Monday, July 28, 2014

Review The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy


The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy 
Published April 30, 2013 by Walden Pond Press
Pages: 477 
Format: Hardcover 
Source: Library copy

From Goodreads: "Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don't you? They're the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose--to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms. 

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening--even if no one will ever know it was they who did it. 

Christopher Healy, author of acclaimed The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, takes us back to the hilariously fractured fairy-tale world he created for another tale of medieval mischief.  Magical gemstones, bladejaw eels, a mysterious Gray Phantom, and two maniacal warlords bent on world domination--it's all in a day's work for the League of Princes."  

I love, love, love these Hero's Guides by Christopher Healy.  They are always packed full of action, humor and well Prince and Princesses, who act completely unpredictable.  Why did it take me so long to get to this book? The sequel, The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw is already out...hmm must check my library NOW.  One of the things I like about this series is even though there is the distinction between the League of Heroes and Heroines, the character qualities overlap.  We have Ella, who's sword fighting could best even Liam and Princess Lila, who can seamlessly climb walls and sneak into buildings.  Then there is Frederic the fearful of the bunch, but who stays true to his friends even when he has to be brave.  Most of all though, I loved the changes that occurred in Briar Rose during Storming the Castle.  How she still got what she wanted, but then realized that maybe it wasn't what she really wanted after all.   I was also still very delighted by the many illustrations and they really bring the characters to life, even the villains. Overall, I will eagerly be looking for book three, and definitely recommend this to younger readers who enjoy imaginative storytelling and fairy tale's that have been re-visioned.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

July's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was All-of-a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at The Midnight Garden or #tmgreadalong. 

I loved how All-of-a-Kind Family was short little stories about this close knit family.  I loved how it wasn't just centered on the five girls points of view, but included Mama and Papa's as well.  I learned a great deal about the Jewish culture and customs from how the holidays are depicted as the seasons went by.  With the inclusion of their extended family of Tanta's and Uncle's I had a rich view of the Jewish-American family during the early 1900's.  I also adored how Charlie and the Librarian had such a special place in all the children's hearts.  And the expression of a "step-and-stairs family" was so, so cute.    
Classic MG Discussion: All-of-a-Kind FamilyWhat I didn't expect while reading the story, was that so many of the moments the children had would resonate with my own childhood.  Little things like Mama hiding buttons to make the chores more fun, reminds me of the "three's game" that we used to play as a kid when washing the dishes (The one who got three items washed or three dried first was the winner).  Even having all us kids being sent to bed at the same time and our parents letting us stay up and sneakily watch TV from behind the chairs, because we were being quiet and they knew that we would go to bed when we were good and tired.  I also identified with Sarah, being the middle child myself, and believe me I sat at a table with a plate of food that I didn't want to eat a few times and wasn't allowed to leave until I finished what was on my plate.  I know for sure that is why I don't enforce that policy with my own child, but I settle for taking at least one bite before politely declining anymore. 
 Then there was the food, thick sourdough bread with butter and hard-boiled eggs were my favorite meal to take to school as a child. I'm pretty sure that I would have enjoyed hot chick peas, sour pickles and hot sweet potatoes too.  Overall, I thought All-of-a Kind was a beautiful story of a strong family and one  I would have thoroughly enjoyed reading as a child.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

18405537The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier 
Published May 20th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
Pages: 361 
Format: Hardcover 
Source: Library copy 

From Goodreads:  "The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making."

I love that cover, it fits the mood of the book so well, dark, creepy, mysterious.  With its gnarled branches winding around to the back page and the leaves twirling through the air, man it's down right creepy. Then we have the eerie image of The Night Gardener himself, portraying someone who is just tending to his garden with a water can, yet he is so much more than that.  I really enjoyed the creepiness of the story, the kind that gives you the feeling of hairs raising up on your neck.  Especially when there was such a sense of danger for Molly and Kip.  I really couldn't put the book down even though I started to suspect the direction the story was going to take, I felt like Molly, I kept coming back to see what would happen.  The changes happening to her as she received her wish were saddening and yet I needed to know how she and Kip were going to fix things.  I really hoped they would fix things and bring about a happy ending. At one point, I wasn't sure it would happen.   As dark as the book feels at times, there are also beautiful moments between these siblings.  Molly, who has been her brothers guardian and protector of a secret, and Kip who is kind, gentle and trusting.  It was so sweet when she gave him a button and told him how it will make his wishes come true and how he kept it in his pocket as his prize possession. The Windsor family, with siblings Alistair and Penny.  I disliked Alistair bullying the other children and just adored Penny, who just wanted someone to read her a story and play with her. Their parents on the other hand were wrapped up in their own problems to see that the effects the mysterious house and Night Gardener were having on them.  Then there is Hester Kettle, who I really enjoyed.  She is the storyteller that Molly and Kip meet at the crossroads, she imparts advice, knowledge and is the one who ultimately helps Molly determine the difference between a story and a lie.    

