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.

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.