Monday, September 24, 2018

Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Life has been hectic, and so has my posting, but I've got a great Middle-Grade read for you today. The book is the first in a series, Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins. Right now, the first two kindle books in the series are on sale for only $1.99 each. I've got the links at the bottom.

The Story-
Nory lives in a world of magic. When you enter six grade you get take a test to see which school you can join. For her there is only one choice, Sage Academy, where her father is the headmaster and her older brother and sister attend. But, the test doesn't go well, and Nory is sent away to live with her Aunt and attend a public school with an Upside-Down Magic class, for kids with wonky magic.

Full of embarrassment, Nory will do anything to be able use her fluxer magic to turn into a nice, normal kitten. Instead, all she makes are mixed animal hybrids that eat the furniture. In a class with other misfits, Nory tries to fit in, only to find the rest of the school dislikes her class. Her teacher Miss Starr tries to teach them to think out of the box, work together, and use their unique magic, but all Nory wants is to be normal.

My Thoughts-
This is a delightful fantasy book. I love worlds of magic, and this world is very interesting. There are several layers hinted at; Miss Starr tells of a time when unique magic was valued and there were more than just 5 magical groups. Hmm. I want to see things progress and develop in the rest of the series.

Nory is a typical kid who looks up to her brother and sister and wants the approval of her father. I was so saddened by her father's reaction to her. He sends her away and then never contacts her again (at least in book #1). Nory is left on her own, with an Aunt she's rarely seen. However, her character is stalwart. She takes the time to train, to master her magic, and just when she thinks she'll be allowed into normal classes, she realizes being different isn't so bad. A great theme here.

This book had me laughing out loud at several different points. The bizarre things that the kids in the Upside-Down Magic class experience is often funny and the weird hybrids Nory changes into are great! I really liked this book and I'm giving it 5 stars!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Welcome Back to School- Picture Book Plethora!

Welcome to Middle Grade Monday! Today I'd like to share with everyone some picture books with a back to school theme, that have caught my eye.

Click, Clack, Quack to School by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.
Oh my gosh! I loved this back to school book. Farmer Brown gets a letter to go visit a local elementary school. He tells all the animals and they are very excited, until he tells them that they have to behave and be quiet, then they aren't so excited anymore. Farmer Brown even gives them a rule book to study. It is so cute and watching the animals deflate is so funny. Then, he takes everyone to the school just as the recess bell rings. To the animals delight, the kids aren't so quiet at recess. My favorite part are the mice reading graphic novels in the shade! There are so many subtle nuances in the books and in the drawings, and I kept snorting. I'm giving this book 5 stars!

How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell, illustrated by Jennifer Hansen Rolli.
Back to school time means tooth fairy time. For young Kaylee it means prank time. She loves to prank people and when she loses a tooth she thinks she'll pull one over on the tooth fairy. However, fairies have magic, and both girls end up one upping each other in a "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie," kind of way. eventually their antics putter out and they become friends, leaving their pranks for other people. This is a cute, silly book that is full of high jinks. The illustrations take on a life of their own as they detail the pranks pulled. There is fun and mayhem everywhere. Kids will love this book and I'm giving it 4 stars!

The Kissing Hand- 25th Anniversary Edition, by
Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak.
It is time for Chester Raccoon to go to school, but he doesn't want to go. His mom tells him to be brave, that he will love school if he just gives it a chance. Just in case, she tells him the secret of The Kissing Hand, where her kiss left on his palm will always remind him that his mommy loves him. this sweet book is perfect for back to school kids. The motto of Mommy loves you rings true and will help nervous children know it is okay to separate from mommy for a little while. Such a dear book, 5 stars!

The Day That A Ran Away by B.C.R. Fegan, illustrated by  Lenny Wen
Another great back to school picture book. This one is an alphabet book done in a new way, yep, believe it or not. The letters themselves take the main stage, and not their sounds. Poor little Jet's paper is blank and his school teacher wants to know what happened to his alphabet. Jet tells her that A ran away followed by B, and then continues on to give a reason for each letter not showing up on his paper. I loved each letter and how the illustrator drew them all with personality. it was a real treat to turn the page and see what the next letter would look like. Jet doesn't get away with his story though, he has to write them all over, 20 times each! I'm giving this one 4 stars! Adorable!

