Wednesday, April 18, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Lost in the Amazon by Tod Olson


ABOUT THE BOOK

Peru, Christmas Eve, 1970.

It was supposed to be a routine flight, carrying 86 passengers across the Andes Mountains and home for the holiday. But high above the Amazon rainforest, a roiling storm engulfs the plane. Lightning strikes. A deafening whoosh sweeps through the cabin. And suddenly, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke is alone. The plane has vanished. She is strapped to her seat and plunging 3,500 feet to the forest floor.

On Christmas Day, she wakes. She is injured, covered in mud, but strangely--miraculously--alive. And now, in a remote corner of the largest rainforest on Earth, the real battle for survival begins.


REVIEW

I really enjoyed the two previous Lost books by Tod Olson so I was excited to pick this one up.  I was not at all disappointed.  It lived up to my expectations in every way.  The story revolves around a Peruvian airplane flight that took off on Christmas Eve of 1970.  After crossing the Andes on it's way to a town in the Amazon rainforest, the plane ran into a dangerous thunderstorm.  Instead of flying around it or trying to get above it, the pilot took the risk of flying into the storm.  The plane is struck by lightening causing the plane to come apart in the air.  Juliane Koepcke plunges thousands of feet to the forest below, still strapped in her seat, but having lost her mother.  She woke up to find herself utterly alone and injured, and unbeknownst to her, the lone survivor.  Having grown up on her parent's experiment station in the Amazon rainforest, Juliane had some background knowledge of the plants and animals she now found herself surrounded by.  But she's got a broken collar bone and several nasty wounds, she also finds herself with only a small bag of hard candy, a single sandal, and her mini-dress for supplies.  A concussion made it difficult for her to think clearly, but her survival instincts were strong and she remembered that her father had told her stories about people who followed streams and rivers to safety after getting lost.  So she seeks out the running water she hears nearby and starts to follow it.  

But as the days pass by, Juliane finds herself getting weaker as she starts to starve and her wounds become infected.  Despite nearly giving up hope several times, she presses on.  Meanwhile, the plane has been missed and people have started to look for it.  The question is whether Juliane can find help before her body gives out and the forest takes her.  In addition to telling Juliane's story, the author presents some interesting background on the forest itself and those who've tried to explore it.  This provides a powerful backstory revealing just how dangerous the Amazon rainforest can be.  Olson has written another compelling true story that middle grade readers are bound to enjoy.  I had a hard time putting it down.


Monday, April 16, 2018

MMGM: My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella by Jerry Mahoney


ABOUT THE BOOK

It wasn't enough to ruin Maddie's report on Cinderella - her stepbrother, Holden, has somehow broken the ACTUAL fairy tale. The ugly stepsister is marrying the prince, and there's no happy ever after! The only way to fix it is by entering the story. But if Holden and Maddie can't solve the problem, they'll be stuck in the fairy tale world forever.
 
REVIEW
 
Fairy Tale retellings have become popular in recent years and yet I never seem to get tired of them. Maybe it's because each author comes at the story in such a unique way that I never feel that the retellings overlap too much.  The thing I found most interesting about this retelling is the way one of the characters (Holden, the rotten stepbrother of the title) points out how little sense the story really makes.  I mean, how does the prince really not recognize Cinderella when he meets her again? (I guess this is possible, at least these days, considering how different women can look without their makeup on).  Or the even more improbable--only Cinderella's feet can fit the glass slipper? Surprisingly these are not things I've ever thought about before, which is odd because they are really good questions. 
 
But Maddie, the main character, is furious with her stepbrother when he brings these questions up in class after she's given her report.  She's absolutely stunned when she realizes that Holden's questions have not only embarrassed her in front of her class, but they have changed the story itself.  When she and Holden get pulled into the story, they quickly realize that something isn't right.  Instead of Cinderella marrying the prince, one of her stepsisters is marrying the prince because her foot fit the slipper and the prince has a horrible memory for faces.  Maddie quickly discovers that it's up to her and Holden to fix the story if Cinderella is to have any hope of a happily ever after.
 
