Princesses Inc

REVIEW: Princesses, Inc. by Mari Mancusi

Summary


Hailey, Kalani, Sarah. and Madison are Collin Prince’s biggest fans. Collin is a YouTube star who does magic and crazy videos. And Collin is going to be at Comicpalooza!

Sadly, the trip is too expensive for any of the girls to be able to go. Until they get the great idea to earn money by becoming themed babysitters. Just like people do with princess parities, the girls hire themselves out to babysit but they show up in costume. They even plan routines with magic and pirates (for kids who don’t like princesses) and buried treasure.

Soon, the girls are juggling school, sports, family and babysitting. On top of that, Hailey is trying to keep up with her fanfiction project with Sarah while also writing a story for the Comicpalooza kids’ writing contest. But it’s only for a few months, right? They can keep juggling it all for a few months. For Collin! Can’t they?

Review


This is a fairly familiar concept – teen takes on more than he/she can handle until everything crashes around him/her. But it is executed with a fun pop culture twist here that really clicked for me. I loved that Hailey is a writer. And I loved her energy and enthusiasm. The story stressed me out when everything started to unravel. But the ending was delightful and satisfying (if somewhat predictable).

The character development is pretty light except for Hailey. But the other three girls and the rest of the supporting cast are solid and enjoyable.

I’ve enjoyed the MIX line by Aladdin for years (You can find them on bookstore and library shelves because they have multicolored stripes on the spine. MIX books have stories centered on female protagonists while MAX is their latest line with stories focused on male protagonists). The stories were always popular with my students while I was teaching, and I know they would enjoy this one!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thanks to Netgalley and Aladdin/Simon and Schuster for an electronic advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed reading Princess Inc, and will continue to watch for MAX and MIX books from Aladdin in the future.

 

 

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster

REVIEW: Pennybaker School Is Headed for Disaster by Jennifer Brown

Summary


Thomas is a new student at the Pennybaker Hill Academy for the Uniquely Gifted. Thomas’ mom thinks he’s a chemistry genius, but in reality, Thomas is a magician. But any gift counts at Pennybaker – magic, juggling chainsaws, playing the didgeridoo.

Thomas is still trying to get used to Pennybaker – the uniform, the weird class names, the quirky kids – when the unimaginable happens. The statue of Mrs. Helen Heirmauser goes missing. Mrs. Heirmauser was a much-beloved math teacher at Pennybaker. The bust is a centerpiece of the school. Students bow to it when they walk by and speak of Mrs. Heirmauser reverently. To Thomas, though, the statue is just a weird head of some lady, yelling. This attitude makes Thomas the prime suspect in the theft, and soon he’s ostracized at school. Even his parents think he stole the head. Only his weird neighbor, Chip, is willing to help Thomas find the truth.

Review


This was an odd, quirky little story that grew on me over time. Some of the writing patterns – like the different “adventures” Thomas names or his torture plans for Louis XIV felt over done at the start of the book. When they were sprinkled more sparingly in the story as it went on, they weren’t as distracting.

I felt bad for Thomas. Everyone turned on him so quickly, assuming the worst. I was especially frustrated that his parents believed the worst right from the start with little to no evidence or reason. Only Chip believed him. I enjoyed seeing Thomas and Chip become friends over the course of the book. Chip never really got any less weird, but Thomas started accepting him as he was, weirdness and all.

I think this would be a great book for readers who like unusual, odd characters and light mysteries. There were several laugh-out-loud moments in the story. I would recommend it to upper elementary students.

Rating: ♥♥♥½

I received an electronic Advanced Reader Copy of this book. Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Brightest Stars of Summer

REVIEW: The Brightest Stars of Summer by Leila Howland

Summary


Book 2 in the Silver Sisters series finds Marigold, Zinnie and Lilly headed back to Massachusetts to visit their great-aunt, Sunny, and help her get ready for her wedding.

A lot has happened in the last year since they summered with Aunt Sunny. Marigold had a part in a huge movie, but it got cut out. She found seventh grade to be harder than she expected. There are cliques to negotiate and her “stardom” doesn’t seem to make her as popular as she expected.

