The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

The Secret Starling

Judith Eagle, Author

Jo Rioux, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Orphans, English Manor, Adventure, Family, Mystery, Secrets, Murder

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Clara Starling lives at Braithwaite Manor with her cold Uncle Edward Starling. Her life is full of dull rules, deadly routines, boring lessons with a governess and flavorless meals under her mean-spirited uncle’s strict regime. Clara’s mother died in childbirth. Clara knows she has a father somewhere, but Uncle tells her “he doesn’t know she exists.” End of question.  Clara’s only salvation is Cook, who she chats with her on the rare occasions Uncle leaves the manor. And she has her mother’s books to comfort her. 

Clara begins to notice things disappearing — portraits, china, and silver bowls.  Uncle fires staff, including Cook. One day Uncle informs Clara they are leaving the manor and orders her to pack a suitcase. He drops her off in the village, while he runs some errands. He hands her a thick wad of 10-pound notes and disappears. Clara spends the afternoon in a café and soon realizes that she’s been abandoned. Not wanting to end up in an orphanage, she trudges back to the old manor. She’s on her own now and no one is going to order her around anymore.  The manor is hers, even if there is a “For Sale” sign in the yard.  

When she arrives home, she finds a streetwise orphan, Peter Trimble and his rescue cat, waiting for her outside. He’s been sent to stay at the manor by his granny while she recuperates. The children seize the  chance to live by their own rules. But when the pair’s wild romps through the halls of Braithwaite Manor reveal a single, worn ballet slipper, they are hurled into a mystery that will lead to London’s glittering Royal Opera House, Russian dancers  and the unraveling of twisted Starling family secrets of poison, a villainous ex-ballet dancer, passion, and murder.

What to like about this story

Readers are in for a treat with Judith Eagle’s fast-paced adventure that is full of plot twists and surprises. The story is original and an exciting read. Even the cheerless opening will intrigue readers. And the run-down manor with feel like they’ve stepped into the late 19th century.

The relationship between Clara and Peter is intriguing. They both have pasts that are kind of a dead end. Peter was abandoned in a train station and adopted by a cleaning woman he calls Granny.  Peter loves the ballet and dances all over the manor. And Clara never knew her mother or has seen a picture of her. Uncle won’t tell her anything. But together they compliment one another. It’s fun to watch Clara’s growth, determination and bravery.

There are other lively characters in the story, Cook’s three grandchildren, who come to play at the manor when Uncle disappears. The manor now feels like a real home and that makes Clara feel happy and hopeful. It’s uplifting to see the children in charge and having a ball exploring, hiding and eating what ever they want. They also are clever and outsmart the grown-ups by destroying the yard sign and tricking realtors. They are the rulers of the manor…for now.

There is so much more to the story once Clara and Peter identify the owner of the ballet slipper. Sorry, no spoilers. The story speeds up and readers will be caught up in a mystery that takes them on a thrilling journey. 

Readers will also enjoy Jo Rioux’s eight full-page, pen and ink illustrations, which contribute significantly to the storytelling.

Judith Eagle’s career thus far has included stints as a stylist, fashion editor, and features writer. She currently works in a secondary school library and lives in South London with her family and Stockwell the cat. The Secret Starling is her first novel.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review.  

 

Amanda in Malta by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady (The Amanda Travels Series 8)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, May 11, 2011

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Malta, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Theft, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her Aunt Jenny. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda strikes the lottery when she’s invited to travel to Malta with her classmate Caleb Sorenson and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

What to like about this Amanda in Malta:

Readers who dream of visiting exotic places, will be captivated by Darlene Foster’s lively adventure story to Malta where there is so much history, unusual places to explore, problems to solve and a dangerous mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be thrilled with this fast-paced story set in paradise.

Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and really enjoys solving a good mystery. And she has a knack for mishaps, like getting stung by a jellyfish her first day in Malta. It’s fun to see Amanda reunited again with her best friends Leah and Caleb. Leah is caught up in a dangerous situation with her Aunt Jenny, an archeologist, and is trying to outrun and outsmart some really bad guys. Although Caleb is deathly afraid of fish, he is a great super sleuth, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda through some awkward moments. 

