The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Princess Juniper of the Hourglass by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Summary


Princess Juniper of Torr makes a small request for her 13th birthday – a kingdom of her own. She longs for a place where she can be with kids her own age without having to follow the endless rules of her Comportment Master. A place where she can put all of her lessons into practice. Surprisingly, her father says yes.

Soon, Juniper and her “country men and women” are loaded up and ready to head to their new kingdom. Two things keep this from feeling as awesome as it should. One is Cyril, Juniper’s arrogant older cousin  who is sent along with two of his friends; they  have no intention of following Juniper as queen. The other is the “minor skirmish” Torr seems to be having with a neighboring kingdom. Juniper worries about her father, the king, and her people, but she sticks with the plan and heads to the Hourglass Mountains. Little does she know what awaits them in her new kingdom.

Review


This was fantastic! I loved Juniper right from the start. The kids who go with her to the Basin are an interesting mix. The kids are supposed to be 13 or younger, except for Cyril’s crew, which is a little bit of a stretch to me because in some ways they act older, but I chose not to focus on it. I enjoyed the story completely when I put that aside.

Juniper is a great leader, but she is only 13. She has a lot to learn about dealing with difficult subjects, balancing work and play for her people, and deciding what to share and what to keep to herself. Parts of this reminded me of the book The False Prince – the kingdoms, the swordplay and the treachery. It also reminded me of books like The Maze Runner in that it had kids making up their own society (although this is more light-hearted than The Maze Runner).

This book sets up the rest of the series nicely. There’s closure for many of the plot points in this story, but a larger conflict looms that Juniper and her friends will need to deal with. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’Connor

Summary


An elderly woman and three kids with their families meet up at a run down motel. Aggie has struggled to keep the motel going since her husband died. Willow’s dad is looking to buy the motel as a fresh start for their family. For Willow, it is just a reminder of all she has lost. Loretta is looking to connect with her dead “other mother” by visiting places she might have gone. Kirby is on his way to reform school – his “last chance” to get his act together, something his family seems to doubt is possible. The Sleepy Time Motel will be their home for several days that will impact all of them.

Review


I love stories that take characters from different places and throw them together to see what happens. That idea – along with the description of Aggie and the kids – were what prompted me to pick this book up in the first place. I was delighted by the story.

Willow’s story is probably my favorite from the book. She seems to endure the most change in her circumstances and I loved how things worked out. Loretta was just a delight from start to finish. Kirby’s story left me wanting more. He gets to see himself in a new way through the story. I’d love to know what happens to him.

I read Wish by Barbara O’Connor a few weeks ago. I liked both of these books which probably means I should try some more. My students enjoyed How to Steal a Dog. I might have to add that one to my list.

Rating:♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Talons of Power by Tui T. Sutherland

Summary


Wings of Fire, book 9. Darkstalker, released from his 2000 year captivity, seems like a really nice dragon. Humongous and powerful, sure. But also charming, and exceedingly helpful. Maybe he’s just misunderstood….

But Turtle doesn’t think so. He senses something is just not right. If he can keep himself hidden, safe in the background, maybe he can discover the truth. And if necessary, maybe he can save the day…. But Turtle knows he’s no hero. He has failed too many times. But what if he’s the only one with any chance to make a difference?

Review


I can’t stop thinking about this one. So many things were revealed and so many new questions were raised. Major cliffhangers at the end! Wow. This was excellent!

I have loved this series since book 1. Discovered it one year during book fair while I was teaching, I couldn’t stop talking about it. When I go back and re-read, book one is actually the “weakest” book in the series for me. They just get better and better. In fact, I am enjoying this second five-book arc even more than I loved the first five.

I re-read the first three in this arc before starting Talons of Power. I’m so glad I did because it affirmed for me how much I wanted to know Turtle’s story. His character starts the arc in the background, quiet and mysterious and unassuming. Which made me curious. He’s such a great part of Escaping Peril, I was thrilled to be able to go from that story right into this one. If I had to do it all over again, I would have also re-read the “legends” book Darkstalker since he is such a major part of this story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

If you haven’t read these before, start with The Dragonet Prophecy. These are best read in order.

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Upside Down Magic: Showing Off

Summary


Nory and the Upside Down Magic (UDM) kids are back, still working to control their “wonky” talents. This time, not only are they practicing their magic in the classroom, but they also need to come up with an act for the annual variety show.

