Back to School!

The summer is officially over here, the kids are back in school, and I’m ready to get back to a regular review schedule! Stay tuned for reviews for books by Melissa Tagg, Tamera Alexander, Karen Witemeyer, Emery Lord, Lindsey Leavitt, Ann Brashares and more!

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Review: Blood Ties by Garth Nix & Sean Williams

bloodtiesBLOOD TIES (Spirit Animals Book #3)
Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Scholastic Press
Publication Date: March 25, 2014

From the back cover:

The adventure continues in this third book of the epic multiplatform fantasy series.

Erdas is a land of balance. A rare link, the spirit animal bond, bridges the human and animal worlds. Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan each have this gift-and the grave responsibility that comes with it.

But the Conquerors are trying to destroy this balance. They’re swallowing whole cities in their rush for power-including Meilin’s home. Fed up with waiting and ready to fight, Meilin has set off into enemy territory with her spirit animal, a panda named Jhi. Her friends aren’t far behind . . . but they’re not the only ones.

The enemy is everywhere.

BLOOD TIES is the third book in Scholastic’s Spirit Animals series, and like the other two, it is filled with lush description, non-stop action, and a few un-forseen twists and turns.

Garth Nix manages to eek out a little character growth between the four children, and for the first time in the books, they begin to work as a true team. As they struggle to find the third talisman, the war between the Conquerors and the Green Cloaks is growing. With the Conquerors shadowing their every move, Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan race to stay one step ahead of the enemy. I enjoyed seeing the children begin to trust their bonds and start learning to rely on the spirit animals and their strength. I also really appreciate the way each spirit animal has their own personality that shines through in Garth Nix’s/Sean Williams’s writing.

While I wished for more closure from the second to the third (the second book left me with questions that really never got answered), I appreciated this book for what it was, an exciting action adventure that is sure to appeal to any reader, especially those in the 5th through 8th grades.

 

Review: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby

spellrobbersSPELL ROBBERS (The Quantum League Book #1)
Matthew J. Kirby
Scholastic Press
Publication Date: January 28, 2014

From the back cover:

After Ben Warner is recruited to join a “science camp” led by the eccentric quantum physicist Dr. Madeleine Hughes, he quickly realizes it’s no regular science camp. Along with his new friend, Peter, Ben discovers the secret, powerful art of Actuation—the ability to change reality by simply imagining it differently.

When a mysterious group of men invade Dr. Hughes’s laboratory, abducting her and stealing her precious equipment, Ben and Peter are suddenly caught up in a turf war between dangerous actuators desperate for Dr. Hughes’s innovative technology. And as Ben and Peter are pulled into a perilous, hidden world full of impossibilities now made possible, will their combined powers be enough to save Dr. Hughes and vanquish their enemies before it’s too late?

From Edgar Award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby comes a fast-paced, boldly imagined tale of friendship, deadly adventure, and the infinite power of imagination.

My sons and I highly enjoyed the intricate plot and fantastic writing of Matthew J. Kirby’s historical fantasy, THE LOST KINGDOM, which prompted us to check out SPELL ROBBERS. SPELL ROBBERS is the first book in a new series entitled The Quantum League, and as such, a good portion of the book is taken up with world building and technology building. While I didn’t have a problem with this, my two sons at first commented that the book was starting to sound a whole lot like science class.

But we kept reading and once the action really got going, SPELL ROBBERS becomes a fascinating and explosive middle grade read filled with interesting characters and twists and turns. Think you know who to trust? Think again! Matthew J. Kirby keeps you guessing throughout and leaves readers on a bit of a cliffhanger, eagerly awaiting the next installment.

The paranormal super powers are cool and kids will love dreaming up exactly what they would actuate if they could. Evil villains abound that are slightly mysterious and big time odious. The Quantum League is well drawn and a bit elusive, which only adds to the intrigue and the need to read future books.

All in all, SPELL ROBBERS is a great start to a new series, one that will appeal to kids with a taste for adventure.

Review: #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler

16things#16thingsithoughtweretrue
Janet Gurtler
Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

From the back cover:

Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue

When Morgan’s mom gets sick, it’s hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn’t as far away as she thought…

Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue

Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan’s getting to know the real Adam, and he’s actually pretty sweet…in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?

5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue

With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She’s not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend…and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can’t imagine living without.

I really enjoyed Janet Gurtler’s I’M NOT HER, a story about a girl struggling to cope after her sister is suddenly diagnosed with cancer, so when I heard of Ms. Gurtler’s newest, #16thingsithoughtweretrue, I was expecting the same emotional, heartfelt read. Unfortunately, this one left me flat.

I suppose part of the reason is that I had a hard time believing that the most pressing matter Morgan would have in her life is to get 5,000 followers on her Twitter account. It seems extremely shallow, especially with all the other events happening in her life. Events that should have made me sympathize with her, but somehow didn’t. Because it all felt so dispassionate.

