Monday, December 5, 2016

MG Review: Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

Fortune Falls  by Jenny Goebel
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Number of Pages:  208
Published:  January 5th, 2016

Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review for the purposes of the Cybils

Fortune Falls is one of those "what if" stories.  What if all of those expressions or superstitions that we use were really true?  So, if you stepped on a crack it really does break your mom's back and eating an apple a day does keep the doctor away.  To Sadie, this is just life in Fortune Falls.  At the moment Sadie is considered to be an undetermined, meaning she hasn't reached her twelfth birthday yet, so her fate to determine whether she is an Unlucky or Lucky hasn't been tested yet. Sadie is really hoping that she will be a Lucky.  Otherwise, she will be sent away to school, for the protection of everyone else.  But, Sadie has also been having an inclination that she might be headed for being chosen Unlucky, bad things have been happening around her once too often.  Going away to school would also mean that she would lose her best friend Cooper, so she will have to do something drastic to change her luck.  

This was such a fun read.  I really enjoyed looking for all of the superstitions that I read growing up and watching the humorous ways they were incorporated into the story.  The friendship between Cooper and Sadie was really sweet, especially how he tries to help her improve her luck.  I'm not sure how I felt about the luck test and the idea that if you happened to be lucky then you stayed at Flourish Academy, but if you were unlucky, then you had to go to Bane School for the Unluckies.  I really didn't want Cooper and Sadie to get separated, and was rooting for Sadie to pass her test.  Overall, a wonderful story of the hardships of being unlucky, friendship and perseverance to try to change what you feel is your destiny.    

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

MG Review of The Charming Life of Izzy Malone by Jenny Lundquist

29155169The Charming Life of Izzy Malone by Jenny Lundquist
Format: EARC
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of Pages:  288
Published:  November 29, 2016

Source:  Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening Lines:  "The bracelet and the first charm appeared the day I punched Austin Jackson in the nose.  I didn't mean to slug him.  His face just got in my way."

Izzy Malone is having a rocky start to middle-school, she and the guidance counselor are already on a first name basis.  Where Izzy see's herself as outspoken and just speaking her mind, other's see her as mouthy.  Probably part of the reason that she has difficulty making friends and eats her school lunches under a tree.  Izzy is also not the kind of girl to get caught up in the latest fashion styles, preferring her combat boots and long colorful skirts.  Forget dreaming about boys, she's more concerned about getting accepted on the Dandelion Paddlers, a local rowing team.  She's already tried out once, but the team captain seems to have it out for her.  Izzy's home life has also been complicated by having a musical prodigy sister,  the fact her mother is running for mayor and her dad is even the town's chief of police.  When Izzy punches a boy at school, her parents take drastic measures and enroll her in Mrs. Whippie's home study charm school.  Either Izzy passes charm school or she won't be participating in Dandelion Hollow's Pumpkin Palooza, a race where pumpkins are hollowed out and used as boats across the pond.  If she can't participate in the race, how will she ever convince Lauren and the Paddlers that she is good enough for the team?  

I read The Charming Life of Izzy Malone over the Thanksgiving long weekend and this was such a fun entertaining story.  Izzy really isn't a typical middle schooler, but that was what I really loved about her.  She has this attitude of not caring and a style and interests uniquely her own (rowing and stargazing). Yeah, she is mouthy and outspoken, which gets her in trouble, but she is also brutally honest.  

"I have certainly heard of the Subtle Art of Shutting Up, but I can't say I've practiced it all that much. I greatly prefer the underappreciated genius of Speaking My Mind. I figure if someone doesn't like what I have to say, they shouldn't put their ears in close proximity to my mouth."

Izzy struck me as a somewhat lonely girl at first, but her affectionate wit and well charm land her friends that help her complete each task for her charm bracelet.  Lunquist really has a knack for capturing that middle-grade voice and it so reminded me of my own awkward moments growing up, truthfully I'm a bit of tomboy too. I really liked the idea of the letters going back and forth between Mrs. Whippie and Izzy and the activities were simple enough that I could see this as a fun book to read with a child and have them do some of the activities to create their own charm bracelet (write a letter to brightens someone's day, do something nice for someone, etc.).  Overall, a humorous story with lovely messages of friendship, and being yourself.  I hope to see more stories from Lundquist featuring Izzy and her friends.

You can read an excerpt from Jenny Lundquist's website.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wisdom of the Centaurs' Reason (Andy Smithson #6) by L.R.W. Lee

31681260Wisdom of the Centaurs' Reason (Andy Smithson #6) by L.R.W. Lee
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages:  250
Published:  November 23, 2016

Source:  Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening line:  

"Six weeks had shuffled by like a hunched old man, and the ache in Andy's chest over losing Yara hadn't dulled in the slightest."