Auxier is a wonderful storyteller, I love how in his author's note he talks about the literary inspirations for his story and how he wove them into The Night Gardener was wonderful.  I also really appreciated that he included historical details about the Great Famine in Ireland to enrich Molly and Kip's characters and provided some context as to how they came to England. Overall, a beautiful creepy story with themes of family, trust, faith, courage and storytelling. This would be a perfect read for a MG'er that can handle the creepiness and one who won't easily be frightened.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review Of Sorcery and Snow (The Ever Afters #3) by Shelby Bach

Hardcover336 pages
Published June 24th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

From Goodreads:  "Rory might be starring in her own fairy tale, but there’s more danger than happily-ever-after in this third book in a series that Kirkus Reviews calls a “fast-paced combination of middle school realism and fairy-tale fantasy.”

Life at Ever After School has become familiar for Rory. She’s been on two quests, she’s a great sword fighter, and she has terrific friends. But familiar is no fairy tale, and she’s still anxiously awaiting the chance to star in her own.

But as her connection to the Snow Queen continues to grow, Rory realizes her starring role might well be underway. When the Snow Queen sends the Pied Piper to kidnap several children, including the sibling of a fellow EAS-er, the teachers think this mission is too dangerous and won’t send any kids. But Rory, Chase, and Lena are determined to help, and it’s not long before they find themselves in more trouble than they can handle. Because it wouldn’t be Ever After School if things worked out according to plan..."
Ever since reading Of Giants and Ice, The Ever Afters series has been one of my favorites.  Why you ask? Well, it speaks to the middle grade reader in me. Bach has a unique ability to tap into those middle grade emotions and feelings that I had way back in sixth through eighth grade. I've said it before, but Bach really knows her middle grade reader.  I also love how she takes all the fairy tales and characters that I loved reading about as a kid then changes things up and creates new heartfelt tales for them.  And the characters, man I love the characters.  Especially  Rory, Chase and Lena, such steadfast friends who have grown so much over the last couple of books.  I've really become vested in these characters who experience both pain and wonderful moments together during Of Sorcery and Snow.  Plus there are crushes and relationships developing that are so adorable to watch.  I've found my favorite of the series thus far.    

Okay, the next part will contain some spoilers, so if you haven't read Of Sorcery and Snow....don't read this.  Go back and read the series first.  

Rory has been keeping her secret from her parents for so long, I was glad to see that she finally came clean, although circumstances kinda dictated it. How her revelation will affect the story wont be addressed until the next in the series.  I was excited that Rory's father's new wife is going to have a baby and the parallels to The Snow Queen were interesting and can go in so many different directions.  

As I was reading, I wondered why Chase was pushing Rory so hard about her fighting style.  Then when she killed a wolf to protect Lena, my heart ached for her.  It then became clear that Chase wanted to make sure that nothing would happen to Rory and that she could protect herself, even if she was cornered and had no other choice but to kill.  I loved how Chase came to realize his feelings for Rory first.  How he tried to hint at it with Rory, and her lack of awareness about the whole thing while still having her own budding feelings starting to develop.  It was so sweet and I hope we will see more of it during the next book.   I think Chase is by far my favorite character, I adore his humor and when he declared that Rory was the most brave, he won me over.  Then when he wanted to know how his brother died, well he showed his sensitive side too.  Of Sorcery and Snow seemed to age with the characters, there was more perils and death but not in a scary sort of way.  

One of my favorite things about this book were how the tales of The Pied Piper, the Snow Queen and The White Snake intermingled, Bach is very good at keeping track of her tales and ensuring that they all have some form of resolution.  Yet, it is also Rory's Unwritten Tale that fascinated me the most because it is the one that is yet to be told.    

Favorite line "Once upon a time, there was a girl named Rory Landon.  Though she did not know it, the fate of magic would fall into her hands during the month she turned fourteen.  With it, she would meet winter, death, and despair."  Man, I really need book four now!   

My review copy was purchased.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman Blog Tour Review

I'm really excited to be a part of the blog tour review for All Four Stars by Tara Dairman.  Be sure to check out all the other tour stops, plus don't miss out on entering the giveaway!

18289482Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: July 10th by Putnam Juvenile
In exchange for an honest review, an ARC was received from the publisher for free via NetGalley. 


Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.

But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?

I loved the premise of a girl who has a secret life filled with cooking.  One that isn't just a hobby, but a true passion.  From reading cookbooks  to "rolling her own sushi" and keeping a journal of all her reviews, Gladys was such a fun character.  I loved how she wasn't hindered by the thought of trying new things, instead she seemed to relish it.  I so wish I had a child like that.  I found myself giggling at Glady's parents with their idea of cooking consisting of take out, microwaving and lowfat/sugar free meals.  One of the things I most enjoyed was how Dairman incorporated dishes and spices representing other cultures, giving the reader the feel of the flavors, textures, color and almost the aroma of the dish. Plus she even has recipes for foods inspired by All Four Stars on her blog, I want to try the Bluebarb Crumble it sounds delicious, here's a link to some of the others,  Another aspect I enjoyed was when Gladys finally lands her first review  and has to find a way to get to New York to complete it,  I appreciate that Dairman didn't just have her sneak away from home and hop on a bus, instead she gave Gladys the chance to figure out alternative ways to get there.  Even though she kind of does sneak away a little once she gets to New York.  And, how cool is it to find a girl that keeps a journal filled with all of her positive and negative food reviews? I especially love the distinction between

