Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MG Humor: Jake the Fake Keeps It Real by Craig Robinson & Adam Mansbach. Illustrated by Keith Knight

31015595Jake the Fake by Craig Robinson & Adam Mansbach, illustrations by Keith Knight
Format:  Hardcover, 144 pages
Published:  March 28th, 2017 
by Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: MG Humor
Source:  Giveaway hosted by  Aeicha at Word Spelunking

Jake is about to start his first day of sixth grade at the prestigious Music and Art Academy, although he feels it's because he faked his way in.  You see, his sister Lisa also attends the Academy and she's the one that convinced him to play "Song For My Father" on the piano, which ended up landing him his admission, but what everyone doesn't know is he can only play that one song and he hates playing the piano.  Worse than all that is his best friend will be going to Dobbler Middle School, so he won't even know anybody at the new school,  which doesn't really seem to matter since everyone is going to find out he cheated his way in any way.  So, Jake ends up in Mr. Allen's homeroom where he meets a bunch of kids with quirky talents, plus his teacher assigns what Jake thinks are impossible tasks.  Like who can possibly write a book report on a book that doesn't even exist?  Jake then enlists the help of his sister and best friend Evan who basically tell him that the way he can fit in is to be "artistic" or do whatever he want's as long as he calls it "art."  Jake tries out his new plan, and at first, things are going well, but when his teacher announces the end of school talent show, Jake is really in a bind since he's just been faking his way through most of the school year.   

Jake the Fake features over 160 illustrations by Keith Knight and reminded me of The Diary of the Wimpy Kid or maybe even The Captain Underpants series, they were funny and give you the feel of the quirky characters in the story.  I also liked the many lists that Jake made, especially his list of ideas for Outwierdoing the Weirdos.  From the About the Author's page, Mr. Knight relates how he was concerned about the lack of representation for African American boys in publishing, so together with Chris Robinson's own experiences going to a Magnet School, they decided to write this story.  This is only the first book in the series and with its positive messaging of exploring what your hidden talents are and finding something that you're passionate about, I'd say they're off to a wonderful start.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Blog Tour: The Real Us by Tommy Greenwald

The Real Us
Author:  Tommy Greenwald
Publisher:  Roaring Brook Press
Format: E ARC from NetGalley
Number of Pages:  288 
Published:  August 8th, 2017 
Genre: MG Realistic Fiction 

Publishers Description: 

Laura Corbett and Damian White are loners, and not by choice. Kids make fun of smart, sarcastic Laura for her weight and artistic Damian for his tendency to sweat through his shirts. Calista Getz, however―well, everyone agrees that Calista is the prettiest girl in the whole school. Maybe even the whole state. Let’s just say that she sits at the popular lunch table. Laura and Damian don’t.
But when Calista wakes up just before the school dance with the BIGGEST pimple she has EVER seen right in the middle of her face, and her attempts to hide it backfire spectacularly, Laura and Damian are the only ones who don't ignore her. In fact, they seem to see not only past her pimple but past her popularity, too. Together, they'll challenge the school's status quo in this hilarious, heartfelt novel The Real Us, by Tommy Greenwald.

My Thoughts:

Each chapter of The Real Us is written as one day of the week leading closer to the first dance of the school year, alternating between Calista, Damian, and Laura.  Calista is pretty, popular,  friends to Ellie and Ella,  who follow her around and think that she and Patrick would make the cutest couple because they're the most popular kids in school. Damian was the new kid in school last year, he's an artist, kinda awkward and shy because of a medical condition called hyperhidrosis that causes excessive sweating.  To compensate, he wears a red jacket all the time and visits the nurse's office to change out his shirt during the day.  He ends up enduring quite a bit of teasing from Patrick's friend Will but tries very hard to not let it get to him.  Laura and Callista used to be the best of friends, they still play soccer on the same team, but now Laura's friends with fellow soccer player Rachel, who she has more in common with.  At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like the alternating between Calista, Damian, and Laura's voice.  The prologue sets things up as if this is a story about Calista, and yet it's also about the interactions and events that all three of them share.   In the end, it really worked for me.  Who would've thought a pimple could make things go so horribly wrong.  Calista's cosmetic emergency leads her to try and conceal her pimple, but then the concealer causes her to break out in hives.  To top things off, Damian ends up accidentally elbowing her in the face causing further bruising and swelling.  Because of these events and the overall change in her looks, Calista's friends begin to shy away from her and now even nice guy Patrick isn't going to ask her to the dance. Calista begins to redefine who she thinks she is, who her true friends are and what is important to her in life, things like reading and playing soccer.  I really liked Calista, she never came off as conceited or self-centered and seemed to genuinely care about those around her.  Clearly, she was affected by Ellie and Ella turning their backs on her, but I liked that she found new friends, reconnected with Laura and the way she genuinely was being nice to Damian.  The themes in The Real Us not only cover the idea of what a real friend is, it also shows how people are more complicated than they look on the outside, that our actions are important and that it shouldn't matter what other people think of us, they don't define who we are.                