I find Foster books educational for young readers and adults as Amanda, Leah and Caleb learn about the history, geography, architecture, local cuisine, and visit some very cool sites in Malta that include:  

  • Ghar Dalam, “cave of darkness, ” that is over 500,000  years old. It holds evidence of the first humans on the island, such as Neanderthal teeth, from 7,400 years ago.
  • A boat trip through the Blue Grotto Caves where the crystal clear waters change colour from the reflections off the cave walls. Simply paradise.
  • The Falconry Center for many rescued birds of prey. The Maltese falcon is known for its speed as it can reach over 320 kilometers per hour or 200 miles per hour. It is an endangered species in many places of the world. Storks nesting on the St. Lucian Tower.
  • The Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, the location where Robert Williams’ filmed the movie in 1980. 
  • St. John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights in 1572. As each knight gained wealth, he and his family donated art and decorations. The inlaid marble graves show where many knights were buried.
  • The Museum of Archeology, where there is a 4,000-year-old sculpture of the sleeping lady. 

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady is the eighth book in the Amanda Travels serves: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind; and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster was brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old girl. A world-traveller herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and her amusing dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website or on Twitter @supermegawoman.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Sunshine

Marion Dane Bauer

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 18, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Summer vacation, Visiting mom, Northern Minnesota wilderness, Imaginary dog, Forgiveness

Publisher’s Synopsis

Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine — Ben’s imaginary dog. Even when Ben feels like his dad doesn’t understand him, or Sunshine, he knows his dad loves him. But with his mom, Ben isn’t so sure. She left one day when he was three and he’s never really understood why. He often wonders if he did something that made her suddenly leave. He can’t remember her face. The only thing he remembers is that she made big animal pancakes for him.

This summer, Ben will be spending a whole week with his mom in the wilderness and he’s determined to find answers.  She lives by herself in a messy cabin without electricity or phone on a remote island in northern Minnesota, something that is way out of Ben’s comfort zone. His mom isn’t afraid of anything. Ben is a “what if kid,” afraid of the dark, heights and getting lost. But Ben will learn to camp, paddle a canoe, explore, use a stinky outhouse and confront his fears. And will he ever be able to ask his mom BIG questions. Will she want to come home and be his mom? When a forest fire threatens his mom’s home, Ben finally realizes everything he’s been trying to forget and learns how to forgive his mom — and himself. 

Why I like this book

Marion Dane Bauer has penned a heartfelt story that is filled with hope as Ben reconnects with his mother for the first time. The narrative is lyrical and completely character driven. And there is a big dose of love and forgiveness.

The characters are believable and authentic. Ben’s fears and worries are reflections of the anger he holds deep within. As is his need to create an imaginary dog to comfort him on his journey. Bauer keeps the reader guessing why Ben’s mother left her family until the end. His mom is physically strong and likable. And she asks Ben a lot of questions about Sunshine and compares him to a guardian spirit who watches over Ben. She never tells him he’s too old to have an imaginary dog. We do learn that his mother was abused as a child and has her own demons. And Sunshine feels so real in the story, that dog lovers will find this story interesting.

Readers who enjoy the outdoors, will find Ben and his mother’s exploration of this pristine an remote island appealing — like Ben’s first encounter with the lake’s loons and a mother bear and her baby. The week is one big adventure for Ben and he discovers he can be resourceful and brave. This is a good summer read for middle grade readers.

Marion Dane Bauer is an award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young people, including the Newbery Honor Book On My Honor and The Stuff of Stars. Marion Dane Bauer lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars by Natalie Lloyd

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars (Book 3)

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegan Books, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Rescue, Hidden treasure, Magic, Pirate Ship, Family relationships, Courage, Humor

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Problims’ baby brother, Toot, is kidnapped by the evil Cheesebreath, Sal and his six siblings set sail on a pirate ship to get him back. But Cheesebreath won’t let Toot go until the Problim children lead him through the barrier islands to their grandpa’s treasure.