  "The pork chop, though burnt around the edges, still oozed blood from its center.  The peas, which had been microwaved past the point of bursting, arrive at the table in a soggy, mushy state fit for a baby"
and when Gladys is taking a bite of a brownie
 "... a slew of flavors flooded her taste buds.  The sweet, melty butterscotch offset the bitterness of the chocolate, and the hint of nutmeg gave the whole thing a kick."   
One of my favorite characters was Gladys teacher, who recognized that Gladys entry into the writing competition lacked  passion and suggested that she rewrite her entry, just wonderful to have someone see your strengths.   Gladys was such a fun innovative character with a flair for metaphors and descriptive writing, who I really enjoyed reading about. I just loved the beginning when Gladys tries to make creme brulee, I was laughing out loud.  All Four Stars was very light, flavorful with just the right mix of adventure and humor, I can see both adults and children enjoying.  It will certainly satisfy your inner foodie. 


Enter to win a copy of All Four Stars by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. 
You can win 1 of 8 finished copies thanks to Putnam. 

Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents, age 18 or older, or 13+ with parents permission.

Thank you Wendy at The Midnight Garden for introducing me to this wonderful book and having me on the tour! Check out all the stops:  

All Four Stars Tour Schedule

Tuesday, July 1st            The Midnight Garden
Wednesday, July 2nd      The Reading Date
Thursday, July 3rd          For What It's Worth
Friday, July 4th               The Spirit of Children's Literature 
                                      A Baked Creation          
Monday, July 7th            Epresso Reads
Tuesday, July 8th            For the Love of Words
Wednesday, July 9th       Finding Bliss in Books
Thursday, July 10th         Candace's Book Blog
Review stops, July 7th – 10th:  CuddlebuggeryGreat ImaginationsLonestar on a Lark,
 Log Cabin LibraryThe Hiding SpotFic TalkCarina's BooksKaren Brissette @ GoodreadsBook JemsSporadic ReadsThe Social Potato

About the Author:
Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and survivor of the world's longest honeymoon (2 years, 74 countries!) Her first middle-grade
novel, All Four Stars, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin. Tara grew up in New York and earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College; she currently lives in Colorado, where she teaches writing to students aged 6-13.

Keep up with all of Tara's latest news on
her websiteTwitterGoodReads, and Facebook.

                           The All Four Stars Blog Tour is hosted by 

TMG blog tours

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Phillip Reeve

18187690    Hardcover, 195 pages
    Expected publication: July 22nd, 2014  
    by Random House Children's
    In exchange for an honest review,
    an ARC was received from the
    publisher for free via NetGalley. 

Opening line:  "Oliver Crisp was only ten years old, but they had been a busy and exciting ten years, because Oliver's mother and father were explorers."  

Oliver's parents have taken him all over the world. They've explored Temples, climbed mountains and even placed him in precarious situations, like the time that eagle took off with his baby carriage and he was still in it.  But then Oliver's parents ran out of places to explore, or so they thought.  The Crisp's have finally decided to settle down in their little ole' home in Deepwater Bay.  Once they arrive, Oliver's parents spy a pair of new islands off in the bay and set off in a inflatable dinghy for one last exploration.  Oliver chooses to sit out this one and unpack and set up his room instead.   As the evening sun begins to set, Oliver notices that the house is very quiet.  Upon glancing out his window, he notices that his parents dinghy has washed ashore.  To top things off, the island that his parents were exploring has mysteriously disappeared.  Oliver grabs a pack of "important things" and takes off to the only island left in the bay to search for clues.  Here is where Oliver's exploration really begins.  

When I think of Summer reading, I want a book that is going to be entertaining or take me on an adventure.  Oliver and the Seawigs is the perfect kind of book that was made for a Summertime read aloud.  It has adventure, humor and is packed with a great ensemble of characters, including a near-sighted mermaid named Iris who is in search of a traveling optometrist at Far Sight Cove, a grumpy old albatross named Mr. Culpeper and a rambling isles that Oliver names Cliff.  Mix in an evil teenager in "sea boots and a sailor's uniform" who's bent on being nasty and bullying people around with his band of sea monkeys and you've got a winner. One of the first things that instantly appealed to me about Oliver and the Seawigs were the hilarious illustrations by Sarah McIntyre. Some of the full page ones will capture a child's attention and adults will enjoy the humorous plot as they read the story aloud together.  My favorite illustration was when Iris and Oliver are leaning over the edge of Cliff's head to talk to him and you see them from Cliff's point of view.  Nicely nestled into the story are messages about overcoming your fears, friendship and standing up to bully's. A whimsical tale filled with wonderful illustrations detailing life at sea that provides for an entertaining and fun read aloud. 

All qoutes were taken from an uncorrected proof.  My review copy was generously provided by Random House Children's.  

For a sample of the artwork there is a mini comic that McIntyre and Reeve made for  My Book Corner Website