Andy has been taking the loss of Yara pretty hard, often questioning what he should've done differently or just "if only".  His father has his own regrets and wants very much to set things right too.  Since Andy has been back in our world, Abaddon has intensified his creation of his army made of zolts, citizens who've been turned into these winged beasts.  Abaddon is also holding Andy's father in Castle Avalon and is making the King and his citizens suffer.  Meanwhile, Andy has been tasked with a new quest, a treasure hunt of sorts to gather three peices or gears, and a letter needed to fix the center or heart of his land's power.  In so doing, he will protect the land from Abaddon.  It wont be so easy though, the items were scattered by Merlin in Andy's world and he must complete a task before he can recover each item.  Andy must also rescue his father from Abaddon's control, and then take each of the items he's collected to Mount Mur Eyah, home of the Centaurs, in order to break the curse.    

Wisdom of the Centaurs Reason includes memories from past books in the series, or highlights moments where Andy struggled and how he prevailed.  In many ways, it had the feeling that the series is coming toward its conclusion.  Which made me very sad.  I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the Andy Smithson books and watching the events unfold for Andy.  Breaking the curse has always been a bittersweet moment for Andy, and well for me too.  Once the curse is broken, so too will the magic that has been keeping the three closest people to him immortal and Andy risks loosing them forever.  It's what the series has been building toward, but still it's also why like Andy it's been a struggle of emotions. I'm just happy that we have our little moments of Andy's inneru (inside voice that talks to him), MiniMe, who brings in some humorous lines like,I feel amazing!  I spent the last seven months vacationing in the Principal Islands off the coast of Compunction and Scruples.  Their morel mushrooms are To. Die. For."  

As I've said before, I love how Andy has aged and matured across the series through the many "life values" or principles that Lee encorporates into the story. Andy reflects on how he has demonstrated diligence, loyalty, honor and dignity. Skills that he will use to be a successful King and he also acquires the knowledge that sometimes we have to put the needs of others above our own. There was a scene in which Andy is inside of a burial crypt with past kings and queens of Avalon, and it felt very much like the movie Mulan where she is with Mushu in her ancestors crypt.   There is just so much creativity in these stories and I particularly enjoyed how this time Lee tied in the lore of  Merlin and King Arthur's knights in this book.  Stories centering on Sir Lancelot and the Copper Knight, Sir Kay and the Sword in the Stone, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. How Andy needed to prove his worth in order to gain each item, with riddles that he needed to unravel.  How there were Centaur's guarding the location of each item, which took Andy to places like University of Texas, Stanford, and to the Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina.  There's even refrences to  DaVinci and his Codex Leicester.  Like the other books in Lee's series, Wisdom of the Centaurs' Reason includes layers of symbolism, where daisies represent "new beginnings and true love" (Lee even includes a handy guide at the end of the book).   Despite Andy's path having been set out for him long ago, and the difficulties in reconciling the eventual loss of those important to him, I still will be eagerly awaiting the release of Book Seven.    

Favorite lines: 

"We cherish the moments we have with others.  Each and every day.  Rather than focusing on her loss and the meaninglessness of her death, treasure the gift of knowing and loving her.  Yara will never completely leave you."

"We all fail from time to time, but it's the lessons we learn in the process that truly matter."  

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Few Cybils Mini Reviews

I've been pretty busy lately with my Cybils reading, but I wanted to pop in for a few mini reviews. 

Roz is stranded on an island after a terrible storm crashes the boat she was traveling on.  Some helpful otters engage her power button and soon she is exploring the island.  Roz not only needs to learn to communicate with the animals, soon she finds herself in the position of playing mom to a newly hatched gosling.  Once Roz finally gets settled and manages to fit in with the animals, she risks being taken from the only home that she has ever known by her creators.  

"Can a robot survive in the wilderness?"  In Roz's case, yes they can with a little help from the animals on the island.  I'm not quite sure why Brown chose Roz to be a robot, but I like to think that it was so that she could learn to communicate with the animals and learn a way for them all to get along.  

28110143There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.

But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. It will take all of Alice's wits (and every limb she's got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.
  (From Goodreads)

This is my first introduction to Tahereh Mafi's writing and Furthermore  has this rich tapestry of sights, sounds, and colors, I'm not exactly sure how to explain it, except it is a lot like the cover, very colorful.  Here's an example of the writing, The sun had begun its descent, and the sky had turned a dusty, smoky blue; ambers and golds and violets melted along the horizon and kaleidoscoped through the branches, snowflaking spectacular shapes of light across the land." The story itself kinda made me think of a mix of Alice in Wonderland, with The Lost Track of Time and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Alice wanders across Furthermore, encounters danger and needs to navigate through different cities.   I did like the premise of both Alice and Oliver having quests of their own. 

23288252Opening line:  "The first time I knew for sure I was a Monday, I was sitting in one of Mrs. Flannagan's boring English Lessons last year in fourth grade."

