Monday, February 11, 2019

MG Historical Nonfiction Review of Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance by Tod Olson

37825420Lost in the Antarctic:  The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance  by Tod Olson
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  Scholastic Inc.
Number of pages: 224
Published:  January 1st, 2019
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Lines:  " The ship didn't stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it.  He'd been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately to keep the water out."

The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance is the fourth installment in Tod Olson's Lost series and tells the story of  Ernest Shackleton and his crew who set sail aboard the Endurance in October of 1914 on a voyage through the Weddell Sea to Vahsel Bay.  Once at Vahsel Bay, the men planned to take dog sleds to go another 800 miles overland to the South Pole, while another ship would scout ahead and drop supplies for the men to finish their trek.   Partway through their voyage, the Endurance became trapped in the ice requiring the crew to abandon ship taking nothing but the bare minimum in supplies, the dogsleds, and lifeboats.  This is the story of what happened to them next.  

I really loved the narrative style of Lost in the Antarctic, how it combined the facts and details of the voyage with excerpts from the crews own diaries and journals, as well as photos and illustrations.  There's even a detailed list of the sources in the back of the book.  As I began reading the story, I could only imagine all the challenges the crew would have to endure, especially as their progress was slowed and they had to carve out a path through the ice to even move the ship forward a few feet.   It's a very engrossing survival story that especially illustrates how treacherous Antarctica is.  There's a reason that very little has been explored.  How difficult it must have been to abandon their ship just as winter was approaching, knowing they would have months without daylight and their sources of food were quickly being depleted.  Always in the back of your mind is the thought of what perseverance these men must have had to endure such harsh conditions.  An excellent nonfiction story with just the right amount of historical details, and lighter moments of shared camaraderie where the crew is telling jokes, playing music, even pictures of the crew playing a game of soccer on the snow packed ice.   I'd recommend The Lost series for kids who enjoyed reading the I Survived series of books.   

 Just as I was finishing up my review, I learned that an expedition is getting closer at locating the wreck site of the Endurance How cool would that be if they could somehow recover the ship?  

Friday, February 8, 2019

MG Mystery Review of The Story Pirates Present: Digging Up Danger by Jacqueline West and illustrated by Hatem Aly

42852921The Story Pirates Present: Digging Up Danger by Jacqueline West, illustrated by Hatem Aly and based on the original story idea by Phoebe Wolinetz.
Format:  Ebook
Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 284
Published:  January 15th, 2019
Source:  Public Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  " Eliza loves hunting ghosts — too bad she's spending the summer helping her scientist mother study weird plants instead.  But when a mysterious plant goes missing, things go from strange to downright spooky. Eliza is convinced something—or someone—is haunting the plant shop. Is she digging into dangerous ground?"

I first heard about the Story Pirates from listening to some of their podcasts with my kiddo.  I've always liked the idea that each podcast was inspired by stories that kids wrote themselves.  From there, the company has branched out into taking children's story ideas and is now publishing books.  How cool is that kids get help from published authors and their idea becomes a book?  The first book is Stuck in the Stone Age and was written by Geoff Rodkey and Digging Up Danger is the second book written by Jacqueline West and inspired by Phoebe Wolinetz.   I've been a huge fan of Jacqueline West's books for a long time, I adore her writing style, everything from the words she chooses, to her settings and characters.   I knew that I was in for a treat when my hold for this book finally came in at the library.

One of the neat things about this series is how it combined a creative writing tutorial with Phoebe's mystery story idea.  This is done by encouraging the reader to flip forward and backward through the pages of the book as your reading it.  For example, the reader might be reading the initial pages of the story and come to a spooky moment, then they're prompted to flip to the back of the book where they learn about how the author set up this scene.  There are also pieces on crafting your settings, what's needed for an exciting mystery, how stories have a beginning, middle, and end, creating a culprit, even what kind of clues a reader might need.  It's really quite interactive with the flipping of pages and there are even worksheets that ask the reader questions about what things you would find in your setting, who's the one doing the sleuthing? Even tips on how to outline who the suspects are.  There's a whole Mystery Creation Zone with titles like "idea storms" and "detective notebook pages" that ties things back to Phoebe's mystery story idea while encouraging and providing the tools for kids to develop their own mysteries.  

