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Review! Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind by Darlene Foster

5 Dec

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
Series: Amanda Travels #6 (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5)
By Darlene Foster
128 pages – ages 9+
Published by Central Avenue Publishing on October 1, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit an ancient and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past. Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps the Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest adventure of Amanda’s travels.”

What I Thought- This was a neat book in the Amanda Travels series. Foster has written a great book that combines mystery, thriller, and travel book into a package perfect for her target audience. She writes in a way that incorporates strong emotions, but still is appropriate for younger readers. One thing I thought was cool was how Leah, Amanda’s friend in England, was not brought into the book (a rather realistic outlook – as even best friends don’t always have adventures together), and a new character, Cleo, is introduced. The story was very well-done, and I enjoyed reading it. I do wish that Foster would have addressed the ghosts at the end of the story more thoroughly. It seems that they are kind of pushed to the side as another plot is brought to a satisfying finish. What I particularly love about this book as with all of the Amanda books, is that you feel like you are on a travel adventure with Amanda and her friends. The reader learns a lot about the place Amanda visits each and every time. I enjoyed this book, and I look forward to more of Amanda’s travels!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Looking for a great holiday gift? If you have a a child who loves a great adventure with characters they can connect with, I highly recommend the Amanda series. Amanda is a bit of Nancy Drew, Laura Croft and Carmen San Diego all rolled into one!

Review! Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

29 Nov

Dragon’s Green
By Scarlett Thomas
384 pages – ages 9+
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 30, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Effie Truelove believes in magic, as does her grandfather Griffin (although he refuses to do any magic, let alone teach Effie how to use it). After a mysterious incident leaves Griffin close to death, Effie is given an unusual silver ring and told she must look after her grandfather’s library of rare and powerful books. But then the books fall into the hands of shady scholar Leonard Levar, and Effie is propelled into the most dangerous adventure of her life.
Now, Effie and her friends—nerdy Maximilian, rugby-mad Wolf, helpful Lexy, and eccentric Raven—must discover their true powers if they are to get the books back. And Effie alone will have to travel to the Otherworld, where she will uncover the true meaning of the strange old book called Dragon’s Green…”

What I Thought- This was an utterly fascinating story-line. The world is thrown into a dystopian aftermath after what is called the Worldquake – an earthquake that lasted for seven minutes and somehow destroyed the internet. Electricity still exists, but is limited to only power lights. I absolutely loved being introduced to this setting, and the characters in the book were just as well-developed. While most of the story focuses on Effie, there are chapters featuring the perspectives of the other characters too – this gives us a background of their life and thoughts, which is essential to create characters you empathize with. Thomas narrates the story with a certain style, sort of reminiscent of perhaps A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, if less snarky and sarcastic. The book is slightly dark, but not inappropriate for young readers, and still containing a childlike whimsy – it’s hard to explain, but it’s extremely pleasing for the reader. Imagine a dark world, but still with light. I absolutely loved this foray into children’s literature from Thomas, and I cannot wait to read the next books!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

27 Nov

The Goldfish Boy
By Lisa Thompson
320 pages – ages 9+
Published by Scholastic Press on February 28, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?”

What I Thought- I think this was an excellent debut novel. Matthew is thoroughly developed, so that we as a reader feel that we sort of understand why he has germaphobic, agoraphobic, obsessive compulsive tendencies, even if we don’t get a clear picture until almost the end. It’s quite an insight into the mind of someone who middle-grade readers may not “meet” so often. One thing I thought was interesting was that Matthew understood he wasn’t thinking normally, but was unable to stop his thoughts and actions. The book focuses a lot on the inner turmoil of Matthew, and how he must face his fears to be able to help find the missing toddler. The actual plot and the mystery are solid, with lots of clues that keep you guessing as to who did the crime. Thompson has an incredible way of  writing that keeps you drawn into the story. I cannot wait to read what she comes up with next!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! Beast & Crown by Joel Ross

21 Nov

Beast & Crown
By Joel Ross
384 pages – ages 9+
Published by Harper Collins on August 22, 2017

Synopsis from the Publisher- “Boot boy Ji is tired of scrubbing soles and untangling shoelaces. He doesn’t want to bow and scrape. All he wants is freedom—for himself and his friends.

He decides to risk everything for a chance to accompany a young nobleman to the Diadem Rite, a magical ritual that chooses the heir to the Summer Crown. Ji doesn’t care about crowns or ceremonies, but he vows that this trip will grant him and his friends new lives, far away from boots and bowing. What Ji doesn’t know is that he and his friends have a dangerous part to play in the Diadem Rite. One that will change them forever.”

