Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.
The Best Mistake Mystery
Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.
To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.
Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is a cute mystery for middle grades. Stephen and his new friend Renee must overcome their own mistakes (like losing Ping and Pong, the dogs Stephen is supposed to be caring for) to discover who is threatening their school.
Stephen is a likable character, and while the mystery is pretty forgettable, it’s still a fun read.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Evil Wizard Smallbone
When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is super fun! When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle, he ends up meeting Smallbone, a grumpy old wizard who’s not as evil as he pretends. Slowly Nick learns to do magic himself and must defend the village from an evil wolf wizard and Nick’s horrible uncle and cousin.
The setting is great–who wouldn’t want a library that would offer up whatever book you need next?–and Smallbone and Nick are both great characters. It’s a fun, unique fantasy.
And as usual, I’m tying this post back to my Lovely Words series by sharing my favorite quote from this book:
Anybody who can get through March without breaking a glass, a friendship, a secret, a promise, or somebody’s nose is either a saint or on vacation in Florida.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the posts in the series here.
The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is the first in the Septimus Heap series, a series that seems to have become popular right after I stopped reading MG books. This is a sweet magical adventure. I think of it almost as Harry Potter for younger kids. It’s funny and snarky, it has great characters, it’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t have the angst and drama of HP. The plot twists are a bit predictable (at least, they were to me, an adult reader), but that doesn’t take away from the fun of the story.
I’m very glad I picked it up this summer, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Septimus Heap series.
Last month I was in the mood for some light, fun reading, so I checked out a few middle grades books. They were fun, but they also explored some thought-provoking topics–and they’re much more diverse than the MG books of my childhood.
Liar & Spy
When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
With his mother gone, his dad out of work, and a brand new apartment to deal with, Georges is facing a lot of changes in his life. The kids at school make fun of him, so Georges ends up spending a lot of time with Safer, who always seems to have a new, crazy idea for Georges. As you read through the book, Georges’s and Safer’s secrets are revealed, and each has to deal with their own struggles.
Liar & Spy is by author Rebecca Stead, who wrote the 2010 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me. This story isn’t quite as nicely put together, but it’s still a cute book. (And, of course, it’s a bit tearjerky.)
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Murder is Bad Manners
Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)
But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.
Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is a great English boarding school mystery with, surprisingly, a Chinese MC. Hazel and Daisy are unlikely friends who decide to form a detective agency. But when they start investigating the mysterious death of one of their teachers, they have to struggle to find clues and stay out of trouble at the same time.
Hazel faces some racism (the story is set in 1930s England, after all), but this is treated in a gentle way. It’s an interesting mystery with some fun characters–this is a series I’ll definitely follow.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Out of My Mind
Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is the most emotional of all the books I’ve reviewed in this post. Melody has cerebral palsy that leaves her unable to speak, walk, or care for herself. But trapped inside her body is an intelligent, curious mind. After years of repetitive, boring lessons with the rest of her special ed class, Melody receives a computer that helps her speak–and everyone is shocked at how much brain power she has.
Melody is a great narrator. Despite her cerebral palsy, she just wants to be a normal kid, eating meals with friends, wearing trendy clothes, and joining school clubs. It’s incredibly frustrating (for Melody and for the reader) when other students and even teachers underestimate what she can do. If you’re like me, you’ll tear up over the trials and triumphs that Melody faces. This book is a great, quick introduction for young teens to certain types of special needs.
That’s what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she’s barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. It’s a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything’s shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie’s been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
The rhythm of this verse novel is amazing. I’m not usually one for poetry, but the free verse works here; it fits nicely with Annie’s love of running. Heartbeat has sweet, unique characters (one of my favorite things about Creech’s books). Like all Creech’s books, this one sneaks up on you and makes you cry. It’s just beautiful. Short enough to read in an hour, but it will stick with you (or your child).
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Travel Far, Pay No Fare
“When twelve-year-old Owen finds that his nine-year-old cousin has a magic bookmark, he joins her when she enters different stories in hopes of finding a way to prevent their parents’ upcoming marriage.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is so cute! Owen and Parsley, thrown together by their parents’ upcoming marriage, discover that Parsley’s bookmark allows her to travel into the books she reads. The two team up in order to prevent their parents’ marriage, but they also enjoy a lot of adventures along the way.