Poppy Mayberry lives in Nova where everyone has special abilities that are based on the day of the week that you were born on.  Poppy's ability is telekinesis, but she isn't very good at it and her rival Ellie can read minds, except she can't stop reading minds when she isn't supposed to in class.  When the two girls cause a disruption at school, they get sent to Power Academy, a summer school that will teach them to control their abilities.  While at the Academy, the Headmistress splits them into groups of four and gives Poppy's group an extra challenge, locate each of their precious items that she has stolen.  If they are successful, then they can leave the Academy early. 
Poppy Mayberry was a pretty quick read, for  which  I would have liked a bit more.  I enjoyed how everyone had different abilities (telekinesis, teleportation, mind reading), well except for those Saturday and Sundays, who don't seem to have a talent.  Though, Brown does include that not everyone can necessarily control their abilities right away.
Cooperation and working together seems to be a big theme, as it is the only way that Poppy's group is going to be able to find their precious items.  This first book had a nice mix of boys and girls, and I hope Brown sticks with these characters in book two, cause there were some hints of romantic feelings between the characters.  Overall, a very fun read.       

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro

25038983Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Number of Pages:  448
Published:  January 5th, 2015

Source:  Library

Opening line:  "Go ahead, Father said, and he passed me the Black Mirror."

Grubb's first apprenticeship was a chimney sweep for Mr. Smears.  That is until  Grubb chooses to stowaway in Alistair Grim's suitcase and ultimately finds himself on Alistair's Odditorium.   Being a mysterious twelve-year-old,  Grubb then takes one of the magical items he finds from the Odditorium outside, causing an evil necromancer named Prince Nightshade to become aware of their presence.  Prince Nightshade than attempts to steal the source of the Odditorium's power for himself.   The second book in the series begins shortly after the Odditorium has escaped the clutches of Prince Nightshade.  Alistair has taken Grubb on as his  apprentice and he's begun his training in how to control the mechanical aspects of the Odditorium, in hopes that one day he can take on the reins.  Prince Nightshade is still following their every move and since their last encounter, he has gone on to amass a large army of his own.  Yet, Alistair has also been makings plans that involve Merlin's map and a possible location for King Arthur's sword,  Excalibur. With it, he hopes to strike down Prince Nightshade for good.  

 Alistair's Odd Aquaticum has a bit of everything, adventure,  a magical house fueled by magical fairy dust and steered by a pipe organ, witches,  fierce warriors, a magical pocket watch, shades, sea dragons and even the legendary Excalibur.   I really enjoyed the way Funaro blended the steampunk, mechanical aspects of the Odditorium with the Arthurian legends  of Excalibur, Merlin, and the Lady of the Lake.   The Odditorium can even go underwater now, how cool is that?  I also felt like I was getting to know all of the other Odditoria's (living and inanimate objects) better than I did in the first book and it was lovely watching Grubb have some much needed bonding time with Alistair.  We learn some interesting facts about Mack, the Scottish pocket watch's past as well as some prophecies that are yet to come.  Perfect for someone looking for a bit of mystery and non-stop action.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Winner of Eden's Escape by Tara Crowl

The winner of a copy of Eden's Escape by Tara Crowl is:


JenRae, please send me an email (link in my profile) with contact details so I can get your prize out to you.  Congratulations and thank you to everyone who entered.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and illustrations by Will Staehle

25241871Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and illustrations by Will Staehle
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Quirk Books
Number of Pages:  224
Published:  November 24, 2015

Source:  Library

Warren is the 13th member in a long line of Warren's who have lived and worked in the Warren Hotel. He is the one who takes care of the grounds, is the bellhop, and all around handy man, while his Uncle Rupert and Aunt Annaconda have been running the place, practically into the ground.  All that will change on Warren's eighteenth birthday when the hotel will finally be his.  It's been five long years since a guest has stayed at the Warren Hotel, but now a mysterious guest has shown up requesting a room.   Aunt Annaconda suspects that he is looking for the All-Seeing Eye and she desperately wants to find it before the guest does.  Aunt Annaconda calls on her sisters Isosceles and Scalene to help her search the hotel, requesting  they keep the news secret, which of course means everyone finds out and the hotel is booming with greedy, noisy, destructive guests in search of the eye as well.     

I really enjoyed the way  the story and illustrations were laid out on the page, with both full page and smaller illustrations in black, white and red, similar to the cover.  Alternating with Aunt Annaconda's pages which were a black background  with white writing, giving  her pages a more spooky feel.  There are also Victorian cutouts on a few of the pages and interestingly the chapter titles for her pages were written in reverse.  While Warren is attending to the newly arrived guests, he begins to uncover some clues to the whereabouts of the All-Seeing Eye. Clues in the form of riddles and mirrored writings which I imagine would be fun for children to solve.  I'm rather fond of creepy old homes and Aunt Annaconda reminded quite a bit of the Grand High Witch in Roald Dahl's The Witches.  

*Warren The 13th and The All-Seeing Eye  has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.*