Monday, December 3, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction review of The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

38376037The Unteachables by Gordon Korman
Format:  E ARC 
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Number of Pages: 288
Publishing:  January 8th, 2019 
Source:  E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line: "It's no fun riding to school with Stepmonster-not with Chauncey screaming his lungs out in the back seat."

Mr. Kermit (AKA Ribbet)  has been burned out from teaching, ever since the cheating scandal incident some 30 years ago.  What made the whole episode worse is that it was one of his students who was accused of cheating, and Mr. Kermit knew nothing about it, yet still ended up being blamed for the whole thing.   Ever since that day, Mr. Kermit has lost his spark for teaching.  Now he just seems to go through his day doing crossword puzzles, drinking monster amounts of coffee and biding his time until he can take his early retirement.  But this year the superintendent has plans for Mr. Kermit, plans that might just derail Mr. Kermit being able to get his pension.  Mr. Kermit is being assigned to teach the kids in room 117, kids with such horrible behavioral or educational issues that they're called the "Unteachables."   

The Unteachable reminded a lot of the movie The Breakfast Club.  A group of kids from varied backgrounds holed up in a classroom each day.   There's Barnstorm who symbolizes the jock with the busted up knee; Rahim or the artist if only he could stay awake long enough; Mateo the brainiac or the encyclopedia especially when it comes to the Klingon language;  Parker, the struggling student, and the wheels, having received a provisional drivers  license so he can drive his elderly grandma to the senior center and run errands for his parent's farm;  Elaine (rhymes with pain) who's the muscle and has been known to throw a kid around just for looking at her funny; there's Aldo who has the temper of "the hulk;" and last but not least there's Kiana, who is like the invisible women, and is only supposed to be a "short-timer."  Or at least that's what she keeps telling herself.  She's only here until she can move back in with her mom.  She's not even registered for school yet and only ended up in room 117 by accident,  but still, she keeps coming back each day.  

Or maybe The Unteachables is more like the book Ms. Bixby's Last Day.  Ms. Bixby is what you would call one of the good teachers, the kind that is thoughtful, compassionate and cares deeply about her students.  Well, Mr. Kermit, he's the exact opposite, he lost his will for teaching a long time ago.  When the school bell rings, he goes into autopilot handing out worksheets and inching his way toward his early retirement.  That is until the moment that he shows an inkling of interest in one of his students being included in the school pep rally.  Does his demanding that his students be treated fairly show that he actually cares? 

Like Ms. Bixby's Last Day, the story is told in the alternating perspectives of the students from room 117 and Mr. Kermit.  Minus chapters from Elaine or Rahim.  I really liked this style,  Korman gives each character a distinctive personality and well thought out backstory.  Each chapter provides more information about how the kids relate to one another and with their teacher.  There's even a chapter from the perspective of the school principal and Jake Terranova (Mr. Kermit's former student involved in the cheating scandal).  It's humorous, heartwarming and makes me nostalgic for 80's movies.  A truly entertaining story that I can't wait to purchase when it's released in January.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

MG Review of The Secrets of Winterhouse (Winterhouse #2) by Ben Guterson

40584349The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson 
Format: E ARC
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Number of Pages:  384
Publishing:  December 2018
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line:   "Elizabeth Somers hopped from the bus's stairs into ankle-high snow and was halfway to the door of the tiny, brick station when a shock of certainty made her stop:  Someone is looking for me."

The Secrets of Winterhouse begins with  Elizabeth returning to Winterhouse hotel for winter break where she is reunited with her best friend Freddy.  Together the two uncover a new puzzle that involves secret passageways, hidden doors, and an enormous seal with a riddle to solve.  Elizabeth and Freddy are joined by newcomer, Elana, who is visiting the hotel with her overly bearing grandmother and a boy named Rodney that Elizabeth had a run-in with on the bus to Winterhouse.  Also, hidden somewhere in one of the many passageways of the hotel is a magical item that has sent the guests of the hotel on a hunt.   Will Elizabeth and Freddy be able to figure out the clues to their new mystery and save the Winterhouse hotel once again?   

