Monday, December 18, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Looking Up by Stephan Pastis

Looking Up by Stephan Pastis
Publisher:  Aladdin
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   240 pages
Published:   October 10th, 2023
Source:  Publisher

Opening Line:  "You know you're a square peg in a round world when you find you're the only person at the birthday party defending the piñata."  

Saint and her mother live in the poorer part of town.  Saint spends her time taking care of Dr. Rutherford B. Hayes, her pet turtle, collecting kneeling medieval knights and protecting anything that has a face, which includes birthday piñatas, gnomes and tailless donkeys.  Lately, Saint has been upset by all of the changes happening in her neighborhood.  Places that she's loved to visit are slowly closing or are being torn down and replaced by condos and coffee shops.  When her favorite toy store, Punch's Toy Farm is demolished, Saint knows it's time to act.  So, she enlists the help of Daniel Mc Gibbons.  The quiet round-faced boy from across the street and together they plan to save what's left of their little town.

Stephan Pastis is the author of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip and the Timmy Failure series which has been adapted into the Disney+ movie Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.  Looking Up is a very sweet story about a very lonely little girl.  Saint has complex feelings, and I quite enjoyed her use of big words.  She is very bright and cares very deeply about her neighborhood.  She's experienced a lot of changes over the last few years, and you get the sense that she's trying to work through everything going on around her.  It's really interesting seeing her perspective on the changes.  Saint also feels deeply hurt by her mother constantly breaking her promises.  For example, when she promises to take Saint to her favorite toy store and then backs out of it.  There's a part of this situation that Saint hasn't quite grasped yet, but I bet there are quite a few kids who would feel the same way as Saint does.  Overall, the story really surprised me, the plot built slowly but wow that climax packed a punch, especially with the twist at the end that I never saw coming.  What a bittersweet moment.  Have a tissue handy.  Saint is such a gem; she is so sweet to Daniel, and I just loved that she wanted to be his protector/knight.  The black and white illustrations were adorable and added so much to the story.  Yep, this is a keeper that I want to revisit again.     
 I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE      

**A huge thank you to Aladdin and Simon and Schuster for the review copy**

Friday, December 15, 2023

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy by J. Scott Savage, illustrations by Brandon Dorman

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy: Volume 2 (Graysen Foxx School Treasure Hunter) by J. Scott Savage, illustrations by Brandon Dorman
Publisher:  Shadow Mountain 
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   256 pages
Publishing:   January 2nd, 2024
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line:  "Disguises come in all shapes and sizes."

The Curse of the Illuminerdy is the second book in the Graysen Foxx School Treasure Hunter series.  In the current book, Graysen attends Ordinary Elementary, which on the outside is just well ordinary.  Inside the school, however, is a very different story.  There are secret passages, hidden chambers and treasures, which Graysen the resident fifth grade archaeologist/ explorer hopes to find.  Assisting him are his two third grade treasure hunters in training and best friends, the twins Maya and Jack Delgado.  Currently they are in search of a creepy old painting that they hope to use to win the school's Halloween room decorating contest.  Along the way they come across an old spelling bee medal with mysterious writing on the back, but just as they are going to search further into the message an acrobatic clown steals their prize.  Just who is behind the theft?  Is it the Doodler and his sixth-grade gang?  Graysen's archnemesis, Raven Ransom? Or is it the second-grade spy network?  While following the clues, Graysen and his friend's cross paths with a secret society of super smart nerds called the Illuminerdy who put them to the ultimate test.  Will they be able to meet the challenge, or will they suffer The Curse of the Illuminerdy?    

I've had the pleasure of reading J. Scott Savage's The Lost Wonderland Diaries and Mysterious of Cove series and was instantly intrigued by his latest series about a school filled with treasure hunters.  It has a sort of Indiana Jones vibe that instantly appealed to me.  The Curse of the Illuminerdy was a really fun book, full of excitement and action.  Having this set inside a school lends itself to some interesting and fun adventures.  Who knew that they'd be riding on projector carts while using an abacus to navigate the turns?

