Wednesday, June 30, 2021

MG Review of Return of Zombert by Kara LaReau, Illustrations by Ryan Andrews

Return of Zombert by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Ryan Andrews
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  160
Publishing:  July 13th, 2021
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Lines:  "In a certain corporate headquarters on the edge of town, all was quiet."  

After having escaped from YummCo Laboratories in the first book of the series, Zombert has now found a home with Mellie Gore.  Bert continues to be adventurous, spending his nights regaining his strength and hunting.  Meanwhile, back at the lab the scientists have been hard at work with their next experiment and Y-92 looks to be a promising replacement.  However, the Big Boss is still concerned that Zombert has not yet been returned to the lab, so YummCo stages a Harvest Festival and a Best Pet Contest in hopes of drawing Bert out of hiding.  Desperately in need of the money to pay off Bert's vet bill, Mellie enters him in the talent contest.  When Bert has an adverse reaction on stage and is taken by YummCo employee's, Mellie and her best friend Danny must join forces in order to save him.

Return of Zombert is a quick read, slightly on the shorter side, with enough mystery to keep the reader entertained.  There's the sense that something makes Bert unusual, and his past is beginning to take shape driving the storyline, while making him a sympathetic character.  However, I'm sure much more will be fleshed out in the next book.    The story alternates between Mellie and Zombert, rising in tension and has an ending that is especially creepy.  Bert's fate is left unresolved, which might be unsettling to some readers.  Think along the lines of a cross between Bunnicula and the Rats of NIMH, a little macabre but not too scary.

The art work in my review copy wasn't finalized, but I really enjoyed those that I did get a chance to see.  I'm also in love with that cover.   Mellie is really the highlight of the story for the love and care that she gives Bert.  She wants people to see that being weird is alright, and that there are many good qualities to Bert that make him special.  I especially love the relationship that they share.  The moments where Bert is sleeping on her bed and purring.  Kara LaReau wonderfully portrays all of Bert's animal instincts and behaviors. This would make for a fun Halloween read, but defiantly start with the first book, Rise of Zombert.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Secondhand Dogs by Carolyn Crimi, illustrations by Melissa Manwill

Secondhand Dogs by Carolyn Crimi, illustrations by Melissa Manwill
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher:  Balzer & Bray   
Number of pages:  256  
Publishing:  July 6th, 2021
Source:  Barbara Fisch via BlueSlip Media    

Opening Lines:  "Gus lifted his head and sniffed the chilly November air."

Gus is the pack leader of Miss Lottie's motley rescue dog's, which include Roo the hunting dog, Tank the bulldog and Moon Pie the one year old pug.  Ghost is the independent cat who makes a sometimes home with Miss Lottie, and Quinn is the eleven year old boy from next door who helps Miss Lottie with her dogs to escape the teasing and bullying of his older brothers friends.  Whenever a new dog is introduced to the pack, as the leader Gus makes the call whether or not to accept them, and today Miss Lottie is introducing Decker, a Doberman mix to the rest of the pack.  At first, Gus has his doubts about Decker, who seems rude and uncaring, plus it seems like he's trying to challenge Gus in front of the rest of the pack.  Yet, Gus also believes in second chances and thinks with a little more time, Decker might adjust to the other dogs and begin to fit in.  However it isn't long before Decker begins to show his true colors, enacting a plan to oust the other dogs and have Miss Lottie all to himself, beginning with taking over the coveted spot on Miss Lottie's bed from Moon Pie.  Decker even goes so far as to instigate strife between Miss Lottie and the other dogs by injuring his own paw to frame Tank.  Believing Tank is to blame, Miss Lottie separates him from the rest of the dogs.  But Decker's most aggrieves act is convincing Moon Pie that his owner Gertie has been looking for him and he should runaway to find her, when she actually passed away several weeks ago and the other dogs haven't had the heart to share the news with him yet.  When Moon Pie actually does runaway, the other dogs decide to try and find him before the coyote spotted roaming the neighborhood does.        

Carolyn Crimi wrote one of my favorite picture books, Boris and Bella, a Halloween book with a classic movie monster feel.  Her latest book, Secondhand Dogs is equally delightful, highlighting the importance of adopting pets from a rescue shelter.  That  for whatever reason an owner gives up their pet, these pets should be given a second chance at a caring loving home.      

