Monday, November 16, 2015

Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye, illustrations by Keith Thompson

When Tobias and Charlotte’s dad, Ralph Eggers, witnesses a prank the siblings pull on their cantankerous nanny, Ralph feels he has no choice but to scare his children into submission. Immediately, he drives his kids to the top of a strange mesa and abandons them outside the ominous gates of Witherwood Reform School. With threatening weather coming, Tobias and Charlotte have no choice but to enter the gloomy grounds when their father doesn’t return. But once they gain shelter inside the school, Tobias and Charlotte are unwillingly enrolled into the prison-like establishment where strange creatures patrol the grounds at night.

Skye’s witty dialog and Thompson’s captivating illustrations chronicle the fateful beginning of the Witherwood Reform School series. Each chapter is setup with tidbits of Skye’s amusing commentary or humorous practical advice before delving into Tobias, Charlotte, or Ralph’s stories. This structure will make readers not only ravenous for the Eggers’ narrative, but also famished for Skye’s cryptic words of wisdom. One aspect of Skye’s series that sets it apart from other middle-grade fantasy is his addition of Ralph’s story. Skye brings to light that parents of tween protagonists can also experience their own transformative adventures. Ralph’s perspective gives added suspense and depth to Tobias and Charlotte’s tale. This well-crafted novel is destined to become a best-seller. Skye’s next book in the series, Lost & Found, will be released in March 2016.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Edge (Peak #2) by Roland Smith

Peak honestly wants to forget his time on Everest. But the film crew who taped his and Sun-jo’s Everest climb seek out Peak with a proposition. The richest man in the world, Sebastian Plank, is hosting a Peace Climb for young international climbers and Plank wants Peak to represent the US. Except there is a catch. The film crew only know the climb will be in Afghanistan. Peak accepts the offer with the condition that his mother join him. Their trip begins with a private jet to Afghanistan and a helicopter ride to the Hindu Kush Mountains. Before the climb begins, film director Phillip Stockwell pushes the crew and climbers to film shots for a documentary ordered by Plank. Peak dozes off during a scene set-up but awakens to find two Afghan guards murdered, one climber badly injured, and nine members of their group kidnapped.

Smith’s newest novel and sequel to Peak will grab readers’ full attention by taking them on a dangerous thrill ride through the Afghan mountains. For most American readers, the word Afghanistan can conjure some frightening and painful images. But that stigma doesn’t deter Smith from setting his book in this war-torn country. As Peak draws closer to the ominous region, both Peak and readers gain a better understanding of Afghanistan’s history, culture, and wildlife. This clarity comes through beautifully in Peak’s no-nonsense but sharply witty narration. An amazing read from start to finish, The Edge will not disappoint faithful fans of Peak. A must-have for any library and a must-read for both boys and girls ages ten and up.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

T. A. Barron: Heroes, Merlin, and the Meaningful Life

Image result for t. a. barron

Some of you may have noticed, that I have recently posted two reviews on T. A. Barron's books. As mentioned in my posts about ILA, I met the New York Times Bestselling author during an author "meet & greet". Recently, he invited me to attend a presentation he was giving in Omaha, Nebraska....just a short three hour drive from where my husband and I live.

Not wanting to miss the occasion, I accepted Tom's invitation. My husband and I packed our overnight bag and made the lovely trek up to Omaha.

Tom's presentation was sponsored by Center for Faith Studies and was given at the Countryside Community United Church of Christ.

Tom's presentation centered around two things that inspired him with both living his life and writing his books: heroes and nature.

Tom was born in Boston but his family moved to a ranch in Colorado. That move made him develop a strong connection to nature and helped him realize an important hero in his life, his mother Gloria Barron. Gloria worked at a school for the blind and she helped create a hands-on nature museum for the visually impaired. Her work and the quiet way she completed it, with no thought for fame or media attention, made him see the attributes of a true hero.

As he grew up, more heroes influenced his life. Some were fictional, like the character of Merlin. Tom read many tales surrounding the great and wise wizard. To Tom, Merlin seemed to understand humanity and to deeply connect with nature. But he always wondered what experiences had led Merlin to become such a legendary wizard. This question was the spark that inspired Tom's Merlin saga and gave Tom the opportunity to define Merlin's path to becoming a hero.  

After Tom became an author, he had an uncomfortable confrontation by a girl that shook him. She stated that young people could not be true heroes or change the world. Instead of being upset by her statement, Tom went to work and researched youth who were making a difference in the world. That led to The Hero's Trail and to his development of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. 

When Tom first started writing, he was the president of a successful equity firm in New York City. But living in the city was not the ideal for him or his family. When his books started to do well, he quit his job and moved his family back to Colorado.

With this move, he was able to reconnect to nature again. This interaction with nature, along with safeguarding it's creatures, is Tom's way of reconnecting with God and appreciating His handiwork. Tom argues that another of his heroes, Noah, would not have gone to all the trouble to build the ark if Noah wasn't privy to the Lord's love and need of the earth's animals.

Tom's overall message is that anyone can be a hero and everyone can make a difference in by nurturing the earth the Lord created.

A fantastic and inspiring presentation that my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks for the invite, Tom!