Favorite lines:  

"These things don't know everything you know.   I frown, "What things?" "Mirrors," she says.  "They're just pieces of glass.  They don't actually reflect anything about who we are.  They're your friend one day, your enemy the next.  You can't trust them."

 **I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest thoughts.** 

Visit all the Blog Tour Stops for The Real Us: 

8/7      Ms. Yingling Reads
8/8     Maria's Melange

8/15   One Great Book


Tommy Greenwald is the author of the Charlie Joe Jackson series as well as its spin-offs and the Crimebiters! series, and is now looking forward to his next challenge.

Monday, August 7, 2017

MG Fantasy/Adventure: Simple Lessons (Evolution Revolution #3) by Charlotte Bennardo

35696905Simple Lessons (Evolution Revolution #3) by Charlotte Bennardo 
Publisher: Poolside Press
Number of Pages: 154
Published:  July 19th, 2017
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the author.

In Simple Machines, we were introduced to Jack, a squirrel, and Collin a boy who recognizes Jack's intellect and teaches him how simple machines work, together they hatch a plan to try and prevent humans from further encroaching on the animals habitats.   As a true leader, Jack is able to gather an army of woodland creatures and ultimately they destroy the machines.  In Simple Plans, their victory is short lived when Jack's friend Rat is captured by the scientists who are still angry about their machines being destroyed and who plan on catching him to figure out how he accomplished it.  In Simple Lessons, Jack is still very much in danger of the scientists, who've been showing up at Collin's house asking questions and even placing elaborate traps and camera's in the woods.  Recognizing the danger, Jack tells his friends to leave the woods.  Fearing for Jack's safety as well, Collin agree's with his mother's plan to take him to an animal sanctuary far away from his home.  It's here that Jack meets Addy, a fellow rescue squirrel and realizes that what he really wants is his freedom and to teach the other squirrel's what he has learned.  However, the scientists are still on his trail and once again he will have to figure out how to outsmart them once and for all. 

 One of the things that I've so enjoyed in reading Bennardo's Evolution Revolution series is the way that she portrays her animals, the attention to detail to capture their mannerisms as the run, jump, and scamper through the trees. They act similar to the squirrels that I see in my trees and still face all the same dangers from predators in the wild like a fox, cat, and hawks, and of course those tricky humans.  I also like that despite Jack not being able to communicate directly to Collin and his mother with words, that they use Collin's drawings and Jack's friend, Mina the mynah bird and her mimicry ability to learn the same vocabulary to communicate.  Jack is such a wonderful character, he loves learning from Collin and cares deeply about the creatures in his woods, his friend Rat, his sister's mate and once he meets Addy and the other rescue squirrel's he's committed to helping them be free too.  Jack often places himself in grave danger to protect them, but somehow he always comes out on top.  Each of these stories is packed with humor, adventure and are just the right length for a classroom read along and I wouldn't hesitate in giving this to an animal story loving kid.  The lovely illustrations are by Cathleen Daniels, and this one is one of my favorites from a previous book, so gorgeous!   

Squirrel rolling nut
Source:  Illustrator's website at 

About the Author:

Charlotte Bennardo is the co-author of the Sirenz series (Flux) and Blonde OPS (Thomas Dunne Books), hailed as “funny and entertaining” by Booklist. She resides in New Jersey with her family and is currently hard at work fighting for chair space with her cat as she works on her next project. 

Inline image

Sunday, August 6, 2017

10 Facts about My Writing and Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well by Keira Gillett & Giveaway

If you've been following my blog, you'd know how much I've enjoyed reading Keira Gillett's Zaria Fierce Series and was so happy to hear that things continue with Aleks Mickelsen. Keira is such a lovely writer and quick, I mean she prepared this post so fast and happily agreed to chat about her writing process and interesting facts about her newest series without even batting an eye.   Thank you once again, Keira!

Hi, everyone! It’s good to be back at the Log Cabin Library. Thank you, Brenda, for having me. My name is Keira Gillett and I am the author of the Zaria Fierce Series, which follows a biracial girl around Norway as she discovers her heritage and magical gifts for the first three books. The next three books will be told by her friend Aleks Mickelsen, who is a changeling, the first of which is Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. I thought to share some of the interesting behind the scenes aspects of the book and my writing so you can get a feel for the world and me. Let’s dive in!