The problem is the treasure could be dangerous in villainous hands, and the Problims don’t know exactly where it is! Grandpa’s clues say it lies “where the stars fall into the sea,” but there are all sorts of dangers along the way — like angry neighbors, kid-eating plants, and Miserable Mist!

Now Sal and his sibling only have three days to figure out the puzzle, destroy the treasure, and rescue Toot before Cheesebreath gets his hands on their grandpa’s secret and uses it to break apart the Problim family…forever.

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s final book in her The Problim Children series is a delightful romp in weirdness, danger and magic, as the beguiling siblings race against time to rescue their kidnapped baby brother, Tootykins, and Mama Problim, and search for and destroy their grandfather’s treasure. Island in the Stars will please Lloyd fans with this exciting conclusion to the series.

Unknowingly, the seven children have been carefully groomed to take on this mission for years. Even though their grandfather is dead, he knows that that their combined talents and magical gifts must be used together to carry out his instructions and stop the evil Augustus Snide — Cheesebreath. And they will be challenged to heal the rift among their treasure-seeking extended family members on the Desdemona O’Pinion side.

Readers will watch how each Problim child begins to grow into the amazing person they were born to be. Sal keeps his siblings together and calls out the best in each of them. Mona sails fearlessly through the threatening mist. Wendell commands the ocean. Thea unlocks doors and turns her face to the light. Frida throws beams of fire from her hands. Sundae speaks sunlight into every dark corner. And flatulent Toot, a hero and not a captive, leaves his trademark farts to communicate with his siblings. “#45 The Braveheart Fart: The toot, used by Toot to summon his courage and drive fear into his enemies hearts. Smells like moldy cheese and sweaty victory.”

Lloyd’s plot is an lively and dangerous. Her narrative is notably original with clever wordplay, rhymes and vivid imagery. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings that heighten the action and add to the story’s quirky appeal. The book reminds me of Pippi Longstocking, who lives on her own and is free to develop her imagination and goes on great adventures. Today’s readers will liken Lloyd’s middle grade work to Lemony Snicket, The Penderwicks and Roald Dahl. Verdict: Island in the Stars is an entertaining page turner that is full of heart and courage. It is perfect for gift-giving!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels in The Key to Extraordinary,  Over the Moon, and The Problem Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband and her dogs. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington

The Elephant’s Girl

Celesta Rimington, Author

Crown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Elephants, Zoo, Tornado, Ghosts, Adventure, Mystery

Opening: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship. Because of the wind, I’m the girl without a birthday, without a name, without a beginning to my story. See, the wind took my family away when I was small, and I don’t remember them or where I came from.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before an EF5 tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

Why I like this book:

Celesta Rimington’s debut novel about Lexington’s mission to discover her true identity is full of heart, family, and friendship. Rimington’s writing is graceful and filled with vivid imagery and details. Readers will find themselves lured into Lex’s story from the first chapter.

This is a magical adventure about Lex’s unique relationship with the African elephant, Nyah, and a mysterious ghost, who both save her life on the night the tornado that sweeps through the zoo. Lex feels a connection to Nyah, who communicates with her telepathically. Nyah leads Lex to find Miss Amanda, who insists she’s a “misplaced spirit,” who has some unfinished business to attend to that involves a hidden treasure.

The characters are authentic and well developed. Lex is curious and determined to learn about her past. She loves Roger Marsh, the zoo’s train engineer, who becomes her legal guardian, when her family isn’t found. They live on the zoo grounds in his home. And for Lex, the zoo is home. When Lex starts school, kids are mean and call her “the elephant girl.” So she is home schooled by Mrs. Leigh, the zoo keeper’s wife and mother of her best friend, Fisher. Lex can always count on Fisher. Their summer involves searching for ghosts, chasing a lost treasure, mischief and danger. But because they live at the zoo, there are chores and many things to do. Readers are going to want to live at a zoo.

I was drawn to this story because of my love of elephants. And Rimington doesn’t disappoint with her extensive research into how these intelligent elephants communicate with each other over distances through the thumping of their feet. They create an “infrasonic sound” that is too low for humans to hear. In the story, Lex and the elephant trainer, Thomas, both detect the sound as a thumping in their temples. I didn’t know that elephants have 40,000 muscles in their trunks. And I am also impressed with her research into the steam locomotives and what it takes to run a zoo and care for the wildlife.

The Elephant’s Girl weaves together realistic fiction, mystery and magical realism that will create an extraordinary experience for readers. The ending is bittersweet and satisfying. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Holmes and Kate DiCamillo will enjoy this novel. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end, where you will learn about these majestic elephants and find additional websites about elephant research and wildlife sanctuaries.

Celesta Rimington is an elephant advocate, a musical theater performer, and an active participant in her local writing community. As a teenager, she worked at a zoo in Omaha, which is part of the reason she set her story in Nebraska. She now lives in Utah with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Visit Rimington at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Daring Darlene: Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Silent films, Acting, Kidnappers, Villains, Danger, Adventure, Courage

Synopsis:

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping? When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her family studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes.

Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Why I like this book:

Daring Darleen is a fascinating peek into early silent films. There is so much to love about Anne Nesbet’s latest piece of historical fiction about a daring 12-year-old heroine and her family of movie makers. Money is low in 1914, so Matchless Studios gives the gives the public what it wants, “chases, plunges, trains, and villains.” And Darling Darleen becomes Daring Darleen. This story is a page-turner with an engaging plot.

The authentic friendship that develops between Darlene and heiress Victorine Berryman, really gives the story its heart. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Darleen is a spunky, clever and resourceful heroine who is even more couragous in real life. After she and Victorine are kidnapped, she plots their escape from a seventh-story building window. Victorine is refined and elegant. She loves to read and is quite the world traveler. Telling the truth matters most to Victorine. The girls bond over the loss of Darlen’s mother and Victorine’s grandmother. They have a mystery to solve and together they are relentless. As the story progresses, readers will marvel at Victorine’s growth in self-confidence.

The girls also befriend the elegant French-speaking Madame Alice Guy Blaché, owner of Solax Studios, who helps them uncover a mystery regarding Victorine’s inheritance and cruel guardians. I was delighted that Nesbit includes Madame Blanché in her story, as a tribute to her real-life contribution in early film history. Blanché was the first filmmakers to “tell a story” in film and was the first woman to run a film studio.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the “thrilling true story of the rise of the film industry.” And the story is set in Ft. Lee, NJ, where many of the “photoplays” were filmed. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story to learn more about the history of film making, because Anne Nesbit is a Professor of Film and Media history at the University of California.

Anne Nesbet is the author of the historical middle-grade novels Cloud and Wallfish and The Orphan Band of Springdale, as well as three fantasy novels for middle-graders. Her books have received numerous accolades, including multiple starred reviews and appearances on many best book and notables lists. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

*Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Seed Savers: Lily (Book 2) by Sandra Smith

Seed Savers: Lily (Book 2)

Sandra Smith, Author

Flying Books House, Fiction, (2012)

Suitable for Ages:  9 and up

Themes: Futuristic adventure, Gardening, Government, Friendship, Trust, Betrayal

Synopsis:

When 13-year-old Lily hears that her best friend, Clare, and her brother, Dante, are missing and presumed runaways, she is confused. Then she learns their mother, Celia, is arrested by the Green Resource Investigation Machine (GRIM) on charges of illegal plant possession — a tomato. It all makes sense now to Lily. They ran to save the future and the present. Lily is left behind and wonders why they didn’t take her with them. But they entrust Lily with the bulk of their precious seed collection, given to them by an older woman, Ana, a seed saver.

The only thing that keeps Lily focused is tending to the banned vegetable seeds she planted in vacant lots scattered all over town before the disappearance. As she rides her bike all over town, she keeps a look out for GRIM. Is she being followed? Lily hides her gardening activities from her mother. She is happy to make friends with Rose, who becomes Lily’s alibi for tending to her illegal plants. She also meets a mysterious teen from California, Arturo, who knows what Lily is doing. Has he been spying on her? Lily doesn’t know who she can trust.