I really enjoy reading Guterson's books, they're always filled with puzzles, and riddles to solve.  The setting of Winterhouse hotel over the winter holiday is especially nice now that the weather here has gotten colder.  The hidden passageways and addition of Elana and her grandmother, Mrs. Vesper also add just the right element of mystery making for a delightful read. Elana is quite a mysterious girl, and at first, the duo isn't sure of her intentions.  Is she looking for companionship or trying to get information from Elizabeth and Freddy about the hotel?  Mrs. Vesper turned out to be way creepier than I was expecting, especially with the mesmerizing way that she talks.  Also what is up with Northbridge?  He's been kinda unavailable lately and there are some questions from his past that Elizabeth would like the answers to.  Plus now that Elizabeth's "powers" have been developing further, and she's having these episodes where she lets her anger get the best of her, she could really use his input on whether there is some connection to Gracella that Elizabeth should be worried about.  

Like in his previous book, each chapter of The Secrets of Winterhouse begins with an interesting title and in this case, an anagram to decode.  I had a lot of fun rearranging the letters to make new words and must say some of the anagrams were pretty challenging.  Chloe Bristol's black and white illustrations are always a delight as well.  Freddy and Elizabeth's are such wonderful friends and I enjoy how they're both so smart, talented and inquisitive which really comes handy when trying to solve those riddles.  The ending of the story isn't fully resolved, but that's ok because now I have Winterhouse and the Midnight Puzzle to look forward to.  Can't wait to see what kind of mystery and puzzles Guterson will come up with next. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mini Update on my reading progress

I'm a Cybils JudgeIt's been a busy month of reading for me, and I'm absolutely loving every minute of it.  I've never participated in a 24-hour readathon but have a new appreciation for those of you who do.  I thought I'd take a little pause and update you on some of my early Cybils reads, in no particular order.  All book descriptions are from Goodreads, followed by my thoughts.  


35795930 Snared:  Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: MacMillan Publishing
 
Number of Pages:  320
Published:  June 5th, 2018

Source:  Library
Chopping blades, scorpion nests, giant spiderwebs—no one makes traps better than Wily Snare.

He has never seen the sun, or blue sky, or even his parents. Wily Snare lives underground, creating traps to keep treasure-seekers away from the gold in an ancient wizard’s dungeon. He spends his days mopping up giant slug slime, avoiding poison darts, and herding undead skeletons. It’s all he knows.

Until an unusual band of adventurers—an acrobatic elf, a warrior with a magic arm, and a giant made of moss—successfully defeat Wily’s traps. And they want the ultimate treasure: Wily himself. His skills can help them invade every other dungeon in the kingdom. He might even aid their fight against the Infernal King, whose gearfolk and prisonauts terrorize the land.

But for a boy who has never been outside, dungeons aren’t nearly as scary as the world above. Or an evil king who builds the trickiest traps of all . . 

This was a fun adventure filled with twists and turns.  It reminds me of all the things that I enjoyed about The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson.  I really enjoyed the underlying theme of families come in many forms and the emphasis on the importance of books.  Wily is a fun character, both smart and passionate about his trap designing skills.  First in a new series and I'm looking forward to his next adventure.    

The next two are books from the Rick Riordan Presents:  
36222611

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
 
Number of Pages:  343
Published:  March 27th, 2018

Source:  Library

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
 

Very nice introduction to Indian mythology and the Hindu religion and written by an own voice!  I really wish I could've gotten more into Aru Shah's character, she seemed insensitive at times and really "me" focused but Boo the lovely pidgeon guardian (think Mushu from Mulan) made the story highly entertaining.  I thought the overall pacing was done well and the premise of completing a quest to prevent the destruction of the world so reminded me of the Lightning Thief.    

34966353
The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
 
Number of Pages:  448
Published:  September 18th, 2018

Source:  Library

Zane has always enjoyed exploring the dormant volcano near his home in New Mexico, even though hiking it is challenging. He'd much rather hang out there with his dog, Rosie, than go to middle school, where kids call him Sir Limps a Lot, McGimpster, or Uno — for his one good leg. What Zane doesn't know is that the volcano is a gateway to another world and he is at the center of a powerful prophecy. 