It's a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree, art by Betsy Snyder
I picked up this book because back East, where I grew up, Fall was the time when we used to catch fireflies. Now that I live in the Northwest, we just don't have them here, so this book brought back great memories. The cover is fantastic and grabs you at once. There is color and glitter to attract a child. The story itself is sweet, about a young girl and her dad who go out to catch fireflies. The little girl puts them in her jar and then counts them as she releases them. I enjoyed the big, bold images and lush colors. I thought the book ended abruptly, with the daughter asking a question, and when I turned the page, that was the end. But, there are tons of firefly facts on the last couple pages that kids will like. I'm giving this one 4 stars!

Delivery Bear by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Paco Sordo
This is a cute book about a bear, Zogby, who dreams of delivering cookies, but when he shows up at the other animals houses they get scared and Zogby gets sad. He tries dressing up as a bunny, but it doesn't work well. Finally, he decides to just be himself and give the clients another chance. I like the moral, that you can't judge a book by it's cover, even though many of us do. For the animals, a bear might eat them, so of course they're scared, but Zogby learns that by showing others who he really is, they will accept him. A cute story, perfect for back to school kids who are nervous about being different in anyway, and to kids who need to learn acceptance. The pictures are big and bold, and the animals initial reactions to Zogby are funny. I'm giving this one 4 stars!

Monday, July 16, 2018

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1) by John Bellairs and GIVEAWAY!

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! So, my review today was actually brought about because I went to see a movie and during the trailers there was a new Jack Black film, The House with a Clock in its Walls and the narrator said it was based on the best selling children's book by John Bellairs. I thought, "What? A book I haven't heard of?" So I immediately ordered it to read and it turns out it is the first in a series, yeah! I am running a giveaway for a paper copy from Amazon, shipped to you. To enter, fill out the rafflecopter form below. If you don't see it click, 'read more'. Please see terms and conditions.

The Story-
Lewis's parents have died and he has been sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan. As soon as he gets to his new home, things are a bit weird. Pictures seem to move within their frames and his uncle goes about at night banging on the walls. When Lewis tries to find out what his Uncle is about, he is introduced to a new world, one of magic and of good versus evil. His Uncle is a warlock and when he bought the house years ago he noticed something strange, a clock that was ticking within the walls that he could not find.

Their next door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, is also a witch, and Lewis' Uncle and her have been trying to find out the location of the clock for many years. They know that is was built by an evil warlock and fear that when it finally stops ticking, something dreadful will happen.

Lewis, now introduced to magic, starts fiddling about, and on Halloween, while trying to impress a friend, he accidentally raises the spirit of the evil warlock's wife. Alive-ish again, she is determined to get to the clock and accomplish her husband's dastardly plan. Lewis, Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmermann are all that stand in her way!

My Thoughts-
This book drew me in from just the title alone, A House with a Clock in its Walls. What? Constant ticking, impending doom, and they can't find the clock? So cool! I am a sucker for a good fantasy. Lewis is an interesting kid. He is a bit heavy and on the plain side. He is awkward and unable to play sports, so he is always picked last. His main motivation in the book is to keep a friend, which of course, leads to raising the evil witch from the dead. I totally understood his character. He is also scared of being sent to live somewhere else, so when he does raise the dead, he doesn't tell his Uncle about it, which makes perfect sense.

The magical world that the Uncle inhabits is actually downplayed, and the reader doesn't get much of a peek into what actually can or can not be done with magic. There's a strange eclipse and a magical fight between Mrs. Zimmerman and the evil spirit, but so much more is hinted at! I'm hoping this will develop in the follow-up books.

On a technical note, I was thrown off a few times when the author suddenly switched into Uncle Jonathan's point-of-view mid chapter and then back to Lewis. Other than that, it is well written and a great story. For younger readers, there is a high score on the creep-o-meter. This is not a funny, scary book, it is a good versus evil kind of story.

I can not wait to see what Hollywood makes of this book. The potential is HUGE and the fantasy and magic part might really blossom. Overall, I'm giving the book 4.5 stars!

The Giveaway-

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Manuscript Wishclist Roundup 7/4

Here are some recent #MSWL tweets from agents and editors. PLEASE Do NOT pitch your work using #MSWL it is a sure way to get a bad rep. Check out submission pages for each agent or editor.

Nivia Evans July 2
#MSWL, a space opera with a love story as epic as #Farscape's John and Aeryn's. It's literally one of the best I've ever seen.