What I Thought- I really enjoyed this fantastical fantasy novel from Mr. Ross. I’ve read his other books, and they were great, but I will say that this is perhaps my favorite. One thing I like is that the book explores the topic of how much our life is determined by where we start – the main characters are (for the most part) servants at an estate, and they want to be able to be free. The world Ross builds is such an excellent fantasy setting – I especially like that the book borders on dystopian, just set in fantastical medieval times. The society seems wonderful at first glance, but when you look beyond the surface, you see how wretched it really is. Ross writes in a narrative tone that is very fitting for the characters and audience, perfectly suited for the intended age-range of readers. The cover art is amazing – love the art deco feel to it. Another thing I really liked was the peculiarities of the culture. It was fascinating hearing the history of the land, and about the humans’ intolerance for non-human beings. It will be fun to see how that outlook changes. In a way, the book could be seen as a call for acceptance. I had such a fun time reading this book, I read it in only two days – I can’t wait for the next book in this new series!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! Mari’s Hope by Sandy Brehl

15 Nov

 

 

 

Mari’s Hope
By Sandy Brehl
Series: The Odin’s Promise Trilogy #3 (#1, #2)
Approx. 276 pages – ages 9+
Published by Crispin Books on May 29, 2017

Synopsis from the Publisher- “In Mari’s Hope, set in occupied Norway in the final years of World War II, young teen Mari has become a valued helper to the village doctor, while continuing to play a role in her family’s efforts in the local resistance. As German war efforts begin to falter, the pressure increases to hold Norway firmly in their tight grip. But the freedom-loving Norwegians will do their best to thwart those plans.”

What I Thought- This was an absolutely amazing end to the Odin’s Promise Trilogy. While I am sad to see the series end, I will say that Brehl has crafted a wonderfully fulfilling ending, tying up all loose ends and satisfying the readers. The Norwegian setting is described in such a way that it feels as if you have always known just exactly what the land is like. Honestly, the book makes me want to visit Norway. I’m not kidding. The characters are all top-notch and fully-developed, making the story feel more like an actual memoir or biography of sorts than a fictional narrative. Brehl is definitely showing her prowess as a weaver of words, and I am excited to see what else she will cook up! The plot is slightly slow in places which is to be expected as several years are taking place within these pages. Although the plot slows down a bit here and there, everything that happens does contribute to the overall story in an important way and the reader is so caught up with imagery and character development the story is a pleasure to read. I really liked reading Mari’s letters, and think that they were a clever way to make the time-span of the book more efficient. This was an excellent historical fiction novel, showing readers about life in occupied Norway – an often neglected topic in fiction. I truly enjoyed reading this!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! York by Laura Ruby

30 Oct

York: The Shadow Cipher
By Laura Ruby
496 pages – ages 9+
Published by Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.”

What I Thought- I have a confession to make – at first, I didn’t want to read this book. I think when I got the review request and read the summary, I thought, same old – same old… another 39  Clues want to be. Wow- was I wrong.  Ruby knocks this one out of the park with excellent story-telling and an imaginative plot. I really enjoyed exploring the twists and turns of the novel and the differences between this world and our world. One thing I like is the fact that the Morningstarrs were so advanced for their time that no one was able to even come close to their proficiency and skill – so society was unable to replicate them, and progressed to a semblance of our modern day. All of the little details are so fun to read about, and you get invested in the awesome steampunk society and the idea of the Old York Cipher. Which leads to another point – the book includes information about ciphers and codes, and I found all of that enlightening to read about and also not just a re-tread of stories I already love. The book is told in chapters from each of the three children’s perspectives, with a few added bits from earlier days of New York. Each child has a distinct voice and personality, and it is a complete joy to see all three of them working and growing together. I definitely recommend this book, and I cannot wait to get my hands on book two! This one is getting added to my Erik’s Favs list!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! This Book Stinks! by Sarah Wassner Flynn

23 Oct

This Book Stinks!: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash
By Sarah Wassner Flynn
128 pages – ages 9+
Published by National Geographic Children’s Books on March 28, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Get up close and personal with a wonderful world of waste. From composting and recycling, to landfills and dumps, to how creative people are finding new ways to reuse rubbish. It’s fun to talk trash when it’s jam-packed with infographics, thematic spreads, wow-worthy photos, sidebars, serious stats, and fabulous facts. Also included are quizzes and activities to inspire kids to take action, be proactive, and rethink the things we throw away.”

What I Thought- This is a really neat nonfiction book from National Geographic. I particularly enjoy that Flynn puts together a conglomeration of fun facts, interviews, quizzes, and activities – the combination is perfect for keeping kids interested in the topic. The book is full of information that is important for kids to read, teaching them about why and how to recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste. As always, this National Geographic book is packed full of colorful layouts, fact boxes and short bursts of texts that keep their nonfiction books exciting and compelling to read.

