Date with Disaster

REVIEW: DC Superhero Girls: Date with Disaster! by Shea Fontana

Summary


Romance is in the air as the Super Hero High kids plan a dance and Batgirl sees her dad, Commissioner Gordon, on a date. Even Principal Waller has a boyfriend. Batgirl signs her dad up for a dating service because she doesn’t like the person he’s dating. But her plans to find true love for her dad backfire.

While the plans for the dance start coming together, and the kids start matchmaking for one another, there’s an explosion at STAR Labs. Dr Faulkner is hurt, and the mayor is trying to hide something. The kids will have to wait to put on their dancing shoes until they sort out what is really going on at STAR Labs.

Review


This was a fun story that really held together well.  There was a nice level of tension from chapter to chapter leading up to the end. The STAR Labs piece was especially well done. The matchmaking was more of a means to an end. It got people into places where they need to be for other parts of the story to take place.

Poison Ivy and Lois Lane had expanded roles in this story which was a lot of fun. The rest of the girls worked various angles on the mystery. The guys – Flash and Cyborg in particular – were more involved in the dance portions of the story.

This will be great for fans of the other graphic novels in this series as well as fans of the Lisa Yee middle grade novels and other DC properties. This is my favorite book so far in this graphic novel series.

Thanks to Netgalley and DC Comics for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Marabel and the Book of Fate

REVIEW: Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett

Summary


The celebration of Prince Marco and Prince Marabel’s 13th birthday is a big deal. Moreso for Marco as the Book of Fate says he is the Chosen One. Sometimes Marabel feels like an afterthought.  She has to hide that she is taking fencing lessons because her father thinks it is a waste of time. On the day of the party, Marabel see something suspicious during the screening of party guests, but no one takes her seriously.

Just before the clock strikes 13:13 – the moment of Marco’s birth – at the party, Mab, the queen of the Evils of the Desolate Barrens reveals herself and kidnaps Marco.

Marabel is determined to go after her twin, but the king orders her to stay out of the way and locks her in her room. Marabel, her maid and best friend, Ellie, and Floriano the unicorn sneak out of the castle anyway to track down Queen Mab and rescue Marco, no matter what dangers the Barrens hold.

Review


This was a delight from start to finish. I loved that the author acknowledged the usual fairy tale clichés right from the beginning. The tone of the book was fun from page one.

My heart broke for Marabel. She had a great relationship with all her siblings, but she was shunted to the side – or forgotten – over and over again. Her twin had to remind the king it was her birthday, too! None of this made Marabel bitter or mean. She’s a smart, kind and determined girl. All of those qualities helped her on her quest.

This reminded me of the Hero’s Guide series (by Christopher Healy) or the Wide-Awake Princess series (by E.D. Baker) in tone. I adored both of those series. Marabel’s story fits in with them perfectly. If you have fans of either of those series, I think you can had them this book confidently.

There’s plenty of adventure, some magic (but a lot more smarts), and some fantastic creatures (the dragon, Hotshot, is my favorite). There’s a thread of girl-power through the story. I loved that none of it was at the expense of the male leaders. The wrap up was terrific. I’d read more stories with Marabel and her friends!

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read an electronic copy of Marabel and the Book of Fate for review purposes.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Upside Down Magic Dragon Overnight

REVIEW: Upside Down Magic: Dragon Overnight

Summary


Nory and the Upside Down Magic (UDM) kids are taking a field trip to Dragon Haven, a sanctuary for injured and orphaned dragons. The only thing that can dampen their excitement is the fact that they aren’t the only school group at Dragon Haven. What if the other kids are snobby? What if they make fun of the UDM kids and their “wonky” magic?

Andres is getting weary of the struggles that come with his magic. He feels like the leash that keeps him from floating away is a punishment. The leash makes him feel like a baby. People forget about him – or the “brickpack” he needs to stay on the ground. When will he ever have a chance to be independent?

