Monday, February 12, 2018

Edgeland by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

On the island of Edgeland, the main business is funerals. People from all over the world ceremonially float their dead into a nearby ocean hole called the Drain. Many believe the Drain is a gateway to purgatory, the waiting place before moving on to heaven or hell. Alec works for the best funeral home on the island and he acquires a major client. Unfortunately, his payment is accidentally placed on a barge heading for the Drain. Alec and Wren, Alec’s best friend, attempt to retrieve the funds, but they get sucked into the Drain.

Edgeland is a deliciously complex story granting a unique perspective on religion, death, and the afterlife. Death is displayed from the viewpoints of both faith and profit. Alec strongly believes in a comfortable afterlife and uses his faith to promote his funeral services. Hardened by life on the streets, Wren survives on the discarded monetary devotions of believers. However, once in purgatory, both Alec and Wren’s afterlife expectations melt away as they see the dilemma the dead are facing. Together they develop a new belief in fighting for a heaven the dead deserve. A compelling work of master world-building, solid story, and deep character development for ages 12 and up. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ghosts of Greenglass House (Greenglass House #2) by Kate Milford

It’s another Christmas Break and Milo is missing Meddy. However, things start to resemble the previous Christmas when Georgie and Clem arrive at Greenglass House to hideout from their theft that went wrong. Meddy soon reappears because she can sense trouble arriving on Greenglass’s doorstep. A day later, that trouble comes in the form of carolers hailing from a local asylum. The caroler’s traditional Christmas visit to Greenglass House goes haywire when two carolers are mysteriously injured, a third caroler is slightly poisoned, and Georgie and Clem’s stolen goods from their caper are taken.

Ghosts of Greenglass House somewhat falters from the cleverness, tightness, and wit established in Milford’s first book. There are still many of the same winning elements Milford uses from her beginning story: memorable characters, intriguing mysteries, clever connections, vivid setting, and unique folktales. But Milford’s climax drags out for too long because of cluttering details that distract from the main dilemma. For example, Milford spends several chapters on Milo figuring out a new avatar and avatar’s background just to solve the mysteries behind the carolers’ intentions. How does this help the story? Also, the climax occurs in less than 24 hours. Milford drags out this short timespan into almost 400 pages. However, Milford’s infectious writing style will still keep readers glued to the end.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bayberry Island (Brambleheart #2) by Henry Cole

Twig, Lily, and Basil have set sail in search of Char’s family. Their voyage takes them out to sea where a terrible storm destroys their vessel. However, a friendly sea turtle transports the bedraggled group to a small island. Soon after their landing, the friends encounter several of Char’s siblings but still no mother dragon in sight. Before Twig and Lily can go search for her, Basil betrays his friends by leading his Uncle Burdock to the group.

This sequel to Cole’s Brambleheart is a light-hearted adventure great for young readers. Cole’s graphite illustrations continue to set a lively pace for Twig’s follies and successes. In this story, Twig gains some much needed confidence because his friends are looking to him for direction and leadership. However, when Burdock arrives, Twig retreats within himself, due to his hurtful history with Burdock. It is only when Char and his siblings are kidnapped and Lily is threatened that Twig rallies his confidence to face Burdock head on. Luckily, Twig gets a huge boost with a humongous mother dragon by his side. A sweet and satisfying end to Cole’s Brambleheart duology.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Brambleheart by Henry Cole

The young chipmunk, Twig, feels like an outsider in the woodland community of the Hill. This is because Twig doesn’t feel confident in the crafts he is taught at school. In the Hill, craft mastery determines a creature’s social standing. After a disastrous day, Twig runs away to escape his problems. However, he runs across a new problem: a newborn dragon. Seeing no mother dragon, Twig adopts the baby and returns home to secretly care for it. Twig enlists his best friend, Lily, to care for the baby dragon and together they call it Char. But how long can Twig and Lily keep Char a secret from the Hill?