Gus makes a wonderful leader, he genuinely cares about the pack and is sympathetic to all of their needs.  By initially accepting Decker into the pack, he tries to be flexible and give him time to adjust, despite feeling like he's taking a huge risk.  While Gus might lack some confidence in being the pack leader, he always seems to put the pack first.  Moon Pie is the sweet little trusting puppy.  The kind of dog who will look up at you with his head tilted to the side while begging for a snack.   I believe this is what I so love about Crimi's stories, her characters.  Each of the dogs in the story exemplifies the temperament and personality style of the breed.   From the overly excited Roo,  to the guardian, protective, stocky nature of Tank.  If you've ever owned one of these breeds, you'll notice those personality traits as you read.  Decker's story will defiantly pull at your heart strings.  He obviously was mistreated by a previous owner, but his bullying of Moon Pie, pushing him out of Miss Lottie's bed was quite sad.  Poor little Moon Pie.  Then when Decker deceives him into searching for Gertie, you worry for this little pup away from home.  Despite Decker initially coming off as harsh, uncaring, maybe a little evil, and intent on having his own way, he'll start to grow on you as more of his backstory is revealed.  My favorite moment in the story was when Ghost jumped on Miss Lotties's lap to comfort her when Moon Pie went missing.  Such a lovely illustrated book that will appeal to all types of dog lovers.   ** A huge thank you to Barbara Fisch at BlueSlip Media for the ARC paperback.**  

About Carolyn:  

Carolyn Crimi received her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College in 2000. She has published over 15 books, including Dear Tabby, Don’t Need Friends, Boris and Bella, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, and I Am the Boss of this Chair. Her book There Might Be Lobsters won The Golden Kite Award in 2018 for Best Picture Book Text, and her middle grade debut, Weird Little Robots, was named a BEA Book Buzz pick. Carolyn has received over thirty state awards and award nominations and was given The Prairie State Award in 2012 for her body of work. You can visit Carolyn at  Facebook: Carolyn Crimi  Twitter: @crims10

Praise for Secondhand Dogs:

“A sensitive, satisfying, and intriguing canine tale.”   —Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

MG Realistic Fiction review of The Last Super Chef by Chris Negron

The Last Super Chef by Chris Negron
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of Pages:  416 
Publishing:  July 6th, 2021
Source:  Author and Publisher via Edelweiss +

Opening Lines:  "I know the exact amount of flour for the perfect cake batter."

10 year old Curtis Pith is passionate about cooking, whipping up everything from Crème brûlée cupcakes to a Cheese Soufflé.  One day he hopes to be just like the host of The Super Chef, chef Lucas Taylor.  Not only is Chef Taylor his idol, he's also secretly his absentee father, which his mom pretty much admitted when he was in the second grade.  While watching Super Chef with his younger sister, Paige, Curtis is surprised to learn the show is changing up their format and that this will be Chef Taylor's final season.  Curtis is heartbroken by the news until he learns that five children contestants will be selected from around the world to compete in a cooking contest with a grand prize of $250,000.  Curtis knows this is his one opportunity to finally meet his dad and show him what he can do, and maybe help his single mom who's been struggling to pay their bills.  Now all he needs is a winning video entry to impress the judges and be selected as a contestant for the competition.  

I haven't had this much fun reading a book about cooking since All Four Stars by Tara Dairman.  I like to think of myself as a culinary enthusiast, always curious to try new ingredients and dishes and I especially enjoy a story that highlights these skills.  Plus as an added bonus both books have a Crème brûlée incident and speak to that inner foodie in me.  

The Last Super Chef is a cross between the Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka,  and the talented kids from Master Chef or Chopped Junior.    The story follows along with each of the kids as they're selected to compete, start to prepare their dishes, including the prep work, utensils, descriptions of the scrumptious ingredients and the final presentation of their completed work to the judges.  Each of Chef Taylor's challenges was designed to not only test their cooking skills, aptitude and how well they could work together, it also included a special theme for each challenge, based off the skills needed for an exceptional chef.  I love how the story highlights kids from a variety of culinary backgrounds and introduces new ingredients, while exposing the reader to other cultures foods, including dishes from Kyoto, Japan, Mexico City and from Boston, Illinois and New York.  Those Crème brûlée cupcakes and Jambalaya sound to die for!   

The story is so much more than just the cooking competition, although this is the meat and potatoes of the book, there is also the emphasis of how a TV personalities life can become an international conversation.  Speculation, rumors and questions about issues can arise at any given moment that don't pertain to anyone else but the individual.  It highlights the pressures that kids place on themselves to live up to their expectations and those of their parents.  And also the disappointment of letting yourself down by not feeling you can measure up.  Yet, it's also hopeful by illustrating the importance of teamwork, friendship, a strong family support, and a dash of kindness go a long way in helping you succeed.  If you enjoyed All Four Stars, love watching cooking shows and competitions, or know of a young culinary enthusiast, The Last Super Chef will certainly satiate their appetite.  **A huge thank you to Chris Negron and Edelweiss + for the E-ARC**