Nory is in for some surprises on this field trip, too. While everyone is feeling nervous about the other school of kids, Nory has extra pressure. The kids are from Sage Academy – her dad’s school! And her dad is on the field trip. How will he treat her? What does he think of her Upside Down Magic?

Review


Identity is one of my favorite themes in books. And the Upside Down Magic series does a great job exploring that theme for young readers. While Nory is the main character for the series, each of the other kids gets a book where their story is explored. This time it’s Andres’ turn. He’s a flyer but not in the usual way. He flies all the time. Only ceilings, a leash, and a backpack full of bricks protect him from floating away. But those things also make him dependent on others and limit his freedom. I was frustrated by how often the adults charged with Andres’ care neglected his needs or forgot about him. But at Dragon Haven, Andres gets to shine and it is so enjoyable.

The setting for this story was fantastic. Lots of creative dragon types for this world. And the setting also let the UDM kids interact with another group of kids. I enjoyed how things played out with the two groups.

In some ways this story is simple. But the setting and the identity pieces made it enjoyable for me. Fans of the series will enjoy this addition and getting Andres’ story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Ban this Book

REVIEW: Ban this Book by Alan Gratz

Summary


Amy Anne is a quiet girl. A reader. She’s bright and articulate, but people don’t always know that. Amy Anne has a comeback and a response for everything that happens around her – from obnoxious sisters, to unfair expectations at home, to things that happen at school. But Amy Anne keeps all those thoughts on the inside.

When Amy’s favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is removed from the school library by Mrs. Spencer, an overzealous parent, and an acquiescing school board, Amy Anne has a lot to say. She even prepares a speech for the school board. But when it comes time for her to speak, Amy Anne keeps her seat, keeps her speech, and keeps quiet.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Spencer isn’t done “protecting students” from the books in the library. So Amy Anne gets an idea. She’ll start her own library and run it out of her locker. And she’ll stock as many of the banned books as she can get her hands on!

Review


This is a fantastic book! I loved Amy Anne from the first page! I longed to speak up for her and rescue her, but it’s so much more satisfying to watch her find her own voice along the way.

There are three main things going on in this story. First,  this is a love letter to the power of books. Books can teach us about things we don’t know, they can entertain us, and they can help us understand ourselves and others. There’s a guest appearance by author Dav Pilkey that is terrific.

Another big piece is the free speech/censorship issue the school goes through. The author does a great job of helping Amy Anne see the “villain” as more than a book-hating monster. It’s fantastic.

Finally this is the story of Amy Anne finding her voice. Her thoughts and feelings about things around her are often right on target. But she doesn’t say them so nothing can change. The evolution of THIS part of the story was my favorite.

I highly recommend this book to parents and librarians and teachers. This would be fantastic to read aloud with a class or for a kid’s book club. There are questions in the back for discussion or writing as well as common core standards references for teachers.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Loser's Club

REVIEW: The Loser’s Club by Andrew Clements

Summary


Alec is a reader. He loves getting lost in a story. He reads his favorite books over and over – and he has LOTS of favorites! You would think that Alec’s teachers would love Alec’s affinity for books.

They don’t.

Alec tends to read all the time and everywhere. Including in the middle of class. Like when he’s supposed to be doing an art project or listening to the teacher’s lesson. So Alec is in trouble at school. For reading. If he wants out of trouble, he has to pay attention all the time in every class.

Fortunately, Alec goes to an after school program every day for 3 hours. This is a perfect block of time for reading. But he has to choose an activity from an approved list. Reading alone is not one of them. So Alec starts a reading club. Not a book club to talk about books but a club for reading. For sitting quietly, all afternoon, to read. Alec figures if he calls it the Loser’s Club, kids won’t want to join. Because lots of kids usually means lots of noise and distractions. SO, if he can find one other reader to join his Loser’s Club, he’ll have his after school reading sanctuary. But who would want to join “the Loser’s Club?”

Review


I adored this book. The last few Clements books haven’t clicked for me like my old favorites – Frindle, No Talking, The Last Holiday Concert, etc. But this one fits in perfectly with those older treasures.