This beginning book of a new series by Capstone Press makes for a fun, light read.  Maddie and Holden make a believable pair of new stepsiblings.  And the two perspectives adds some refreshing new looks at an old story.  And having Maddie and Holden show up as actual characters in the story works quite well (Holden is a royal guard, Maddie is one of the wicked stepsisters).  A fun series that young readers looking for something fairy tale related that's a little different will be bound to enjoy. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters #1, #2 by Kara LaReau


ABOUT THE BOOK

This new series features the blandest sisters who ever embarked on a rollicking, swashbuckling, and entirely unintentional adventure

In the spirit of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters will captivate middle-grade readers looking for humor, hijinks, and a swashbuckling good time. Meet Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who avoid excitement at any cost. Together, they patiently await the return of their parents, who left on an errand years ago and have never returned.

One day, the Bland sisters are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates. They’re unwillingly swept into a high-seas romp that might just lead to solving the mystery of what happened to their parents. With whimsical illustrations and Roald Dahl–esque wit, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is the visually stunning, laugh-out-loud funny start to a new series for readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure.

REVIEW

Jaundice and Kale truly live up to their names.  They prefer to stay home, eat cheese sandwiches, read from a dictionary, and darn socks.  They also have very specific rules to live by.  But when a mysterious voice at the door promises a surprise, they violate one of their rules and open the door to a stranger.  They are repaid by being kidnapped and taken to sea by pirates.  This throws off Jaundice's and Kale's routine's but they have no choice but to serve as deck hands and galley servants.  They discover to their surprise that the ship's captain, Delilah knows their parents.  This leads them to take a huge risk, much to their own surprise, in order to, hopefully, rescue their parents.    But being new to the whole thinking up and executing plans things don't go quite right.  I can relate to these two girls who really aren't interested in adventure, but do manage to make some friends along the way.  The very absurdity of the book is what gives the book its wry humor.  An entertaining, quick read.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Jaundice and Kale are back from their adventure on the high seas, and they are settling back into a quiet life in Dullsville, just the way they like it. The tea is tepid, the oatmeal is tasteless, and the socks are ripe for darning . . . until Aunt Shallot shows up and reveals herself to be anything but the dull relation they were expecting. Instead, she tells her nieces she is Magique, Queen of Magic, and she’s on her way to a big show and in need of two willing assistants. As Magique and the Bland sisters board the Uncanny Express, they meet a cast of mystifying characters. And when Magique goes missing, it’s up to Jaundice and Kale to solve the mystery—with the help of famous detective Hugo Fromage.

An inventive story in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, The
Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Uncanny Express has all the whimsy and humor that readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure will love.

REVIEW

Once again the Bland sisters are sent on an adventure by their well-meaning adventurous parents.  This time they arrive at the train station to pick up their Aunt Shallot, only to be swept into an adventure involving magic, unusual passengers who all seem to be hiding something, a famous detective, a missing aunt, and marshmallows on the tracks.  As Kale and Jaundice try to cope with being away from their nice, boring life at home, they learn about magic and detective work. Kale's love of cleaning and Jaundice's full pockets come in handy as the girls endure their second adventure.  The dry wit and unusual nature of the main characters makes these books rather entertaining and a quick read. For those familiar with Murder on the Orient Express, similarities exist but have been turned on their head.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: The Baseball Fanbook by Gary Gramling


ABOUT THE BOOK

The next book in the Fanbook series from Sports Illustrated Kids, The Baseball Fanbook has all the nerdy-cool insider knowledge that fans ready for next-level, in-depth stats need to know to impress their friends, family, coaches, and any season ticket holders they may meet. Tailor-made for baseball fanatics ages 8 and up who know the basics of the sport they love, may play it, and are looking to become super fans, this new fanbook is filled with fun trivia, unique lingo, and illustrated behind-the-skills how-to's. Chapters include Team Tidbits (salient baseball facts about every MLB team), Think Like a Manager (essential strategies to understand), He Reminds Me Of (compares current players to legendary greats of America’s favorite pastime), and much more!

REVIEW

The Baseball Fanbook provides a fantastic collection of facts and information about America's national pastime.  Divided into sections the book looks at famous records, obscure facts, skills to master, running a team, player comparisons, team descriptions, and baseball lingo.  The book's design makes it an attractive book indeed for those who love the game.  While I am am not a baseball fan, I still found the book full of interesting information about players, teams, and the game itself.  I learned quite a bit about the game. With lots of photographs, short paragraphs, and infographics this book is bound to be a favorite for baseball lovers.



