Monday, December 11, 2017

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

New Umbra is ruled by the mastermind, the Smoke. Twelve-year-old Reuben is aloof to the city’s political problems until he discovers a mysterious watch. Reuben attempts to pawn the watch to help his mother, but it turns out the Smoke desperately wants the watch. Reuben decides to wind the watch and he turns invisible. Reuben relishes being invisible, but the Smoke’s agents zero in on him. Reuben leaves home to protect his mother and find the watch’s true owner. This leads him to the Meyer family and their legend with the watch. Because of their family’s legend, siblings Penny and Jack Meyer agree to help Reuben overthrow the Smoke.

Stewart expertly creates another unique middle-grade masterpiece full of puzzles, humor, and suspense. But the clever clues don’t overshadow the emotional depth of Stewart’s book. Before finding the watch, Reuben’s life was difficult. He father was killed and his mother struggles to provide for them. These trials rule Reuben’s life, not the political problems caused by the Smoke. When Reuben finds and uses the watch, he temporarily escapes his life by invisibility. But as Reuben gets entangled with the Smoke, Reuben realizes the Smoke’s addiction to the watch is the reason behind all the suffering in New Umbra. It’s a difficult realization for Reuben, but once he lets go of the watch, everyone flourishes, including himself. A fantastic read for ages 12 and up.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mustaches for Maddie by Char Morris and Shelly Brown

Maddie is confident in her ready humor and explosive imagination. However, Maddie isn’t so confident in her friendship with Cassie, the most popular girl in her class. Some of Maddie’s insecurities stem from her arm not laying straight. As this problem worsens, Maddie’s mother takes her to the doctor. Several tests later, Maddie is told she has a brain tumor and it must be removed immediately. Maddie is frightened by the operation, but her family and countless friends comfort her, except for Cassie. Cassie believes Maddie is making up the tumor to get attention. After Maddie’s risky procedure and recovery, she returns to school but excludes Cassie from her friends. However, Maddie sees signs that Cassie is going through several difficult situations and no one has been there to help.

Mustaches for Maddie is based on the true story of the authors’ daughter Maddie. Even though Maddie is diagnosed with a tumor, she knows she is more than her physical ailments. She has her ready wit, caring attitude, colossal imagination, and her stash of mustaches which brightens everyone around her, except for Cassie. Cassie doesn’t like getting attention taken away from herself. This, sadly, turns Cassie into a bully. But like Maddie looking past her illness to see her true self, Maddie looks past Cassie’s bullying to see the real pain behind Cassie’s negative choices. Once Maddie does this and helps others to do the same, healing and hope can freely flow between the two girls. A hilarious yet touching read will inspire others to face their challenges and bullies with a hot-pink mustache.

Monday, November 6, 2017

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O'Brien

Mia Andrews and her brother, Simon, were not planning on vacating to North Korea. Who would? The country is run by dictators who brainwash their people into fearful loyalty. Mia and Simon’s father has used his humanitarian aid connections to help North Korea’s starving citizens. Now he is taking his kids there for an unexpected trip. Mia is both fascinated and fearful of the country. Even though Mia was born in South Korea, she may have distant family ties to the North Koreans. During their vacation, a political group gives Mia’s father an iPhone, which is an illegal item. Mia turns on the phone and sees horrifying pictures of North Koreans imprisoned in concentration camps. Mia tells Simon about the phone and during a planned excursion, the North Korean police arrest their dad. With no other choice, the two siblings escape heading towards North Korea’s border with China.

In the Shadow of the Sun is the real-life version of the Hunger Games. Spectacle and propaganda abound in a country where the elite thrive while the common people starve to death. A country where one ill word about present or past dictators can send a person and their entire family to a concentration camp. This is the shaky reality where O’Brien begins Mia, Simon, and their father’s story. But O’Brien does not just focus on an American’s perspective of the secretive state. She also includes several short stories showing the thoughts and actions of North Koreans who either love their country or who risk everything for a better life. A nail-biting, thought-provoking read for ages 12 and up.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wormwood Mire (Withering-by-Sea #2) by Judith Rossell

After Stella’s harrowing adventures at Withering-by-Sea, her rich aunts banish her to the dilapidated family estate, Wormwood Mire. Stella is joined there by two foreign cousins, Strideforth and Hortense, and a governess. Stella soon realizes she lived at Wormwood as a baby with her mother and twin sister. But something happened there that made Stella lose them both.

The second book to Rossell’s illustrated series starts off as a quietly foreboding tale as Stella begins her new life at Wormwood Mire. Constantly running through Stella’s head are the outrageously menacing tales from the book The Garden of Lilies: Improving Tales for Young Minds. Her aunts gave Stella this book to frighten Stella into improving her “bad” behavior. Even when Stella is officially out of her aunts’ clutches, their stingy strictness follows Stella wherever she goes and rules whatever he does. But their icy influence starts to thaw inside Stella because of the warm kindness of Strideforth and Hortense. Their familial friendship sparks Stella into thinking for herself again and rekindles the courage, intelligence, and fortitude Stella had during her adventures in Withering-by-Sea. A strong sequel to solidify Stella’s deliciously complex character.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang

To reconnect to their family’s roots, siblings Mia and Jake Chen, their mother, and their aunt, Lin, spend their summer vacationing in China. The best part for Mia is hearing about Aunt Lin’s upbringing. As a teenager, Aunt Lin was a laborer in the Fujian countryside. While there she and fellow laborer, Ying, heard about the deposed emperor, Zhu Yunwen, and his hidden treasure. After 600 years, no one has found his hoard. During Mia’s vacation, Ying surprisingly arrives to see Aunt Lin. The next day, Aunt Lin leaves without telling Mia. Thinking Aunt Lin may have been kidnapped, Mia searches for clues in Aunt Lin’s room. Mia finds a list of Chinese riddles and an incomplete map all relating to Zhu Yunwen’s fortune. If Mia solves the riddles and completes the map, Mia believes she can rescue Aunt Lin. 

