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“Poppy Mayberry, The Monday” by Jennie K. Brown

Here’s my ten-year-old’s review of Poppy Mayberry, The Monday (Nova Kids) by Jennie K. Brown. We received a free, advanced reader’s electronic copy as part of my participation as a debut author in The Sweet Sixteens. My son has read a lot of books in the past few months, but you’ll see that this one really captured his attention!

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It has a perfect mix of romance, comedy, and suspense–all geared toward middle grade readers. The plot line is that all kids in the town of Nova have special powers determined by the day they were born on. Monday is telekinesis, Tuesday is teleportation, Wednesday is electrical, Thursday is mind reading, and Friday is disappearing. Saturday and Sunday don’t have any powers.

As the title states, Poppy Mayberry is a Monday, but she’s not a very good one. After being shipped off to a special school for power-disabled kids with her worst enemy Ellie (who can’t control her powers), Poppy is paired up in a team with Logan, a Friday, and Samuel, a Wednesday. That’s when things take a downward turn. I won’t give away spoilers but it gets pretty wild.

I think kids ages eight to fifteen would like Poppy Mayberry, The Monday. It is one of my favorite books ever!

My son’s review of “The Rat Prince”

RatFinding books that my ten-year-old hasn’t read yet is a challenge. Have you seen our home library? So this year we are concentrating on brand new books. Luckily, I’m an author and my membership in The Sweet Sixteens means I have access to advanced review copies of books that haven’t come out yet.

So far my son has reviewed Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan, Fenway and Hattie by Victoria Coe, and The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop. Here’s his review of  The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder: 

The Rat Prince is an intriguing story I read start to finish in less than twenty four hours. I didn’t put it down, except when my mom made me. It’s a blend of the classic story Cinderella and The Secrets of Nimh. The hook is Cinderella meets the rat guardians of her family and they embark on a great adventure. That the rats have a ruler that is much smarter than you would think for a rat. He’s a good guy. The bad guy is {——} {——–}. As the story unfolds you will see how it resembles the classic tale of Cinderella but still stays mature enough to pull in an upper middle grade audience.

Stay tuned for more reviews!

      

A Sneak Peek at “Secrets of the Dragon Tomb”

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When I was lent an advanced review copy of the middle grade book Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, my ten-year-old son was thrilled. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is Steampunk meets SciFi and sure to keep kids up past their bedtime saying “Just one more page!” I can’t share a full review because this book doesn’t come out until January 12, 2016, but here’s a little teaser curtsey of my son:

Cousins Edward and Fredrick live on 19th century British Mars and must stop the nefarious Sir Titus Dane from obtaining a water abacus that can be used to find an ancient dragon tomb full of powerful technology.

My favorite part was the environment. I really liked how Patrick described the unique wildlife on Mars such as crannybugs and bushbears. I also liked how it wasn’t all “high-techy” because you don’t often see books about Mars that aren’t futuristic. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was steampunk like The Peculiar, which is one of my favorite genres because it is uncommon in MG reads.

“The Book of Dares For Lost Friends” by Jane Kelley

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The kids and I were super excited to win a giveaway from Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life, and receive a free copy of Jane Kelley’s latest book for middle grade readers. Thank you Darlene and Jane!

Here’s my ten-year-old son’s review of The Book of Dares for Lost Friends.

The Book of Dares for Lost Friends by Jane Kelley is a quick and easy read that explores the traits of friendship. Val and Lanora are two girls who live in The Big Apple. Their long history of friendship takes a twist in middle school when Lanora joins The A Team, which is essentially a clique of snotty popular girls. Val feels crushed, but decides to grin and bear it, until something major happens and things become even worse. This is a book boys and girls can enjoy with pleasure.

The Book of Dares for Lost Friends

 

 

From the playroom to the boardroom


Can you take the skills you learned convincing your toddler to eat peas with you to work? That’s the question Shari Storm poses in her book: Motherhood Is the New MBA: Using Your Parenting Skills to Be a Better Boss, and she answers it with a resounding, “Yes!” Storm’s thesis is that all of the interpersonal strategies mothers hone while managing their kids are equally effective with adults.

As an example, let’s compare getting a child dressed and out the door to school on time, with launching a major change within a company. With your five-year-old, you need to give explicit, advanced warning about what’s to come. “We are leaving the house in ten minutes. Please put on your shoes.” In the workplace, advanced warning and clear instructions help transitions flow smoothly too.

