Tuesday, December 19, 2017

MG Adventure/Survival Story Review: Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson

33413947Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries)
Author:  Terry Lynn Johnson
Format: E ARC
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 112
Publishing:  January 2nd, 2018

Source:  Edelweiss Above the TreeLine 

Twelve-year-old twins Ashley and Ryan are skiing with their parents in Wyoming's Grand Teton Mountains where there is a ground-shaking rumble. Unstable snow rushes downhill and buries them in icy white.  It will take all of their knowledge and grit to survive.   

Stay calm. Stay smart. Survive.  

Survivor Diaries is similar to the I Survived  series, with the variant being real kids surviving in harsh wilderness conditions, the next one is called Overboard!  For twins Ashley and Ryan it's surviving an avalanche.  The story begins as Ashley is being interviewed by a reporter for a new series on brave kids, she recounts the events that lead up to the avalanche.  The series is a sort of what to do if you land yourself in this situation and how to survive.  Ashley struggles to try and be as good as her brother at school or to at least live up to her dad's and her own expectations to be a faster skier like her brother Ryan.  Ryan's the adventurous type, the one who hears about a study being done with the Wolverines in the area and then wants to go off the trail chasing after them.  Terry Lynn Johnson wastes no time getting the action started, detailing Ashley getting caught in the snow pouring down from the mountain, tumbling, unable to grab onto anything to prevent herself from being pulled down further.  And then Ashley's training kicks in and she remembers the importance of not panicking.   Once she's free,  Ashley races to uncover Ryan from the snow he's buried under, with the only thing visible being his stick peering out of the snow.   Bruised and with an injured knee, cold and damp they struggle to find a way to get warm.  Then the realization hits that Ryan can't remember who she is.   Ashley is usually the follower, in her brother's shadow, but now after his injury, she needs to take the lead.  She's resourceful using the elastic of her underwear as a bandage for her knee and knowledgeable from her training.  She's the one who gets them started in digging a snow cave, keeps Ryan alert by reminding him of things they've done together in the past, while hoping his memory will come back. There are many obstacles for them to overcome, not to mention a bear in the area, but Ashley perseveres to get them to safety.  I especially liked the link that was made between Ashley watching a wolverine taking on a bear and using it as a catalyst for her own grit and determination to get up the side of the mountain while pulling her brother behind her.   Avalanche! is packed full of  practical tips on being out in the elements.  It's educational while being highly interesting and with its full page black and white illustrations depicting the action and survival tips from the National Avalanche Center at the back of the book,  it certainly makes for a wonderful survival story.   

Monday, December 18, 2017

MG Fantasy/Mystery Review: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Author:  Ben Guterson
Format: E ARC 
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Number of Pages: 384
Publishing:  January 1st, 2018

Source:     Edelweiss Above the TreeLine

Opening Line:  "When Elizabeth Somers tugged open the gate to her Aunt and Uncle's yard and saw an envelope duct-taped to the front of the shabby house she shared with them, she knew it was bad news."

Elizabeth will be spending her Christmas break at the Winterhouse Hotel while her Aunt and Uncle take a vacation.  At least they left her some clothing in a grocery bag,  a few measly dollars, and a bus, and train ticket to get her there.  Once Elizabeth gets underway, she encounters an odd couple dressed all in black, who upon their arrival at the hotel, introduce themselves as the Heims, booksellers of old rare books.  They give her a cryptic warning that Mr. Norbridge is a book thief, but after meeting Norbridge Falls, she's skeptical about their story.  Norbridge then takes her on a grand tour of his hotel and it's one of a kind library, upon exploring the library further she finds a one-hundred-year-old book.  Then she meets Freddy Knox, a boy her age whose parents also sent him to the hotel for the holiday.   Freddy's been coming to the hotel for years and doesn't mind because Norbridge always gives him special projects to work on, like turning walnut shells into fuel.  Elizabeth and Freddy soon discover they share a passion for puzzles, anagrams, and word ladders and while planning a special scavenger hunt competition they find a painting.  Within the painting, there seems to be a secret message written with a Vigenere Square, but without the encryption key, they won't be able to figure out what it says.  

