Princess Juniper of Torr

REVIEW: Princess Juniper of Torr by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Summary


Princess Juniper has enjoyed quite an adventure. She requested a small country to practice ruling, and her father gave her Queen’s Basin. Her band of kid-citizens has created a cooperative community there, and Juniper has learned a lot about leadership. She even made contact with her mother’s people, the Anju.

But it’s time to leave Queen’s Basin and return to Torr. The Monsians have invaded, and Juniper’s father, King Regis has been captured. So Juniper and her friends have a plan to return to Torr and set things right. Can a group of kids have any hope of saving a kingdom? Did Cyril leave to warn his father, the one who let the Monsians into Torr? Or could he still be on Juniper’s side? Will the Anju help Juniper save the day? Or is she be completely on her own to rescue her father and save her people from war?

Review


Great conclusion to the Princess Juniper trilogy! Juniper has grown up a lot in the weeks that she has been on her own. She’s built confidence in herself and in her team.

There are some nice twists still to come in this story as people vie for power in Torr. Things move faster than Juniper expects and not everyone is who she thought they were. And that increases the tension and pacing of the story nicely.

Everything’s wrapped up neatly for fans of the series with this book. A satisfying conclusion for Juniper and the people of both Queen’s Basin and Torr.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Exact Location of Home

REVIEW: The Exact Location from Home by Kate Messner

Summary


Kirby Zigonski – Zig – has been looking forward to this weekend for ages. His dad’s coming to town for a visit. Zig hasn’t seen him in over a year as their previous plans had been cancelled for work. But this time it’s going to happen!

Until it doesn’t.

Zig can’t get him by cell or by email, and there are no messages telling him why his dad’s not there. And Zig is only focused on what this means to him. He doesn’t realize the implications of his dad’s absence on his home life. Not until he reads about the rent deadline and sees his mom’s checkbook. No dad means no child support deposit. There hasn’t been one for a few months. They’re about to be evicted from their apartment.

But Zig has figured out how to find his dad. Zig Sr. was into geocaching, and Zig found a GPS system at a garage sale. When he investigates local caching sites he discovers a cacher named Senior Searcher. The timing of his finds lines up with his dad’s travels so he’s certain this is his dad. Zig doesn’t know why his mom is so resistant to him seeing his dad or knowing why he hasn’t come by. But he’s determined to just find his dad on his own.

Review


This was excellent, just like I’d expect from Kate Messner! Zig is a terrific character. He brought up so many emotions for me – empathy, compassion and fear. The reader gets hints about what is going on in Zig’s life before Zig sees them. I wanted to protect him from what is coming. But he’s fantastically resilient.

The geocaching was a fun piece of the story (you can also find it in the second Candymakers book). It was a cool connecting link for several of the plot points. The author also does a great job of showing different reactions and assumptions about homelessness without being heavy handed or shaming the ignorant and uninformed. And those reactions come from students and adults. (The school librarian, who may not even have a word of dialogue in the book, is probably my favorite character when it comes to Zig and his situation.) This would be a great read aloud for classroom use or a book group; the discussion would be fantastic. I’d love to see how students respond to different things in the story. The homelessness piece reminded me of the book Crenshaw. These could be paired up nicely.

There’s a great shout out to the picture book Library Lion in this book that has stuck with me for days after finishing this. If you haven’t read it, you should track it down right away! It’s a fun story, and it communicates some great messages in THIS story.

This is absolutely lovely and touching! Many thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury USA for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Van Gogh Deception

REVIEW: The Van Gogh Deception by Deron R. Hicks

Summary


A twelve-year-old boy is found in the National Gallery. No one knows who he is or where he came from. The boy remembers nothing – not his name and nothing about how he got there.

The boy is placed in a temporary foster home. He goes by the name Art because the name “Arthur” is in his coat. He knows a crazy amount of information about famous artists and their paintings, so the family goes back to the Gallery to see if anything trigger’s Art’s memory.

But they have no idea that someone is watching them, determined to find Art before he gets his memory back and foils their plans.