Zinnie has embraced her passion for writing. She had planned to go to a writer’s camp for the summer before the trip to Massachusetts came up. Without the camp, she is on her own to come up with an amazing story that will get her one of 8 precious spots in a writing group at school. She hopes her time in Massachusetts will inspire a great story.

As each of the older sisters wrestles with her identity, with crushes, and with the relationship with the other, the Silver Sisters are in for a summer of growing and changing.

Review


I liked this one ever more than I liked book 1, The Forget-Me-Not Summer. The girls are older and are digging deeper into their identity – a theme I love in books for kids. Marigold decides to be the opposite of who she really is, and in the process learns new things about herself.

Zinnie wrestles with who she is as a writer. Her natural style doesn’t seem to fit the kind of writing done by the writing group. So she also tries to be something she is not. She learns things about herself as a writer along the way.

The girls hit some really rough moments in their relationship as sisters. In the end, their healing and reconciliation comes in part when they accept themselves for who they are and use their gifts to make things right.

Terrific story! Great series! Book 3, The Silver Moon of Summer released in June.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Summer Olympus

REVIEW: Summer Olympus by Yancey Labat

Summary


It’s summer break at Super Hero High. Wonder Woman has been invited to Olympus by her father, Zeus, to spend time with the godly side of her family. She invites her friends to join her but most have plans. Super Girl, Big Barda and Lady Shiva are heading to the Kent’s farm in Kansas for the summer. Batgirl, Beast Boy and Katana are touring Europe. So Bumblebee is the only one who can go to Olympus with Wonder Woman. But one best friend is more than enough!

While there, the heroes meet Wonder Woman’s siblings including Ares, the god of war. Meanwhile, Super Girl and friends are tackling farm chores and the Europe gang is tracking a thief who is stealing Greek artifacts.

It all comes to a head in Olympus when the thief is revealed and the Olympians wage war on Metropolis – and on the kids from Super Hero High!

Review


Such a fun story! I love the graphic novel format which gives an image for all the DC characters. Some are less familiar to me than others, and I appreciate seeing what they look like. It’s especially helpful when I go back to the Lisa Yee middle grade books which aren’t illustrated (Katana, the latest in that series, is out this summer!).

At the core, this story is about identity. Wonder Woman is a demigod – half Olympian god, and half Amazon. Growing up an Amazon, she feels comfortable in Themyscira and knows who she is there. In Olympus, she feels less certain about how she fits in – or if she belongs there at all.

While it starts as just the BFFs, Wonder Woman and Bumblebee, the whole student body of Super Hero High gets into the act when the battle hits Metropolis. This is a fun story for fans of the property and and good introduction for those new to Super Hero High.

Thanks to the publisher, DC Comics, for an electronic review copy of Summer Olympus in exchange for an honest review!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

World's Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops

REVIEW: The World’s Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops by Ryan Sager

Summary


Zoey is a gifted and creative chef. Her unique taste creations have people lined up to try her cooking. She decides she wants to open her own restaurant, so she heads to the bank for a loan.

It probably would have gone better if she wasn’t a twelve-year-old kid.

But Zoey is a very creative and persuasive kid. She coerces the loan officer to come to her house for lunch. The food – and the $1200 Zoey makes from the people who come by for her lunch special – convince the loan officer to give her a shot. Then, Zoey just has to convince her parents.

Zoey shows incredible perseverance as she works towards her goal of having every person in the world try her cooking! But perseverance may not be enough when someone tries to sabotage her dream.

Review


This was so fun! Zoey’s creativity with food is astonishing. Her understanding of cooking principles is FAR beyond mine. For kids who love to cook, her ideas will be fodder for their own cooking experiments.

Zoey’s got a great support group around her. I love her best friend, Dallin. Zoey gets to learn some good friendship lessons while she pursues her goal of having her own restaurant. Her parents are interesting. Supportive yet skeptical. But Zoey knows how to get them on board.

This reminded me of the All Four Stars books by Tara Dairman about another girl with a passion for food and cooking. This book is quirkier and zany-er, but will appeal to some of those same readers. Recommend this one to all the budding chefs you know! This will be inspiring to kids who cook. Includes a few recipes for kids to try (with adult supervision!).