Now I read this as an ebook, so flipping back and forth was pretty easy for me.  Kids might find this a bit more challenging with the physical copy.  I choose to read the whole story and then went back through reading the chapter and the how-to parts at the back of the book.   I just love this idea as a classroom teaching tool in creative writing or for kids who are interested in becoming an author.  Plus Digging up Danger was a very humorous story and a fun mystery to solve that I'm sure children would enjoy reading.      

Thursday, February 7, 2019

MG Steampunk/Fantasy Review of Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

29939780Cogheart by Peter Bunzl
Format:  Paperback
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press
Number of Pages: 368
Publishing:  February 12th, 2019 (first published September 1st, 2016)
Source:  Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Line:  "Malkin pressed his forepaws against the flight deck window and peered out." 

Cogheart is a steampunk middle-grade fantasy adventure set in Victorian times that includes flying airships or "zeps", clockwork pieces that include cogs, wheels, keys and mechanical animals and humans, there are even hybrids of humans and mechanicals.    I've only read a few steampunk books,  A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem by Christoper HealyThe Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann and  The Fog Diver by Joel N. Ross are the first ones to come to mind, but I'm always fascinated to read more and the cover of Cogheart really piqued my interest.  Plus I'm always up for an "adventure story of danger and daring."   Isn't that cover gorgeous though?  Each chapter heading also includes one of these lovely illustrations.        

 The book starts out with a suspenseful prologue aboard The Dragonfly, an airship manned by Professor John Hartman which has just come under attack from a silver war airship.  Seeing no means of escaping, the professor sends his mechanimal Malkin (a pet mechanical fox) on a mission to bring an envelope to his daughter Lily.  As Malkin tries to locate Lily, he is pursued by men in stovepipe hats with silver mirrored lenses.  So yep, lots of danger as he tries to flee their capture and bring his letter to Lily.  

From there the pacing slows down a bit as other characters are introduced, their motivations come into question and we learn more about Lily's father, Professor Hartman's mechanical inventions.  As the events in the prologue were happening, Lily was safely tucked away at Miss Octavia Scrimshaw's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies taking lessons in deportment.  Lily tries to be a good student, but it's evident she has no desire to become a proper lady.  One thing I really liked about Lily was her passion for reading her penny dreadful stories about detectives or pirates, and her desire to have an adventure of her own.   Then Madame Verdigris, the families housekeeper arrives bringing news of her father's ships crash, his disappearance, and that she has been appointed Lily's guardian and will be taking her back to the family home in  Brackenbridge.  Once at home,  Lily begins to have suspicions about Madame Verdigris, especially when mysterious men start lurking around town and the manner in which Madame Verdigris is snooping around the house.  Before too long,  Lily is reunited with Malkin and from her father's letter learns that he had been working on a special invention, something that could revolutionize the mechanical world.   An invention that her father wants her to keep hidden and safe.  With the help of the clockmaker's son and her beloved mechanimal Malkin, Lily makes plans to do just that.  

I quite enjoyed Cogheart.  The story brings up some interesting questions about souls and whether in this case, mechanicals have a soul?  The "mechs" in the story followed a set of rules where they can't hurt humans but can be hurt by them.  So part of the premise included the idea that because some characters believed that mechs don't have a soul or feelings, they can easily be dismissed, replaced, or were expendable.  But Lily saw the mechs as an extension of her family, that they should be protected and treated with respect and dignity.   I really enjoyed Lily's determination and convictions and felt she complemented well with Robert who was not only afraid of heights but less self-assured,  timid, even hesitant about his goals in life.  Together they were brave, loyal and helped each other overcome their fears.  And who couldn't love a mechanical fox, who despite being slightly over-opinionated, curls at your feet and is always eager to protect you when you're in danger.  I'm really looking forward to reading Moonlocket when it releases in the Fall, which is slated to be "a thrilling tale of catastrophe and courage."  

