Category Archives: Middle Grade

Book Review: The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

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Easily one of the best middle grade books I’ve read in ages, The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton promises to become an instant classic for readers young and old alike.

vanishing islandDoes the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

Wolverton’s writing is delightful, transporting readers easily to Bren’s world: first, his dismal life in Map — and then his adventures aboard a Dutch ship, as they search for the mysterious and titular Vanishing Island. I was instantly swept away by the story, and honestly can’t wait for the next installment in Wolverton’s fantastic new middle grade saga.

Packed with humor, adventure, and important (but not heavy-handed) messages about life and growing up, mixed in with exciting locations and wonderfully charming characters, The Vanishing Island contains all the ingredients for a perfect middle grade series — and lives up to that promise.

Wbat’s more, Wolverton doesn’t hold back for his young readers. The Vanishing Island is not a warm and fuzzy story. The novel includes plenty of gore and violence, and Wolverton doesn’t shy away from being raw and honest in his portrayal of the world’s darker aspects. (That said, it IS still age-appropriate!) In many ways, it’s this brutal honesty that makes for the best middle grade stories. (Let’s be honest; Harry Potter was pretty dark. And I’m certain fellow fans of the boy wizard will adore The Vanishing Island, just as I did.)

The adventure sets sail September 1st when The Vanishing Island hits store shelves.

Book Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

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A dazzling tale of courage, friendship, and love, A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano is a wondrous and beautifully-written story about facing our darkest tragedies.

a curious tale of the in-betweenPram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

It’s hard at any age to talk about death, and yet in A Curious Tale of the In-Between, DeStefano has found a way to make the subject accessible for her readers (both children and adults, alike). As one of the characters comments, “Death isn’t a punishment. It’s just what comes next.” DeStefano’s writing is so beautiful and elegant as she takes us along on Pram and Clarence’s time together. The story both evokes a time gone by, and yet is just as easily timeless. It’s not the time or place or setting that matters really; and that’s the point, I think. That this story is about the characters and their experiences.

Throughout the story, DeStefano’s characters display incredible courage and love. Pram and Clarence are such a wonderful pair; but so, too, are Prams’ aunts and Clarence’s father; Pram’s ghost-friend Felix. Their emotions give the story a raw honesty that makes the book’s message so much more compelling.

I was swept away by Pram’s world and her gifts, and her extraordinary journey. I was riveted to find out what would happen next, and to witness her growth as a character. If this is a standalone, I am wholly satisfied with what DeStefano has provided. And yet, if this turns out to be a series, and there are more adventures in store for Pram and her companions, I will gladly hop aboard for the ride.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is in stores September 1st.

Book Review: Lilliput by Sam Gayton

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A delightful and charming new take on Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput by Sam Gayton proves you can be brave at any size.

lilliputInspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is an exhilarating adventure filled with cunning escape plans, evil clock makers, and very talkative parrots. Join Lily as she travels through 18th century London over rooftops, down chimneys, and into chocolate shops on a journey to find the one place in the world where she belongs…home.

I adored this charming take on Jonathan Swift’s classic story, following the little Lillipution Lily as she tries to escape from Gulliver’s attic apartment and find her way back home. Along the way, she makes some unlikely friends and faces down some sinister foes.

Gayton’s writing is enchanting and inviting, bringing readers into Lily’s world. The story is lovingly enhanced by Alice Ratterree’s beautiful illustrations, which add another level of charm to Lilliput. The story is a quick read, but engaging and delightful all the same for readers of all ages. This is the perfect book for adults to read together with their kids — and opens to door to a whole world of literature, starting with Swift’s original story and exploring other works inspired by Gulliver’s Travels. (A wonderful author’s note at the end of the book explains the rich history of Gulliver “fan fiction.”)

Lilliput is in stores now.

 

Book Review: Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler

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A creeptastic story filled with heart, Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler is as much about facing our inner demons, as it is about facing ghosts.

ghostlightAvery is looking forward to another summer at Grandma’s farm, at least until her brother says he’s too old for “Kingdom,” the imaginary world they’d spent years creating. Lucky for her, there’s a new kid staying in the cottage down the road: a city boy with a famous dad, Julian’s more than a little full of himself, but he’s also a storyteller like Avery. So when he announces his plan to film a ghost story, Avery is eager to join in.

