old twin brothers Josh “Filthy McNasty” and Jordan “JB” Bell are sensations on the basketball court. It’s no wonder since they learned the game from their father; former professional basketball player Chuck “Da Man” Bell.  Each boy has their individual talents on the court but the real strength lies in the intricate bond their family has. As the school basketball season unfolds, the connection between the family becomes strained.  Josh and JB’s mother is concerned about the health issues their father is ignoring and Jordan’s focus shifts from his family towards the new girl in school.  Josh is confused and jealous by JB’s attention to the girl he nicknames “Miss Sweet Tea”. He is also concerned about his father’s nose bleeds and fainting spells. This inner turmoil leads to Josh impulsively lashing out at JB on the court; a move that gets him benched, not by the coach but by his mother, the school’s assistant principal.

This story is about basketball. But more importantly this story is about family. The basketball term “crossover” refers to a basketball move where the player switches the basketball quickly from one hand to another. It also denotes the crossover occurring in Josh and Jordan’s life as they come to grip with growing up both on and off the court.  This book wonderfully crafted novel is poetry in motion!!

I LOVED this book!! Kwame Alexander’s theme of “family” is masterfully woven throughout this novel. Each evolution in the story occurs on the page in verse form, sometimes as a rhythmic rap other times in short phrases; the various styles of verse echoing the action and energy felt at home and on the basketball court.  Breaking the rules comes at a terrible price is another prevalent theme. For example, Josh’s jealousy causes him to lash out at his brother resulting in his parents kicking him off the basketball team during the championship. His father’s poor eating habits and refusal to see a doctor about his health issues results in his hospitalization.  

I also loved how Mr. Alexander broke through so many cultural stereotypes without ignoring them. The boys are raised by both parents who care and nurture their talents but give them consequences when the boys make wrong decisions. Their mother, Dr. Bell, their school’s assistant principal is a loving mother. She understands that life is not always fair warning the boys what happens to young black men who let their tempers get the better of them. Their father, Chuck “Da Man” Bell is a former professional basketball player on a European championship team who now “coaches the house”. The family fights, but not about drugs or guns or cheating, they fight about finances and health issues and sibling rivalry. All the characters reflect a very real sense of family dynamic and offer the reader a set of positive role models. Through the book the narrative is broken up in basketball terms, by quarters, with Mr.  Bell serving the Ten Rules of basketball that is as relatable to family relations as it is to the basketball court. For example, from page 20 entitled Basketball Rule # 1;

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
Your heart
on the court.

The cover shows a silhouetted basketball player balancing a basketball on his finger against a simple white background; representative of the colors of a basketball. This will entice readers, especially who are interested in basketball to open the cover and read further.   The story is told from Josh’s point of view. First page begins with his rap verse showing text in various sizes and fonts including words running laterally down his page. Additional pages are more subtle in their free verse design and even definitions of more difficult words explained by Josh in verse form. The book is rated for grades 4 to 7 however this amazing book is sure to attract kids up to high school level and beyond.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Summary (courtesy of Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn't kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow's world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Review: Wow! As I began reading about WIllow, my first thoughts were, “She’s such a special gifted girl with caring supporting adoptive parents who supports her passions. She couldn’t have asked for a better life” Then…. POW! we are confronted with the worse tragedy a child could encounter; the sudden death of both of her parents. Personally I thought many of the situations that occurred in the story were not realistic. The Social Services officers would not automatically allow a non-relative have custody of someone. Also the chain of events were too predictable, too prepared, especially the conclusion. However, I still loved the compassionate empowering feeling of the story.  I enjoyed the way the author weaved the uniquely individual characters lives toward each other. Each of the secondary characters are imperfect, raw, tainted by life and damaged in their own way. The tragedy of Willow’s loss drives each of them into action to not only help Willow but also to help themselves.

Rump, the True Story of Rumplestilskin

Summary (courtesy of Random House Publishing)
In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Review - Rumpelstiltskin is one of the Grimm’s fairy tale stories that I never really understood as a child. How was he able to spin straw into gold? Why does he want the girl’s baby? Who would name their child Rumpelstiltskin in the first place? When I saw this story on the shelf I was intrigued! Liesl Shurtliff must have had similar thought for she mixed the classic fairy tale with her own imagination and came up with this imaginative story. Kids will love Rump,the main character, who is not portrayed as the villain in this tale. He is teased for his height and the half of a name he is given at birth (this is important to the story line). There are a lot of butt jokes and other slapstick, physical humor that kids will like as well. Both boys and girls also appreciate the variety of strong male and female characters and a strong moral message about having choices. This book had easy to read vocabulary, short chapters, familiar story line and likable characters on a quest for adventure. All of these characteristics make the book a good choice for both boys and girls, grades 3 - 6.

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

Summary; (Courtesy of Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He's being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he's got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe.

But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera—the "blue death"—has come to Broad Street.

Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the cholera epidemic surges, it's up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather the evidence to prove Snow's theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.

Review: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel takes the facts of the tragic 1850’s event of the London cholera epidemic, known as the Blue Death, and turns it into an interesting and informative novel for Young Adults. Many of the characters in the story as based on real people who were instrumental in finding the true reason for the spread of cholera. The novel doesn’t sugarcoat life during that time; depicting how children and women had no rights if the husband died and the unsanitary living conditions during that time. The Great Trouble may make a few students squeamish but the mystery and adventure will probably keep them hooked into the story. The fictional main character, Eel, will take students on an adventure into a stark time in history.  I can see boys and girls who enjoy historical fiction or those who are interested in the scientific discovery process enjoying the story. Because of it’s raw depiction of life on the streets for parentless children and the vivid description of the effects of cholera on the human body, this may not be the best book for younger readers.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder.

Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.

Review: I LOVED this book! It brought me back to a time when life was simpler and children made their own adventures instead of being entertained by computer and video games, when actually building an surplus airplane in the barn and flying it from a make shift runway that used to be the garden was possible. I loved the quirkiness of the town and the intimacy of the people in it. Jack Gantos' writing just sucked me into his world of the 1960's

Who to recommend it to... Although this book is listed for readers grades 5 - 9 according to, I'm not sure they would enjoy this as much as an adult would. This novel offers no epic battles, there's no scandalous romances, there's no fairies, vampires or werewolves, just imaginative fun and quirky characters. I would recommend it to people, children and adults, who enjoy books like Gary Paulsen's How Angel Peterson Got His Name.

Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!