Friday, April 6, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Axe of Sundering by M. L. Forman


ABOUT THE BOOK

Whalen Vankin is the world's greatest wizard, and he has only ever personally trained two other wizards. One is Alexander Taylor, a young man who has earned a reputation as a brave adventurer, a warrior, and man of honor. The other is Jabez, Vankin's nephew and a man whose choices have led him down a different, darker path.

Dark magic has covered Westland, and evil is stirring.

Whalen and Alex must journey together into the heart of danger, confronting a sea serpent, battling their way through a goblin army, and facing down more than one dragon. Alex must find the legendary Axe of Sundering the one weapon that offers a chance to defeat Jabez and protect the land from the dark wizard's plans. But finding it will be an adventure of its own as the only pathway to the Axe leads through the underground tunnels and secret passages of Castle Conmar.

But Jabez has one final weapon at his disposal: the powerful Orion Stone, which could spell the end to Whalen and Alex both.

REVIEW

After a wait of several years, I'm thrilled to have finally had the chance to read the last book in the Adventurers Wanted series.  I'm also sad that the series has ended.  It's always sad to say goodbye to favorite characters.  In this last book of the series, Alex, a young wizard, adventurer, and dragon lord, sets off with his mentor, Whalen Vankin, to address the evil actions of Vankin's former apprentice and great-nephew, Jabez.  At the same time, they are trying to figure out what the evil organization known as the Brotherhood is working toward. 

But to have a chance to defeat Jabez or the Brotherhood, they must travel incognito and at a slow pace.  Neither of these things come easy to Alex, especially once he learns that Jabez has a dragon enslaved and is starting warfare throughout the land of Jarro.  And the greater uncertainty is that the only way to defeat Jabez is with the Axe of Sundering, which Jabez has in his possession.  Not only do Alex and Whalen have to try to sneak up on Jabez, no easy task with Whalen's natural connection to his former apprentice, but they have to get their hands on the Axe before they confront him. 

Alex has survived many challenges over his years as an adventurer, but he's never faced the kind of evil that the Brotherhood represents, having built itself over 2,000 years.  But failure means the enslavement of the entire known lands, something that Alex can't abide.  This is a nice, exciting ending to a thoroughly enjoyable series.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEWS: Dragons Beware! and Monsters Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre


ABOUT THE BOOK

Scrappy Claudette sets out once again with her pal Marie and her little brother Gaston to right wrongs and fight evil. And this time, it's personal. Claudette is out to get the dragon who ate her father's legs...and his legendary sword. But as usual, nothing is as simple as it seems, and Claudette is going to need Marie and Gaston's help more than ever.

REVIEW

After thoroughly enjoying Giants Beware! it was a pleasure to move on to book two.  Once again Claudette and her friends set out to save their town, but this time they are following her father into a dragon's den.  Claudette's fieriness makes for an entertaining read, but what I love most about this series is the way Claudette doesn't succeed without her friends' help.  While neither Marie nor Gaston are fighters the way Claudette is, they both possess skills and talents that come in very handy.  I love the fact that Gaston loves to cook and is very good at it, but he also has a flair for magic.  Marie loves to practice princess skills, but she's intelligent and diplomatic.  Only together can the three of them face the dragons and a wicked sorcerer to boot.  The book is full of both humor and action, but has strong themes of friendship, cooperation, and courage.  The illustrations are awesomely enjoyable.  A great graphic novel series for middle grade readers who enjoy action and adventure.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Claudette is back AGAIN, and she’s ready to kick major monster butt!

She’s fought giants, clobbered dragons, and now Claudette faces her biggest challenge yet… herself! Well, that and a gang of vile monsters. It all begins when Claudette’s town hosts the annual Warrior Games. After some sneaky maneuvering, Claudette manages to gets herself, Marie, and Gaston chosen as her town's representatives. But none of Claudette’s past battles has prepared her for this. And to make matters worse, they must stop the vicious Sea Queen and her evil children from using the Warrior Games to free the dark Wizard Grombach and conquer the world!