Unfortunately, Julian wants to film at Hilliard House, a looming, empty mansion that Grandma has absolutely forbidden her to enter. As terrified as Avery is of Grandma’s wrath, the allure of filmmaking is impossible to resist.

As the kids explore the secrets of Hilliard house, eerie things begin to happen, and the “imaginary” dangers in their movie threaten to become very real. Have Avery and Julian awakened a menacing presence? Can they turn back before they go too far?

Let’s start by talking about this book’s creep factor. It’s massive. Though written for middle grade readers, even I found myself getting spooked. So much so, in fact, that at point I had to force myself to stop reading it before bed, because it was creeping me out too much. And then when I did resume reading before bed, I ended up staying up too late to finish it because — again — I was getting creeped out! But the experience was well worth being spooked, because Ghostlight is not only a 100% creepy ghost story, it’s also a story about family, love, and facing your own fears and doubts.

Gensler’s writing is lovely, painting a vivid picture of the farm where Avery spends her summers and the buildings located there — including the creeptastic Hilliard House, but also the cottage where Julian is staying, and the house where Avery’s grandmother lives. Each location comes to life.

And as much as the story is about the mysterious past that lead to Hilliard House’s haunting, Ghostlight is really about the present and the future. It’s about facing inner turmoil and finding a way to move forward; it’s about growing up. It’s about family.

Ghostlight is in stores tomorrow.

The Vanishing Island Blog Tour: Flash Questions with Barry Wolverton

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Today, we are so pleased to be hosting a stop — the FINAL stop — on the official blog tour for The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton.

For today’s stop, Barry stopped by with his responses to some of our favorite FLASH QUESTIONS! Check out his answers below, then keep reading to learn more about The Vanishing Island, in stores September 1st.

Barry Wolverton Author PhotoFavorite villain?

Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons

Pen or pencil?

Pen

Favorite piece of clothing?

A vintage-thrift-store-find Schott NYC leather jacket

Song you can’t get out of your head right now? Autumn Leaves (the Miles Davis recording)

Most recent vacation?

New York, in February, for my girlfriend’s birthday

5 things that are always on your desk or in your backpack?

On my desk: Paper & Clay handmade ceramics; Macbook; Peterson Field Guide to Birds of the Eastern U.S. + binoculars (my office looks out into my wooded backyard); books; Charlie, aka Mr. Grey, my cat who helpfully keeps papers and whatnot from flying off my desk by sprawling all over them.

about the bookvanishing islandDoes  the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

about the authorbarry wolvertonBarry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic, Scholastic.com, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at www.barrywolverton.com.

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Be sure to visit the rest of the blog tour stops for more great content & chances to win a signed advanced copy of The Vanishing Island:

6/15/2015 Blue Stocking Thinking                  bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com
6/16/2015 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia    hauntedorchid.blogspot.com
6/17/2015 Small Review                               smallreview.blogspot.com
6/18/2015 Maria’s Melange                         www.mariaselke.com/
6/19/2015 Unleashing Readers                    unleashingreaders.com
6/19/2015 The Hiding Spot                             ​thehidingspot.blogspot.com
6/22/2015 This Kid Reviews Books              thiskidreviewsbooks.com
6/23/2015 Mundie Kids                                http://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
6/24/2015 Page in Training                        https://pageintraining.wordpress.com
6/25/2015 Novel Novice                              novelnovice.com

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

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A story about what courage really means, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White is the heartfelt story of two sisters facing tragedy upon tragedy — and the strength they must find to persist in the face of overwhelming odds.

survival strategies of the almost braveAfter their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is a beautiful story about the unique bond between sisters — and the lengths they will go to protect each other. Liberty and Billie’s situation is heartbreaking, but it is empowering to see the girls come together against the odds and continue fighting to find their way home.

The girls’ circumstances make the story difficult to read at times, but those hardships make the book’s ultimately uplifting ending all the more powerful and empowering. Because this truly is a story about being brave, and finding the inner strength you didn’t know you had. It’s also about how you can find love and family and hope in the most unlikely of places.

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is in stores now.

Book Review: The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson

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A fantasy adventure filled with heart and humor, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson introduces a charming cast of characters and sets the stage for many more hijinks to come.

Dungeoneers cThe world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler’s earnings, Colm can’t help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It’s just a question of how far you’re willing to go to get it.