There were many clues for Graysen and his friends to follow and puzzles to solve that took them all around the school, from the girl's bathroom to the bell tower and even face to face with alligators in a swimming pool.  I really enjoyed the math word problems and learning about Napier's Bones, an ancient way of multiplying numbers.  The story has a strong emphasis on teamwork, cooperation, and the valuable lesson that we all make mistakes from time to time, but the key is what we can learn from our mistake.  I also enjoyed how the story highlighted each kids' unique ability be it music, math, science, engineering, chemistry, computer programming or history.  And that by working together they were able to complete the puzzles.  I would recommend this to any adventure seeker who is interested in treasure hunting or for someone who just wants a good laugh.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the illustrations by Brandon Dorman, which were fabulous in capturing the action and main characters.  

**A huge thank you to Shadow Mountain for approving my request on Edelweiss+**    

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Spotlight on Easy Reader series Tow on the Go!

Typically, I don't review easy readers, so instead of a review I'm choosing to spotlight this new series.  The main character, Mo sounds adorable, and I like how each book features "the long O" sound.      


            About the Books:



The Mambo Rescue!: Ready-to-Read Level 1 (Tow on the Go!) 

A helpful tow truck rescues cars from a snowstorm in this adorable Level 1 Ready-to-Read.

Mo the lovable tow truck likes to mambo while he works. When ten cars get stuck in a snowstorm, Mo has to mambo faster than ever before to get them out!

Publisher:   Simon and Schuster

Format: Paperback, hardcover and Kindle

Published August 29th, 2023

Find It: GoodreadsAmazon

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1665920063

Reading age ‏ : ‎ 4 - 6 years

Grade level ‏ : ‎ Preschool – 1



The Splish-Splash Puddle Dance!: Ready to Read Level 1 (Tow on the Go!) 

Tow Truck Mo comes to the rescue when a fancy sports car gets stuck in a muddy puddle in this second book in the adorable Level 1 Ready-to-Read series

Mo the lovable tow truck always mambos while he works, but to rescue a sports car from a squelchy mud puddle, Mo’s solo routine may have to become a duet!

Publisher:   Simon and Schuster

Format: Paperback, hardcover and Kindle

Published:  December 12th, 2023

Find It: GoodreadsAmazon

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1665920094

Reading age ‏ : ‎ 4 - 6 years

Grade level ‏ : ‎ Preschool – 1


About the Author:  

Patricia Lakin:

Patricia Lakin, a former elementary school teacher and an award-winning author, has written more than fifty published works. Her books, both fiction and nonfiction, span multiple age groups—from toddlers to middle graders. Patricia lives in New York City with her husband, Lee Koenigsberg. They have two grown sons, Aaron and Benjahmin. When not reading, writing, or researching, she can be found traveling with Lee to far-off places in the world.                       

Website | Goodreads | Amazon | 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

YA review of How to Find a Missing Girl by Victoria Wlosok

How to Find a Missing Girl by Victoria Wlosok
Publisher:  Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   400 pages
Published:   September 19th, 2023
Source:  Giveaway hosted by Literary Rambles

Opening Line: "Everyone knows you wear black to a stakeout."

A year ago, Iris's older sister, Stella vanished without a trace.  The police have deemed that she's a runaway and closed the case, but Iris can't believe that her sister would ever just leave her without a word.  Since then, Iris has been running a detective agency, under the radar to continue to gather information about Stella's case.  While also picking up odd jobs staking out cheaters and locating catfish with her best friends Sammy and Imani.  When Iris's ex-girlfriend Heather also goes missing, Iris begins to intensify her investigation as Heather was recording a true crime podcast about Stella's disappearance and might even have uncovered some clues that the police missed.  Can Iris find the culprit responsible for all of these disappearances and piece together where Stella and Heather are?  

How to Find a Missing Girl is a YA mystery thriller which I quite enjoyed reading, although it took me a little bit to get into.  Although, I also think that the slow build is a way to get all the backstory about Iris and Stella and why she began the detective agency.  Iris is very determined and resilient.  She strives to find answers and I appreciate that about her.  She's not willing to accept what the police are telling her, even if her amateur sleuthing might get her into trouble.  I believe Iris has felt like she's living in her sister's shadow and the detective agency is her way of carving out a place for herself.  