A new girl at school, Brooks, informs him that he's destined to release an evil god from the ancient Maya relic he is imprisoned in — unless she can find and remove it first. Together they return to the volcano, where all kinds of crazy happens. Brooks turns into a hawk, a demon attacks them in a cave, and Rosie gives her all while trying to protect Zane. When Zane decides to save his dog no matter the cost, he is thrust into an adventure full of surprising discoveries, dangerous secrets, and an all-out war between the gods, one of whom happens to be his father. To survive, Zane will have to become the Storm Runner. But how can he run when he can't even walk well without a cane?

Feisty heroes, tricky gods, murderous demons, and spirited giants are just some of the pleasures that await in this fresh and funny take on Maya mythology, as rich and delicious as a mug of authentic hot chocolate.

Storm Runner is based on Mayan mythology with only slight similarities to The Lightning Thief.  With plenty of adventure and new host of magical creatures, gods and some really intense battles, this surely will be a hit.   Love the diversity, inclusion of a boy with a disability, and that the story is own voice.  I also appreciated that the ending felt complete while leaving room for more books in the series.   

Well, that's it for now but I hope to be back with more updates soon.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Reading Updates

I'm a Cybils Judge


Just a quick update to let you know that I'm busy as a bee reading elementary/middle-grade speculative fiction for the Cybils Awards.  There were a little over 90 books nominated thus far.  The author and publisher submission period is currently open and then my reading will really be kicking into high gear.  I'll try to get some updates on the blog as soon as I get a minute and will link which books I'm currently reading via Twitter.  

Happy Reading!!

Monday, October 8, 2018

New cover reveals for The Lightning Road series by Donna Galanti!

Today I'm thrilled to have Donna Galanti revealing the awesome new covers for her Lightning Road series! Plus enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and get the first e-book in Donna’s series, Joshua and the Lightning Road, on sale now through October 15th for just $0.99cents. Donna shares how she harnessed her imagination to write the series plus an excerpt from Joshua and the Lightning Road. 



 




Harnessing the Power of Lightning with Imagination by Donna Galanti 

Storms have always fascinated me, and I vividly remember being nine years old when my intrigue with lightning began. We lived in rural New Hampshire at the time where the sky was vast and covered me in darkness. I felt so small in the world under that giant black sky – until it lit up with white fire power and sucked me into its energy.

I would sleep out on the screened-in porch to watch the big show, intoxicated by the smell of rain and electricity in the air – and I’ve never forgotten that smell. Smells can hold powerful memory triggers, and I wanted readers to see Joshua’s world as he experiences it with all his senses in Joshua and the Lightning Road. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to a person or event, right? Like how the scent of fresh cut grass can remind you of a summer day, even if it’s the end of autumn. And when you happen upon that smell again, the link is there, ready to pop that memory open.

When I got older the movie War of the Worlds fascinated (and terrified me!) with how the aliens rode blasts of lightning. I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to travel a lightning road to another place?” And the idea for Joshua and the Lightning Road was born.
I imagined a road of lightning that didn’t burn you but a road you could surf on to another world – a road that connected worlds. In the book, Joshua calls the Lightning Road a ribbon of cold fire, and in this scene, he encounters it for the first time when he’s stolen away:

“Yellow and white ribbons of fire snaked before us in a black tunnel, and I froze in absolute terror. Lights ricocheted through the darkness on either side of me like shooting stars. We moved faster and faster. Wind roared everywhere.”

I’ve always been a science fiction fan eating up shows and movies like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek the Next Generation, Stargate, and Star Wars, so the idea of a portal for transport between worlds was already rich in my imagination. This is where the Lightning Gate came into play as a doorway connecting the Lightning Road between worlds and realms.

And to make it more fun, I created a gate key that had to be used to activate travels through the gate. I envisioned the gate key like a jeweled Rubix cube that fit into the gate using specific combinations to travel to a desired destination.  In this scene, Joshua encounters a gate key for the first time.

“Leandro pulled his satchel from under his cloak and lifted out a flat square that gleamed bronze. He set it on a slab nearby and pushed at its flat surface. In an instant, the paper-thin sheet popped up into a wooden cube the size of a tissue box. Gold sparkles moved through it. In the gold flickered colored squares of rubies and emeralds like a sun in the dark cave.”