Storm builds her book with an abundance of comparisons of things that help at home working equally well in business. Kids don’t like to hear “I told you so,” and neither do employees. Storytelling helps finesse action at home–and is also a clever way to communicate at work.

I found Motherhood Is the New MBA to be extremely readable and witty. I think it would be a great gift book for a new mom heading back to work. But it was also enjoyable for me to read as a SAHM/working mom hybrid.

“Deception on Sable Hill” by Shelley Gray

I am very picky when it comes to historical fiction–and I enjoyed Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray immensely. It has the perfection combination of great storytelling, good writing, and enough historically accurate detail to earn my admiration and respect. I detest historical fiction books that go of course in terms of authenticity, but Deception on Sable Hill stays true to the time period.

At its heart, the book is a romance between the wealthy Eloisa Carstairs and the middle class Sean Ryan, an Irishman who has worked his way up in the police force to become a detective. Set in 1893 against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair, Eloisa confides in Sean that she is a sexual assault victim.

As a reader, I enjoyed the novel because in was a great story. As a writer, I was impressed by Shelley Gray’s mastery of the craft. This is probably something most people won’t notice, but she hardly ever uses sentence tags like “he said” or “she asks.” The dialogue is seamless and this is part of what makes Gray’s book so gripping.

Deception on Sable Hill is the second book in the The Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, but it holds up exceptionally well as a stand-alone novel. I have not read Secrets of Sloane House but I did not feel lost at all. In fact, I loved Deception on Sable Hill so much that I am definitely interested in reading the entire series.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

A book about Alzheimer’s for tween readers


Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!

The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.

I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.

“The Three Thorns” by Michael Gibney


“Dickens meets Tolkien for Kids.” That’s how I’d describe The Three Thorns (The Brotherhood and the Shield) by Michael Gibney. Three orphans are abandoned in Edwardian England, raised in wretched circumstances, and then happily reunited–only to discover the truth about their destiny.

It’s hard to talk about the plot of The Three Thorns without giving away major spoilers, but remember what I said earlier about Tokien? If you love trolls, goblins, magical creatures and battles, this book is for you! As soon as my nine-year-old read it he begged me to purchase the sequel, which will be published next year.

What I especially appreciated about The Three Thorns was the richness of location. I really felt like I was in 1912 London, or out in the countryside on a rabbit hunter’s estate. That made the contrast to the otherworldly scenes all the more sharp.

For more information about this series, check out http://www.thebrotherhoodandtheshield.com/.

“Still Life” by Christa Parrish

Still Life by Christa Parrish is a multi-view novel that bounces from the present to the past. Ada is a twenty-something woman who was raised in a cult and escapes when Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Julian feels called by God to marry her after a brief meeting. Katherine is a wife and mother of two teen boys who is having an affair. This is a story about broken people who deal with tragedy and bumble around being hurt and depressed.

I had high hopes for “Still Life because I loved “The Air We Breathe” and thought “Stones for Breads” was okay, but unfortunately, I had a hard time connecting with this book. My main problem was that most of the characters were so weak and pathetic that they were unlikable. The one really heroic character was Julian, who sounded too good to be true anyway. Julian’s best friend Hortense–who doesn’t have any hands–was a likable character, but she was part of the B-cast.

You know how in “Charlotte’s Web” the reader falls in love with Fern in the very first ten pages because of the “save the pig moment” when she rescues Wilbur? There was never a moment like that for me in “Still Life.” Why root for these people? In real life I’d have compassion for them because they were actual human beings, but as fictional characters they were simply annoying.

I still think Christa Parrish is an incredibly talented author based on “The Air We Breathe.” But “Still Life” did not do it for me at all.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Realistic fiction for teens: “Muchacho” by Louanne Johnson

Muchacho by Louanne Johnson tells the story of self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent Eddie, who decides to change his ways after falling for Lupe, a college-bound beauty. This book takes place in New Mexico and is heavily laced with Spanish, slang, swear words and grit. It’s not your typical YA book, but could easily appear on a college reading list for a class on Chicano Literature–even though to my knowledge the author is white.

Johnson is also the author of the memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework which was portrayed on screen as the movie “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer. That book takes places in Northern California, whereas the movie version centers on Los Angeles.

This is a big deal to me personally, because I taught third grade in the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto–former murder capitol of America–which was the district that fed into the high school classrooms that Johnson based My Posse Don’t Do Homework on. I still don’t understand how Hollywood thinks Los Angeles is “scarier” than East Palo Alto. I had eight year olds drawing pictures of hiding from gangsters with guns.