In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery, or he can become a member of Thwodin’s Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in their quest for endless treasure. But not all families are perfect, and even as Colm hones his skills with fellow recruits, it becomes clear that something from outside threatens the dungeoneers–and perhaps something from inside as well.

Indeed, Thwodin’s Castle is reminiscent of a more criminally-minded Hogwarts — wherein students learn “dungeoneering” — that is, how to raid dungeons for gold and other assorted treasure. And while Colm focuses his lessons on being a “rogue,” his fellow students study the likes of magic, hunting, and more. Not so noble as the school for witchcraft and wizardry, but certainly filled with colorful teachers and dangerous situations.

The story is quite slow to unfold — and this is, perhaps, I think where my adult taste kept me from fully enjoying this book as much as a younger reader would — with lots of time spent developing characters, establishing the world, and following Colm and his friends as they learn the ropes at Thowdin’s Castle.

That said, the action really does pick up towards the end — and shows promise for more adventures for Colm and his friends in possible future books in the series. And these characters are what really make The Dunegoneers so delightful — they give the story meaning, purpose, and heart.

Look for The Dungeoneers in stores June 23rd.

Book Review: Gabby Duran & the Unsittables by Elise Allen & Daryle Conners

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Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey may have had their fair share of drama — but I’m guessing the original members of the Baby-Sitter’s Club never had to deal with intergalactic toddlers. Enter Gabby Duran, baby-sitter to the stars — and now, to alien kiddos in Gabby Duran & the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners. 

gabby duran and the unsittablesCase File: The First Unsittable

Summary: The Association Linking Intergalatics and Earthlings (hereby known as A.L.I.E.N.) has a new member. After months of investigation, Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, has proven herself to be a babysitter extraordinaire. Her celebrity clients fly her around the country to care for their rambunctious little humans. Our spy, Associate 4118-23432B, otherwise known as Edwina, believes Gabby can be trusted with the truth: aliens are living among humans on Earth. And here at A.L.I.E.N we believe that even extraterrestrials need a babysitter now and then. No one was up to the task until now.

After accepting the top-secret position, Edwina has paired our new associate up with her first charge, a little girl from the planet Flarknartia. The timing for associate 4118-25125A is less than ideal. It’s a school day on Planet Earth, Gabby’s audition for the solo part in the band is tonight, and this tiny alien is a bit more than meets the eye.

Can Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, First Sitter to the Unsittables, keep her otherworldly charge safe in the unpredictable halls of middle-school and keep A.L.I.E.N hidden?

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start as we are introduced to Gabby and her miraculous, natural talent for babysitting even the most difficult children — and as the premise for her new assignment is laid out. But once Gabby’s role as a babysitter for aliens living hidden on Earth is established, the book really takes off on a fun and hilarious ride.

The premise is wacky, and it makes for some really entertaining scenes as Gabby learns to juggle the unpredictable nature of alien children. But she also learns that alien kids and human kids have a LOT in common — and it’s fun to see the different ways her alien ward interacts with both Gabby and the other humans she encounters.

The groundwork is clearly laid for a series of Gabby’s future adventures in alien babysitting, and this first entry is a really entertaining and funny first foray.

The Baby-Sitter’s Club meets The X-Files, Gabby Duran & the Unsittables is in stores now.

More Middle Grade from My Secret Guide to Paris author Lisa Schroeder

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Looking for more great middle grade books from My Secret Guide to Paris author Lisa Schroeder? Look no further! Here are her other middle grade titles:

charmed life1Caitlin’s Lucky Charm

Four best friends, one lucky bracelet, and an utterly charming new middle-grade series!

Caitlin would stay at summer camp forever if she could. Her new best friends in the world, Hannah, Mia, and Libby are there. And at home? Everything’s different: Her dad is worried he might be losing his job; her mom is repainting the whole house and making the kids volunteer at a soup kitchen; and Caitlin is starting sixth grade at a new school, where none of the girls are as fun or friendly as her Cabin 7 BFFs. But Caitlin has a good-luck charm — or a good-luck charm bracelet anyway. The Cabin 7 girls bought it together, and Caitlin is taking the first turn wearing it. She’s sure it will help turn her luck around . . . but when?

charmed life2Mia’s Golden Bird

Four best friends, one lucky bracelet, and an utterly charming new middle-grade series!