So, I didn’t base any of the lightning powers in Joshua and the Lightning Road on science but rather all on my own vision. Lightning is big and scary and full of power – and this fuels my imagination to harness its power in my stories.


EXCERPT FROM JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD 

       The trees crowded around us, the deafening quiet of the woods pounding in my ears. Sweat broke out on my lip and I wiped it away. The one beast licked its lips in return, then curled its mouth in an awful grin, exposing vampire dagger teeth. 
      The beasts inched toward us. “We don’t want to hurt you.” Bluffing still seemed the best idea. 
     “And you won’t, my tasty morsels.” The leader panted hungrily. 
     The lightning orb. I had to trust in Bo Chez’s story and believe all its stormy, electric power could help us. But Sam had said the Greek gods lost their powers. Let it do something! And if it breaks, I’m sorry, Bo Chez! 
     Charlie clung to my arm so tight it cramped. Fire flashed out of the leader’s mouth, and a long flame roared toward us, cutting through the mist like a fire sword. All three of us stumbled back. 
     The beast pack leapt toward us like hairy dragons. The moss beneath our feet snapped with fire and heat roasted my face and arms. Fire raced up the wizard trees, and their wood shrieked in splitting agony. 
     “Run!” Sam dragged Charlie and me back.
      Red eyes glared at me. 
     “Hi-yahh!” I flung the orb hard. 
     Blue light exploded into the space before us and knocked us all off our feet. I slammed sideways into a tree and slid down to the ground. The beasts were sprawled motionless before us on the blackened, smoldering moss. Trees smoked as flames flickered up them. Charlie and Sam lay a few feet away. 


                  

ABOUT JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD: Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. Armed with only luck and his grandfather’s mysterious crystal, Joshua must save his friend by traveling the Lightning Road to a dark world that steals children for energy. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life. 

PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD: "Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series

 Joshua and the Lightning Road is available now through October 15th for just $0.99cents on e-book from these booksellers:     Amazon      Barnes &Noble      Kobo      Apple iBooks 

ABOUT JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM: Joshua never thought he’d be called back to the world of Nostos so soon. But when his friend King Apollo needs his help in the Arrow Realm, Joshua braves this dark world once more in order to save him. With Joshua’s loyalties divided between Nostos and Earth, he must rely on his courage and powers to restore magic to this desperate world and to free its people. Abandoned by his friends in his quest, unarmed, and facing great odds, can he survive on instincts alone and not only save those imprisoned—but himself? 

PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM: “Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, this is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” –Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series 

Joshua and the Arrow Realm is available through these booksellers: Amazon  Barnes & Noble      Kobo      Apple iBooks

ABOUT DONNA: Donna Galanti is the author of the bestselling paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine, a writing contest judge at nycmidnight.com, and regularly presents as a guest author at schools and teaches at writing conferences. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna also loves teaching writers about building author brand and platform through her free training series at yourawesomeauthorlife.com. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.

 CONNECT WITH DONNA: 
Website   Facebook     Twitter        Goodreads  





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Monday, October 1, 2018

Category Description and A Few Possible Suggestions for Elem/MG Spec. Fiction Nominations for Cybils 2018


It must be Fall because our temperatures are a cold 35 degrees today.   Fall also means that Cybils book nominations opened and I love seeing all the books that get nominated.   I hope you'll consider nominating your favorites in children and YA published in the U.S. or Canada between October 16, 2017, to October 15th, 2018 (one book nomination per Category per person).  Nominations will only stay open until October 15th, so don't delay.     

 There are lots of different categories to choose from and you can get more information here.    I've got my coffee and am quickly getting my holds in for the books nominated thus far. 

