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."