The Emperor’s Riddle is a delightful mix of history, mystery, and adventure that will keep readers glued to it’s pages. However, the heart of Zhang’s story is about an insecure girl whose intelligence rescues someone she loves. Mia is unsure about who she is and her immediate family don’t know how to treat her. Jake partially abandoned Mia once he became popular at school. Mia’s driven and determined mother doesn’t have the patience to understand Mia. Only Aunt Lin notices and loves Mia for who she is. When Aunt Lin is kidnapped, Mia is momentarily lost but her love for Aunt Lin drives her towards resolving all the emperor’s riddles and becoming a strong heroine. A fun, engaging read for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

Toby and Lucas were two inseparable friends after Toby moved in with his grandmother. Lucas was brave and outgoing, while Toby tagged quietly along. Together, the boys planned several daring summer activities to do before school started. One activity was hiking the risky Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, Lucas is killed attempting another of their activities. To aid his grief, Toby follows through with their hike, except he goes alone and doesn’t tell anyone. Soon the hazards of the outdoors threaten Toby’s life. Luckily two seasoned teenage hikers take in Toby and teach him better survival skills. Toby gleans what he can from the hikers but leaves them so he can develop his own bravery, determination, and self-reliance.

Hashimoto’s story is an addictive adventure with realistic thrills, chills, and spills. Toby felt discarded by his parents after their divorce. These feelings defined Toby’s existence, making him want to disappear. Except when Toby moved in with his grandmother, Lucas immediately noticed Toby and wanted to be his friend. Toby’s association with Lucas changed his life, so losing Lucas cut incredibly deep. To avoid reverting to his previous non-existent state, Toby goes on the trail to find himself and his courage. Any fans of Roland Smith, Gary Paulsen, Brandon Wallace, or Will Hobbs will enjoy The Trail.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wilder Boys by Brandon Wallace

Jake and Taylor Wilder have had a difficult life since their father left to live in the wilds of Wyoming. Their mother started a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, Bull, and then she became crippled by depression. All Jake and Taylor want to do is take care of their mother and keep out of Bull’s way. One day the boys find a suspicious bag of cash in the house and witness Bull shooting a man. Bull knows the brothers saw his crime, so he beats up their mother to keep the boys quiet. Fearing Bull’s wrath, Jake, Taylor, and their dog Cody escape to find their dad by following clues to his location from their father’s letters and journal.

Wallace reintroduces the classic story of wilderness survival to a new generation with Wilder Boys. But Wilder Boys is a very modern story dealing with such problems as abuse, depression, and broken families. With these horrors under their belts, it seems Jake and Taylor do not fear the wild since they have endured the ugliness of real life. But this courageous spirit does not make the boys able to survive in the wild. However, their courage and their faith in finding their father are two huge factors that aid in their ability to survive. Any fans of Gary Paulsen, Roland Smith, Sneed B. Collard III, or Will Hobbs would thoroughly enjoy this book. Wallace has a sequel called The Journey Home.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Crown of Three: A Kingdom Rises by J. D. Rinehart

While Elodie is imprisoned by Lord Vicerin, she uses her powers to summon dead warriors Vicerin had killed. With the dead’s help, she and her friends escape and fight their way to Melchior & troops loyal to the triplets. Meanwhile, Gulph wakes up from his fatal jump into the chasm fully healed by Celestis’s waters. Returning to Celestis, Gulph overthrows Lady Redina and leads Celestis’s inhabitants up to Idilliam. Tarlan soon arrives to fly Gulph and their mother to Elodie. Together the siblings lead an army of local men, the dead, and animals to contend with a new invading force and Vicerin. 

The final book in the Crown of Three series resolves all the countless calamities the siblings have endured. But a new, internal problem arises with Tarlan. At the beginning of this novel both Elodie and Gulph have accepted their royal roles. Tarlan, however, can’t quite accept his part in the prophecy. The constant fighting, the loss of his animal friends, and his uncomfortable human interactions cause Tarlan to fly away from his life. When Tarlan finally lands, he runs into Captain Leom: one of the men who smuggled Tarlan and his siblings away so they could have a chance to fulfill the prophecy. Realizing the realm needs his help and that Tarlan can’t run away from his destiny, Tarlan accepts his royal life and reunites with Elodie and Gulph. At times the plot gets muddled with three perspectives of the same event and drawn out wars, but the story gets back on track to create a clean, satisfactory finish. A complex, captivating trilogy any fantasy fan would enjoy.