I'd especially love to see more nominations in the elementary/mg speculative fiction category!  Here's the category description from Charlotte Taylor:



This past year has seen another excellent crop of wonderfully inventive speculative fiction books for kids! Along with the expected spells and space rockets and aliens, this is the category for books with talking animals, time-travel, ghosts, and paranormal abilities, and all the other books that might not have obvious magic on every page, and which are set here on Earth, but which push past the boundaries of daily life into what is almost certainly impossible. The two main criteria of the Cybils are excellent writing and kid appeal, and these come first and foremost when we assemble our shortlist. These books will be ones whose creativity, world-building, and characters fly off the rapidly turning pages and into our hearts and minds.
This category is for both Elementary and Middle-Grade books; that is, books written for eight- to twelve-year-olds. Some will be just a small step up from easy chapter books, perfect for the younger end, and others will fall into the “tween” category of books perfect for middle school kids not yet interested in full-blown YA books.


The two main criteria of the Cybils are excellent writing and kid appeal

With that in mind, might I make a few suggestions of books that haven't been nominated yet.  Some I've read and others I would like to read, or better yet, nominate your favorite!



35609868             37570452                 37827086


37811512             38595903                     35183477


37912471               37702173                   13612970



37811021              38256488                37584981


37564158                39951025                 36356692


                           
                         36301028                                36686072

Monday, September 24, 2018

MG Fantasy Review of The Collectors by Jacqueline West


34614114The Collectors by Jacqueline West
Format:  E ARC 
Publisher: Greenwillow Books 
Number of Pages: 304
Publishing:  October 9th, 2018 
Source:  E ARC from Edelweiss Plus 

Opening Line: "The spider dangled above the table."

 I'm a huge fan of West's Books of Elsewhere series and am always excited to hear when there is a new book coming.  West is one of my auto-buy authors.  Then I saw The Collectors pop up on Edelweiss, so I quickly requested it.  I can't wait to receive my hard copy when it comes out in October and read it all over again.  

One of the things that I absolutely adored about The Collectors was the first chapter.  The wonderful image of the spider dangling from the ceiling and our first glimpse at the premise.  Such lovely descriptive passages that really capture your interest.  The way the story has you questioning wishes.  Whether all wishes should come true.  Sure it's wonderful to wish for ice cream with dinner and have it come true, but what if a wish could be dangerous and needed to be stopped?

Coming from a background in speech-language pathology, I also really appreciated the inclusion of Van, a young boy who is hard of hearing and who wears hearing aids.  West accurately describes Van's difficulties in communicating with people when they, for example, don't face him as they're speaking or when they speak too rapidly making it difficult for him to read their lips.  There are many examples in the text of Van using the context of a conversation to decipher what the speaker is saying, thus giving the reader a better understanding of what it's like to have a hearing impairment.  

Eleven-year-old Van (short for Giovanni) currently lives in New York City with his mother, the famous opera singer, following their many travels all over the world.  Van's gotten pretty good at being the new kid at school and spending time on his own, but he still would very much like a friend.   Van loves to collect things that he finds, a blue glass marble, discarded toys, little things that go unnoticed by most.  Van's also really observant.  Like the day in the park where he was watching a man flip a coin into the fountain and a squirrel came flying out of the bushes followed closely by a girl.  Drawn to the girl, Van tries to strike up a conversation, only to have the girl and squirrel disappear when his mother comes calling after him.   Later Van sees the mysterious girl (Pebble) and squirrel (Barnavelt) from the park again and this time he follows them to an odd building belonging to the mysterious group called The Collectors.   After being caught trespassing, Van is tasked with finding out information about another collector, Mr. Falborg and reporting back his finding to Pebble. 

 Here's where the story gets really interesting.  Mr. Falborg invites Van to his home to view his many collections.  Once inside, Mr. Falborg shares one of his prized collections, his Wish Eaters, little creatures who have the power to make wishes come true by eating them.  Mr. Falborg gives Van his very own Wish Eater and cautions him about the Collectors wanting to imprison all of the Wish Eaters.  Now Van becomes very confused.  On the one hand, there are the Collectors who maintain that Wish Eaters are dangerous whereas Mr. Falborg insists he only wants to protect them.  There is lots of ambiguity regarding who's the good versus the bad guys, and whether all Wish Eaters are dangerous or not, which will hopefully be answered in the sequel.  Now if only I could figure out the wording to safely make my wish for news about its release date.  Guess I'll just have to be patient.