Winterhouse is the first book in the trilogy by debut author Ben Guterson, it has the feel of Greenglass House with all of its various rooms to explore, a mystery to solve and puzzles.  Each chapter has an interesting title as well as a word ladder going down the page and it is split into three sections/books.  The puzzles were challenging and the mystery surrounding the painting and antique book definitely hold your interest.   You can even try your hand at decoding one of the puzzles using a Vigenere Square, which was pretty tough until they found the keyword that the puzzle was based on.  Elizabeth is such a delight, she's a bibliophile and keeps lists like, "Reason's Why I DO NOT Like my Aunt and Uncle."  She has these "feelings" or strange occurrences as she likes to call them where things just sort of happen around her without an explanation.    For example, a gate might close for no apparent reason.   She tries hard to be optimistic, but living with her Aunt and Uncle for the past seven years has been challenging for her.  What she wants most of all is to have a friend.  Freddy is logical, practical and understanding, they're pretty equal in their puzzle-solving abilities and I really enjoyed how they challenged each other to competitions over breakfast.  It was kinda sad when they had a huge falling out midway through the book, but eventually, they resolved their differences.  I really enjoyed Guterson's descriptive writing like this one, 

"a wonderful aroma of something sweet like sugar and fire-smoke and candles all rolled together-lingered in the air." 

And the way that the plot was slowly revealed while rooting you in the setting and the uniqueness of the hotel its surroundings and guests, "round tables rimmed with gleaming place settings, huge windows that allowed views of snow-heavy trees and distant peaks, hundred candled chandeliers strung across the ceiling, and a stone fireplace at the far end that was crackling with a haystack of logs."  

There are lovely black and white illustrations by Chloe Bristol and overall this was a very enjoyable mystery.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

MG Fantasy/Magic Review: The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

28107444The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Format:  Hardcover
Number of Pages: 272
Published:  November 21st, 2017
Source:  Library
Find it:  Amazon B&N, Goodreads,

Opening Line:  "In the darkness of a train yard, somewhere on the far edge of town, a shadowy figure emerged from a thick curtain of fog."  

After his parent's suddenly disappeared,  Carter Locke is taken in by his Uncle Sly.  Sly is a weaselly thief and con-artist who didn't take Carter in out of the kindness of his heart, but for the ulterior motive of swindling people out of a couple of dollars and their belongings while Carter performs the magic trick's he taught him.  Carter doesn't believe much in magic, at least not his Uncle's kind of magic which involves tricking people, and especially not when Uncle Sly takes advantage of their kindly landlord, Mrs. Zalewski.  Having had enough of his Uncle's thievery, Carter hops a train headed for Mineral Wells, hoping for a new start.  Once in town, Carter meets Mr. Vernon who runs a local Magic Shop with his adopted daughter Leila and the other Mr. Vernon, a chef at the Grand Oak Resort.  He also meets Theo and Ridley, two kids who with Leila meet weekly at the shop to practice their magical skills.    At first, things start to look up for Carter as he's making new friends, but then he and the misfits land in the middle of a  heist planned by the greedy ringmaster B.B. Bosso and his equally villainous circus performers, and it's now up to Carter and the magic misfits to unveil Bosso's plans and save the town and Star of Africa diamond.  

Do you like magic and the circus?  Well, the first book in The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris blends these two things together while adding puzzles, tips and directions for performing magic tricks and even a few secret messages to decipher.  Carter is a very sweet and intelligent character with strong convictions for not stealing, unlike his Uncle Sly who performs magic to get something in return.  Magic, real magic isn't something Carter believes in, and he's never really thought of magic being performed just to entertain before.   Mr. Vernon attributes Carter's lack of belief in magic to losing his innocence and how his past experiences have jaded his views.  I really enjoyed Mr. Vernon and the misfits, they were so instrumental in rekindling Carter's curiosity in magic, his wonder in how they perform their magic tricks and how they believe magic is all around you and can bring joy to people.  The writing style is similar to A Series of Unfortunate Events, with an interrupting narrator, definitions of words like "vagabond",  "levitation" and "transformation" and a narrator trying to convince the reader to think or act in a certain way.   At times,  I  had a hard time separating the image of Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf from the narrator of this story, but then I decided to just go with it and found the story to be entertaining with characters that I hope to learn more about in the next book of the series.   The black and white story illustrations by Lissy Marlin are gorgeous and could almost be scenes from an animated movie.  The inclusion of directions for how to roll coins on your knuckles, how to make a color prediction and how to move objects with your mind would delight any child interested in magic or someone who just wants to try out the magic tricks described in the story.   Plus the premise of a group of diverse friends busting up a heist by circus performers to return the towns peoples stolen goods makes for an exciting, fun adventure.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