P.S. Literary Agency July 2
"Action-packed sci-fi with powerful characters & motivations. Bonus: A big sprawling world." @kurestinarmada #MSWL

 Jul 1
You know what'd be cool to see more of in YA Fantasy? Mythologies no one has read before, like the hundreds of Native American tribes, or the 54 countries and thousands of tribes within Africa, or Haittian or Persian or Hittite. Something that can open our eyes and minds. #MSWL

 Jul 1
I have a secret weakness for sci-fi that's monster and tech heavy...and maybe even including aliens. My love for movies like Transformers and Pacific Rim have no bounds! If you can give me something like Pacific Rim technology and piloting in a book, I'd be so happy! #MSWL

P.S. Literary Agency
 Jul 1
"Thriller (legal, medical, political, etc.), Mystery (cozy, private eye, police procedural, etc.)" @CurtisPSLA #MSWL

Kaitlyn Johnson
 Jun 29
K, back to the query box. But ya, BEGGING YOU for my LGBTQ+ #HistoricalFiction (#HF) 😉 #MSWL

Kaitlyn Johnson
 Jun 29
I'd love to see India #HF. Caste systems. Occupation. Everyday life MG and YA dealt with (and maybe STILL deal with!). Also, #HF Australia, too, (though I'm looking for something lighter there rather than, say, the movie Australia). I'd love aboriginal #ownvoices #HF. #MSWL

Sarah McCabe
 Jun 26
I really would like dark and wicked fairy books to come back. #MSWL

Beth Campbell
 Jun 25
I was telling my roommate that I hope to get an influx of #ownvoices & #LGBTQ+ queries in my inbox after coming out on twitter the other day.

Julianna Haubner
 Jun 26
oh well look at that it's time for my periodic and unprompted scream into the twitterverse that what i really want more than anything is some GREAT HISTORICAL FICTION STARRING REAL WOMEN WHO MIGHT NOT BE AS WIDELY-REMEMBERED AS THEY SHOULD! #MSWL

Naomi Davis June 7
#MSWL high stakes, character driven fantasy w/intricately realized worlds, unique fantasy/magical systems&new creatures. Fun, original political systems, visually dynamic settings, characters with emotions that rip me from my life and plunge me into the pages.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1) by Hena Khan

*Enter to win a SIGNED copy of  the YA thriller- Surface Tension by Mike Mullin!*

Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have a great middle-grade read that focuses on family and basketball. It is Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1), by Hena Khan. It is a part of the Simon & Schuster children's imprint, Salaam Reads. An imprint that aims to introduce readers to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in the media.

The Story-
Fourth grader Zayd Saleem wants to make the gold basketball team and play with his best friend Adam. His mother and father want him to keep playing the violin in the youth orchestra. He wants to be a star, a legend, the first Pakistani-American kid in the NBA. To achieve his goal, he begins skipping early morning violin practice and starts hitting the courts to practice.

When his mom finds out, watch out! He is not only grounded from playing basketball, but from watching it on TV or even speaking about it. Instead he has to double down on his violin. His grounding last through the try-outs, so he needs to somehow show his parents that his quest to play basketball is worthwhile, and gather the courage to stand up for his dreams.

My Thoughts-
This is a great, easy read for middle graders. It is the first part in a series of books about Zayd and his quest to become a famous basketball player. He lives a typical life, full of family and school. The reader gets a peek at the closeness of his Muslim family and how they love and work together.

I enjoyed reading the story and watching Zayd struggle with the typical problem of achieving  his dreams versus his parents ideas. Kids will relate to his struggles, his friendships and social problems. This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn about another culture, who loves basketball, or who is eight years old or older. 4 stars!

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Memory of Forgotten Things by Kat Zhang

I have a fantastic middle-grade read up for review today, The Memory of Forgotten Things by Kat Zhang. This is a good one folks, so sit back and enjoy. Don't forget to head over to MMGM central to see what other great middle-grade is out there-

The Story-
Sophia's mother died when she was six, but that's not what some of her memories tell her. Instead, Sophia has sudden memories that involve her mom baking a birthday cake when she turned ten, or encouraging Sophia to sing a solo in the school choir at twelve. Sophia keeps her Memories a secret, holding on to them as tightly as possible.

Then she gets put into a group project with DJ and finds out that she's not the only one who has memories of events that never happened. DJ has a sketchbook filled with drawings of the man who SHOULD have been his stepfather, but doesn't actually exist. As they work on their science project about solar eclipses they find out that they were both born on the same day, in the same hospital, during the last partial solar eclipse. Could their birth make them special? Could they perhaps be able to see into an alternative universe?