Many thanks to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for a electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

 

Forget-Me-Not Summer

REVIEW: The Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland

Summary


Marigold, Zinnia and Lily are sisters living in Los Angeles with their parents. Their dad is a screenwriter, and their mom was a film editor. Both parents get work opportunities at the same time and decide to send the girls to stay with family in Massachusetts for three weeks in the summer.

Marigold is devastated. At 12-years-old, she’s just gotten an agent for her acting career. She is desperate to try out for a part in a movie based on her favorite books. This trip out east is ruining her career plans.

A year younger than Marigold, Zinnia tries to follow in her sister’s footsteps. She tries acting, She begs to go out with Marigold and her friends. And like most big sisters, Marigold is convinced that Zinnia is trying to ruin her life.

Massachusetts will give each of the girls an opportunity to discover themselves a little more as they get to know their Aunt Sunny and their East Coast vacation  home.

Review


This is a great family story! The close age between Marigold and Zinnia makes their relationship prone to highs and lows. At times the girls are the best of friends. Zinnia does her best, both in LA and Massachusetts, to help Marigold achieve her dreams. At the same time, Marigold also longs for some space to do her own thing and be her own person without her sister-shaped shadow.

Zinnia feels out of step with her beautiful older sister and adorable baby sister. While at times she recognizes Marigold’s meanness and attitude, she also wants to be just like her in some ways. The summer trip gives Zinnia a chance to step out from behind Marigold and find her own “voice.”

The author does a good job of making this story about the growth that takes place for both of the girls pretty equally. The rest of the characters fill in nicely around the girls. The adults coach and mentor and correct, but don’t fix things. This is a nice, healthy example of family.

There are three books in this series. Book 2 is The Brightest Stars of Summer, and book 3 is The Silver Moon of Summer and comes out today. I will definitely be adding both of these books to my summer reading TBR!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Posted

REVIEW: Posted by John David Anderson

Summary


Frost. Bench. Wolf. Dee Dee. Friends by default. Eighth graders who’ve been together for a couple years. A “tribe” of kids with different interests who found each other because they didn’t really fit in another group.

The “war” starts when student cell phones and devices are banned from the school. They are a distraction from learning and a means for being horrible to other people. But just because they can’t use their devices at school doesn’t mean the students are going to be nice to each other all of a sudden. They move from electronic communication to paper – notes passed in the hallway. And Post-it notes.

It starts as a harmless message between friends, a sticky note on a locker. But it grows bigger very quickly.

That’s not the only thing that changes during those weeks. In the middle of the phone ban, a new girl arrives at the school She changes the dynamic in the whole building – and the dynamic between Frost, Bench, Wolf and Dee Dee. And Eric (Frost) isn’t sure things will ever be the same between them again.

Review


I have been looking forward to this book for months! But the reality was a different book than I was expecting.

At its core, this is a book about friendship and about finding your tribe. And it’s a great friendship story! I loved the core group of boys. Their nicknames – Frost, Bench, Wolf and Dee Dee – are so perfect for their characters and reflect their passions. I love how these guys are together and how they support one another.

There’s strong foreshadowing in the story. From the beginning, Eric calls what is coming a “war.” This set a different, darker tone than I was expecting for the story. It’s a great tool for pulling the reader forward. I had to know how the “war” got started and how it might wrap up.

This is also a bullying story. Middle school is a tough time. Kids can be cruel. They look for ways that others are different, places where they might be insecure, and target those. In this case it’s gaming and “nerdy” hobbies, sexuality, and appearance. It’s painful and sadly realistic. This would be a great book to read aloud and discuss, either at home or in a classroom setting. It’s important for kids to know 1) how to find their tribe and 2) how to support it. Posted is a great place to start that discussion!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Don't Feed the Boy

REVIEW: Don’t Feed the Boy by Irene Latham

Summary


Whit has grown up at the zoo. His parents both work there. His mom is in charge of the whole place, and his dad is one of the elephant trainers. Whit is homeschooled and gets to spend time with the animals, learning all about them. Sounds awesome, right?

Usually it is. But sometimes Whit feels like the zoo and the animals come first for his parents. He longs for a “normal” life – opportunities to leave the zoo, to have friends his age, and to have a normal amount of his parents’ attention.