Favorite Line when Robert is talking to Lily about repairing a music box with his father and it goes all wrong, and his father tells him to

 " ...think of it like life:  It looks complicated when you see all the separate pieces, but the purpose of the music box is to play joyful music.  You just have to remember how to fit them together so it will.  The same with life really.  It's just about the living of it.  That's all you have, and all you can do:  live and be happy."  (pg. 354)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

New Adult Review of Good Night (The Sand Maiden #3) by L.R.W. Lee


42089070Good Night (The Sand Maiden #3) by L.R.W. Lee, 
Charlie Bowater Illustrator
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages: 418
Published:  January 14th, 2019
Source:  Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
 Find it:  Amazon   


Opening Line: I flailed, fighting the firm, muscled arms that bound me."   

First off I want to say how much I love the cover by Charlie Bowater, it's so gorgeous and I so wish there were interior illustrations too.  Good Night is the third book in the Sand Maiden series.  I'd recommend starting with Rock-A-Bye Baby, the prequel to Lullaby (book#2)  to get a better feel for Ali, her relationship with her father and siblings and to better understand the magical systems and worlds of Dream and Wake.  In Lullaby we learned about Ali's escape from Dream to Wake, her encounters with Kovis and his family, how Ali has hidden magical skills, very different from the ones that she had on Dream.  With the story ending in an epic magic competition called The Ninety Eight, where Ali was pitted against some of the top sorcerers of Wake.    

Good Night begins shortly after the events in Lullaby.  Ali and Kovis are now on the run, hiding among the foothills of the Tuliv Mountains while they develop a plan to rescue Kennan (Kovis twin brother) and Alfreda (Ali's sister in Dream).   Ali's father, Ambien has taken control of Kennan and using his connection as Kovis' twin to try and locate them, while making Alfreda control him through her connection to his dreams.  Ali begins the story filled with so many questions and fitful nights of sleep filled with bad dreams.  Where before Ali lulled her charge to sleep, she now feels desperately out of place and misses all of her healer friends and extended family who she hasn't seen since she left Dream.  The only thing that seems certain is that she and Kovis will have to find a way to get to Dream together.  Yet, lurking in the shadows of the trees are "mares,"  beasts that bring the most terrifying nightmares and can rip you to shreds.  Beasts that are working for Ali's father, Ambien, a god they will need to confront if they want to prevent him from controlling all of Wake.  

The story alternates between  Ali, Kovis, Kennan and even Ambien's perspective.  I really enjoyed this approach feeling it gave more insight into each of the characters.  I especially felt like I got a better look at what type of person Ambien is, his desire to control Wake, and why he is so eager to have control over his daughters.   Ambien is very evil, the type of person who will stop at nothing to get vengeance, even tormenting his daughters until he gets what he wants.  The kind of character that made me cringe.  Good Night also really gets at the complexities of Ali's and Kovis feelings for one another, how Kovis is trying to open himself up and forget events in his past or to break down walls that he has.   Just as it looks like he is moving forward,  his brother Kennan makes a confession that reveals a hidden truth uprooting their happiness.  I felt so sorry for poor Kennan, he seems so desperately in love with Ali.  I was so saddened with the way he was being controlled and possessed,  forced to do Ambien's bidding.  I worry what the future holds for Kennan and whether he will truly have his own happiness.     


Ahh, but Ali and Korvis, and the deep bond and connections they share, how they have this lovely playful way of talking to one another, with undertones of intimate sexual desire even in the tensest of situations.   And yes being a new adult book, there are some steamy moments, so be forewarned.  I loved how they can join minds, communicate telepathically and how Ali can see herself from inside Kovis's mind while also being inside her own body.  Sounds disorienting, but because of their deep trust for one another seems to work well.  I'm so happy with the way in which the story resolved, and that there will be possibilities at second chances between these two.  Lastly, I loved getting to know more about Ali's family, especially her aunts, who were hysterical, caring, and had a few tricks of there own, and who hopefully will still be an integral part of the next book.  I know I've said this before about Lee's writing, but I've so enjoyed following along with her writing career and seeing how she develops her characters, the worlds of Wake and Dream and the twists and turns she throws at ya.  As always I will be eagerly awaiting to read more of Kovis and Ali's story. 
     