With the Totality eclipse coming up in just days, Sophia and DJ are both determined to find a way to cross into their alternate universes and live the lives they believe they were meant to have. But, what will happen to the world they leave behind? Will they simply switch roles with their other selves? What if everything is not as perfect as they think it will be? Will they be willing to pay the price for the switch?

My Thoughts- (SPOILERS)

This is a fabulous story with a slight fantasy/science twist. I found it heartwarming that Sophia had memories of her mother existing even after she died. How special would that be? The hole that was left by her mother's death has a way to heal. Sophia's character is great. She is brave and courageous and ready to believe in the what ifs of life. Her determination is what allows herself and DJ to piece together the mystery of their birth and find other people that might have clues about alternate dimensions.

The idea of alternate dimensions is easily written into the story in a way that seems natural and not all mumble jumble. The actual idea that there could be a thinning between worlds is plausible and as you read it makes sense to the plot. Though the fantasy/science aspect is there, I found the book really to be about heart and soul. You care about Sophia and her mother. You feel Sophia's desires and fears and when the unusual happens, you cheer for her and don't think of it as being unrealistic.

The truth is that everything comes down to what happens when Sophia actually crosses over. She finds out that life doesn't run in predictable patterns. The realization that she might have to trade something for getting her mother back becomes a stark reality. Which life is really better? I was so thankful that the author went ahead and fulfilled Sophia's desire, to cross over and spend time with her mom. At the same time, the author does a fantastic job of letting the reader see how that world is not the one Sophia belongs in and after several precious days, gives her a choice of whether to stay or go home.

I enjoyed this read so much. It was heartwarming, but with a slight mystery to engage the curious. I'm giving it 5 stars!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Surface Tension by Mike Mullin, Review and Book Giveaway!

UPDATE!! Mike Mullin is offering up a SIGNED copy of Surface Tension, so the giveaway just got even awesomer!

I've got an intense new release for everyone today. It is the YA thriller, Surface Tension by Mike Mullin. This is one I couldn't put down. To enter the giveaway fill out the rafflecopter form below. If you don't see it click 'read more'.

The Story-
Jake loves to race bikes. One day while training he witnesses a terrorist attack, and ends up in the hospital with no memory of the event. He thinks he was just in an accident until a young lady, claiming to be his girlfriend, shows up and tries to snuff him.

What the heck? Is his brain injury causing him to have delusions? That's what Jake's mom thinks. As his memories slowly return, the attempts on his life step up and soon he is running for his life, but without a full memory of why.  His real girlfriend, Laurissa, is the only one who believes that someone is out to get him. When he is taken into custody by the FBI, Jake finds himself in deeper trouble when an agent threatens to kill Laurissa unless Jake gives up evidence about the terrorist attack. With nobody to trust, Jake and Laurissa must unravel the terrorist plot while trying to stay alive.

My Thoughts-
This was an intense read full of tension building moments and jaw dropping scenes. The threats to Jake and Laurissa are enough to keep the plot building and building, but then the unreal attitude that people seem to have, that Jake is making things up, just gets so annoying that I wanted to scream at the characters to believe him. Talk about ratcheting up the reader's emotions! Wow!

Then we have Betsy, the fake girlfriend that tried to kill Jake in the hospital. The book is told through her alternating POV. She seems totally kick butt, trained to kill and smart enough to plot things, mislead of course, but as she tries to kill Jake, she actually begins to come to an understanding of what she is involved in. She explains things from the terrorist's side, describing an American organization that wants America to start a war with Muslims. At first I found this annoying, why is it always an American that is the bad guy killing Americans to start a war? Why not just actually have radical extreme Muslim terrorists be the terrorists? But then, as I got into the story, especially the final chapter, I realized that it had to be internal so that the story could continue on as a series. And let me tell you, that final Betsy chapter was a heck of a surprise!

Now, the author points out lots of conservative views, mixes them with prejudice, and then sets the stage for violence. Many of the views are common and probably held by many Americans, but the kicker is that the author throws in the "Pure" attitude, and that's where this group heads south. They want a pure America, thinking people are sheeple that need an awakening.  Anytime "pure" comes up I think, "Run Away! Danger! Bad things a comin'." That is true with this homegrown terrorist group, and they have people in every walk of life, which is why Jake has a hard time hiding.

I couldn't put this book down. And the romance between Jake and Laurissa is awesome. You just get a good feeling for  how much they care about each other.I'm giving it 5 stars!