I love road trip books, but the plot lacked road trip adventure with a capital “A”, and I never really believed that Morgan would become fast best friends with a girl she just met (Amy) and then that girl, along with a love interest for Morgan, would just up and decide to go find Morgan’s dad. To make matters worse, Ms. Gurtler throws in a typical curve ball (I say typical because she threw in one very similar to it in I’M NOT HER) almost as a way of manipulating readers to feel something. Unfortunately, all it did was make me feel angry.

I’m sure tons of readers will love #16thingsithoughtweretrue, but I’m sorry to say, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Review: Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

anotherlittlepieceANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART
Tracey Martin
Harlequin Teen (Digital)
Publication Date: December 1, 2013

From the back cover:

What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

I guess this is where I admit that I’ve never read Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, so I have know idea whether this rock-and-roll retelling does the classic justice. I can, however, tell you that ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART is an angsty, emotional roller coaster ride with a lot of heart and depth that will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end.

I have loved music ever since I was a little girl, so any book that centers around music as this one does is guaranteed to be a winner for me. But Tracey Martin manages to write a beautiful story of second chances. The narrative is filled with voice, voice, and more voice. We really do view the world through Claire’s eyes as she struggles to come back to life after her mother’s death and all the changes that have turned her world upside-down.

Tracey Martin weaves love and loss and heartbreak and reconciliation together in a unique and timeless way, making ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART a must-read for anyone who loves an epic romance.

Review: Game of Clones by M.E. Castle

gameofclonesGAME OF CLONES (The Clone Chronicles #3)
M.E. Castle
Egmont USA
Publication Date: February 11, 2014

From the back cover:

“A funny James Bond for the middle school set,” Game of Clones mixes Alex Rider and Michael Buckley’s NERD series into the ideal formula for a third installment in the hilarious and rollicking middle-grade adventure series The Clone Chronicles.

Fisher Bas was able to track down his gone-Hollywood Clone–Two–but only with the help of Amanda Cantrell. Now “Three” and Dr. X remain on the loose. If Fisher is going to stop his secret from coming out, he’ll have to figure out a cover for his brother clone and keep Three from helping Dr. X take over the world.

That proves much harder as Fisher is no longer able to keep Two a secret and crazy things start happening at Wompalog Middle School. Turns out Three has come to Palo Alto bent on eliminating Fisher and Two. The boys will have to pull together their friends and an unlikely ally to stop Three and his clone army. The future of Fisher and Two’s hometown depends on it.

GAME OF CLONES is M.E. Castle’s third installment in The Clone Chronicles. My sons and I read the first some time back and although we somehow missed the second, we found the newest in the series to be funny and delightful, filled with science-y goodness and a laugh out loud plot that stands all on its own.

Fisher Bas is back after a harrowing Hollywood ordeal, but now must face facts. He can’t keep “Two” a secret any longer. His latest clone, “Three”, which was a product of Dr. X.’s evil machinations is on the loose and bent on taking over the world. Fisher knows he can’t defeat “Three” on his own, so it’s time for a new strategy and plenty of new inventions!

M.E. Castle pens a madcap adventure that is guaranteed to appeal to even the most reluctant of readers. The action is non-stop, the villains are evil and wacky, and Fisher is one cool protagonist. Filled with clever dialogue, far out inventions that are sure to bring a smile to your face, and just enough science talk to both educate and entertain, GAME OF CLONES is the perfect boy-centric middle grade for your middle school son (or daughter!).

 

Review: Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

lovecomescallingLOVE COMES CALLING
Siri Mitchell
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

From the back cover:

A girl with the best of intentions.
A heart set on Hollywood.
An empty pocketbook.

That’s all it takes for Ellis Eton to find herself working as a telephone operator for a look-alike friend. For Ellis, this job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get her a start in the movies. She’s tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can’t deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she’s not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It’s simple: avoid Griff’s attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call…with her very own Griff as the target.

I have been a huge fan of Siri Mitchell ever since 2008 when I first read A CONSTANT HEART. So many times an author’s books can start to feel cookie-cutterish after awhile, set in the same time period with characters who are built from the same mold, but this is never the case with Siri Mitchell’s books. Everything she writes is extremely unique and when I pick up when of her books, I know I’m in for an awesome read that fully immerses me in a time period while being well plotted, well written and well developed.

Siri Mitchell’s last book, THE MESSENGER, took us into the gritty world of the Revolutionary World, LOVE COMES CALLING puts us right into the roaring twenties, at the height of prohibition. These books are as different from each other as night and day, and yet they are both so wonderfully done. And that is the genius of Siri Mitchell’s writing.

I loved the fact that Ms. Mitchell tackled an ADHD main character with such grace and pluck. Ellis’s voice abounds from the page. She is is funny and endearing but also sympathetic and as she gets herself into scrape after scrape, we can’t help but feel for her struggle to be who everyone expects her to be.

I also loved that the mystery element to the book is kept light and humorous and yet it still manages to speak of deeper issues, like standing up for what’s right, and whether it’s possible to legislate morality as the government tried to do through prohibition. The romance between Ellis and Griff is sweet and funny, and though the faith element was a little more subtle than I would have liked, the story still managed to impart an inspiring message of accepting who God made you to be.

LOVE COMES CALLING is another wonderful tale by powerhouse author Siri Mitchell. Don’t miss it!