MG Science Fiction/Robots Review: EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner

34228303EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner
Publisher: Aladdin
Format:  Hardcover

Number of Pages: 192
Published:  September 12th, 2017
Source:  Purchased 
Find it:  Amazon B&N, Goodreads,

Opening Lines:  
"THERE’S A BOX ON MY front porch.  It’s big. Brown.  Smooshed in at the corners and bruised along the sides.  It’s for me.  How do I know?  Somebody wrote KENNEDY in thick black marker on the box’s top."

Ken and his friends have a mutual interest in science and technology, meeting every day over lunch in the science classroom.  Some members of the group have been referring to themselves as the EngiNerds, a name you'll never catch Ken using.  One day, Ken finds a box on his front porch, inside are a bunch of parts and a list of directions for putting the project together.    Ken suspects that his Grandpa K, an engineer who's notorious for giving him gifts to construct left it for him.   Unable to move the heavy box on his own, Ken enlists the help of his best friend Dan and during the process of dragging the box inside, Ken's dog escapes.  When they return from their dog search they find a robot where all of the loose parts previously were.  Since no one else is at home, they have no idea who put the robot together.   Is it possible that the robot put itself together?  Ken and Dan are surprised when the robot introduces itself as  Greeeg and lets them know it wants to be fed "com-Est-ib-ulls,"  which consists of any kind of food product, packaging and all.  Greeeg has a wonderful digestive system that compacts everything away, but his appetite is also insatiable demanding more and more. When Ken runs out of food to feed him, Greeeg leaves Ken's room in the middle of the night on a raid of the pantry, which turns into a huge problem when Greeeg's compaction system makes a huge amount of noise.  Ken tries hard to keep his parents from noticing and is relieved when Greeeg offers to "DIS-pose" of the food he's been storing up.  Ken didn't know that meant Greeeg would be shooting off a cube size pellet of the digested food at high speed at him.   In the meantime, other members of the EngiNerds have been receiving robots and pretty soon the boys have an army of aggressive robots demanding to be fed.  When the boys can't seem to meet the robots demands, the robots take off across town searching for more food and won't let any obstacle stand in their way.  It's now up to Ken and the EngiNerds to figure out who sent the robots and deactivate them before the entire food stores of the town are consumed.  

I first heard about EngiNerds during #MGBooktober on Twitter, fellow book bloggers were giving it rave reviews and the cover is just so enticing.   Then the author offered to sign copies of his book and so I ordered one for my public library, which didn't have a copy of its own and asked if he would kindly personalize it.  Needless to say, I was pretty excited to be the first one to read it before donating to the library later this month!   As the cover illustrates there's plenty of humor in the story, in the dialogue between Ken and Dan and especially with those pellet sized missiles coming out of Greeeg's backside.  The chapters are also fairly short and with an emphasis on science and robots, it seems ideal for a reluctant reader who wants to read a few pages at a time.    EngiNerds also seems to tie in well with other STEM books designed to highlight innovation, science and engineering and I can really see kids wanting to make some of the same catapult constructions out of rubber bands and chopsticks as Ken and Dan did in the story.  There are a few illustrations, but think the story would've really hooked the reader with a few more added in.  Overall, an entertaining story of robots gone amok and the friends who creatively fix the problem.  I'm delighted to see that there are plans for another book in the series too.    

Monday, December 4, 2017

MG Fantasy/Adventure Review: Voices for All: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent

Voices for All:  The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent 
Publisher: Venzi Productions
Format:  Paperback

Number of Pages: 288
Published:  November 1st, 2017
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review
Find it:  AmazonGoodreads

Opening Lines:  Stacey was enjoying her school field trip at the zoo, until a large ocelot attacked her."

