Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked and The Ostrich Conspiracy by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Platypus Police Squad takes place in the fictional city of Kalamazoo where rookie detective Rick Zengo has just been paired up with his new partner veteran Corey O'Malley.  Zengo's  grandfather was notorious on the force and he often wonders if he can live up to the family name.  Their first case involves a school teacher who has gone missing with only a bag of illegal fish left behind.  Signs seem to  point to Frank Pandini Jr., but without hard evidence the detectives may have to look further.  Krosoczka captures the elements that I would expect from a police story (stern Sergeant, raring to go rookie, veteran who offers up his sage advice and lays down the rules.  Even some side kick detectives who bumble their way through the evidence.) Yet, he also adds some kid friendly pieces like boomerangs and a club that serves up root beer floats.  The black and white illustrations add to the detective feel and I can certainly see the appeal of the book.  The only thing that I was a little surprised about was that I was expecting a little more humor and perhaps some more action scenes, but I attribute this more to the author setting up the story and characters.  My review copy was from the library.  

18635019Kalamazoo City is set to be the next site for celebrity Chase Mercy's action film, but when something mysteriously goes wrong at the grand opening of its newest amusement park, detectives Rick Zengo and Corey O'Malley must unravel the clues as to who is responsible. Their investigation pits the developers from a neighbor city against Frank Pandini Jr., who is trying to bring in Chase Mercy's movie.  Who will ultimately be responsible?   I really liked how the action picked up in The Ostrich Conspiracy, with all the added chase scenes and boomerang throws. Even the investigation took on a nice spin. Overall, the illustrations and humorous detectives made for a fun exciting read.  My ARC was from Walden Pond Press as a part of a giveaway offered during Middle Grade March. The Ostrich Conspiracy will be released on May 6th 2014. 

ETA: In his acknowledgments, Jarrett Krosoczka lists the detectives and the Northampton Police Department as being helpful in answering his research questions.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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April's pick for the Classic YA read-a-long is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  If you want, you can follow along with the discussion at The Midnight Garden and #tmgreadalong.

The Cuthbert's have decided to adopt a ten to eleven year old boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia to help out on the farm.  Having little experience with children, they've left Mrs. Spencer to pick one out.  Yet, somehow when Matthew goes to the train station to pick him up, there is Anne waiting instead.  Oh Anne, such a delightful girl.  She's romantic, imaginative, a dreamer, inquisitive and full of thousands of question. Mix that with shy, quiet Matthew, who seems to like her "chatter" and can't imagine "quenching her light" by telling her there's been a mistake.  So what does he do?  He leaves things to Mrs. Cuthbert to handle.  Yet, after meeting her Marilla determines that they might be able to "do some good to her."  Marilla thinks Anne needs to grow up prim and proper, well versed in scripture with good morals and become more sensible.  A task that is easier said then done.  

I'd be the first to admit that I've read only a few historical fiction books, but Anne of Green Gables just touched me in ways that I didn't expect.  And what a wonderful look at an adoptive family who at first didn't really think they needed one another but grow to love each other so much.   I love the changes that Marilla and Matthew undergo, well mostly Marilla.  Anne seemed to make Marilla see into her own heart and open it up to her.  I also loved Matthew in his quiet shy ways.  When he "slipped into the house with the air of a burglar,"  I couldn't help from smiling.  I also loved over dramatic, romantic Anne, who possessed a strong will and bold personality for not taking any gruff from anyone.  Overall, a wonderful book that drew out so many kinds of emotions and feelings out of me, even making my heart ache for Marilla and Anne at times. Thank you to the ladies over at The Midnight Garden for another wonderful book recommendation.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Two for Tuesday: Review of Hilary Wagner's The White Assassin and Lords of Trillium (Nightshade Chronicles #2 and #3)

Back in March, Hilary Wagner was giving away signed hardcovers for the third book from her Nightshade Chronicles at Project Middle Grade, I was very lucky to win a copy of the Lords of Trillium.  Having read Nightshade City back in 2012, I quickly decided to pick up The White Assassin from the library and make this review a two parter.   Man, am I ever glad I don't skip around in a series!  I loved The White Assassin.  