Cole’s Brambleheart is a Pete’s Dragon story downsized to a forest-floor adventure. Cole’s expressive graphite illustrations help readers to tag right alongside Twig as he stumbles with his choices and succeeds in protecting Char. Twig believes he is worthless in the Hill community. It seems Twig is only good at imagining life outside of the Hill. When Twig finds Char, Twig’s imagination is ignited by Char’s abilities. However, when Char’s health declines, Twig realizes he has put Char’s life in danger just to improve his social standing. Pushing aside the judgments of the Hill, Twig relies on the power of close-knit friendships to save Char’s life. A fun and fast-paced woodland adventure ideal for young readers ages 8 and up.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir by Frank L. Cole

Gordy Stitser is gifted in the art of potion making. Most twelve-year-olds are clueless about potion-makers—known as Elixirists. Luckily, Gordy’s mother, Wanda, is a master Elixirist and she nurtures Gordy’s talent. While Wanda is out-of-town, Gordy opens a package intended for her. Inside is a potion labeled the Eternity Elixir. After Gordy runs tests to identify the potion, an eccentric woman named Esmerelda and her henchman come enquiring about the parcel. After being turned out from the Stitser home, Esmeralda attacks the house so she can take the potion.

Cole has created a fascinating fantasy series that approaches the richness and depth found in the works of J. K. Rowling, Brandon Mull, and Rick Riordan. Cole introduces readers to Gordy Stitser and the Elixirist community: a secret society that uses potions to help the world run a little smoother and safer. Gordy is not a newbie to the society, nor does he have to hide it from his friends. These are two themes not commonly found at the start of a fantasy series. But these additional elements allow readers to delve more deeply into Cole’s world to face such personal dilemma’s like the history behind Gordy’s evil grandfather. Excellent character development, intense action, and great humor all create an intensely tactical world any readers would enjoy. For ages 12 and up.

Check out the book trailer:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Max Tilt: Fire the Depths by Peter Lerangis

Twelve-year-old Max Tilt’s life is slowly falling apart. His mother’s cancer has returned and his father can’t work because of her condition. When Max’s parents leave to start her treatments, they put Max’s older, Canadian cousin, Alex, in charge. But as soon as Alex arrives, she and Max uncover a mountain of unpaid bills that will lead to their eviction. Desperately searching the house for items to sell, Alex and Max find a lost manuscript left by their famous ancestor, Jules Verne. Verne’s manuscript reveals that his science-fiction tales were based on Verne’s own experiences and that he left a treasure for his descendants if they can decipher the clues he left behind.

Lerangis proves he is a master of middle-grade fantasy with his heart-racing, new series based on the works of Jules Verne. Lerangis weaves a unique twist to his tantalizing tale by bringing up the fact that the fantastical technology Verne described in his stories was eventually invented. In other words, science-fiction became reality. So why not apply it to Verne’s personal life? Lerangis plunges Verne’s legends into a modern story to prove that Verne’s fiction was fact. Lerangis’ adventure is told through the synesthesia-suffering, intelligent tween, Max and his spunky, courageous cousin, Alex. Readers will cheer on the cousins as they piece together the Verne’s puzzles while avoiding doom, gloom, and bad smells. A great series for newbie or seasoned Verne fans, ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Seven Ways to Trick a Troll by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated by Kari Vick

In ancient Norse tales, the frost giant, Ymir, used his planet-sized body to create the earth. After the creation process, his troll children crawled out from between his toes. Even at the point, trolls were large beings who loathed humans and coveted what humans had. Luckily troll brains are small so even a child can cleverly trick their way out of any troll dilemma. But a child must be more than clever to trick a troll. They must be brave, persistent, caring, hard-working, and spunky. It also helps to know some key weaknesses to defeat a troll. These weaknesses include distaste of loud noises; exploding when angry; turning into stone from direct or reflected sunlight; easily distracted; unable to swim; and clumsy during a pursuit. Armed with this information, seven children take on various trolls to save themselves, their families, or friends from several greedy trolls.

Larsen and Vick’s collection of troll fairytales is a delight from start to finish. Vick’s bright, engaging, and lively watercolor illustrations harkens to the works of master illustrator Trina Schart Hyman. Larsen’s seven troll-defeating adventures are entertaining yet heartfelt because almost all the stories are about brave children saving their families or loved ones from a troll’s wrath. At the back of the book, Larsen even includes a section dedicated to identifying the remains of trolls turned into stone. One minor flaw of the story is that a troll’s weakness of sunlight is used twice. Even on the book’s back cover it states only six weaknesses because a trolls’ weakness of sunlight, whether direct or reflected, can be condensed into just one weakness. However, the fault is easily forgiven by another satisfying serving of a sunlight-based fairytale. Seven Ways to Trick a Troll is a must-read and must-own for any fairytale lovers or fairytale beginners.

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.