This is a bookworm’s dream! Imagine exploring Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Ramona and Beezus, and other classic children’s lit first hand! And the kids are pretty great characters, too. I just wish there had been more books that the kids got to explore.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
“Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.
Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Westing Game. Kyle and some of his friends win a chance to enter the brand new fantastical library built by a famous gamemaker before anyone else. But before they can leave, they must solve puzzles and win games in order to escape.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an easy read that makes you want to visit that library (it has some amazing features that even my beloved library system can’t boast!). However, the writing sometimes tries too hard to be clever, and many of the kids are irritating or stereotypical. If you can get past those flaws in the writing, bookloving kids (and adults) will probably enjoy this one.
Note: I received the following books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via Goodreads.com.
This post, the latest in my series ofARCroundups, is focused on some of the YA and middle grades novels I’ve read lately. (There are more to come in a future post–be on the lookout!) Hopefully you’ll find a book in this list to enjoy.
The Girl from Everywhere
Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question . . . Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything.
I’ve been seeing this book everywhere lately, and I must say, the cover is gorgeous. I haven’t read any other bloggers’ reviews of The Girl from Everywhere because I wanted to form my own unbiased opinion, so here it is: This is a fascinating YA novel. Although they are probably out there, I’ve never read a book with this kind of time travel via boats and maps, and I thought it was really interesting.
Nix is constantly battling with her father over his life’s obsession to find his way back to her mother. Nix knows that if they ever find the perfect map to take them back to that year, she might very well cease to exist, a fact which seems to escape her single-minded father. But when the crew of the Temptation end up in Hawaii just a few years after their intended date, Nix starts to learn more about her mother, her father, her crewmates, and herself–and she might even learn how to Navigate using maps, as her father does.
I loved the various places that Nix and the crew traveled, from 21st-century New York to 1800s Hawaii to lands only found in mythology. Nix’s best friend Kashmir, for example, is from the world of Arabian Nights, and the crew sometimes spends time searching for magical items (like a bottomless bag) to make their lives easier. But I also enjoyed Nix’s complicated relationship with her father and her growing romance with Kashmir. All the characters and settings were well drawn, and I’m definitely interested in seeing what other adventures the crew of the Temptation go on.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy
Amanda Lester wouldn’t be caught dead going into the family business. Her ancestor, Sherlock Holmes’s colleague Inspector G. Lestrade, is a twit. Nevertheless her parents refuse to see his flaws, and she’s going to a secret English detective school for the descendants of famous detectives whether she likes it or not.
When Amanda arrives at the dreaded school, she considers running away–until she and her new friends discover blood and weird pink substances in odd places. At first they’re not sure whether these seeming clues mean anything, but when Amanda’s father disappears and the cook is found dead with her head in a bag of sugar, they’re certain that crimes are taking place. Now Amanda must embrace her destiny and uncover the truth.
The book opens with Amanda and her dreams of becoming a filmmaker. These dreams, however, are interrupted when her parents tell her the family is moving to England so Amanda can attend a prestigious (but secret) school for detectives. Amanda pouts her way through the first few days of school, trudging her way through classes about how to create a good disguise, the psychology of criminals, and how to create a detective “mystique.” But Amanda starts seeing weird things around the school, and she’s not sure if they are part of a school project or if they have something to do with the sudden disappearance of Amanda’s father.
This book definitely leans more toward middle grades level than YA. The mystery is silly, and Amanda creates a lot of problems for herself by being super stubborn and not open to criticism. Your pre-teen may enjoy it, but it’s definitely forgettable.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
At Earth Ranch, things can get a little magical (some might say strange). Intrepid readers will discover a runaway boy, fishy cruise ship, strange cave paintings, dragon-like footprints, and other mysteries that Clay and his friends need to solve. Danger, adventure, mischief, mystery, llamas, and a delightfully irreverent and hilarious narrator make bestselling author Pseudonymous Bosch’s anticipated new novel irresistible.