Alec is a fantastic character. His description of comfort books could have been written by me (actually, all of chapter 7 is delightful). I loved him as a young man trying to navigate middle school, and I loved him as a reader.

The family Star Wars obsession was icing on the cake for me. SO many fun moments in the story centered around that. Alec’s own “Jedi mind trick” was outstanding fun.

While this is primarily about books and reading, it is also about friendship, dealing with bullies, responsibilities at school, growing up and dealing with reality outside of your favorite fiction. For me, this book was perfect. I highly recommend this for a family purchase, a library purchase and for all middle grade classrooms!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Darkness of Dragons

REVIEW: Darkness of Dragons by Tui T. Sutherland

Summary


Darkstalker is everything Qibli feared. Only an animus-spelled earring keeps him safe from Darkstalker’s manipulative magic. Winter accepts Darkstalker’s charm at face value. Moon is Darkstalker’s friend.  Turtle is in Darkstalker’s dungeon, and Kinkajou is protected but can’t stop Darkstalker alone.

How can dragonets with no magic defeat the invulnerable Darkstalker? If only Qibli had magic! He would do the magic the right way. He’d protect Queen Thorn and be so successful his family would HAVE to love him. He could even use his magic to make sure other dragons liked him.

With the Nightwings growing more powerful because of Darkstalker’s magic, the Jade Mountain dragonets may be powerless to stop the coming destruction. Can Qibli get the magic he’s sure would save the day? Or is he destined to play a different role in this prophecy?

Review


This is book 5 in the second set of books in the Wings of Fire series – and it is terrific! I LOVED Qibli’s story. It made me appreciate his character even more than I did from the first four books in the set. Qibli’s story is one of identity – a theme I love. Qibli is longing to make a difference – to prove to his family that he has value. The love of his friends and his queen is not enough to fill the hole inside him. This leads to all of his internal wrestling over magic.

There’s a ton of action in this story with Qibli’s backstory, Turtle’s rescue, and the prophecy finale. All of it is fascinating. The author has announced another five book set, which will pick up where this one left off. I am thrilled! I still remember when I first discovered this series, and it has gotten better with each subsequent book!

There were interesting tidbits in the epilogue regarding the five main dragons from this series as well as some of the other major characters. A satisfying conclusion to this story arc. There’s a new graphic novel of the first book in the whole series – The Dragonet Prophecy. I highly recommend this series for middle grade readers!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Winterhouse

REVIEW: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Summary


Elizabeth Somers is an orphan. She lives with a Dursley-ish aunt and uncle. This Christmas, penny-pinching Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap are going on an unprecedented vacation. Elizabeth is being sent to Winterhouse, a beautiful old hotel. Elizabeth has no idea how her aunt and uncle can afford to send her on the train or pay for a three-week stay at Winterhouse, much less afford a vacation. But everything is taken care of, and Elizabeth is welcomed into Winterhouse.

There are mysteries all around Elizabeth before she even boards the train. The weird feeling she gets before something unexpected happens. The whispered conversation between her aunt and uncle about a mysterious benefactor. And the conflicting stories and feelings about what happened to her parents.

At Winterhouse, the mysteries continue with the unhappy couple with a coffin of “books, ” and a curious library where people skulk around at midnight with flashlights. Soon Elizabeth is using her gift for puzzles, codes and crosswords to sort out the mysterious events at Winterhouse.

Review


This was an interesting book. Like The Westing Game or The Mysterious Benedict Society mashed up with Harry Potter. Puzzles and magic together. I enjoyed Elizabeth. Her affinity for puzzles and love of reading really clicked for me. The illustrations are also fantastic.

The setting of Winterhouse was great. It’s full of interesting and mysterious treasures and rooms that draw Elizabeth and her friend Freddy into the history of the hotel and the Falls family.

The author does a great job of doling out clues and questions from the beginning to keep the reader turning pages. Weird things started happening right from the start, and they built throughout the story. There is an element of dark magic at work, so sensitive readers should be prepared for that. I found it mild, but I read a lot of fantasy. The author leaves a few threads unresolved for future books. I am eager to see what might happen with these characters next and what other secrets are hidden in the Falls Family and Winterhouse.