Pepper is learning that not only can she control her magic (scaring animals) for short bursts, but she can also use it to help people with pest problems. This discovery helps her make an unexpected friend.

Nory finds out the school variety show means her dad and her siblings are going to come to her school.Maybe if she can turn herself into an impressive and complicated animal, her dad will finally accept her and be proud of her.

Review


I am a sucker for any book that expertly looks at the concept of identity. And this series does that! Each of the kids in the UDM class is working out his/her individual issues with magic. Identity is impacted by how their families and peers respond to their differences – and also by how the kids feel about themselves. The authors address these complex concepts in terrific age-appropriate ways.

I have talked with some parents in the past who are reluctant to have their kids read books with magic. I get where they are coming from, and I’m glad they are engaged with what their kids are reading! With this series – like many other favorites of mine, the magic is a plot device.  It puts the kids in an unusual setting. It gives them out-of-the-ordinary problems to solve. I think that helps readers put themselves in the story more easily. They don’t know ANYONE who can turn themselves into a kitten, much less a kid who tries and gets it wrong. But they can imagine! What would it be like to do something amazing like that? How would it feel to get it wrong over and over? How would it feel to have your parent turn you away because you couldn’t get it right?

The books in this series (this is the third) are fairly short. They would make for terrific read-alouds at home or in the classroom. And I can only imagine how great the discussion could be afterwards as readers/listeners talk about identity, about failure, and about family. If you love this series, check out the other books by these three great authors – Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Summary


A sweet dog story! Charlie’s family feels “broken.” Her dad is in jail. Her mom rarely leaves her bed. Her big sister is living with a friend until she graduates from high school. And Charlie has to live with an aunt and uncle she hardly knows in a town where she doesn’t want to live. She clings desperately to the hope that she’ll be going home soon and to her long list of ways to make a wish. But she’s been wishing for the same thing for a long time. What if her wishes aren’t working?

Review


Charlie is the kind of kid you want to hug, but you know she’d hate it… At least at first. She’s used to protecting herself. And she has no interest in getting comfortable in her temporary home or in this temporary community. She’ll be going HOME soon.

I loved Charlie’s development over the course of the book. She has to find her way at school and at church and at her aunt and uncle’s house. She’s trying to manage the swirl of emotions inside her, including an impressive amount of anger. She’s learning who she wants to be socially, too. There’s a lot going on for Charlie – and it’s all told so well!

And then there’s a dog. A sweet-tempered, lovable, furry friend is just what Charlie needs to anchor her and give her a sense of belonging as well as a sense of being needed and loved.

This would be perfect for fans of animal stories, stories that have a strong emotional core, and for fans of Barbara O’Connor’s other books like How to Steal a Dog.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Summary


A sensitive book about  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Molly has become pretty skilled at looking like she has it all together. She has good friends. She’s known at school for her poetry. She’s convinced that her mom will move back from Toronto at the end of the year, just like she promised.

But under the perfect exterior she tries to show the world, Molly is starting to lose control. She has to get up earlier and earlier in the morning so she can complete all of her rituals. If she makes even the smallest mistake, she has to start over. It’s impacting her at home and at school. And the compulsions seem to be getting worse.

Review


Oh, my heart broke for Molly…. The author did a great job of showing how Molly’s behavior moves and evolves from subtle routines to overwhelming compulsions. The reader gets to see Molly’s awareness of her quirks and also her feelings of helplessness. She is desperate to reach out to someone – anyone – for help, but the reader also sees the roadblocks that keep her trapped. The emotional core of this story is so well done and engenders so much empathy for Molly.

I’ve noticed more books lately for this middle grade audience (10 to 14ish) that deal with mental health issues. Books like The Seventh Wish (drug addiction), and Still a Work in Progress (eating disorders), and Finding Perfect, introduce readers to illnesses that can effect them or their peers or family members. The books are age-appropriate, while dealing with serious topics. Readers can develop empathy for the characters who are struggling – or watching family members struggle. Best of all, parents and teachers can engage with readers about these topics because the books have opened the door.

I loved Molly’s story and I hope you will enjoy it too!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Framed: A TOAST Mystery by James Ponti

Summary


A Theory of Small Things Mystery.