12-year-old Stacey loves animals in all shapes and sizes, and would never do anything to hurt them.   So it's surprising when she's accused of teasing them while on a school trip to the zoo.  Stacey's adamant there is no way she would tap on the glass to upset the animals, and she's just as confused as the zookeepers as to why they're acting so unusual.   Plus, she doesn't know how the rhinoceros escaped his enclosure and came charging after her, but it was very scary.  Once safely back home, Stacey encounters a gorilla hiding by her trash bin, the same one she saw at the zoo earlier who smiled at her from behind the glass.  But now, the gorilla is in her backyard, asking if she wants to "hear a funny joke."  At first, Stacey is in shock, but then Louis the gorilla explains that they've been waiting for her to take them back to ZoaBrio, a place where they can all be free.  After all, she's wearing the pendant that holds the key to their future.  Louis and an ocelot named Ozzy take her to the zoo to meet Doug, the elephant who explains the legend of ZoaBrio and how humans and animals once lived together in harmony.   Humans have a gene that if activated allows them to communicate with animals or "ziff."  But, as the legend goes, humans lost the ability when civilizations began to increase and animals were pushed further away, cats and dogs took up the space of animals and organized ways to block the communication between humans and animals.  Now, ZoaBrio is hidden from many of the animals and they need Stacey's help to find it.   Stacey also learns that the cats have formed a secret society called NOZE and are close to completing a doomsday device that once released will destroy everything associated with ZoaBrio, including Stacey.  What's worse, they've kidnapped her beloved friend, a cockatoo named Krakoo and are demanding her pendant in exchange for his release.  Will Stacey and her new friends be able to rescue Krakoo,  find NOZE and prevent them from unleashing their device on the world?  Guess you'll have to read Voices for All:  The Legend of ZoaBrio to find out.  

Voices for All:  The Legend of ZoaBrio envisions a place where animals and humans can communicate with one another as equals.  Animals are not put into cages, neglected, or have their lands taken away, their protection and preservation are of the utmost importance.  ZoaBrio is a sort of parallel world that has been invisible for a long time, hidden behind a system of magical doors and an energy field that can only be passed through if you have a pendant from ZoaBrio.  At first, Stacey lacks the ability to communicate (ziff) with any of the animals, besides Louis who's self-taught, but she's willing to take a chance on a potion that could activate the ability if it means that they'll help her rescue Krakoo.  Stacey teams up with Alex, Louis, a little dog named Emma who is connected to ZoaBrio, and Ozzy to take on NOZE.  This is a fun middle-grade fantasy adventure with plenty of humor.   There are raccoons singing "Your Happy and You Know It"  a cockroach who makes an especially good evil character and Vincent's love for animals shows in his descriptions of their physical characteristics and mannerisms.  There's also a subtle hint that tofu makes a wonderful replacement for protein.  It isn't heavy-handed in it's messaging and instead is light-hearted and entertaining, reminding me a bit of the movie Cats versus Dogs.  

Favorite line:  "Nature is magical.  Everything in nature is considered magic until it's understood, then it is called Science."    

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Realistic Fiction MG Review: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

29221528Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Format:  Hardcover

Number of Pages: 160
Published:  September 19th, 2017
Source:  Library
Find it:  AmazonB&N,  Goodreads

Opening Lines:  "Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down.  It worked like magic and she never questioned it."

Since first grade, Beatrice's best friend has been Lenny.  They've had some of the best of times climbing trees, dressing in costumes for Halloween and acting like pirates and ninjas.  Then the Summer before third grade everything began to change.  Lenny went to the Philippines to visit family and Beatrice spent her vacation working on the secret operation that she and Lenny had agreed upon before she left on her trip. They even had plans to wear their favorite matching ninja suits for the first day back to school.  But then Lenny apparently broke her promise about wearing her ninja suit to school and shows up with a new look entirely.  Now she's even hanging out with a new girl, Chloe, asking about Beatrice's older sister's foreign language club and making plans to play "veterinarian" with Chloe in their favorite spot for recess.   Lenny doesn't even seem interested in Operation Upside or Beatrice anymore, so Beatrice has a new mission to win back her best friend. 

Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker was a book I heard about during #MGbooktober, one of the organizers, Jarrett Lerner also raved about it and I love when authors celebrate other authors.  I also happened to get lucky enough to find it at my library.  Beatrice reminded me a bit of Clementine or maybe even Ramona Quimby or Pippi Longstocking.  While they have similar personalities like following their own path, Beatrice doesn't get into nearly as many predicaments as the other three.  Beatrice is a pretty determined girl who tries really hard to be on her best behavior at school and follow her teacher, Mrs. Tamarack's rules, partially because she doesn't want to risk missing out on her recess and because she wouldn't be able to play with her best friend.  Johannes has written and illustrated a truly adorable and humorous book and I loved Beatrice's upside down thinking.  How she doesn't use the box lid as a guide when putting together her puzzles and prefers to eat dessert before starting her meal.   Beatrice is also tenacious in trying to be a part of Lenny and Chloe's game of "veterinarian, " despite Lenny making all of these new changes in her appearance and seeming to cut her out of their games.   It makes me sad to think that sometimes kids feel like they have to re-invent themselves to fit in, especially when they leave their friends behind in the process.  But, Beatrice does nicely illustrate how you shouldn't give up on your friends, how it's important to be who you are, and she also finds a way to show Lenny that you can like many different things at the same time while still being willing to try something new.  One of my favorite parts is Beatrice's family and how they adjusted their thinking, with her older sister making room for Beatrice in her foreign language club and her parents have a night of eating dessert before dinner.  Overall, a very sweet and encouraging chapter book which I'm excited to see already has a sequel, Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker, The Flipside coming out in March 2018.    

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra by James Demonaco

The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra by James Demonaco
Publisher: Inkshares
Format:  Ebook
Number of Pages: 200
Published:  November 7th, 2017
Source:  In exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Find it:  AmazonB&N, InksharesGoodreads

Opening Line:  "Three nights after he was born, Jack Bokimble came home from the hospital."

Synopsis from Publisher-Shortly after Jack is born, strange things are afoot in the Bokimble house--glasses fall from shelves, and nothing seems to be where Mr. and Mrs. Bokimble left it. Jack's parents begin to sense that there's something strange about their son, and it's not long before they realize that he has a secret friend: his magical shadow. 
Is Jack's shadow a superpower that he needs to control and master? Or is it a curse that will separate him from others? Travel with Jack on his boyhood journey as he learns not only how to control his magical shadow but what it means to be different--a story that mines the potential for magic and mystery in all of us.

My Thoughts
It's pretty hard to pass on a book with a title like The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra, it's one of those books you know you just want to read.  The story takes the form of an adult telling a story to a young child with a Roald Dahl-like quality that I particularly enjoyed.   Jack lives with his parents in New York City, close to Central Park.  Jack's parents might be considered slightly peculiar by some.  His dad has a heightened sense of smell which comes in handy for his experiments to build a device called the Smelliluminator that if everything goes as planned will make smells visible and give them color.   Hopefully, he can also use it as an early warning detection system against his wife's propensity for flatulence when she gets nervous, and she gets nervous a lot.  Mrs. Bokimble runs a popular website where she helps people faced with an impossible choice to make the right decision called "I'llMakeTheDecsionsYouCan't.com."   Jack's parents also create descriptive nicknames for each other like"Mister Meaty Midsection" and "Lady Large Yet Lovely Nostrils," which changes with their mood for each other on a daily basis.  Despite his parents being a bit odd, Jack is a lovely character, he's bright, a tad shy and lonely, and he'd really like to have a friend.  I also really enjoyed Jack's magical shadow and appreciated that he tried to use his shadow to do good things.  At the beginning of the story,  Jack's parents are concerned about all the odd occurrences happening around their house, even thinking the place is haunted, but once they realize that it's Jack and his magical shadow, their opinion on whether this is a good or bad occurrence began to differ.  Mr. Bokimble only thought of the fame they could have, while Mrs. Bokimble was concerned that Jack would stand out, be seen as cursed and it could prevent him from having friends.  At one point she even considers getting rid of her son's shadow entirely, until Mr. Bokimble convinces her that he can teach Jack to control it by having him learn how to "shadow cast" and "shadow play."  Jack learns his shadow is indestructible and has no fear, while also learning the importance of controlling and concealing it from others.  At least that is until Jack finds it necessary to use his shadow to help put a bully in his place.  I really liked how Jack's shadow touched and interacted with things around him allowing him to physically feel them too.  Especially how Jack's shadow could reach into the animal cages at the zoo so he could pet them and provide them comfort.  Wouldn't that be cool to feel a lions fur without risking getting eaten?  For a fairly short book, it covered a wide range of themes from bullying, feeling different, wanting to belong and make friends and to be accepted for who you are.  There is some quirkiness with an interruptive narrator, a random chapter heading with Rodney Dangerfield in the title, mention of the Black Eyed Peas, and an alien named Gulmhot who inadvertently crash lands his ship at the zoo starting a fire, but it all just added to the charm of the story for me.  Plus, I really enjoyed the positive message of there's nothing wrong with being different and different can be ok. 