Thanks to Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Invisible Emmie

REVIEW: Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Summary


Emmie is a quiet, introverted 7th grader. She used to talk more, when her older siblings were at home. But since they left for college, Emmie’s gotten more reserved.

She has a best friend, but they don’t see each other much during the school day. So Emmie keeps her head down and focuses on her art. Drawing helps her with her lonely feelings and the knots she gets in her stomach at times.

When a note about her crush becomes public, Emmie wants to withdraw even more. What if he sees it? How can he miss it when it gets texted to everyone?!

Review


This was great. Emmie’s a terrific character. She reminded me of several girls I know – definitely on the quiet side (although the young ladies I know are more confident than Emmie and have bigger social safety nets). These things that Emmie goes through are pretty typical for middle school. I think most kids will be able to identify with the highs and lows of school at this age.

There’s an interesting twist to the story that I enjoyed. I won’t spoil it, but I would love to discuss it with some students and get their take on it.

Put this in the hands of kids who like books like Smile, Sisters, Roller Girl, Sunny Side Up, Real Friends and other books like those. They’ll feel right at home with Emmie!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Me & Mom vs The World

REVIEW: Me and Mom Vs. the World by Jo Whittemore

Summary


Tori and her mom are getting by. But it’s just the two of them. Expenses exceed income, and money is really tight.

When they get word that Great-Aunt Muriel has died, and she planned a contest for a family member to win the estate, Tori wants to try to win.

The contest is to see who is the last family standing after two weeks of living like a Colonial family. Farming. No electricity. Doing things by hand. Not only will Tori and her mom have to figure out how to leverage both of their gifts, but Tori’s going to also have to work against sabotage and the temptation of a teenage boy.

Review


I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy the MIX line of books from Aladdin. This is one of the books in that line, previously published under the title Colonial Madness.

The story is fun! Tori and her mom have an interesting dynamic since it’s been just the two of them for so long. And while Tori tends to be the serious one, she has a lot to learn about her mom. She sees only how they are different – not the things that make her mom special and capable in her own way.

For me, the contest was secondary to the mother/daughter story and the other things going on between the characters. I was frustrated by some of the adults and the ways they handed things that came up. But it all come together in a satisfying ending!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Rookie of the Year

REVIEW: Rookie of the Year by Phil Bildner

Summary


Rip and Red are back with basketball on their minds. They’re ready for another round of fall basketball. But things have changed since their last season.

First, there’s a new girl in Mr. Acevedo’s class. Tiki’s family has moved a LOT. She’s quirky and has a BIG personality. And she’s amazing on the basketball court. She stirs up a lot of competitive and jealous feelings in Rip.

Second, the kids are OVER the awful changes in the school cafeteria. They miss the Lunch Bunch, an awesome group of lunch ladies who truly loved the kids and made a difference throughout the school. And they miss having something edible to buy for lunch!

Third, Red is becoming more comfortable with his classmates. He copes better with physical contact, and even starts joking with the other kids.

All of these changes come together to make a great school story starring Rip and Red.

Review


I thoroughly enjoy the kids at the center of this series. Red is endearing. I think the author does a great job of portraying him in a kind and accurate way. And I love how cued in Rip is to Red’s habits and facial expressions. It feels realistic that sometimes he responds to those cues and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s still a kid.

The adults in the book – specifically Mr. Acevedo and Rip’s mom – work hard to teach when they correct kids. They don’t talk down to the kids; their expectations are reasonably high.

This would make a great family or classroom read aloud. Rip struggles with his place on the basketball team in this, and I think there are lots of things kids can learn as they read about Rip. There’s also lots to discuss about Red’s place in the group, and making accommodations to include everyone at school. There’s also lots to discuss about how to pursue change when you have a complaint. And the author uses tons of great examples of “show, don’t tell” for kids learning to write.

Book 3, Tournament of Champions, came out earlier this summer.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