The inclusion of Heather's podcast transcripts, the text messages between friends and newspaper articles, brought some interesting elements to the story.  With the podcast sort of feeling like the tapes in Thirteen Reason's Why.  I've seen reviews on Goodreads comparing this to A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, but I haven't read that, so it was a fresh new read for me.  The story includes a diverse cast of characters with lots of LGBTIQ+ representation with characters that identify as pansexual, queer and nonbinary.  There's a strong bond between Iris, Imani and Sammy, and although they have a major difference in opinion in how the case should be approached, somehow, they make amends and overcome their obstacles to work together and solve the case.  I found the mystery of who was behind the disappearances to be intriguing and although I saw some of the twists coming, I'd say that the major reveal at the end was a surprise.  Just enough tension and risky behavior to make for an entertaining and satisfying read. 

**A huge thank you to Literary Rambles for the copy for my review and hosting so many giveaways on your blog**   

Monday, December 4, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold

Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold
  Walden Pond Press
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   208 pages
Published:   February 1st, 2022
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "My name is Harriet Wermer."

It's the last day of third grade and Harriet is a little frustrated.  Her dad made them rush to her mom's doctor's appointment and she almost missed out on her annual tradition of a final day of school smoothie.  Dad promised that nothing would change with her mom now expecting Harriet's baby brother, but everywhere she turns everything seems to be different.   To further complicate things, her mom needs two months of bedrest and Harriet will be staying with her Nanu on Marble Island, a small island off the coast of California.  Nanu runs Bric-a-Brac, a cozy bed and breakfast, and despite truly loving her Nanu and the island, Harriet is upset because she had big summer plans.  She wanted to go to the city pool, read lots of books from the library and maybe even learn how to ride a unicycle.   Dad tries to get her interested in going to the island by telling her about their pool and library and even mentions that the island has a Gingerbread House for her to find.  But nothing seems to work, she's miserable and sad.   Well at least Harriet was able to bring her cat, Matzo Ball along, even if her and Moneypenny (Nanu's basset hound) don't seem to be hitting it off.  Marble Island appears to hold many surprises and soon Harriet gets wrapped up in a mystery when she finds an old key.  But what does it unlock?  Could it be treasure?  And how does this key relate to her dad growing up on the island?  

 Just Harriet is from the same author that wrote A Boy Called Bat, which is a really sweet story about a boy and his special pet skunk.  When I saw the cover for Just Harriet, I instantly fell in love with it.  All the elements of Harriet are right there.  Her special old suitcase with all the travel stickers, Matzo Ball, Moneypenny and even the charming B&B in the background.  Flipping through the pages, I saw all the lovely illustrations and wanted a copy for my own library.  

Harriet reminds me a lot of Ramona Quimby she's got sass, she's moody, spunky, craves adventure and isn't afraid to tell you what she thinks.  Even if sometimes it's a lie.  Harriet will be the first to admit that she lies, even though sometimes she's uncertain as to why she lies.  The adults in the story seem to pass over her lies.  Maybe it's because she's so young, and she has so little control over everything going on, but it would've been nice if at least once she was called on one of her little white lies.  Instead, there was a lot of ignoring what she said.  And quite a few "later Harriet."  Even when she gave her dad a little sass by slamming the door on him and saying it was caused by the wind, she's never corrected.  Maybe it's that they know she has all of these big feelings and can't really contain them all.  Or perhaps it's because they know that she's stressed about the baby coming and how she was promised that nothing was going to change.  There's still a little part of me that can't help wishing that she would've apologized at least once for her lies or behavior.  Or maybe if someone had taken the time to help her to put words together with what she was feeling.   At the same time, I think many kids could total relate to Harriet and especially her feelings of not wanting to give up her summer plans to stay with her Nanu.  These feelings of helplessness and changes that you have no control over I'm sure kids will also find relatable.  How she's conflicted about lying and wants to do better.     

 I quite enjoyed the setting of the island, and the B&B really draws you in to the story and the small community feel where her Nanu rides around in her golfcart, what fun.  It feels exactly like the place that you'd find some adventure and mystery.  Most of all I enjoyed the mystery itself and how it connected to Harriet's father.  How the summer was a few months of exploring his past and gathering a better understanding of what kind of person he is.  What his hobbies were growing up and how they're similar in more ways than she knew before.  I'm interested in exploring the sequel, Harriet Spies, where she makes a new friend, Clarence.  I'd love to see how Harriet reacts to the new baby and time with her friend.         

       I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE