Icon Tag: MG

Guest Review: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko, Narrated by Kirby Heyborne

Posted June 13, 2018 by Lily B in Guest Post, Reviews / 12 Comments

Guest Review: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko, Narrated by Kirby HeyborneAl Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko, Kirby Heyborne
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Length: 6 hours and 4 minutes
Series: Al Capone at Alcatraz #4
Published by Listening Library on May 8, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating: 5 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

6 Hours and 4 Minutes
Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko returns to Al Capone's Alcatraz in this winning addition to the beloved series. Moose and his sister Natalie are growing up, and the stakes on the prison island are higher than ever.
Moose Flanagan lives on a famous island in California: Alcatraz, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the US in the 1930s. His dad works there. It's the summer before starting high school and Moose is going to play a lot of baseball, and win a spot on the high school team. But he still needs to watch his special older sister Natalie, and now, the warden asks Moose to look after his two-faced, danger-loving daughter, Piper. In the cell house there are rumors of a strike, and that Moose's father might step up to new job. Moose is worried: what will this mean for their family, especially for Natalie, who's had some scary run-ins with prisoners? Then the unthinkable happens: Natalie winds up someplace she should never, ever go. And Moose has to rescue her.

It was the title. I saw that title and just had to check this one out. The rest of the blurb had me even more eager to snatch up this middle grade historical fiction. A teen growing up in the mid-thirties… wait for it… on Alcatraz. Yeah, had to give this one a go.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve is book four in the Al Capone at Alcatraz series. I had no trouble jumping in with this book though I wish I had discovered the series at the get go so I could get them in order. Definitely going back to the beginning for the other three.

I really enjoyed this story told from young thirteen or fourteen year old Moose’s perspective. He’s all boy, but has been forced to grow up fast and be responsible with an older autistic sibling and a delicate mother. He just wants to spend his summer playing baseball and being with his friends when first the Warden saddles him with keeping an eye on the Warden’s precocious daughter who’s around his age and he ends up keeping an eye on Natalie when his parents get preoccupied with a prisoner strike.

A strong element in this book is Natalie and how Moose interacts with her as a sibling. Moose is protective of his sister and struggles with embarrassment and frustration because she might have a disability, but she is also very much a young woman and not a child. He has to keep her out of trouble and it’s tough on him when he’s around his friends and has to bring Natalie along. I also loved how he took responsibility for things she did even if it meant feeling the crushing disapproval of the adults around him. He’s very conscious of how to help her with navigating her needs whether it is sticking to her routine, helping her with calm down methods, not putting her in situations where she’ll melt down, and also respecting that she is older and not stupid so her choices and happiness are important to him. He’s a good guy and works hard to help people and he strives to be a good man like his dad. I totally would have had a crush on Moose if I was a teen girl.

The historical backdrop of Alcatraz in itshey day was not skimped on. I thought the life of the families living there below the actual prison and of the inmates who had some contact with the families through those who worked service jobs was vividly sketched out and felt authentic. Moose has a dangerous situation that was not probable in some ways, but it took things to the heart of the prison and how dangerous it was inside. I thought the baseball, people with special needs, and family life in that era was also nice touches. Oh, and let’s not forget the presence of the celebrity prisoner himself. It was neat to see some interaction with Al Capone. Moose is wary and has a healthy fear of the prisoners, but can’t help being curious about some famous ones.

I experienced this book on audio and really enjoyed Kirby Heyborne’s rendition of Moose and the others. He handled Natalie’s awkward vocal parts in a respectful way just as he masterfully handled a cast that included kids to adults of both genders and had a nice way of capturing the era in his voice somehow (maybe I was imagining that). I had no trouble feeling I was right there and that a young teenager was telling the story without an annoying voice. I liked the way he handled the really tense moments so that I felt my heart race with anticipation or suspense. Definitely want to listen to more of his work.

All in all, this was a hit out of the park and I want more of Moose’s adventures and life on Alcatraz. This is a book for young teens, but I think adults who like historical fiction would enjoy this one, too.

My thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.

About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Review: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Posted April 11, 2018 by Lily B in Reviews / 12 Comments

Review: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan PaquetteThe Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette
Series: standalone
Published by Philomel Books on March 20, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating: 4.5 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A magical story about a boy's love for his dying father and his journey to the mythic Train of Lost Things, where beloved lost objects are rescued and protected until they can be returned. Perfect for fans of The Phantom Tollbooth, The Bridge to Terabithia, and Lost in the Sun.
Marty cherishes the extra-special birthday present his dad gave him -- a jean jacket on which he's afixed numerous buttons -- because it's a tie to his father, who is sick and doesn't have much time left. So when his jacket goes missing, Marty is devastated. When his dad tells him the story of the Train of Lost Things, a magical train that flies through the air collecting objects lost by kids, Marty is sure that the train must be real, and that if he can just find the train and get his jacket back, he can make his dad better as well.
It turns out that the train is real -- and it's gone out of control! Instead of just collecting things that have been accidentally lost, the train has been stealing things. Along with Dina and Star, the girls he meets aboard the train, Marty needs to figure out what's going on and help set it right. As he searches for his jacket, and for a way to fix the train, Marty begins to wonder whether he's looking for the right things after all. And he realizes that sometimes you need to escape reality in order to let it sink in.
In this achingly beautiful adventure, it is the power of memories, and the love between a father and son, that ultimately save the day.

Marty receives a jacket from his father for his birthday, a few days before he finds out that his father has the bad kind of cancer. The jacket is meant for Marty and his father to build memories between the two of them, and for each memory, Marty get’s a pin to put on the jacket to remember his father by. When Marty and his mother travel back from a trip because his father is doing worse, Marty ends up losing his jacket. In order to find it, Marty has to believe his dad’s story about the Train of Lost Things and find a way to get on this mythical train.

This story was just wonderful. It’s a story about loss in different forms told in that fantastical, magical, mystical Middle Grade way. I found this story to be important and so well done. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking. The writing was great. The author really knew how to weave an emotional and important story with elements that children and parent’s will equally enjoy.

I find this book to be a keeper and an important one at that. It definitely allows you to use your imagination on an interesting setting of a magical train where your hearts most precious possessions go when they get lost.

I highly recommend this book for parents with children that read Middle Grade and it will go on my shelves for my son as a keeper as well.

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Review: Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan by Jonathan W. Stokes

Posted November 28, 2017 by Lily B in Reviews / 12 Comments

Review:  Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan by Jonathan W. StokesAddison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan by Jonathan W. Stokes
Series: Addison Cooke #2
Published by Philomel Books on November 14th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Goonies meets Indiana Jones in Addison's second laugh-out-loud adventure! A journey through Asia in pursuit of the legendary tomb of Genghis Khan.
Fresh off of a victorious treasure hunt and rescue mission in South America, Addison Cooke just can't seem to steer clear of rogue bandits, pesky booby traps, and secret treasure troves. But it sure beats sitting around in school all day.
Addison's aunt and uncle, on the other hand, are none too happy about their habit of attracting kidnappers. When they become pawns in a dangerous gang's plan to steal the most prized possession of the notorious Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, Addison and his friends find themselves once again caught in the middle of a multi-million-dollar international heist. Armed with nothing but their wits and thirst for adventure, they travel across Asia in an attempt to rescue Addison's family and stop the treasure from falling into the wrong hands.
Brimming with round-the-clock action and tons of laughter, Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan is perfect for fans of Indiana Jones, ancient history, and James Patterson's Treasure Hunters series.
Praise for Addison Cooke
"Combines the derring-do of Indiana Jones with a genuine archaeological mystery. Stokes brings a cinematic scope to the story. This lively debut promises more seat-of-the-pants thrillsfor readers who love adventure."--Booklist
"Cinematic pacing and action drive the story, but it's Addison and his friends who will keep readers engaged. Humor is never in short supply . . . and Addison's endless optimism and irrepressible confidence in his own abilities are endearing."--School Library Journal
"Addison is often one step ahead of the adults, but his lead is constantly threatened, building steady tension throughout the novel, screenwriter Stokes's debut."--Publishers Weekly

Schools out, summer is in, and Addison and his group of friends are off to Asia!

Trouble seems to follow Addison no matter where he goes, fresh of a treasure hunt and rescue mission in South America – Addison finds himself in a whole new set of trouble out in China.

When Addison and Molly’s Aunt and Uncle get kidnapped in China by the mysterious Madame Feng, they must use their knowledge as survival skills in order to beat Madame Feng to what she really wants – the Golden Whip from the lost grave of Ghenghis Khan.

This was a really fun read. At over 400 pages, the pace was steady and exciting. Addison is a very interesting 13 year old boy, who is witty, but a bit quirky at times. He hates germs, he loves to read and seems to always have the knack of knowing how to get his friends out of trouble.

The story and the progression was kind of interesting for me, because I was always interested in Mongolia and Ghenghis Khan. I actually did not know that his tomb/grave was purposely done so not even the Mongols could find it. I had to google that bit myself and the author did mostly stick to the fact at the beginning of the book about the possible locations and how he was buried.

I thought that was fun because not only does it provide middle grade kids with a fascinating plot, fun characters, great adventure and a strong set of friendships, it also educates quiet a bit.

I did have to take my time time with the rating because I wasn’t sure about a few things. I did have to keep in mind that this was a middle grade adventure novel and a lot of it does seem a bit out there, but that’s okay, because to me, it allows the children to get caught up in the excitement and imagination. That part I am fully aware of and perfectly fine with, despite some scenes. I especially loved how the author took the fact that they are kids into consideration and during a lot of scenes he limited their capabilities of what they can or cannot do. I love how they think it would play out in their head and how it actually happens is completely different because at the end of the day, Addison and his friends are still children. That kind of line of thinking was awesome and I think something that can be related to.

I wasn’t sure how the kids would relate to Addison thought because for a 13 year old, he is witty, he can talk circles around you and get himself out of sticky situations. He is also the type of kid that will read The Art of War. But, despite being a sort of prodigy (?) Addison still uses tactics that are childlike and it just makes you giggle.

This was a great book. It was fast paced. There is action, adventure, a mystery and it is really, really well written you guys. I absolutely loved the writing, Stokes just does a wonderful job that it even makes it really enjoyable for an adult because I forgot at several places that this was a middle grade book.

My favorite character I would have to say is Dax’s (the adult in this book) copilot Mr.Jacobsen a goofy Great Dane.

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Blog Tour and Review: Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Posted April 14, 2017 by Lily B in Blog Tour, Reviews / 11 Comments

Blog Tour and Review:  Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth LaurenPrisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren
Series: standalone
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a thrilling fantasy that’s equal parts Prison Break and Frozen, Valor attempts the impossible—breaking her sister out of prison.
When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.
Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn't count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.
This fresh and exciting middle-grade debut effortlessly melds an unforgettable protagonist, a breathless plot, and stunning world-building—and is impossible to put down.

When Valor’s sister gets thrown into prison for stealing a music box that was suppose to bring a peace treaty to the land, Valor must do the impossible and try to break her sister out. Only problem is? No one has made it out of the prison in 300 years, but Valor is more than determined.

This was such a great novel. I love the world that Ruth Lauren has created. I could almost feel the cold from setting blanketed in a sheet of snow. The book itself is very character driven, which was awesome because I adored the characters.

Valor was brave and loyal. It was easy for me to like her, especially due to the strong bond she has with her sister Sasha and her determination to put her first and save her.

The book was fun and exciting to follow. Sometimes I forget the age of these kids as they try to find a way to escape the Prison and hopefully reveal the real thief. So as a reader, you have to keep in mind that this is a middle grade fantasy and suspend your disbelief by just jumping in and embracing the story for what it is.

I thought the writing itself was really wonderful and one of the best in Middle Grade books that I have come across. It was just so easy for me to lose myself in the story and it was just so well done. Like I have mentioned, sometimes I would even forget that this is a middle grade book largely due to the authors writing.

The pacing was really fast so I never had a moment where I was bored. I wanted it to last and was a little sad when it was over. It’s a great page turner and it kept me interested.

Overall, this book was a ton of fun and I think it be a great addition to Middle Grade reader’s bookshelf. Not only due to it’s interesting, different setting, but also due to the wonderful cast of characters and writing.

 

 

Guest Post

I am also excited to share Ruth Lauren’s stop on this blog and sharing with us how she built the fantasy world in her book.

How I built the book’s fantasy world

The idea for PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW began when I was watching the TV show Prison Break with my son. The book was later pitched as FROZEN meets PRISON BREAK and although I wasn’t consciously thinking of Frozen when I wrote it, I’d seen Prison Break and I wondered what that sort of story would be like if it was about two young sisters instead.

The Russian inspired fantasy land part of the idea came soon after as I thought about where I could place the sisters to make their escape from prison even more challenging. I imagined a very cold and unforgiving climate and terrain and looked at images on Pinterest. I make boards for every idea that I have and I find it really helps me to visualize the world and individual scenes if can link them to a picture. I wanted a very cold, snowy, frozen world where the elements themselves could cause problems for the characters and bleed through into every part of the planning Valor has to do to try to break her sister out of prison.

Once the setting was fixed in my mind, the details had to reflect the landscape—the animals that inhabit it, the clothes the people need to wear, the food they might be able to access. My editor was brilliant at helping me think about other aspects that add to making the world feel real—like special celebration days in the city, the history of the prison and the geography involved with surrounding lands and how they might impact on the story.

I drew on elements of the Russian landscape and traditional clothing but I also wanted to create a matriarchal world where only women can rule and where they often have positions of power. This book is about girls and for girls (boys and everyone else welcome too!) and I wanted the sisters to

inhabit a world where it would never occur to them that positions of power weren’t open or available to them. They don’t have to struggle or overcome to gain those positions and they see women in every role in the book—from ruler to doctor to prison guard to hunter. Why did I plan that? Because it’s something every child should see reflected in books and in the real world.

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Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd (Conception), Jim Kay (Illustrator)

Posted April 1, 2017 by Lily B in Reviews / 21 Comments

Review:  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd (Conception), Jim Kay (Illustrator)A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay
Series: standalone
Published by Candlewick Press on March 12th 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pages: 206
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

Guys, I am going to be honest here. I picked this book up because a ton of people asked me if I read it, with the movie out, I finally stumbled upon this book in the library and decided to give it a shot.

I went into this blindly. I never read the blurb or asked people what it was about and stayed away from detailed reviews. I was told when it comes to this book, that was the best way to go about it anyway. So I am having a hard time writing the review. I am going to keep it short and sweet and basically tell you that if you had not read it yet, read it. Don’t just pick up the ebook either. Go to your local library if you have to and get the physical book because the drawing in the book really add to the experience.

The actual idea of this book came from Siobhan Dowd, but it was Patrick Ness, who brought her vision to life after she was taken too soon by cancer. Patrick Ness did a beautiful job bringing her beloved characters to life, leaving us with a book that I will think span generations. When I read the book last night, I was rocked with emotion, but it wasn’t until the day after that I got to sit down, let it sink in and truly experience its effect.

The story is about a boy named Conor and his ill mother. It is haunting, it is beautiful, atmospheric and downright emotional. If you have dealt with loss, it’s grief and pain, I strongly suggest you read this. Even if you haven’t experienced loss yet, I strongly suggest you read this. But I think it’s safe to say most of us did at one point or another and this book just captures most of what we go through so well.

I expect this book will have a different experience and effect on everyone. Which is okay. I believe that’s the whole point anyway, as we each experience the monster and its interpretation differently in the moments of weakness and hopelessness.

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