Favorite Line " You know not what would ensue if you changed time itself for one, no matter their deeds."  

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

MG Fantasy Review of Thomas Wildus and The Book of Sorrows by J.M. Bergen

43182855Thomas Wildus and The Book of Sorrows by J.M. Bergen 
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Elandrian Press
Number of Pages: 364
Publishing:  February 2nd, 2019
Source:  Review copy provided by Book Publicity Services in exchange for an honest review.
   
Opening Line: "Hey Wildus, you ready?"

It's been years since Thomas last saw his father, but he hasn't forgotten the last words  his father said to him, "magic is real."  Since then, Thomas has been holding on to those words while looking for someone to take him seriously in his quest to learn magic.  He's not interested in the kind of magic tricks that magicians perform, he wants to learn real magic.  When Thomas makes a special trip to an old book shop, his father's words begin to have a new meaning.  Thomas not only acquires an ancient book called the Book of Sorrows from the kindly, but mysterious owner with gold-flecked eyes, he also learns there's more to his father's disappearance than he knew and that hidden within him are magical abilities that put him and his mother in potential danger. 

At first glance, Thomas may seem like an average kid.  He loves to read, has been taking Kung Fu lessons for years and especially wants to learn how to perform real magic.  Like your typical twelve-year-old, he hangs out with his best friend Enrique, together they have fun at school competing in their favorite game of doddle wars.  Each time trying to one-up each other by making the other person laugh at their drawings.   The story also contains a bully, but the plot doesn't center on him but rather how Thomas tries to befriend the boy being bullied and bring him into his fold of friends.  It's so nice to see a story with a character who's not fighting or running from the bully but is actively trying to be there for the kid who's being bullied.     


In exchange for borrowing the book from Huxley, the bookseller, Thomas agrees to abide by certain rules to protect and maintain its secrecy.  The Book of Sorrows is both magical and mysterious, with each chapter that Thomas reads, the cover seems to change adding new details and becomes more vivid in its coloring.  Eventually illustrating how the title is fitting to the story it tells him of Isham the magician and the beast that he unleashes.   It isn't long before Thomas encounters a threatening figure who at first stalks him in a van, lurking in his periphery as he's riding his bike.  Then things begin to escalate when an attempt is made to kidnap Thomas.  Fearful, Thomas turns to Huxley and Professor Reilly, a physicist who knew his father.  Together they explain the links between the Book of Sorrows, magic, quantum physics and the magical crystals that they must recover to stop an evil maniac from reawakening the crystals power and destroying the world.   Overall, I thought Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows was a fun story that included some nice messaging, had the right amount of suspense and danger and thought the inclusion of physics brought an interesting touch.    

Monday, January 21, 2019

MG Fantasy/Magic Review: Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry

33534892Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry
Format:  Paperback
Publisher: Inkshares
Number of Pages: 400
Published:  October 10th, 2017
Source:  Review copy provided by Inkshares in exchange for an honest review.
Find it:  Amazon, B&N, Inkshares, Goodreads
   
Opening Line:  "Snow fell on St. Petersburg as the young sorceress ran for her life."  

13-year-old Owen Macready considers himself an average kid who gets average grades, has average looks and doesn't want to put forth the effort for sports.  He's not brave or strong, but that's also perfectly fine with him because being average leaves him with plenty of time to play games on his computer.  Recently, Owen's mom decided she wanted a challenge in her career as a veterinarian, so she moved to Sumatra to care for orangutans, and Owen and his dad moved to Las Vegas.   Shortly after starting his new school, Owen tries to intervene when he sees a boy who's being bullied only to have the bully turn on him.  Trying to find a place to hide, he runs into the nearest store, the Codex Arcanum.  It's within this magic bookstore that he meets Euphemia Whitmore and purchases Sorcery for Beginners, a book designed to teach you how to perform magic.  While skimming through the pages of his new book, Owen gets a glimpse of a spell that can rewrite history and believes that if he can learn how to cast this spell he can fix his family and bring his life back to the way it was before his mom left.   Ms. Whitmore cautions him that the book comes with a few rules, he must follow the books directions to learn the spells in order, keep the book's existence a secret and defend it against their worst enemies, the Eculidean's, a secret society of mercenaries who for 500 years have been trying to get their hands on the book. If he's successful, Owen will be eligible to take a final exam and receive his Sorcery Learners Permit and be inducted into their society.   Just as Owen starts getting closer to performing real magic, he not only attracts the attention of the Euclidean's, he also has a run in with the father of the bully he encountered before, a ruthless millionaire who wants to steal magic for himself.  Owen is stuck battling the two sides while trying desperately to keep the Sorcery for Beginners from falling into the wrong hands.  