Whit gets to pursue one of those things when he meets Bird Girl. Stella comes to the zoo every day to sketch the different sorts of birds. This gives Whit a chance to make – and be – a friend. And Stella really needs one. She comes to the zoo to escape her home life. And the more Whit learns, the better he understands why she hides at the zoo. But hanging out all day with the animals may not be enough to help Stella with her situation at home.

 

Review


This is a solid middle grade story that will appeal to a lot of kids. Animal lovers will enjoy learning about the different critters at the zoo. They may also enjoy reading about Whit’s experience basically growing up there.

Kids may have a little harder time figuring out Whit’s relationship with his parents, depending on their maturity. I think the description of Whit’s frustration could help kids empathize with Whit – and others who struggle to find their place at home. Stella’s home situation is more dangerous than Whit’s. It’s probably not too over the top for the average reader, and sadly some kids may find it all too  familiar.

There are great moments here where Whit is trying to figure out how to be a friend. Some of his choices would make great discussion points in a classroom or at home. Put this in the hands of kids who favor realistic fiction, animal stories, and stories about family and friendship.

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Randoms

REVIEW: Randoms by David Liss

Summary


Zeke Reynolds is one of four Earth kids chosen to spend a year in space learning about the Confederation of United Planets. If the kids perform well, Earth will be invited to join the Confederation. The three other kids were chosen because of their skills – academic, martial arts, chess/strategy. Zeke was chosen by chance. He’s the “random.”

Historically, teams have chosen to ostracize the Random and try to win without him or her. Zeke tries not to care – he wants Earth to join the Confederation so his mom will get a cure for her ALS. He hangs out with the other Randoms and hopes to help his team as well as his new friends as he can.

But Zeke keeps running into obstacles. The Earth chaperone keeps trying to throw him under the bus and get him kicked out of the competition – or worse. Zeke saves a ship under attack and somehow becomes the villain in the story. One of the other delegates is out to get Zeke. And plenty of folks are keeping secrets. Zeke is going to have to prove himself in a lot of ways if he wants to save his mom.

Review


This is an excellent science fiction story with tons of awesome sci-fi references and lots of laughs. I read this on the recommendation of my teen, and he nailed this recommendation. This book was right up my alley!

The characters in the story are great. Zeke is funny, smart and sarcastic. His pop culture references – especially for Star Trek and Star Wars – are endearing (at least to this Star Trek/Star Wars fan!). The other characters – human and alien – are well defined with interesting quirks, alliances and agendas.

The story is compelling. I cared about Zeke’s success first because of his mom and then because I liked him. I wanted him to overcome the obstacles placed in his path. As the “mystery” developed, I kept flipping pages to see how Zeke and his friends were going to survive, much less if they would succeed in earning membership in the Confederation.

The story ended with something of a cliffhanger. Several loose ends were left dangling. I will obviously have to sneak the sequel, Rebels, from my teen so I can find out what happens next. Book 3, Renegades, releases this fall.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Ryan Quinn and the Rebel's Escape

REVIEW: Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape by Ron McGee

Summary


Ryan Quinn has grown up all over the world. Now that he’s an 8th grader, his family is living in New York City, and Ryan has a chance at a normal life.

The first clue that his life is anything but normal comes when Ryan notices a guy following him through the city. The next comes when the CIA visits his mom’s store, looking for his dad, who is supposed to be on a business trip. When he sees his mom dragged off by a kidnapper, any illusion that his life is normal is gone for good.

Ryan will need the help of his best friend the tech genius and a mysterious young woman if he’s going to have any chance of finding his dad or saving his mom. Ryan’s been surrounded by secrets and lies all his life – and some of the biggest ones may still be yet to come.

Review


A fun teen spy adventure! Think Alex Rider or young James Bond. Ryan has skills he never realized were for the secret life his parents were leading. He lets concern for his family drive him to do things no normal teen would do. And he brings some new friends along for the ride.

You have to suspend disbelief a little to enjoy this. I know a lot of 8th graders. Not one would know what to do in half the situations Ryan encounters. But it doesn’t matter. He’s an endearing kid with fun friends and a compelling mission. I was happy to go along for the ride.

Major cliffhangers at the end set up book 2, Ryan Quinn and the Lion’s Claw, which will release this fall.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