Favorite line, " Remember, live with your shadow, not behind it."  

Monday, November 13, 2017

MG Review: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson

25709427The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson
Publisher: Capstone for Young Readers
Format:  Paperback

Number of Pages: 255
Published:  April 2016
Source: Giveaway sponsored by From the Mixed-Up Files and a copy of the book provided by the author.  
Find it:  AmazonB&NGoodreads

Opening Line:  I snuck the phone into the hall closet, where Katie's faux fur parka would muffle the sound."  

10-year-old best friends Annie and Jason regard themselves as spies and adventurers, and they're also the two founding members of the PB&J Society.  A society where each of their smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwichs receives a ceremonial sendoff to become "food for the worms."  Of course, their ceremony follows a very specific set of rules before their beloved sandwiches can be laid to rest.  But all of their adventuring gets put on hold when they learn that Jason's family might be losing their house and have to move away.  Annie then comes up with a list of sure-fire ways to help prevent the foreclosure and if all else fails, Jason and his family can live in her parent's basement, she's positive they won't mind.  The story is also about Mrs. Schuster, a neighbor in the cul de sac who invites the two of them over to her house, which to Annie and Jason is kinda odd because to them she's been nothing but "Mrs. Meany" ever since she yelled at them to get off her yard and wouldn't return Jason's football.  But it seems Mrs. Schuster is trying to change her crabby ways and after inviting them in shares a chest she found in the attic that once belonged to her great, great grandmother, Captain Black Marge.  Within the chest are antique pirate clothing and a bonified pirates map which Mrs. Schuster hints will lead them to Captain Marge's treasure, hiding somewhere within their own neighborhood.  So,  Annie starts to hatch a plan to find the pirate treasure and keep from losing her best friend forever.

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society had me reminiscing about my own best friend from my childhood, Craig. Like Annie and Jason, we liked to roam about the neighborhood and have glorious pretend adventures, and I'll never forget playing in the hedge and being dive-bombed by the magpies who apparently decided to have a nest where our fort was, or our climbing tree in the front yard and drawing pictures together.  While reading, I also recalled how it felt having to move away from my friend and although we continued to write letters for a short while after, we had both moved on to new friendships by the time I returned to our house a few years later.  Maybe in some way, the story helps kids to realize that some things, like a friend having to move away, aren't necessarily something a parent can control.  I couldn't blame my dad for us having to move, although at the time I wanted to blame the army, eventually, I did realize that each move was a new opportunity to make new friends.   I really don't want to give the impression that this is just a book for adults to have warm fuzzy feelings over though, I really think that kids can see their own friendships in the story and connect with that feeling of not wanting your best friend in the whole world to move away.  Truthfully not only is this a fun friendship adventure story it also delves into some tougher subjects like Jason's family's financial struggles and how his dad not being able to find a job impacts the whole family.   I really liked Jason and how despite his initial skepticism about the pirate treasure, Annie's determination and bossiness wins him over and gets them searching for clues.  Even when Jason's family problems cause him to frustratingly tell her to "grow up, "  Annie still maintains her never give up attitude and you can't help rooting for her throughout the story.    Oh and the dialogue, between the two friends and Annie and her parents, so good.  One of my favorite parts happens early on when Annie is researching how much money she can make for donating her kidney and her mom walks in and see's the computer screen,

"Kidney donations?  An-nie?"  I hated it when she said my name like that.  It's like her tone could pull out a confession even if I were innocent."  