Mia loves two things: surfing and photography. When she breaks her foot, she tries to stay busy, making scrapbooks, but she’s still bored. Then one day Mia’s scrapbooks catch someone’s eye: the famous actress Lacy Bell! Lacy likes to go birdwatching with her grandma. She offers to pay Mia to be their photographer. It’s perfect — until the kids at school start gossiping. Mia’s glad she has her BFF’s charm bracelet — she’s going to need it!

charmed life3Libby’s Sweet Surprise

Four best friends, one lucky bracelet, and an utterly charming new middle-grade series!

When she’s not hanging out at her family’s sweetshop, Libby loves walking her dog around London. She always meets the most interesting people — like Cedric, who’s her age and also has a dog. They become fast friends, until Libby finds out his family are the new owners of a competing store! Libby tries to keep her parents’ business a secret, because she really likes Cedric and wants to be his friend. But the secrets start adding up, and Libby needs the charm bracelet she shares with her besties to bring her some luck . . . right now!

charmed life4Hannah’s Bright Star

Four best friends, one lucky bracelet, and an utterly charming new middle-grade series!

It’s finally Hannah’s turn to wear the lucky charm bracelet–and not a moment too soon!

Hannah’s parents have a surprise for her, and she’s sure it’s her dream come true: a horse of her own. Instead, they’ve gotten her a mule!

Everyone says she can still ride the mule, even in the 4-H parade, but how silly will that look? Hannah is so embarrassed, and she needs the luck from her Cabin 7 BFFs’ charm bracelet more than ever!

it's raining cupcakesIt’s Raining Cupcakes

Twelve-year-old Isabel is dying to get out of her small town of Willow, Oregon, and travel like her best friend, Sophie. But when Isabel’s mother decides to open up a cupcake shop across town, Isabel is once again stuck in Willow for the summer…until she learns of a baking contest where the finalists get an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to compete in the final bake-off. But Sophie is also entering the contest, and Isabel’s mother has reservations. Can Isabel finally realize her dreams of leaving Willow without hurting two of the most important people in her life?

SprinklesandSecrets_cvrSprinkles & Secrets

In this companion novel to It’s Raining Cupcakes, twelve-year-old Sophie has a dream come true when she’s offered a TV commercial spot. She’s not just happy about the opportunity, she’s over the moon happy!

But then she finds out what exactly she’ll be advertising: the delectable, ever-popular brownies from Beatrice’s Brownies, which just so happens to be the number one competitor to It’s Raining Cupcakes, a cupcake shop owned by her best friend, Isabel’s, family.

Sophie has a tough choice to make: Follow her dreams or crush her best friend. What’s a girl to do?

frosting and friendshipFrosting & Friendship

Has Lily bitten off more than she can bake? A sweet treat from the author of It’s Raining Cupcakes and Sprinkles and Secrets.

On a scale of one to ten, twelve-year-old Lily Hubbard is a zero when it comes to baking. Her cookies turn out salty, her cakes tend to lean, and things are always overcooked.

When Lily is invited to be a part of a mother-daughter book club called The Baking Bookworms, she is excited—and terrified. It seems like she’s the only one who didn’t inherit the baking gene.

But she does have the music gene, which is why she’s forming a band that will audition for their school’s annual Spring Fling. If, that is, Lily can balance her priorities. Because Isabel, one of the Baking Bookworms, has asked Lily to help plan a surprise party for their mutual friend Sophie. And the task is…creating a showstopping, mouthwatering, thirteenth-birthday-party-worthy dessert. Uh. Oh.

Soon, Lily finds herself knee-deep in sugar and sheet music as she tries to juggle her responsibility to her bandmates AND give her friend the best party ever.

Exclusive Q&A with My Secret Guide to Paris author Lisa Schroeder: Part 3

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Today, we conclude our exclusive three-part Q&A with My Secret Guide to Paris author Lisa Schroeder. If you missed it, catch part 1 here and part 2 here.

lisa schroeder2Favorite villain?

Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz

Pen or pencil?

Pen

Favorite piece of clothing?

My Anthropologie cardigans that tie in the back. So cute and comfy, I wish I had 20 of them.

Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

“Bright” by Echosmith

Most recent vacation?

Disney World!

5 things that are always in your purse?

Notebook, pen, chapstick, lipstick, library card

Thanks, Lisa!