This book is the second in the Bad Magic series, and I have not read the first book. Still, I wasn’t too lost to enjoy the book. If you’ve read any of Pseudonymous Bosch’s other books, you’ll already have a good idea of what to expect from this one–silliness, magic, over the top villains, and precocious kids. (I think this series is tangentially related to the author’s previous series, but I haven’t read enough of that series to know for sure.)
This is not a bad choice if your kid loves crazy, silly, over the top stories with a bit of magic thrown in. I’m interested to see where this series goes next.
Left orphaned and alone in a strange country, thirteen-year-old Marguerite Ledoux has no choice but to become a servant girl. She promises her services to the Sargent family for six long years in return for food and shelter. But life as a “bound-out girl” is full of more hardship than Maggie ever could have imagined. Living with the family in an isolated part of northern Maine, Maggie struggles through the harsh, hungry winter of 1743, the constant threat of Indian attacks, and worst of all, the loneliness she suffers knowing that her own family is lost forever. Will the Sargents’ house ever feel like home? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Calico Bush is another historical fiction Newbery book that I read as part of my homeschool curriculum. (Thanks, Sonlight!) Although it is written by Rachel Field, author of Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, this book is nothing like her early Newbery book.
The main character of this book, Maggie, gives the reader a window into early colonial life, complete with all its hardships. You’ll read about indentured servants, harsh weather, illness, death, and conflict with Native Americans (remember that this book was written in 1932, and thus has all the insensitivity you would expect from a book of that time). Although I don’t remember being traumatized by this book as a child, it is definitely for a middle grades audience.
Books like these are why I still count myself a fan of historical fiction, even though I find most adult historical fiction novels a bit dry. I would love to read this book again someday and refresh my memories of it.
I was so excited when the 2016 Newbery books were revealed several weeks ago, and I immediately started checking them out from my library. I’ve recruited my sister Melanie (you can see her previous posts here, here, here, and here) to help me review them. (Spoiler alert: all of this year’s books are really, really good!)
Last Stop on Market Street (review by Melanie)
I was surprised and impressed to discover that Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. After reading it, I believe both awards are well deserved. The artwork is simple, perfectly integrated with the text to add details that immerse the reader in the story, rather than distracting from it. The story itself is uplifting without being preachy, as a grandmother teaches her grandson a new way of looking at life, gently changing his perspective of everything they encounter. In just a few pages, the author creates multidimensional, interesting characters that are both relatable and engaging. My favorite part was the ending, which inverted my expectations but was shown only through the illustration.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Echo (review by Melanie)
Echo is uniquely structured as a frame narrative containing three distinct stories, with the connection between them revealed only at the end. Each story climaxes with the protagonist facing a seemingly overwhelming problem, and then immediately cuts to the next story. It felt almost like reading three half-novels, but fortunately all three characters are compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest in their story, even as you are preoccupied with the previous story.
The ending that brings all three stories together is satisfying, if a little rushed. The power of this book is that each story is engaging individually, but together they create something greater than the sum of their parts.
It is yet another book set in World War II (as Monica discussed), but with subtle inversions of the tropes typical of these books. The main character of the first story, set in pre-WWII Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power, is in danger not for being Jewish, but for having a facial birthmark, deemed a “physical deformity” by the Nazis. The second story is set a few years later in America, where two orphans are affected by the Great Depression, without even mentioning the War. The girl in the third story, set in California during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, is not Japanese, but Hispanic, and faces racism against herself as well as her Japanese friends. Though World War II provides the context, each story focuses more on the specific struggle of the protagonists, rather than the wider consequences of the war. As a result, the stories are suspenseful, but much more lighthearted than many other YA books that focus heavily on the war.
(Side note from Monica: I also read this book, and I had many of the same thoughts about it. The ending is a bit too tidy, but if I had read this book at eleven or twelve, my mind would have been blown. Echo provides a refreshing look at the all-too-typical WWII story.)
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The War that Saved My Life (review by Monica)
The other WWII-focused book in this year’s set couldn’t be more different from Echo. This dark yet hopeful story turns completely on the fact that it is set in WWII-era England. Ada is a 9-year-old girl with an untreated club foot, being alternately abused and neglected by her mother. Ada has rarely set foot outside of her London apartment and has barely learned how to walk when she sees her opportunity for escape. A large group of children from the local school is being evacuated to the countryside for fear of bombings in London, and Ada takes her younger brother and leaves with him. Although she is guarded and fearful and their new guardian is reluctant to take them in, Ada starts to open up and grow in her new surroundings. But with her abusive mother still in London and the war raging on throughout Europe, things are not as easy as they start to seem.