I really felt sorry for them when some of their adventures lead to Jason's dad grounding them from seeing each other for two weeks, which felt like an unjustly harsh punishment for such steadfast friends.  But absolutely loved the note that Jason left for Annie in her lunch box after one of their forced separations.  Overall, I thought this was a wonderful adventurous friendship story with two adorable main characters and one crabby lady, who doesn't turn out to be as crabby as she initially wanted you to think she was.  Bonus there is a lovely discussion guide that the author created.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MG Speculative Fiction/Time Travel Review & Excerpt: Skavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich

33534896Skavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich
Publisher: Inkshares
Format:  E ARC

Number of Pages: 320
Publishing:  November 14th, 2017
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Find it:  AmazonB&NGoodreads, Inkshares

Henry's father, Nathan Babbitt has always said that one day they would go on an adventure together sailing or climbing the highest mountains, but after he's tragically killed in a car accident, their adventuring plans ended.  Since then, Henry's mother won't allow him to go outside, she's been cautious and overly protective, especially when it comes to his grandfather and all his wild stories.  Then one night on a visit to his grandparents on Christmas Eve, Henry hears the story of one of his grandfather's own adventures of trying to solve the greatest hunt of them all, the Skavenger Hunt.  His grandfather also shares the last clue he found, an antique ledger sheet.  Unable to sleep, Henry sneaks into his grandfather's study hoping to take a closer look, and while investigating mutters aloud a series of numbers that once added to the ledger transports him back to the year 1885, with the cryptic message:  
"To whomever has found this page from my
ledger: find me. There is a way back. Or
forward. But know this too-when the final
empty box of this sheet is full, so ends
your adventure. Whatever the date and
location, there you will stay. Forever.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Skavenger"

Henry must now follow the clues wherever they lead and risk each new mark on the ledger bringing him closer to being stuck in the past.  Will he be able to find Skavenger in time?  

Shortly after Henry arrives in 1885, and while trying to figure out what Skavenger's message means he stumbles upon three other explorers his age, all searching for the next clue in the puzzle.  Once they team up, things begin to get interesting as they make their way across New York visiting such landmarks as Central Park,  the Grand Central Depot, the Vanderbilt Mansion and The Telephone Exchange in Hell's Kitchen, New York.   I think the hunt is my favorite part of the story, reading about the places they visit and following along with their next clue.  Their travels even take them by Pennsylvania railroad and boat to destinations like Mississippi and Paris where they meet Mark Twain and Gustave Eiffel.  While closely behind Mr. Doubt and his Dark Men are following their every move.  Skavenger's  Hunt is a puzzle mystery, mixed with historical fiction, and adventure which I enjoyed very much.  There are many twists in Scavenger's Hunt, with one in particular that I'll admit I never saw coming, but the more that I reflect on the story it reminds me of the character of Arthur Slugworth from the 1971 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Although, Slugworth seemed more mysterious, like what was he promising those children?  He also seemed to be more of a test of Charlie's moral character, was he trustworthy and honest, would Charlie be worthy of taking over the Factory?  Whereas in Skavenger Hunt, the antagonist frightens Henry and gets in the way, more of an obstacle to overcome.  So that, when the twist is finally revealed, it's even more surprising.  While there is a resolution to the Hunt, the final twist does leave room for more stories to be written.  