Sequels sometimes are hard for me to get back into, especially when I wait like forever between reading the next book.  Sometimes it's really hard to get up to date, yet the nice thing about the Nightshade Chronicles was that I had recalled what it was about the first book that I really enjoyed so much, the vivid descriptions and the overall sense of good versus evil. That those same feelings were there for me with The White Assassin makes this story just that much more special. I still felt like I was diving into a Brian Jacques Redwall book and loving every minute of it.  

The White Assassin takes place sometime after the events in Nightshade City. Juniper has gathered a council of rats, bats and snakes to work together to try and save  the City of Nightshade from an attack by Billycan, but also to save them all from his terror and destruction.  The plan is to capture Billycan, give him a truth serum and interrogate him to learn who he is working with and who his targets are.  But, Billycan is a pretty ruthless leader and he's also very smart, so catching him wont be as easy as it seems.  Yet once he is captured, can anyone believe what he has to say anyways?  Billycan so grew on me, he is pretty evil as rats go and yet once he is captured a vulnerable side to him is exposed.  Wagner brilliantly shows the reader Billycan's past which gives him much more depth and adds so many more layers to the story, just wonderful. And although the story resolved itself pretty well, there were some pretty good mysteries left to solve so I was left eager to jump back into the Catacombs and Nightshade City if anything just to see what Billycan would be up to next.  

Lords of Trillium begins with the disappearance of rats from Nightshade City. Juniper and Vincent quickly go Topside in order to search for the missing Hunters, hoping to find clues as to whether the dock rats, Humans of Trillium or even Billycan are behind it. Over the past year, the Council has been searching through the books, journals and research papers that were left behind by the scientists for answers to the rats longevity, strength and intelligence.  At the same time, Billycan has made his way to Tosca trying to move away from his past and maybe do some good.  While there, Billycan learns that someone he knows closely had an army on Tosca and was instrumental in causing the King to go "mad" and is now secretly plotting revenge against Juniper and all of Nightshade.  Will Billycan make it back to Trillium in time to help?  

There is so much to love about this series, with characters like Juniper and Victor and Vincent and their loyalty to family and the City of Nightshade, or the settings and dangers that Wagner puts these rats in as they navigate their way through the city and lab of Prince Pharmaceuticals to try to discover what the scientists want from them.  There is also the intrigue and plotting of the revenge and an overall plot of good versus evil.  And the beautiful messages of redemption, just fantastic.  The whole series was wonderful and it really doesn't get the recognition that it deserves.  Although Wagner tied up all the threads going on across the series she left some room for a possible book, which I hope someday she might write because I truly would like to see more of Billycan. Thank you once again to the author for the autographed copy of your book.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhiell

From Goodreads "When a mysterious parcel arrives at her family’s new home, eleven-year-old Lin Rosenquist has a curious feeling she’s meant to discover what’s inside.

Much to Lin’s surprise, the ornate key contained in the parcel unlocks a spellbinding world called Sylver, hidden behind the cellar door. Sylver is an enchanting land of eternal winter, inhabited by animals that shared a special connection with children in the real world, either as beloved pets or tamed wild animals. In death, they are delivered to Sylver, where they take on a curiously human-like form and still watch over the children they cherish. While Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with her beloved pet, Rufus, she soon learns that the magic of the Petlings and Wilders is failing, and snow trolls want to claim Sylver for themselves. Lin must discover a way to stop them and save this enchanted world."