When they make their move on Art, they get his foster sister, Camille, too. Soon the kids are on the run with no idea who to trust or why they are being pursued.

Review


This was awesome! I loved everything. The energy and adventure worked for me. I thought the kids’ responses were realistic (although they seemed a little older than their stated ages) for the story. I loved the QR codes embedded in the story so the reader could SEE the art they were discussing in the story. Such a clever idea!

Art and Camille are a lot of fun. Art is bright and curious and determined. Camille is fiercely loyal. They make a great team, and I’d love to see them take on another mystery together.

I feel like I learned things about the art world while having a great time with a terrific story. This reminded me of FRAMED by James Ponti with the art tie-in, but this has it’s own features to love. I’d definitely give this to FRAMED fans, mystery lovers, and art lovers. This would be a perfect addition to home, school and classroom libraries – and even art classrooms. This is a book I will be telling folks about for the rest of this year!

Thanks to Netgalley and HMH Books for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw

REVIEW: Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano

Summary


After two weeks of dreaming about the desert, Sam London is over it! It’s the same thing over and over. Each time he gets a little farther into it, but he always wakes up before he can figure out what’s going on. Until now. This last time he had the dream, he found himself face to face with a gryphon – a mythological creature that’s a cross between an eagle and a lion.

If that wasn’t weird enough, then Sam sees the same desert location on the news that he has been seeing in his dream! He knows it’s crazy for a 12-year-old to run off across the state by himself, but he HAS to know if the gryphon is really out in Death Valley like he saw in his dream.

Sam’s dream encounter is only the beginning of his journey with mythical creatures. His whole world is in danger as forces converge to destroy the curse that hides mythical creatures from humans. And Sam is smack dab in the middle of everything.

Review


This was a fun adventure story chock full of mythical creatures – gryphons, harpies, yeti, etc. Plenty I hadn’t heard of before. This reminded me of The Menagerie (Tui T. Sutherland) or the Percy Jackson series  (Rick Riordan), or the Imaginary Veterinary series (Suzanne Selfors). If you know a reader who enjoyed those books, have them check out this series!

The author does a great job of planting clues  and questions and then moving the reader along in the story, still wondering about those things. Some were addressed by the end of the book. Others were not. I was prepared for this to be a series for which I would read book one and then just tell folks about the rest. I was content with just know the beginning of this story. But the open questions guarantee that I will have to keep up with this series until everything is spelled out!

I loved the main character, Sam. While he feels like he is ordinary and not at all special, his care for others and determination make you root for him from start to finish. You know he is something special.

Thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Sidetracked

REVIEW: Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher

Summary


Joseph is a worrier. If there’s something to worry about, Joseph has been thinking about it and stewing over it for awhile. But it’s just one of the things that makes Joseph the target of bullies. He has ADD and receives services in a resource room. He’s not athletic, and in sports like soccer, he’s afraid of the ball. Joseph has accepted these things as his lot in life.

Until he meets Heather. She’s confident, athletic, and she’s not afraid of a bully. As Heather and Joseph become friends first and then cross country teammates second, she challenges his self-perceptions and his expectations. Joseph will always have his quirks, but maybe he’ll surprise himself with some grit, determination and confidence in himself.

Review


This was delightful! From start to finish, I adored Joseph and Heather. The friendship is mutual. Heather helps Joseph, but he gets to help her, too. They bring out the best in each other without needing a romantic subplot. Just awesome friends.

Joseph is trying to overcome a lot. And it all felt genuine – the struggles and the triumphs when he had them. I especially loved how the cross country team came together for him in the last race.

Everything clicked for me in this book – the story, the kids, the adults, the things that were resolved and the things that weren’t There’s awesome humor as well as heart-tugging moments. It was perfect.

Thanks to Netgalley and Amulet books for providing an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Best. Night. Ever.