This book is a compulsive read, athough at times it is sickening to read about the abuse Ada had suffered and how her brother Jamie picked up on it. It’s a fascinating, disturbing, but ultimately hopeful look at a young girl’s growth against the dramatic backdrop of World War Two.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Roller Girl (review by Monica)
I just realized that this graphic novel was written and illustrated by the same person, and I’m totally impressed. The story, which focuses on a young girl who decides to join the youth roller derby team just as her best friend seems to be distancing herself, is really good, and the illustrations are awesome. Astrid isn’t perfect, by any means; in fact, she’s one of the most flawed MG characters I’ve read in a while. She’s selfish and impulsive and vindictive, but that doesn’t make her unlikable. She’s just struggling to figure out how to grow up when her closest friends seem to be moving on without her. And the setting of roller derby, something I know very little about, was pretty cool, and I think a lot of kids (boys and girls) will agree.
(On a kind of silly side note, this book made me realize just how important it is to represent varied skin colors, backgrounds, and life experiences in our literature. When I saw the cover with Astrid’s blue-dyed hair, I was already predisposed to like the book because of my own blue braids. And I’m nearly 25 years old! Can we really deny the importance of diverse books, especially for MG and YA?)
Note: I received the following ARCs from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com.
I mentioned to my newsletter subscribers (not one of them? You can sign up here) that I recently went a little crazy requesting and reading a bunch of NetGalley books. I’ve read and enjoyed a bunch of them already, so I’ve rounded up a few of my most recent reads in these mini reviews. Hopefully you’ll find something that will get your 2016 reading off to a good start!
Under the Dusty Moon
Victoria Mahler is the sixteen-year-old only daughter of rocker Micky Wayne, whose band, Dusty Moon, took the world by storm when Micky was just a teenager. The band broke up under mysterious circumstances, but, after years spent off the road being a mom, Micky’s solo career is finally starting to take off.
Will Vic be able to maintain her newfound sense of self amidst the building thunder of Micky’s second chance at stardom? And through it all, will Micky still really be her best friend?
Victoria, daughter of the lead singer of cult favorite band, Dusty Moon, is just trying to live a normal life. Get together with a new boyfriend, work on a summer project with her best friend, and get along with her mom, if possible. But she feels the need to keep her life compartmentalized–her mom is too famous in certain circles, and Victoria wants to be known as her own person. Micky is a quirky and fun character, and despite Victoria’s numerous missteps and Micky’s sometimes too carefree outlook on life, the mother-daughter pair gets along pretty well and is a lot of fun to read about. Their relationship is a bit reminiscent of Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls, if Lorelai was a world-traveling, almost-famous singer and Rory was a bit less straight-laced.
A fun read, if you don’t mind a bit of (briefly described) teenage sex and experimentation with alcohol.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Blue Bottle Mystery
This graphic novel version of Kathy Hoopmann’s best-selling Blue Bottle Mystery brings this much-loved fantasy story to life for a new generation of readers. The hero is Ben, a boy with Asperger Syndrome (AS). When Ben and his friend Andy find an old bottle in the school yard, little do they know of the surprises about to be unleashed in their lives. Bound up with this exciting mystery is the story of how Ben is diagnosed with AS and how he and his family deal with the problems and joys that come along with it.
I am passingly familiar with Asperger Syndrome because of my college education classes, and as far as my limited knowledge goes, this book does a great job of depicting a kid who has AS. Ben really wants to please his family, his teacher, and his classmates, but he seems to be constantly misunderstanding them and doing things wrong. When he and his friend Andy find a bottle at school, strange things start to happen. Ben has to adjust to new things along the way, and his family learns better ways to help him with the transition.
It sounds kind of preachy when you describe it, but the graphic novel format keeps the book from being a thinly disguised manual for kids. It’s short and sweet, pretty fun on its own merits, but even better because it teaches about a group of kids on the autism spectrum who are often misunderstood.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Hope lives in a small town with nothing to do and nowhere to go. With a drug addict for a brother, she focuses on the only thing that keeps her sane, writing poetry. To escape, she jumps at the chance to attend Ravenhurst Academy as a boarding student. She’ll even put up with the clique-ish Ravens if it means making a fresh start.
At first, Ravenhurst is better than Hope could have dreamed. She has a boyfriend and a cool roommate, and she might finally have found a place she can fit in. But can she trust her online boyfriend? And what can she do after her brother shows up at the school gates, desperate for help, and the Ravens turn on her? Trapped and unsure, Hope realizes that if she wants to save her brother, she has to save herself first.
Yeesh, this book was intense. Hope lives in a tiny town where she is continually overshadowed by her brother–a former star hockey player and a meth addict. Throughout the book, the author alternates between Hope’s POV and her brother’s. We see Hope as she enters a new boarding school and is almost immediately alienated by her fellow students, and we watch her brother do desperate and disturbing things to feed his meth addiction and try to forget about the reason he became an addict in the first place.
Although I’ve never been close to a drug addict, this book taught me some of what it might feel like, to struggle between loving and wanting to give the person what they need and trying to provide the tough love to straighten that person out. This book is not for kids, in case that wasn’t clear. Besides the meth addiction descriptions, there is also a large amount of swearing, a bit of sex, and a lot of just plain disturbing situations. Still, if you’re up for it, it’s a pretty powerful look at addiction and the effects it has not only on the addict but on the people around them.
Rating: Good but Forgettable (or rather, Good with Caveats)
Saving Montgomery Sole
Montgomery Sole is a square peg in a small town, forced to go to a school full of jocks and girls who don’t even know what irony is. It would all be impossible if it weren’t for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are also the only members of Jefferson High’s Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the weird and unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects.
Then there’s the Eye of Know, the possibly powerful crystal amulet Monty bought online. Will it help her predict the future or fight back against the ignorant jerks who make fun of Thomas for being gay or Monty for having lesbian moms? Maybe the Eye is here just in time, because the newest resident of their small town is scarier than mothmen, poltergeists, or, you know, gym.
This was a pretty fun book, if a bit offbeat. Montgomery is the daughter of two lesbian moms, and she is constantly on guard against those who might make fun of her, especially the new kid at school. She and the other members of her Mystery Club, which explores unexplained phenomena, are the oddballs of their school, and as the book goes on, Montgomery starts feeling isolated even from them. I found Montgomery a bit moody and annoying at times, but teenagers, I guess? Your enjoyment of this book will probably hinge on your views on homosexuality, since that is the crux of the book, or possibly on whether Montgomery is a rightfully angry, mostly normal teen or a moody, irritating kid who pushes everyone who loves her away.
Rating: Good but Forgettable (or, again, Good with Caveats)
The Greatest Zombie Movie
After producing three horror movies that went mostly ignored on YouTube, Justin and his filmmaking buddies decide it’s time they create something noteworthy, something epic. They’re going to film the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. They may not have money or a script, but they have passion. And, after a rash text message, they also have the beautiful Alicia Howtz- Justin’s crush- as the lead.
With only one month to complete their movie, a script that can’t possibly get worse, and the hopes and dreams of Alicia on the line, Justin is feeling the pressure. Add to that a cast of uncooperative extras and incompetent production assistants, and Justin must face the sad, sad truth. He may actually be producing the Worst Zombie Movie Ever…
This was silly, but a lot of fun. Justin wants to make the best zombie movie ever made, but on a budget of $5,000, he and his friends are struggling to make it just okay. From writing the script to casting the movie to finding places to film, everything that can go wrong eventually does. It’s pretty hilarious. Not something I’ll revisit in ten years or push on all of my friends, but certainly something I enjoyed reading.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
A Scone to Die For
When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose’s quaint Oxfordshire tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford’s past.
Gemma sets out to solve the mystery—all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O’Connor, now a dashing CID detective.
But with the body count rising and her business going bust, can Gemma find the killer before things turn to custard?
This is the only “adult” book on this whole list, and of course it is a cozymystery. And I really enjoyed it. Cozy mysteries are often all the same–likable but single female MC, murder taking place nearby MC’s home/place of work, often involves food or baking, almost always a pushy mother trying to set up her almost-ineligible daughter with some well-meaning but boring doctor or lawyer–but somehow this book put a new spin on a worn formula.
Gemma is a lot of fun to follow, and her romance (of course) with her first love (now a detective) doesn’t move too fast. The setting, I think, has a lot to do with making this mystery seem fresh. I’ve read many mysteries set in England, but never one that took place specifically in Oxford. I loved all the scenes when Gemma explored her old college stomping grounds and explained some of Oxford’s old traditions. Definitely worth a look if you’re into cozies.
Note: I received a digital copy of this book through Masquerade Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Becoming a wizard is hard work. For Pete Riley it’s almost impossible. He tries to follow the rules, but he’s impatient and being impatient only leads to trouble. Big trouble.
He messes with a time spell when he shouldn’t, and he and his bookish friend, Weasel, are swept into Victorian England, where they will be trapped forever if that wizard-in-training can’t find a way to reverse his bad spell by the next full moon. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I truly wish I had been able to read the first book of this series before I read this one! There are talking alligators, magic galore, and tons of relationships that I didn’t quite get because there wasn’t much backstory explained. Still, I gathered enough to enjoy the book for what it was.
Pete, an impatient young wizard-in-training, messes up a spell that he should have left alone and ends up transporting himself and his reluctant friend, Weasel, back to Victorian-era England. Once there, they get into all sorts of trouble, from being kidnapped to using the skills of their new friend to help them find the mysterious Dr. Dread Wraith. Even Pete’s alligator familiar (who is somewhat creepily referred to as Pete’s “special friend”) gets in on the act as Pete and Weasel attempt to fix the timelock and get back home.
I didn’t much enjoy this book for myself, as I found it pretty shallow in terms of plot and characters. However, it was a fun read, and one that I think middle grades kids would definitely enjoy. So if you’re a teen or adult, you’re probably better off skipping this one, but feel free to pass it on to your younger kids. They’ll enjoy Pete’s antics and his adventures through Victorian England.
Note: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Summary via NetGalley.com.
Charlie Parker is obsessed with KEEGAN’S POINT, the island estate of reclusive billionaire Marcus Keegan, who died the year Charlie was born. The mystery Keegan left behind—hidden rooms, twenty unexplained passports, and stories of treasures—has fascinated Charlie for years.
Twelve-year-old Charlie would give almost anything to visit the estate. He gets his chance—unwillingly—when he overhears a plot to steal something off the island.
Our “Good Bad Guy” Nick has a problem. Does he scrap the once in a lifetime chance to find the answers he seeks or take Charlie along for the ride?
Join Charlie on his adventure as he discovers just who Marcus Keegan really was, and learn the real truth behind Nick’s quest that has forced his and Charlie’s paths to collide.
This is another of my recent string of NetGalley requests. I’ve been on a kick of fun mysteries (more reviews to come soon), and Keegan’s Point was a great addition to that list.
Charlie is a young boy, obsessed with the mysterious Keegan’s Point. This abandoned mansion on an island off the coast of Florida has been sitting empty for years, and no one seems to know what really happened to the billionaire who owned it. Charlie would like nothing better than to explore Keegan’s Point, and he soon gets his chance. Unfortunately, that chance comes in the form of kidnappers who fear he has overheard too much of their plot to steal something from the mansion.
Charlie makes himself useful because of his deep knowledge of the mansion, so the kidnappers don’t kill him. This is one of the things I disliked about the book–it’s very unrealistic in the way the kidnappers treat Charlie. First of all, their reasons for kidnapping him are pretty flimsy, and if they were so afraid of Charlie revealing what he knows, why did they keep him alive? This “good bad guy” thing bothered me through the entire story and kept me from enjoying the book as much as I might have otherwise.
Still, despite this (major) problem, I enjoyed discovering the secrets of Keegan, the mysterious billionaire. I’m a big fan of abandoned buildings and uncovering lost history, and this book certainly provided that. It may not be the best book to pick up as an adult, but middle grades kids will probably enjoy it.