The Twistrose Key has been described as a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, and it is every bit as lovely as those two books.  Almhiell creates a wonderful world in Sylver, one that should really be read in the Winter time with a cup of your favorite hot beverage and your pet snuggling up next to you.  Lucky for me,  we had some additional snow over the weekend, so I certainly could identify with the setting.   And the beautiful prose, " Lin had lived for eleven years where the fields smelled of freshly turned soil and the mountains hugged the stars between their peaks."  There is something about getting wrapped up in a place like that.   I really liked Lin's excitement of being reunited with Rufus and her eagerness to take on her task.  You see,  Lin must find Prince Ivan Winterfyrst,  who has been missing for weeks, and she must find him "while the Wanderer still shines over the valley of Sylver."  Ivan needs to perform his special magic to open the Wandergate between Sylver and Earth and bring forth the Wandersnow. It's also the only way that Lin can make her way back home.  Which presents Lin with a huge puzzle to solve, where is the Prince and how can she find him?   Of course there are also those out to prevent Lin from completing her task, which adds some nice mystery to the story because we are never completely sure of some of the secondary characters motivations and whether they are a traitor or not.  However,  I did find myself wishing that Ivan's character would have been explored a little more, he spent so much of the story missing that I really felt that he kinda deserves his own story.  And the bad guy, The Margrave, who has control over a troll army that can destroy all of Sylver, well he is so elusive in the beginning that I really didn't get a feel for his nastiness.  Yet, there is plenty of mystery, twists and beautiful writing that is very reminiscent of a children's fairy tale.  As an interesting side note:  I'm always curious about where an author's idea for their story comes from and after a little research at Tone Almhiell's website , I learned that she began writing the story after her pet died and The Twistrose Key was written first as an advent calendar with one page chapters glued into a book. There are lots of interesting tidbits on Almhiell's book webpage.  Although this book is a stand alone, I hope Almhiell will continue to write more stories in the future.  My copy for review was from the public library.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

From Goodreads:  "Jason Walker has often wished his life could be a bit less predictable--until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason suddenly transporting from the hippo tank to a place unlike anything he's ever seen. In the past, the people of Lyrian welcomed visitors from the Beyond, but attitudes have changed since the wizard emperor Maldor rose to power. The brave resistors who opposed the emperor have been bought off or broken, leaving a realm where fear and suspicion prevail.
8306745In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world. With the help of a few scattered rebels, Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor, and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes."

For Spring break my child was reading Book 3 in the Fabelhaven series, I was a little worried that we would run out of reading material, so I picked up Beyonders in paperback just in case.  It's one of the fun things about going on vacation I get to peruse the MG titles newly released at the bookstores.  
Beyonders  is a quest story where Jason must recover the parts of a word to help him destroy Emperor Maldor.  Rachel joins Jason on his quest mostly to try and find a way home for herself.  She has a pretty secondary role in this book, but I think that will change with the next book in the series.    They both kinda grew on me throughout the book.  At first they are so focused on getting home and finding the pieces of the word. Their quest puts them in some interesting situations where they have to use physical and intellectual skills versus magical ones in order to get out of them,  and the pacing kept things moving along, two things that I really liked. And the characters they meet along the way, some are quirky and interesting and others are down right evil, and you can never be sure if they are helping or hindering Jason and Rachel.  Most of all, I like how Jason and Rachel come to realize that they care about the people of Lyrian and want to help them get out from under Maldor's rule and they need to be heroes if not to save Lyrian but to also get home.  Overall, a wonderful quest adventure story with the bonus of a  scene chapter at the end of the book (that will play a part in the next book, Seeds of Rebellion),  as well as a sneak peak at Five Kingdoms which released in March.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

From Goodreads:  "Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive—but “almost impossible” means “still possible.” And you should never ignore a possible.

So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian, threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has— the address of the cello maker.

Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers—urchins who live in the hidden spaces above the city. Together they scour the city in a search for Sophie’s mother—but can they find her before Sophie is caught and sent back to London? Or, more importantly, before she loses hope?"

This book came highly recommended at the book fair I attended awhile back by the book sellers, so when I saw it pop up on inter-library loan, I knew I needed to get it (they've never stirred me wrong before.) With the opening line of  “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel," I was defiantly hooked.  I felt like Rooftoppers was equal parts of Oliver Twist mixed with Paris wrapped in history. With its homeless orphans who live on rooftops or high up in tree's, it was very easy for me to get caught up in the story and its characters.  To the point that at times I really worried for Matteo and Sophie as they navigated through the city of Paris. The illustrations by Terry Fan at the beginning of each chapter are beautifully done and really gave me the feeling of being on a rooftop.  Although, there is no way I'm climbing up on one of those.  Rundell's writing in Rooftoppers also had a kind of lyrical quality to it for me.  I liked how she describes Sophie as the "girl with hair the color of lightning, and the smile of a shy person."  And, although I had a feeling how the story was going to end, it was still a beautiful touching moment filled with tears and a few tissues. With the theme of "never ignore a possible", a wonderful historical fiction adventure story.