REVIEW: Best. Night. Ever by Jen Malone (editor)

Summary


The middle school dance is a HUGE event for the seventh graders in this story:

  • Carmen is missing it – and the TV debut of her band, Heart Grenade – for a family wedding.
  • Genevieve is going to be the lead singer for Heart Grenade in Carmen’s place. And she’s terrified.
  • Ellie is going with a date.
  • Ellie’s soon-to-be step-sister, Ashlyn, is grounded, so she’s going to do Ellie’s babysitting gig so Ellie can go the the dance.
  • Ryan is there with his best friend, Mariah, but he wishes there was more between them. But she asked Leif to the dance instead.
  • Tess, the drummer for Heart Grenade and Mariah’s nemesis, also asked Leif to the dance. He said “whatever” to both girls which they took as “yes.”
  • Jade doesn’t even go to this school. But she thinks Heart Grenade stole her band’s chance at the Battle of the Bands. She’s at the dance for revenge.

Seven authors. Seven perspectives on one eventful night. All kinds of fun.

Review


So many of the authors for this book are MIX authors, and I have many of their books on my TBR. That made this a must-read for me, and I was not disappointed.

It’s not unusual any more to read books that tell one story from different perspectives. But this is different because 7 authors got to dig into one character each and tell that character’s version of this story.

There’s a lot going on in this story. There’s the band piece and the dating piece. Then there are the kids not at the dance and the things going on outside the school. And everything comes together so well!

I loved the characters. I think Ellie is my favorite. I would love more story from her perspective.

In general, I felt like the kids seemed like 15-year-olds more than 7th graders. At least. they didn’t “sound” or act like the seventh graders I know. But I think this story is a great bridge story that would work for upper elementary and middle school readers. The themes of friendship, family, and dating work for teens while also keeping things “clean” for younger readers.

Thanks to Netgalley and Aladdin for an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Vanished!

REVIEW: VANISHED! by James Ponti

Summary


Florian and Margaret are working with FBI agent and friend, Marcus Rivers once again on a case. This time they’re going undercover to an exclusive prep school where the First Daughter goes to school. There have been a series of pranks at the school – super glue in locker locks and someone crashed the school’s private social network. Someone using the code name Loki has pulled these pranks. And they seem to be happening around or near the First Daughter.

It’s up to Florian and Margaret to make connections at the school and start figuring out who is responsible for the pranks. But they have several suspects. They have to keep up with their school work while they work the case. Florian has attracted the attention of a bully. And the school administrators are resistant and uncooperative regarding the pranks and Florian’s efforts to find the culprit. Florian has to trust that his Theory of All Small Things will be enough to solve their latest case.

Review


FRAMED, book one in the T.O.A.S.T mystery series, is one of my favorite books from 2016. I’m happy to say that book two lives up to the excellence of its predecessor.

The premise of these books is so clever. Middle school detectives helping the FBI. The TOAST method they use to solve crimes is smart and fun. But the characters are the best part. The adults who know Florian and Margaret well respect their skills and trust their work. Those who don’t know them are put in their place in delightful – and usually gracious – ways.

I laughed out loud several times while reading, and even had to read one especially excellent passage to my family because it was unexpected and completely perfect. I was delighted by the entire book. The mystery kept me guessing all the way to the end. Great history and museum and landmark and art and music pieces in the story round out the mystery plot.

Fantastic! I’m looking forward to reading more in the TOAST series! Thanks to James Ponti for sending me an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I have already passed it on to a former student who is a big fan of the first book in the series. This book will release next week, August 22, 2017. I hope you’ll check it out!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Real Us

REVIEW: The Real Us by Tommy Greenwald

Summary


Middle school is all about looking cool, being popular, and fitting in.  And Calista is acing all three of those areas. She is a beautiful girl. She’s popular with teachers and students. Thankfully, she is also pretty sweet, and doesn’t use her popularity to manipulate or bully others. But even sweet girls can get used to the popularity that comes from being beautiful.