1.  Opening sequences:  I wrote and took out a few more incidents in the beginning sequences, including where the kids learn about a factory worker getting hurt in a senseless accident. Taking these additional things out sped up the opening pace of the book and got the adventure started much sooner. I’m always aware of my sister’s comment in the back of my mind where she said that as a kid she didn't like reading because books took too long to go anywhere, so I always try to get the gang out and on their way within one to three chapters.

2.  The Crash: The crash sequence took many rewrites. In its first iteration, Geirr had a near-miss with another plane. In its second, the type of airplane being flown changed after discussing things with a retired FAA inspector/pilot and talking about how it might have gone down. Svein also entered in this revision as I was informed that many pilots hang around the flight ops (operations) office and offer to tagalong for fun.  In its third, the plane type changed again after talking with an A&P (airframe and powerplant) mechanic about what she considered believable for the crash so that everyone would be safe. Then it was a few more rounds of polishing up to get to the final version in the books. I hope I did both the pilot and mechanic justice. Any and all errors are on me, but I’ll call those artistic licenses. 

3.  First Draft: I completed the first draft of Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy well roughly a year ago in August 2016, which took me 1912 minutes to write. Originally Aleks’ first story sat on 39,400 words and 211 pages. It ended at 47,720 words and 272 pages. I find that I’m the opposite of many authors when it comes to word count. Instead of ripping words out of the story by the thousands and focusing on brevity, I’m adding them in to flesh out the world and clarify what I mean to say.

4Knottie – Knotty/Naughty as a nickname came first. I then went looking for a Norweigan name for a certain girl troll with attitude, who would epitomize the nursery rhyme of the girl with a curl in her hair who was very, very bad when she was bad, but maybe not the reverse of being very, very good when she was good. She’s prickly and wound up tight. I hope you all love her and Christoffer interactions over her name. They make me giggle.

5. Grizzle: Another new troll name came from the idea of a grizzly bear. Shortening grizzly to grizzle worked out wonderfully because grizzle is hair/fur that is like a salt and pepper mix. It also is a slant rhyme to gristle, which is the tough inedible tissue in meat. Both of these definitions really work for her character.

6. Grandmothers: Hearing Michele narrate for Grizzle, I realized I really do love my grandmother figures in the series and have only one grandfather mentioned, and so far he’s been off-page, this is probably because I was super close to my own grandma. I didn’t really know my grandfathers, who passed away before I really was of age to remember them.  In the series, we now have Ava, who’s hip and cool; Granny who’s sugary sweet and absent-minded; the witch in the woods, who’s a bit crazy, but sly as a fox; and Grizzle, who’s tough as nails so don’t cross her.

7.  Banshees: One of the things I mulled over as I wrote this book was how to incapacitate the banshees in my world. To figure that out I focused on the features I had already described earlier in the series and kept it in the back of my mind as I wrote up to a confrontation with them. The idea when it came was quick and a perfect solution, and in fact inspired by the Biblical accounting in the Book of Judges, of Samson and Delilah, where Samson loses his incredible power and strength when his hair is shaved by her. Silencing a banshee in my world means cutting her hair, and requires an element of skill and another of a surprise because when they focus their full attention on you, it’s you who is incapacitated as seen with the teenage trolls.

8.  Jötunheim: Book four was originally supposed to bypass the trolls entirely, and go to Jötunheim. The trolls, however, had other ideas and ambushed me as much as Aleks and the gang. I always believe following where a plot bunny takes you because there’s a reason these ideas call to you. Never be so stuck on your final plot to overlook these hidden gems. I discovered with the kids that a lot of very bad stuff was happening below the surface in Trolgar and needed to be uncovered. It was amazing to explore and to meet another side of these trolls. As Hagrid from Harry Potter would say, “They’re just misunderstood creatures.”

9.  Voices in my head: It’s not like I hear actual voices, but my characters often talk to me as in the above case where Jorkden and his Wild Hunt appeared on the scene to engineer a story take over. For me, this means that the world is alive and full of vibrant, verdant fields of imagination, ripe and ready to harvest. Some of my very best ideas come from listening to my characters “tell” me why I can’t do what I thought I’d do with them.