In Muchacho, Johnson makes fun of white Stanford students (like me) who come to districts like Ravenswood. Although to be fair, it’s hard to tell if Johnson is making fun Stanford teachers or Eddie is. The Mr. McElroy character starts out a bit rough but ends up becoming a pretty good teacher (in my opinion at least).

Muchacho is not your typical YA book, but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a quick read, probably an under 50k word count, an is something that teenage boys would like too.

 

For moms who don’t have time to read

Got a teen in your home? Got a child capable of reading at a high school level? It’s darn near impossible to keep up with what your kids read.

Over on my other site, The YA Gal, I review books as fast as I can get them. And yet…I’m still behind. Here are three books I’ve read recently that parents might want know about–even if you don’t have time to read them:

All last year I felt guilty for not having read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. How could I call myself a YA fan and not have read such a popular book? Well, today I remedied that situation. Start to finish. Cover to cover. Quite a lot of Kleenex.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a teenage love story set against the backdrop of cancer. Hazel drags her oxygen tank everywhere she goes and Augustus has a prosthetic leg. Both are erudite, witty, and converse in a fashion that I’ve never heard teenagers sound like ever–and I’ve been around a lot of smart teens. Like, literally, I’ve never heard teens talk like that. Still, the Gilmore-Girl-esq dialogue is fun to read, although if it doesn’t come across as realistic.

If you enjoy tear-jerkers, this is a great book for you. If you’d rather not put yourself through an emotional wringer, stay away. The only thing that bothered me was Augustus and his unlit cigarette. Hopefully that doesn’t spawn a fad of cigarettes becoming cool again even if they aren’t smoked.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another title in the uber-popular genre of YA books about teenagers in dangerous “fight-to-the-death” games. But in this case, the main character, Thomas, is not on television…probably. He doesn’t really know the truth because his memory is wiped.

Thomas, along with the rest of the cast, are stuck in the middle of the Glade. Right next to them is the mysterious Maze with ever changing walls. Somewhere, deep in the Maze are evil Grievers which are half slug, half robots ready to attack.

Will Thomas be able to solve the Maze and lead the other kids to freedom or is he actually their worst enemy?

My nine-year-old son loves, loves, loves The Maze Runner. He read it start to finish in one day. To me as an adult it seemed predictable but fun. I wish there were more female characters but I appreciate Dasher’s brilliance in crafting a book that makes adolescent boys want to read.

The Soulkeepers by G.P. Ching might be on your teen’s e-reader right now because it’s free. Usually free books are hit or miss, but this book is amazing.

The last place fifteen-year-old Jacob Lau wants to be is living with his Uncle John in the middle of nowhere. But in the wake of his mother’s disappearance, Jacob has no place else to go. The kids at Jacob’s school act like they’ve never met an Asian American before, and make mixed-race Jacob feel like a freak. His only source of comfort is Malini, a bright and beautiful transplant from India.

Meanwhile, Jacob is seriously spooked by Dr. Silvia, the ghostly pale women who lives in the Gothic Victorian next door. When Jacob breaks one of her stained glass windows he’s forced into her servitude, scooping compost and working in the garden. Jacob can’t figure out if Dr. Silvia is a witch or a trusted mentor–which is too bad because some strange things have been happening to Jacob recently, and he needs all the help he can get to figure out what the heck is going on.

The pacing of this book is perfect. The characters suck you in right away and make you care about them. The suspense makes you want to turn pages as fast as possible. But under all of it, is a deep heart. The Soulkeepers is a book that makes you think.

I was unfamiliar with G.P. Ching until I read The Soulkeepers and since then I’ve cyber stalked her in the most friendly way. I’ve also signed up for her newsletter. I’m pretty darned convinced that Genevieve is a brilliant writer and marketer. I can see why traditionally published authors would be jealous. But this woman is also a class act. G.P. Ching is full of grace and friendly advice for writers and teens alike.

“Both of Me” by Jonathan Frisen

Both of Me by Jonathan Frisen is YA book with a unique concept. Clara is an older teen girl traveling around the globe, fleeing her past when she accidentally switches bags with the airplane passenger sitting next to her–a good looking but aloof guy named Elias who clearly has Autism Spectrum Disorder. When Clara tracks Elias down to retrieve her bag, she gets sucked in by the mystery of his condition because–here’s the twist–Elias only exhibits ASD traits half of the time. The other half his personality shifts into a charming, brilliant young man who steals Clara’s heart.