Then Calista gets a pimple. Pimples are par for the course in middle school, but this is Calista’s first pimple. And it shows up right before the big dance. But the pimple is only the beginning of Calista’s woes. Suddenly the perfect, popular girl is a mess. She’s not flawless any more. Her friends don’t defer to her. The boy she likes asks someone else to the dance. Nothing seems to go her way.

When her life doesn’t look like it used to, Callie rediscovers Damian, the sweaty guy she met when he was a new student, and Laura, her former best friend. Over the course of a week, these three will learn a lot about friendship and looking beneath the surface of the people around them.

Review


This seems like a simple story on the surface. I mean, it starts with a pimple! But the author does a great job of making this small thing – which is only the start of Callie’s problems – appropriately important for middle school social relationships.

And those relationships are complicated. The kids are three dimensional, even the secondary characters. I liked that Calista’s crew was so wishy washy about her situation. At times they had sympathy for her and other times they took advantage of her situation. It didn’t make them very likable, but it did make them realistic! I loved that the adults – the parents and the school staff – were supportive but also let the kids work things out appropriately on their own in a lot of ways.

I’ve enjoyed the author’s other work. This is a good addition to collections of his work and for upper elementary and some early middle school classrooms.

I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Roaring Brook Press in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Sweetest Sound

REVIEW: The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

Summary


Cadence Mariah Jolly has a secret. She can sing. Like, leave-your-mouth-hanging-open-in-awe kind of singing. It’s one of her most closely guarded secrets.

Something not-so-secret is that Cadence is shy. Her (unfortunate) nickname is Mouse. She’s an introvert. Crowds are stressful. Attention in front of others leaves her feeling anxious. She loves being with her friends and family, but she is also happy to spend time alone, playing music or reading.

Quiet Cadence made a bargain with God. She asked for a real keyboard, and in exchange she said she would share her secret talent. And she got her keyboard. She hasn’t quite figured out how to overcome her fear, though, and share her gift. But an uploading mistake forces her to face her fear and decide what she’s going to do with her voice.

Review


I loved this! It’s a touching story about music but it’s also about friendship and family. Most of all it’s about finding your voice, and not just in a singing sense.

Cadence is in a community of people who love her and want to take care of her. While she is still hurting over her mother’s abandonment, she also dislikes the pity she sees in the eyes of  everyone around her. She has her own ideas and thoughts, but her shyness keeps her from speaking up sometimes. And other times, good-hearted people can’t  hear her over their own hurts or their desire to help.

I loved the references to  great books in the story. The faith and music pieces were also terrific. This is a story I would read again. If I was teaching, I would put this in my classroom/library. I think readers will really connect with Cadence!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Restart

REVIEW: Restart by Gordon Korman

Summary


Chase, Aaron and Bear rule the school. Championship football players. Bullies. And Chase is the leader of the pack.

But Chase fell off his roof and hit his head. After being in a coma for several days, Chase is awake but he has no memory of who he is. He doesn’t even recognize his own mother.

Brendan, Shosh’anna, Joel and other kids know exactly who Chase is. He’s a tormentor. He’s arrogant. He feels entitled to do whatever he wants. He doesn’t even care that Joel had to go away to boarding school because of the bullying. He’s resentful about having community service because of the stunt he pulled on Joel.

At least, that’s the OLD Chase. The new Chase is different. He befriends Brendan. He joins the video club. Chase goes to the nursing home to help even though he’s been excused from community service. He connects with the grumpiest guy there. New Chase seems great – but can he be trusted?

Review


Wow, this is a great story!! At its core is the question of where character comes from. And that’s not really answered, but this book will make you think about it.

I love the characters. The reactions to new Chase are mistrustful and hesitant. And they should be! And Chase questions his own transformation. He wonders if the old Chase is still inside him somewhere. There are no easy, quick solutions which is something else that makes this awesome.

I love that every person in orbit around Chase has to examine his/her perception of him. Some want the old Chase back. Some want to run the old Chase through a wood chipper! The journey to see how it all works out was terrific!

A great book on bullying to read at home or at school. Joel’s description in the story of being bullied is worth discussing at length with kids. So well done!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