10.  Character Development: As the main characters (and others for that matter) get older, and interact with the world around them, it’s important to continue to grow and develop them into new versions of themselves. Characters who are memorable are not in stasis. As an author, I always ask myself, what’s next, what motivates them, what are they afraid of? Then I tackle the answers and bring them to the story.  Zaria starts out the series as a shy bookworm, and she may still be a bookworm and a tad shy about boys and feelings, but when it comes to other things she is fierce and brave and stands up to injustice. She’s a stronger character than she began, finding within herself the strength she’s always had. Her journey was very much about finding her true self. Aleks is the opposite of her at the start, even from the first book. He’s certain who his true self is and what he wants and doesn’t want. He doesn’t want his powers. He wants to be normal. He wants to be human. Where his path takes him, and what he learns along the way – well, you’ll have to read his trilogy to find out.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into what goes into writing the Zaria Fierce Series and Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well in particular. Which was your favorite fact to learn? What else do you want to know about me, writing, or the books?

Giveaway: To celebrate the release of Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, I’m hosting a giveaway for interested readers. The winner will receive a dragon scale necklace, that I made, and a Dropcard containing a digital copy of Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest. Open internationally. Ends 8/20/2017.

To enter leave a comment on this blog asking me a question, or sharing with me your favorite Zaria Fierce character, or sharing your favorite fact from the above list. To get a bonus entry share this post on Twitter with the hashtag #zfgiveaway2. For another share your favorite Zaria Fierce book cover on Instagram using the same hashtag #zfgiveaway2. Good luck!

Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well

Book 4 in the Zaria Fierce Series

“It’s time for you to come home.”
First Aleks’ mom loses the car keys, which he finds in the fridge, and then Christoffer forgets how to get to Aleks’ house. On the surface it doesn’t seem so bad, but events become more disturbing as the day progresses. Something strange is happening in Norway, and Aleks Mickelsen is the only one who can stop it. Too bad for us, the last thing he wants is another adventure.

About the Author: Keira Gillett

When she’s not working or writing, Keira Gillett loves to play tabletop games. Nearly every week Keira gets together with her friends to play. It’s no wonder she invented a game of her own for her Zaria Fierce Series. You can find the rules to this game within the second book and make your own version of it through a tutorial on her website. She’d loved to hear from you! Why not send her a picture of you and a friend playing the game?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

MG Realistic Fiction Review: Slider by Pete Hautman

34051894Author: Pete Hautman
Format: Paperback ARC 
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Number of Pages: 275
Publishing:  September 12th, 2017
Source:  Giveaway sponsored by ArmChair Book Expo and book provided by Candlewick Press

Opening line:  "A sixteen-inch pizza, fresh from the oven is a thing of beauty." 

Slider begins with three friends playing a friendly game of who can eat a pizza the fastest, with David trying to come closest to his favorite competitive eaters, Joey Chestnut and Jooky Garafalo's time.   Then a simple online search leads David to an auction for the infamous half hotdog that caused Jooky to lose the World Famous Nathan's Hotdog Eating Contest.  David can't believe the half hotdog hasn't even received one bid, so he places a small bid, which quickly grows.  Fearing he might lose the auction, David borrows his mother's credit card and sets an auto-buy with a limit of twenty dollars hoping to snag himself a piece of history.  But when there's a mishap with the auction system, David lands himself with a $2000.00 charge.  To cover the cost of his mistake, David plans to enter as many contests as he can to raise the money to pay his mom before she finds the charge on her credit card.  What ensues is a lot of competitive eating.  Everything from SooperSlider's to pizza's, to heads of cabbage to stretch out David's stomach.  Training is tough and at first, David's parents aren't supportive of the idea, but then they come to an agreement where David will take care of his younger brother Mal and they agree to sign his application to participate in the Pigorino Pizza Eating Contest where hopefully he can win the $5000.00 grand prize.  

So, I'm new to the idea of competitive eating and I'll admit I had a similar reaction as David's mom, thinking of all the damage that eating so much can potentially do to your body, but Hautman kept things light and funny.  Slider is about much more than just competitive eating, it's also about David's relationship with his younger brother Mal.  Mal has autism, which for him includes difficulty socializing, communicating, and behavioral challenges, but to his family, who don't use labels, he's just Mal.  Mal may keep a wall of his things and occasionally have an outburst, but his family loves him and David's attempts to help Mal's socialization were both clever and really sweet.   David is such a wonderful character and one I believe middle graders will easily relate to.  He's searching for his place as the middle in his family, describing it as "...being the beef in a SooperSlider-you're just there to weld the bun together."  In a lot of ways, the middle kid gets overlooked, and in David's case, this is pretty true too.  His older sister gets all the positive attention from doing well in school and Mal requires lots of attention from everyone in the family, which leaves little attention for David.  Somehow, David takes this in stride and I found myself rooting for him the entire story.  Slider also delves into how relationships change between friends, as Cyn and HeyMan begin to show an interest in one another.    Overall, this was a unique, humorous story that has plenty of kid appeal.