I give Frisen major kudos for writing a book that’s not another rip-off of the last YA book I read. There are a lot of other things to like about Both of Me too. The dialogue is funny. The narrative is completely unpredictable. But there are a lot of “thin” characters like Kira and ideas that are never really explained like the borders and what exactly Elias does when he’s with them. I felt like the story needed another 100 pages to flesh things out.

However, my major issue with Both of Me is that I’m not okay with using ASD as a plot device. I know and love a lot of people with ASD and none of them can flip back and forth like that. Plus, without giving away any spoilers, the end of the book provides an artistic explanation for Autism that is pure BS.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booklook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

“King of the Mutants” by Samantha Verant


I took a mini break this weekend to read the middle grade novel King of the Mutants by Samantha Verant. It’s about Maverick Mercury, an alligator-like boy trapped in a wretched life as a sideshow circus act. He’s got gashing teeth, glowing red eyes and oh yeah, a tail.

Maverick’s only friend is his three legged dog, Snaggletooth, until the day he meets Freddie, a run away foster kid who thought life at the circus sounded like a good idea. But when Freddie and Maverick overhear the circus owner plotting to kill Maverick, both boys decide to quickly run away.

With smarts, creativity, and a tricked out motorcycle and sidecar, Maverick, Freddie and Snaggletooth escape to the unknown. They’re on the hunt for anyone who can give them information on Maverick’s deformities–even if it means venturing deep into the New Orleans bayou and meeting a real life Hoodoo queen.

King of the Mutants is wonderfully paced, full of action, and a super fun read. The only concern I had about it was the use of the word “midget”, which I believe is now considered a bad word. In the context of an evil circus, using a slur against people with dwarfism makes sense. But later in the book it would have been nice if three of the hero dwarfs, Darling, Mr. Black, or Mr. White, had given Maverick a gentle correction about this.

Word choice aside, the message of King of the Mutants, that every human being has worth no matter what they look like, is wonderful and delivered in a truly entertaining way.

 

“The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong” by L. Tam Holland

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I’ve been excited to read The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong, by debut author L. Tam Holland, ever since I saw it listed in the Stanford alumni magazine. You might even say I had outrageously high expectations for the book. Luckily, Holland did not disappoint! The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is hysterically funny, tense in all of the right moments, and poignant, especially at the end.

Vee Crawford-Wong is half Texan, half Chinese, and that’s about as much as he knows about his personal identity. His mom and dad refuse to tell him one tidbit of information about where they come from. On the rare occasions when his dad does say something about China, it’s usually something about American Chinese food. Vee’s mom tells him more about their 2005 Toyota named Fanny, then about her aging parents in Ding Dong Texas.

When Vee’s history teacher makes the class write a five page paper about their ancestry, Vee makes a bunch of stuff up. One lie leads to another and soon the Crawford-Wong family is headed towards China and a truth that nobody wants to reveal.

This book is rich enough for a ninth grade English class–if the parents don’t complain about all the almost-sex scene. The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong also has something missing from a lot of YA bookshelves these days, a non-white main character.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks!

“Rebels” by Jill Williamson

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Rebels is book three of The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. (You can read my review of Outcasts, here.) The novels take place in a dystopian future where pleasure is promoted at the expense of real relationships and ethics. The heroes of the story are religious people from a patriarchal family where the men are always in charge and the women stay home to do laundry and homeschool children. The few instances where women step out on their own, something bad happens like they get captured. It’s like the antithesis of girl-power.

Instead of a central protagonist, Rebels jumps around between three brothers: Levi, Mason and Omar, as well as two sisters: Jemma and Shaylinn. There are also a bunch of kids, kindred folk, city people, bad guys, criminals, medics and other characters to keep track of. Even though I was already familiar with the series, it was really hard to remember who everyone was. To add to the confusion, a few of the characters have two different names.

On the plus side, Jill Williamson deserves a lot of credit for managing a very complex plot and tying up the threads neatly together at the end. At the two thirds mark of Rebels, I was wondering how the heck she was going to pull it off, and yet she did. The ending answers all questions, and provides a satisfactory conclusion. The only lingering concern I have is the book’s message that husbands are usually right and wives should do almost all of the housework. That type of future truly qualifies as dystopian!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®