Excerpt from
Chapter Eleven
Doubt and the Dark Men

            HIRAM DOUBT’S HANDS were gently folded over the crown of his walking
       stick—the first thing Henry saw as he nearly walked straight into him.
             “Looking for something?” Doubt inquired with a sparkling gleam in his 
       otherwise bleak gray eyes. The old New York Times photograph in Chief ’s 
       study had been frightening enough—and that was just an old, faded black-
       and-white image. Fuzzy on the edges.
             Here the man was all too crystal clear. The eyes that had somehow 
       managed to pierce through century-old newsprint now leveled icy daggers
       into Henry’s rapidly blinking ones.
             No! No, no, NO! Sorry, can’t . . .
       Henry started to back up as if to turn and run, but the idea was quickly squelched.
             “Try to move?” Doubt advised with a clipped voice, raising a slender pointed
       finger, “You won’t move for long. Call for your friends? It’ll be the last call you
             Henry’s heart stopped as he glimpsed something moving in the shadows behind
             The Dark Men!
             One by one, all four of them appeared, all wearing black top hats and long black
       coats that reached all the way to the ground. Henry decided the safest place to be, 
       ironically, was standing right where he was, in front of the man with the pale gray
       top hat and the bleak and dreary eyes.
             “Allow me to introduce myself,” the disconcerting man said. Without raising 
        a hand, but with a slight tilt of his head, he gloomily uttered, “Hiram Doubt.”
             “I know,” Henry replied, his voice cracking.
             Doubt’s lips curved into a wicked grin. “I’ll take only a moment of your time, ” he 
       said, “because at this moment, young man, you and your friends are impressively
       close to cracking Mr. Skavenger’s next clue. A clue which, yes, I have already solved.”
             Despite being more frightened than he could remember, Henry couldn’t help 
       but take in the thin gray scar running the path of a teardrop down Doubt’s left cheek. 
       The snaggled and wisping gray edge of each eyebrow was hard to miss too.  Everything
       about the slim man in the dark charcoal suit—his sixty or so years of age, his height of 
       six feet and maybe another inch, seven feet with the hat—felt gray and threatening,
       though oddly cultured as well.
             The sinister-looking man continued on, “While hundreds still aimlessly wander the                          grounds of the Dakota and others still climb the walls of the Grand Central Depot, the 
       four of you have displayed a deductive intelligence far, far beyond your years. 
       Worthy of commendation.”
             Doubt unfolded his malevolent hands and Henry saw that his cane was capped with a                    gold-plated head of a snarling wolf.
             “Now, listen to me carefully, young searcher,” Doubt’s voice dropped low. “If I see 
       you again—and I’m certain I will—it will be either because you have solved a clue I 
       have also solved, or because you have solved one I’ve yet to decipher.”
             He raised his cane and the wolf ’s golden teeth drew close to Henry’s nose. “And 
       when I ask you for the answer to that riddle? The one you have solved, and I haven’t?”                         Doubt let his words settle before finishing. “You. Will. Tell. Me.”

Praise for Skavenger's Hunt

"With Skavenger's Hunt, Mike Rich has adeptly tapped into the best of children's literature. His book takes us on a journey that both fascinates and surprises us and is filled with characters who are curious and generous and, at times, very funny. The world that Henry Babbitt discovers is every bit as mind-blowing as the world that Lucy Pevensie enters when she first walks through the wardrobe. I can't wait to read it again!" —Mark Johnson, producer of The Lion, Witch and the WardrobeBreaking Bad, and Rain Man

"A mix of magic and history that takes the reader on an utterly engrossing adventure! Skavenger's Hunt is an edge-of-your-seat gem that’ll keep you turning pages from start to finish. An impressive debut novel." —The Wibberleys, writers of National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets

"Mike Rich is, very simply, one of my favorite writers. Any time you sit down to read a script of his you know that you will laugh, think and be moved. He has the rare ability to create emotion without schmaltz." —John Lee Hancock, writer, and director of The Blind Side

"Mike Rich writes stories with so much heart they almost explode. There's the work you know, like Secretariat, but also work on countless films you love that don't bear his name. Skavenger's Hunt is no exception." —Brian Koppelman, writer of Ocean's 13 and creator of Showtime's Billions

                                    Author bio:

 Mike Rich is a screenwriter best known for films like The RookieRadio, and Secretariat. His first movie was Finding Forrester, starring Sean Connery, for which he won the Nicholl Fellowship. Rich currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Skavenger's Hunt is his first book.