Hopefully kids are inspired to help our planet and stop filling it up with trash. Another great nonfiction book from National Geographic!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

9 Oct

Spirit Hunters
By Ellen Oh
288 pages – ages 9+
Published by HarperCollins on July 25, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?”

What I Thought- I loved this book. Ms. Oh is able to instill the perfect amount of terror, love, hope, and suspense all into one story. I absolutely loved (and hated) reading about Harper’s troubles. I hated them because they were so awful for Harper, but I also loved them because they were just so darn excellent! There is some instances in the book that touch on tough topics, such as an old woman saying racist remarks to Harper and her mother, who are Korean, but I also like how the book addresses it but doesn’t dwell. There is a lot of paranormal thriller aspects but written with a younger audience in mind.  Although I am an “older” kid – I really liked it. I definitely think it was interesting how Harper realizes that her life is more convoluted than she originally thought. I especially like how the plot thickens as she realizes these things. I think kids who like a chilling story that isn’t too scary will like this book; it puts a chill on your spine, but doesn’t give you nightmares. I really hope this is a series in bloom!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! The Shanghai Incident by Bryan Methods

18 Sep

The Shanghai Incident
Series: Master Diplexito and Mr. Scant 2 (#1)
By Bryan Methods
248 pages – ages 9+
Will be published by Carolrhoda Books on October 1, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “The pursuit of an international crime syndicate sends British vigilante butler Mr. Scant and his protégé Oliver Diplexito on a globe-hopping trip. After defeating a sinister secret society in Oliver’s home country of England, the unlikely pair has arrived in Paris, searching for Mr. Scant’s missing niece. What they discover are hints of a conspiracy that leads them all the way to Shanghai, China. Each clue they find only leads to more questions. That is, until Mr. Scant, Oliver, and their allies realize they’re the only hope of stopping a plot against China’s child emperor.”

What I Thought- I really liked the first book in the series, and Methods’ second book most definitely lives up to the precedent set with his debut. I love how it is all set in a believable time, where the history seems to be fairly accurate, just fitting more into the steampunk theme – but also quite subtly. The book has a lot of action, and I was so caught up in the thrill of it all that I read the book in its entirety in the span of a few hours (maybe five or six). Methods has a way of writing that showcases the thoughts of a clever young boy who understands that he has much to learn. I also like how all of the characters stay true to who they were established as being in the first book. I find that sometimes a debut author will change a personality drastically to show growth in their second book, but Methods keeps it simple  – very small changes that are noticed and appreciated by the reader. As a side note, the cover is phenomenal, just as the first – and I especially like the fabulous old-time feel – perfect for the book! This book is a great sequel, and I cannot wait to read the third book in the series!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern

6 Sep

Chester and Gus
By Cammie McGovern
272 pages – ages 9+
Published by HarperCollins on April 4, 2017

Synopsis from the Publisher- “Chester has always wanted to become a service dog. When he fails his certification test, though, it seems like that dream will never come true—until a family adopts him. They want him to be a companion for their ten-year-old son, Gus, who has autism. But Gus acts so differently than anyone Chester has ever met. He never wants to pet Chester, and sometimes he doesn’t even want Chester in the room. Chester’s not sure how to help Gus since this isn’t exactly the job he trained for—but he’s determined to figure it out. Because after all, Gus is now his person.”

What I Thought- I enjoyed this book – it really brought a lot of insight into not only the background behind service dogs, but also into the lives of lower-functioning autistic kids. One thing I thought was really interesting was how McGovern explains how dogs communicate with people – I don’t want to spoil the book, but it is a central aspect, and you will love it too! The book is told from a service dog’s, point of view. Chester is a sweet dog, trained to want to help people, and he will go above and beyond to help others. I do like how McGovern has Chester, who is surprisingly a figure one can easily relate to, compare and contrast Gus for us. Chester shows us ways that he is similar to Gus (not liking loud noises, for example), and is also able to succinctly explain Gus’ other behaviors as well. This will ultimately give readers more of an understanding about lower-functioning autistic kids. As the reader learns more about Gus and why he is the way he is – Chester clears up misconceptions. Chester sees Gus for who he is and is totally accepting. The unconditional love between a dog and his human is explained beautifully. The book is well-written, flows nicely and doesn’t drag at all. I think kids will benefit from reading about two lives we don’t normally get an inside look on. Maybe it will help us all to see the world a bit more like Chester and appreciate those who are beautifully different from ourselves.  I highly recommend this book!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

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