In Monsters Beware!, the third and final book of the Claudette graphic novel series, Claudette is put to the ultimate test. With her honor on the line will she learn that there's more to a fight than just winning?

REVIEW

What a finale!  I'm sad the series is over, but boy, what an ending.  Claudette is rather obsessed with fighting monsters.  And with the annual Warrior Games coming to her town, she is determined to be chosen as one of the competitors.  But the Marquis, despite being the father of her friend Marie, doesn't like or approve of Claudette.  After convincing the other kids not to volunteer, Claudette finds herself, Marie, and Gaston representing their town.  But the Marquis' wife is worried about Marie and pushes to make the games safer.  While Claudette obsesses about winning, Gaston discovers that the competitors representing the Sea Queen are monsters who eat the opposition.  But he can't get anyone to listen to him.    Once again Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre have created an engaging, action-packed story full of humor and heart.  This book has a bit more grossness to it, what with the monsters eating people all over the place, but it's not too graphic.    Claudette's fighting skills, Marie's brains, and Gaston's magic all combine to face their fiercest foe yet.  Besides all that, I had no idea that plowing could be such a dangerous sport. ;)

Monday, April 2, 2018

MMGM: The Traitor's Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen


ABOUT THE BOOK

Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won't stop her from being drawn back into her father's palace politics. He's the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well - and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what - and who - it is they're fighting for.

REVIEW

Jennifer Nielsen does a great job of creating fiery characters who almost immediately find themselves in trouble up to their eyeballs.  The Traitor's Game is no different.  But this story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of two main characters, Kestra, the daughter of a very powerful man in the country of Antora's government, and Simon, a member of the resistance group called the Coracks.  After three years in exile, Kestra is on her way home when she and her entourage are waylay-ed.  With her servants' lives on the line, Kestra is forced into agreeing to help the Coracks retrieve a magical item supposedly hidden at her home of Woodcourt.  Simon and a girl named Trina are sent with Kestra to ensure that she follows orders.  But Kestra has plans of her own and they don't involve helping traitors and betraying her own family.

But as so often happens the plans of Kestra, Simon, and Trina don't go off without a hitch.  The tension between Kestra and Trina threatens to derail all their plans and Simon's feelings about the girl he used to know aren't all hatred.  The point of view switches between Kestra and Simon, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind and heart of each as they struggle to accomplish their objectives.  The tension between Simon and Kestra goes back and forth between attraction and loyalty to their respective causes.  But as Kestra faces her father again and even Lord Endrick, the evil ruler the Coracks are sworn to destroy, she starts learning things that shake her faith in the life she's always known. 

Finding the Olden Blade, which offers the only hope of defeating Lord Endrick, offers Kestra a chance of rescuing her servants and helping her country.  But both Kestra and Simon are walking a very fine line between loyalty and betrayal.   Is there any way out of this mess that leaves them both alive? 

Nielsen has written an action-packed, thriller of a novel.  Kestra and Simon are both sympathetic characters that I found myself caring about, even though they are on different sides as the story begins.  But the author does a fantastic job of writing a compelling story that I read quickly with lots of twists and turns.  There are hints about where the story is going to go but interestingly, the characters know more about certain things than the reader, which makes the reveals all the more of a shock.  I can't wait to read the next book!

Note: There is some violence in the book because of the nature of the story (revolution).  There is also some kissing.

Friday, March 30, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye


ABOUT THE BOOK

What if there was a wizard in your hometown who offered his services to anyone in need? What if you were scared because your scientist parents had been kidnapped and you couldn't tell the police?

What if you stumbled across a classified ad in your local newspaper that read, "Wizard for Hire. Call 555-SPEL"? Would you call?

Fourteen-year-old Ozzy is desperate to find his parents, but he's not so sure about the ad....He's read about wizards in books like Harry Potter, but they couldn't actually exist in the world today, could they?

Enter Labryinth, aka "Rin," who dresses the part. Sort of. His bathrobe and high-top tennis shoes seem unorthodox. At least Rin acts like a wizard, but Ozzy has his doubts. Do real wizards write notes on their shoes and eat breakfast for every meal? Most of all, Ozzy just wants to know if Rin can cast any magic spells.