Florian Bates. “Young Sherlock” and originator of TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things.  With observational skills like Shawn Spencer of the TV show, Psych, Florian uses TOAST to figure things out. Like the whereabouts of stolen paintings from an art museum. But a twelve-year-old gifted enough to work with the FBI is still a twelve-year-old. And a kid who puzzles things out from small clues can be misled by  well-placed small clues. And those kind of mistakes can lead Florian into danger!

Theory of Small Things mystery

Review


What a fantastic start to this mystery series!! Florian is a great character! He’s bright and creative as well as endearing and likeable. His best friend, Margaret, is a perfect match for him – smart enough to keep up with Florian yet with enough separation from the mystery to see danger potential. She has a mystery of her own to solve which starts in this book but will carry into a future story.

The mystery was really well done. Layers and red herrings keep the story going all the way to the end. Fun, laugh-out-loud moments added to the enjoyment. I look forward to reading MANY more TOAST mysteries in the future!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt

Summary


Friday is a bright, bored middle schooler who puzzles out the solution to a bank robbery. The reward money lets Friday buy her way into a prestigious boarding school. While there, Friday uses her powers of observation and her crazy-high IQ to tackle some mysteries at her new school, too.

Brilliant Middle School Detective

Review


Wow, I liked this book! My first criteria for a “good” book is always the main character. Friday clicked for me from the start. Her family situation endeared her to me. But Friday handles her family’s quirks so matter-of-factly, I didn’t pity her.

Next, since this was a mystery, I needed the “cases” to be good. Friday is a bit Sherlockian in her methods and her brilliance. I didn’t feel like it was my job to solve the mystery before her. I didn’t have enough information. So instead I just got to sit back and watch Friday do her thing.

The thing I noticed most about this book, though, was the fast, snappy writing. It’s like watching an episode of The West Wing – part of you knows that there’s a wordy-ness to the writing. But at the same time the words are essential – no fluff. They are establishing a fast pace to every scene. The words are sharp and clever. I think this would be a fun story to read out loud.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

If this sounds like a good read for you – or someone you love – be sure to have book 2, Under Suspicion, handy because this one ends on a cliff hanger. Books three and four are coming in 2017 and are pictured below.

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: The Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Summary


The origin story of Santa! A boy and his father, poor and struggling. An opportunity to change their fortunes. The abusive guardian. A dangerous journey. Good deeds. Hope. Loss. All of these elements – and more – make up the fairy-tale-like beginnings of Father Christmas!

Origin story of Santa

Review


I really enjoyed this middle grade Christmas story. I definitely felt like I was reading a fairy tale. There’s even a Disney-esque quality to it where some amount of personal tragedy spurs the hero on his journey.

All of the classic Santa bits are here – elves, flying reindeer, gifts in stockings. But the author does a great job of doling them out in the service of the larger story. They aren’t just dumped in. (The reference to Rudolph was especially fun.)

The end of the book shifts focus from the story of Nikolas the boy to the quest of Nikolas the man to find his purpose. It almost feels like an extended epilogue or a bonus story. It feels different in tone from the larger story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

I think this would make a great seasonal read for families to enjoy together!

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Summary


A novel in verse. Garvey is a smart, bookish kid. He loves reading and music. His dad wants him to be athletic, but his sister is the sporty one. Garvey longs for his father to see him – value him – love him – for who he is.

Novel in Verse

Review


I love this book for a few very specific reasons. First, I love Garvey. I love his insight into the dynamic with his dad. I love how he begins to love himself as he is. I love how he tries something new and finds that he has a gift.

Second, I love Garvey’s friends. They love him for who he is. They encourage him to be himself. When he tries to address his weight issues in a healthy way, they support him and stand beside him.

Third, I love a story that deals well with the issue of identity. I think identity is such a huge part of growing up. Kids wonder who they are supposed to be. They try on different identities to see which ones fit. They have pressure from outside forces as well as their internal struggle. And stories that look at identity creatively and that reflect the struggle in authentic and hopeful ways, are a treasure to kids – and to the adults who love them and want to help them on the journey.

Finally, I love the way the author conveys so much story, so much emotion, in so few words. This is a short book. It’s a fast read. The story flows so well you don’t really notice the poetry/format after awhile. But when you do notice it, you’re amazed by all the author can convey while following the rules of the form she chose.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

If you are interested in other novels in verse, try The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai