Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue (MMGM review)

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue
Author: Jeff Seymour
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and I have a wonderful new book to recommend, perfect for the occasion. Jeff Seymour's debut middle grade novel is an absolute delight, and I am already eagerly waiting for a sequel.

Nadya Skylung is a member of the crew of the Cloudship Orion, which in this richly imagined world plies its trade from city to city powered by a cloud garden. Nadya's role is to help keep the plants in the garden  happy and healthy. (Far more than just tending to them, as skylungs like Nadya communicate with the plants in a manner that is part telepathic, part empathetic, and much cooler than I can describe here.)

When pirates attack and seize most of the crew, Nadya and her friends must decide whether to follow orders and escape, or risk everything to save the only family she's ever known. 

Nadya is heroic, headstrong, and a bit of a pain in the tush, and you won't be able to stop cheering for her, even when she stumbles and falls flat on her face. A very real, and very entertaining character, but the supporting cast is equally complex and fun.

While the plot of this novel is exciting, it is the whole world that will really pull you in. I read a lot of middle grade, and love many books, but only a few worlds over the years are so compelling I want to go live there for a while. Aside from those created by J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, I can't think of any world more enticing than Jeff Seymour's. It isn't that it feels safe or comfortable, but then Harry Potter faces lots of danger and it doesn't make me want to visit less. There is just so much texture and depth behind every tidbit you learn about the cloudships and the cities, you want to explore and learn more.

But I guess we'll have to rely on Mr. Seymour. I hope we get to see more of Nadya and her friends, and learn more about this fantastical (and fantastic) world.

A real gem, I predict this will go on to be a favorite cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It has that staying power which as a kid would have made me visit and re-read again and again.

Five stars!

Order Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue on Amazon US, or find where you can order it from a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for May 28, 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Meet Yasmin! (review)

Meet Yasmin!
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
Publisher: Picture Window Books (August 1, 2018)
ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

I've been waiting for a while to get a chance to read Saadia Faruqi's upcoming chapter book, Meet Yasmin!, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy from NetGalley.

Oh my gosh, this is such a delightful book, and Yasmin is such a fun and engaging second grader, she absolutely deserves that exclamation point in the title. Yasmin's family is Pakistani (as is the author), so the text is sprinkled with a few words in Urdu that kids will find easy to learn and fun to use. She is perfectly relatable, prone to worry and inspiration at a moment's notice, and her family is warm and supportive and everything you could hope for.

Hatem Aly's illustrations are an absolute delight, and he brings such life and energy to Yasmin and her family and classmates, you'll feel like you're right there with them as she goes through mini-adventures as an explorer, painter, builder and fashionista.

Teachers will love the age-appropriate study guide, with a glossary, recipe, facts about Pakistan, and more.

A wonderful, spirited book with a heroine I hope we meet many times again. Perfect for boys and girls in early elementary school.

Five stars!

Pre-order Meet Yasmin! on Amazon US, or find where you can pre-order it from a local indie bookstore.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter (MMGM review)

The Mad Wolf's Daughter
Author: Diane Magras
Kathy Dawson Books (March 6, 2018)

This is the second week in a row participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and as I mentioned last week, the second debut middle grade novel that launches a series I know may will loved and look forward to. You can read other MMGM picks linked at Greg Pattridge's MMGM page.

A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home--with all the excitement of Ranger's Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

One dark night, Drest's sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this book, and especially about Drest, the heroine who won't give up until she saves her family, even if her family may turn out to be less than the stellar ideal she has in her head.

This book transports the reader back to medieval Scotland when girls were not expected to be as strong and brave as their brothers, and certainly not expected to become legends. I really like that Drest is as strong-willed and determined as she is without being unrealistic, and both her quest and her dealings with her captive and others show the power of both her spirit and her belief in what is right.

One of my favorite characters is Tig, a friend and ally Drest meets on the way. More than anything else, Tig believes in Drest, and helps her believe in herself.

A simply wonderful middle grade adventure with a simply terrific heroine, I can't wait read the sequel. (For those who worry, this book stands alone very well, but you'll want to spend more time with Drest and her world.)

I strongly recommend this for kids and anybody who loves an exciting adventure.

Five stars!

Buy The Mad Wolf's Daughter on Amazon US,

or find where you can buy it in a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for April 16th

Or you can read my last week's MMGM review of The Serpent's Secret.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Brother Bernadette (review)

My Brother Bernadette
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Egmont UK; Reprint edition (February 7, 2011)

Sara always gets lumbered with looking after her little brother Bernard, and summer project at the local school is no different. There’s so much to do—football, judo, trampolining, model car making, computer games, and drama. But all Bernard wants to do is clothes design. Soon all the kids, led by Big Dan, are calling Bernard "Bernadette" and shoving him around. Sara wants to help but is worried she may make it worse. But "Bernadette" is a little boy with big ideas, and he has a plan up his very nicely designed sleeve.

The story is mostly fun, and the characters are good, and the illustrations are friendly, but the story arc doesn't quite live up to the promise. I went looking for a book like this purposefully, which makes it more disappointing that it wasn't as good as I hoped. In my opinion, there are not enough books which question gendered activities (e.g., boys liking to design clothes). While this book does handle that, it winds up with a disappointing ending in that it features a comeuppance which kind of depends on those same gendered expectations.

I recommend this for kids and parents who are looking for stories which challenge gender preferences for toys and activities, but I do wish it were a stronger story arc.

Three stars.

My Brother Bernadette on Amazon US

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Serpent's Secret (MMGM review)

The Serpent's Secret
Author: Sayantani DasGupta
Scholastic Press (February 27, 2018)

It's been a while since I participated in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but I have a couple of books that I absolutely must share, both of them debut middle grade novels that launch series I know will be loved and anticipated by all their readers. You can read other MMGM picks linked at Greg Pattridge's MMGM page.

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish later that day and a rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories—like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess—and a wealth of secrets about her origin they've kept hidden.

To complicate matters, two crushworthy Indian princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’re here to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds...

I loved the cover of this book long before I got a chance to read it, but worried whether it would live up to the promise. Oh my gosh, does it ever. Kiran's parents seem wacky in the beginning, but as you travel with Kiran (as both you and she cling desperately on for dear life) into the magical world of this book, it turns out their stories are nothing but a pale shadow of the exciting, scary and hysterical world of snot and rakkoshes (all the rakkoshes!) she encounters as she tries to rescue them.

With riddles and puzzles and twists galore, this is a novel that will delight kids (when they can sneak the book back from their parents who will doubtless sneak it from them after they go to sleep). It is great fun to wallow in all the mythology Sayantani DasGupta throws in, and I am sure this will appeal to many due to its diversity, but most of all, it is an excellent adventure.

I strongly recommend this to kids and their parents and anybody who loves exciting adventure and a terrific sense of humor, and I can't wait for the sequel.

Five stars!

The Serpent's Secret on Amazon US

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for April 9th

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Nothing But Sky (review)

Nothing But Sky
Author: Amy Trueblood
Flux (March 27, 2018)

Grace Lafferty has been performing stunts as a wing walker with her uncle Warren and his barnstorming team since she was 13 years old. She fears that they will soon be forced out of the sky by bigger teams or stricter air regulations. Determined to keep her chosen family together, Grace will do whatever it takes to get to the World Aviation Expo where they can compete to win a lucrative contract with a Hollywood studio.

There's so much to like in this novel: gutsy Grace who risks all and ignores the taunts and threats that follow an independent young woman in the 1920s, the style and atmosphere of the post WWI barnstorming era, the authentic feeling of the budding romance between Grace and Henry, and the historical details about death-defying tricks performed by the daring young men and women of the time.

Through it all runs a sense of hope and optimism in a time when there were no safety nets, under the planes or under one's future. I related to the uncle who is trying to do his best by Grace while worrying he is doing something wrong, to Henry who is fighting his own demons from the war, but most of all to Grace whose indomitable spirit barely flags even when faced with cruelty or disaster.

While I enjoy the clear delineation of good and evil in this classic tale, I can imagine some will be slightly taken aback, as so many novels today dwell on the morally ambiguous. Those have their place, but I admit to enjoying a story where the morality is fairly clear throughout.

I recommend this to young adults and grownups (and even precocious younger teens) as an excellent tale with a strong female lead, a thrilling plot, and a wonderful sense of the roaring twenties.

Five stars!

Nothing But Sky on Amazon US

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunlight (review)

Author: C.L. Bledsoe
Etopia Press (February 4, 2011)

Sol (15 y.o.) and his dad are still struggling a year after the death of Sol's mother, but in different ways. Sol spends time being moody and reading and missing his mom, while his father spends time drinking a little more than he should. Neither of them is very happy with the other's way of coping, and when a conference comes up for Sol's dad, Sol is left to spend some time with an aunt and uncle he barely knows on their sunflower farm.

But while Sol starts out bored, odd things start happening and he sets out to find out what they are. What he finds helps him learn more about his mom and her stories, and how some of them just might be real. He also learns a lot about himself and about friendship, and even a little about love.

I enjoyed the novel very much, though it started a little rough. Give it a couple of chapters, and you will start to really like these people and want to spend the rest of the book with them. I especially like the mysterious girl, and how Sol and she relate. Their different reasons for being isolated helped them form a bond, and their shared quest for the truth solidified it. Well done!

I recommend this to teens, and even mature tweens. The content is clean, so those worried about how YA can trend toward sex and swearing will be relieved.

Four stars

Available on Amazon US

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow (review)

Where the Watermelons Grow
Author: Cindy Baldwin
HarperCollins (To be released July 3, 2018)
e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

Twelve-year-old Della Kelly of Maryville, North Carolina, tries to come to terms with her mother's mental illness while her father struggles to save the farm from a record-breaking drought.

A lot of things are wonderful in 12-year-old Della's life, from her best friend, Arden, to the Bee stories she tells her little sister, Mylie, to the delicious sweet taste of cold watermelon on a hot summer day. But when she discovers that her mother's sickness might be coming back, a sickness that confuses her mother about what is real and what is not, Della decides she has to do something about it.

But decisions are easier decided on than acted on, and when all her efforts fail, Della has to face the fact that she may not be able to heal her mother, and will have to work awfully hard to even heal herself. Fortunately, she is not as alone as she sometimes feels.

As a reviewer, I must acknowledge that no book is read in isolation. In the past week, Time magazine posted two articles, one by Matt de la Peña, and then a response by Kate DiCamillo. Each talked about sadness and fear in children's stories, and addressed how honestly and directly authors should talk about difficult topics. Kate DiCamillo talked about asking a friend why she kept reading Charlotte's Web, and whether she thought maybe if she read it again, Charlotte wouldn't die. Her friend's response:

“No,” she said. “It wasn’t that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to turn out differently. I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn’t bear it, but then when I read it again, it was all so beautiful. And I found out that I could bear it. That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear. That I could bear it somehow.”

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is a wonderful, heart-wrenching story filled with love and hardship and hope and harsh realities. It shows that life can be terrible and scary and out of your control, and yet it can still be beautiful, and you can bear it all somehow.

I heartily recommend this to children and teens (and even adults) everywhere. Life is hard and filled with struggles, but you can bear it somehow.

Five stars!

To be released in July 2018, but available for pre-order now on Amazon

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Adding a Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness tag

Search for reviews tagged with new Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness tag.

A while back, I added a Diversity tag, which has been quite popular. When I recently reviewed Once You Know This, I realized that socioeconomic diversity might not really fit under that Diversity tag, but that more and more books are coming out with themes of poverty, hunger and homelessness. Not only do I want to encourage readers to find and explore these books, I want to encourage myself to read and review more of them (as has happened with diverse books). Hence, a new tag was needed.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Once You Know This (review)

Once You Know This
Author: Emily Blejwas
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (September 19, 2017)

Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.

I am not always a fan of "issue" books, and at first I worried this might be too gritty and harsh for middle grade kids to deal with. I think the author could have lightened her touch a little at first, but the characters are strong and appealing, and I quickly got caught up in the glimpses of hope that Brittany couldn't always see for herself. Her friend, Marisol, is a gem (both as a friend and as a character), and I grew more and more interested in the various people who Brittany depends on or who depend on her to get through a life that feels insurmountable yet real.

In some ways, this reminds me of SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick, though aimed at somewhat younger readers. That is high praise from me, though it is tempered by the worry that only some kids will be able to handle the variety of issues. But perhaps I underestimate today's middle grade students, many of whom deal with a world that is difficult and challenging.

I like how the seeds of hope are planted in this book, and that when they grow, it is not unrealistically rosy, but is very satisfying. I also like that the adults in Brittany's life, while flawed in different ways, are clearly trying to do what is best for her, even when they can't always manage.

ONCE YOU KNOW THIS is heartfelt and sincere with a strong dose of hopeful even against a grim backdrop. Ultimately, it is very satisfying, and the characters will stay with you. For those children who relate to it, I can see it becoming a favorite.

This is a very good book, and I recommend it for 9-14 year-olds with the caveat that it is somewhat intense, and the number of issues may be wonderful for some readers, but too much for others.

Four stars out of five.

Available on Amazon.