Sorcery for Beginners is the combination of the fictional story of Owen Macready with a textbook/how to manual for performing magic.   I really enjoyed the illustrations by Juliane Crump and especially the full page spread for each spell.   Each intricate drawing included the hand or body movements needing to be performed, detailed step by step instructions, the materials or components required and the activation words to be spoken to cast the spell.   The activation words included Latin, Greek, Latvian, Arabic or Icelandic words and came with the pronunciation for each word.  Every few pages there were also sidebars providing tidbits of information, or defining the terms being used.  Some I felt weren't overly necessary, like defining the word parchment or what knack meant.  But others like explaining what the Key of Solomon or what a grimoire is,  elaborated on details in the storyline or added some magical historical context to the story.   In this way, it felt like you were learning right along with Owen. 

In addition to the illustrations, I really liked the overall look of the book, everything from the visually appealing cover to the thick pieces of paper with their untrimmed or uncut edges making up the pages of the book (I've come to learn this is referred to as deckled edges).  My favorite thing about the story is the way in which the book speaks to Owen, how it seems to read his thoughts and writes out what Owen needs to do in order to be successful.  Owen can't just rush ahead to perform the spell he wants to perform, that he has to go through each of the steps to get to where he wants to be, while also learning that to undo an event may not be in his best interest after all.  They make for a fun team.  Overall the story is not only informative, full of fun facts and delightful illustrations, but it's also the kind of book I can easily see appealing to aspiring sorcerers or fans of magic.  The story concludes with an Epilogue setting up the story for book two about Cryptozoology, but Sorcery for Beginners can easily be read as a stand-alone.  I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what Matt Harry comes up with next.      

Monday, January 14, 2019

Books that I'm anticipating reading in 2019

Now that my Cybils Awards reading has all wrapped up its time to start looking at the books on my TBR list for 2019.  Books that I'm anticipating reading, have purchased, or are very curious about.  

Middle-Grade Books:  


34966859
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (releasing January 15th)
This book is from Rick Riordan Presents, with each book inspired by mythology and written by authors from those cultures.  This one has fox spirits and sounds like a fun adventure.  

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38251234The Girl with the Whispering Shadow (Book 2 of The Crowns of Croswald) by D.E. Night  (releasing January 23rd)  I read the first book in March of last year and instantly fell in love with it.  It had all the elements I so enjoy, an enchanting magical world reminiscent of Harry Potter, Cinderella and a smidge of Alice and Wonderland.  Can't wait to read this next book.  


 A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano
40206380 (releasing February 5th)
This is a sequel to A Dash of Trouble which I read and really enjoyed.  It has baking, Bruja magic, and lovely sister relationships. 


40221339The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (releasing February 5th)  I'll admit the cover and that the story is set in India really drew me to this book.  I love to read stories set in different places than my own and again this is written by an own voices author.  
29906049

 The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu  (releasing February 12th)
This one involves twin girls who are separated for the first time into different classrooms for fifth grade.  

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd (releasing March 26th)  Natalie Lloyd's books are a must read for me.  I so loved A Snicker of Magic, The Key to Extraordinary and The Problim Children.  Can't wait to read this next one about a mining town called Coal Top and the young girl who is going to train flying horses. 


The next four books aren't out until later in the year, so I'll highlight more about them at a later date.  


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And not to be forgotten are the three YA books on my TBR for 2019:



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What's on your list for 2019??  Feel free to comment or suggest a book that I shouldn't miss out on.