With the help of a robotic-talking raven invented by Ozzy's father, a kind and curious girl at school who decides to help Ozzy, and, of course, a self-proclaimed wizard who may or may not have a magical wand, Ozzy begins an unforgettable quest that will lead him closer to the answers he seeks about his missing parents.

REVIEW

I thought going in that this was going to be much more fantastical than it ended up being.  In fact, it may be up for debate whether there is even any magic in this book which is odd considering the title.  But the author leaves it up to the reader to decide whether to believe Rin is really a wizard or not.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself.  Rin is definitely an eccentric character, calling himself a wizard, running around in half a robe and a sorcerer's hat, along with his sneakers and jeans.  He loves breakfast for every meal and delights in quoting profound sayings that don't always make sense.  Ozzy, the main character, wonders himself whether Rin is a real wizard or not, but he is desperate enough for help to take whatever he can get.  Although he does have moments of regret, flipping cars, anyone? 

At the age of 7, Ozzy was left alone in a cabin in the woods when his parents get kidnapped by a bunch of men in green.  Thanks to his parent's preparations, Ozzy has enough food to live on while he figures out his next step.  For the next seven years, Ozzy survives on his own in the cabin in the woods, seeing few people.  He reads the books his parents had and searches the house for clues.  One day after an unexpected discovery, Ozzy learns more about his parents while simultaneously finding a friend, a mechanical bird named Clark.  It's when Ozzy and Clark meet that things start to pick up.  In fact, most of the best parts of the book involve Clark who is both fierce in his defense of Ozzy, and sincere in his interest in things made of metal, dumpsters, anyone?

Ozzy meets Sigi after sneaking into the local school for a few weeks (I had a hard time buying this, working at a school myself, but young readers won't).  Sigi is the only student in the whole school who is friendly to Ozzy and he remembers her from an encounter he had on the beach which is what inspired him to leave the woods in the first place.  Sigi, along with Clark, and Rin help Ozzy as he searches for his parents having multiple adventures involving cars, police chases, and an unexpected relative.

All in all this is a rather unusual book about magic, family, and persistence that takes the reader on quite the ride.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY: I am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie


ABOUT THE BOOK

Kiely knows she is famous! The paparazzi (her parents) follow her every move, documenting with cameras. It’s exhausting being famous, but someone has to do it! She even gets to perform a big song at her grandfather’s birthday. When she messes it up, she’s worried she’s lost her audience forever, but it turns out that no one is as loyal as her fans who love her.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS and ILLUSTRATOR

Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie are sisters. Tara previously owned a kids’ toy and book store in Atlanta. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and three sons. Becky was a casting producer for reality TV shows, including NBC’s America’s Got Talent, ABC’s Extreme Makeover, and E!’s The Simple Life in Los Angeles. She now lives in Chicago. To learn more about Tara and Becky, and to download an activity kit, visit http://beckytarabooks.com/ or on Twitter: @t_luebbe and @b_cattie. Instagram: @taraluebbe.

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff is the acclaimed illustrator of A Day with Parkinson's by A. Hultquist. She lives in Amsterdam with her family.

PRAISE FOR I AM FAMOUS

"Move over, Eloise, Fancy Nancy, and Olivia.Tongue-in-cheek and humorous, this commentary that's spot-on for kids growing up in a digital age, will entertain children while giving their parents some apt food for thought." —Kirkus Reviews

REVIEW

This adorable book is about a little girl and her status within her family.  Indeed she is famous judging by the number of photographs and videos taken.  The little girl performs her singing and dancing routines regularly and she even has paparazzi (her mom and dad) following her around.  But as most starts discover, things don't always go the way they're planned.  And when things go wrong at her Grandpa's birthday party and she fears she'll never perform again, she learns that true fans don't desert you when things go wrong.  The little girl here is adorable and her fashion sense reminds me of Fancy Nancy.  The behaviors depicted in the story are reminiscent of so many little kids who love to show off and perform, along with their doting parents and relatives.  The bright colorful illustrations are the perfect complement to this sweet story.

TRAILER




GIVEAWAY

One lucky winner will receive a copy of I AM FAMOUS (U.S. addresses), courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway!  Thanks!
 
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