In attempt to find out what happened to her missing friends, Lily sneaks visits to Ana, who has taught  her everything  she knows about gardening. Not only does Lily learn about a seed saver network that may be protecting Clare and Dante, she unearths a disturbing secret from her own past.

Why I like this book:

Sandra Smith’s futuristic adventure (2077) series for teens is timely, compelling and skillfully crafted. I like the seamless transition from the first book Seed Savers: Treasure to the second book, Lily. From the start, Lily discovers her friends are missing and wonders why she is left behind. In Book 2, readers will learn about Lily and how she will advance the story — her undercover activities, covert meetings with Ana that reveal more about the underground Seed Saver network, new friendships, and family secrets that will make her question everything in her life.

The characters are realistic, courageous, and believable in their efforts to keep the cause alive. I also like the diverse cast of characters. Both Lily (part Japanese) and Arturo (Mexican) are relatable. Rose is curious about gardening, but her odd behavior of disappearing for days is disconcerting for Lily. Ana is the wise mentor that takes great risks to teach the younger generation about the past. They want to support a cause that is important to them and they want to better their world.

This engaging and fast-paced plot is an ideal read for teens who are environmentally conscious and may have concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It also raises some serious questions about the future of the food supply in our country.  It is a known fact that large corporations continue to control more of our food supply, put small farms out of business and use more GMO products. Smith says that “the historical political references in her Seed Savers series are factual,” although she’s changed the names of corporations.

Lily is the second book in the seed savers series and is told from Lily’s viewpoint, after Clare and Dante flee. It is followed by Heirloom, Keeper and Unbroken. Visit Sandra Smith at her website.

Resources:  Click here at Flying Books House for discussion questions on the first two books in the series. They are perfect for classroom or book club use. May there be a day when all our food is processed and comes in the form of Proteins, Sweeties, Vitees, Carobs and Snacks? And check out the author’s note at the end of the book.

Sandra Smith is the author of the award-winning Seed Savers series. She has a Master’s degree in Teaching English and spent over twenty years teaching students of all ages English as a Second Language. As a child, Sandra worked on her parents’ berry farm and enjoyed eating from her mother’s tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Today, she lives in the city with her husband, cats, and backyard hens. She grows a small, urban garden every summer. When she’s not gardening or turning tomatoes into spaghetti sauce, Sandra writes poetry or novels inspired by her garden.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by author.

****Winner of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, reviewed April 20 on my website, is Darelene Foster. Congratulations! I can see your address, so I will send you an e-mail and get your mailing address. Candlewick Press will send you the copy. Hope you enjoy the book!

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds, Book 3

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Nov. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Clans, Pegasi, Mythical flying animals, Giants, Adventure, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Echofrost, Shysong, and all of Storm Herd are finally free from the giants, but their freedom comes with a price. Sandwan Clan Rider Rahkki Stormrunner has been captured by the Gorlan giants, with no possibility for escape and no hope of being rescued by Princess I’Lenna or his fellow clan members. As the giants are quickly losing their patience with the Fifth Clan, putting Rahkkii in deeper danger, Storm Herd will have to join forces with the humans they have long feared.

As sweeping monsoon rains threaten to devastate the region, enemies and friend, tame steeds and wild, will have to engage in a final battle to decide the fate of all three groups — the Sandwans, the giants, and the pegasi. Freedom, they will learn, is not about fleeing to a safer land. It’s about staying and fighting for the right of all creatures to live as they choose.

Why I love this book:

This is the final book in Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s Riders of the Realm trilogy. Fans will be thrilled with the many surprises and unexpected twists in the story. And they will be pleased with the resolution. The book cover is gorgeous!

Alvarez is a master at building believable worlds. She has created a matriarchal culture within the seven Sandwen clans, each ruled by a monarch queen.  In book three we enter into the world of the Gorlan Giants, where Rahkki is being held captive. Fortunately Rahkki’s knows enought giant sign language, so that he can communicate. He makes a great effort to really learn their way of life, customs, and history, so that he can get to the reasons for their discontent with the Sandwen Clan. He realizes that the giants are smart and are experts at battle. He is hopeful that the giants will help him overthrow the evil Queen Lilliam and bring peace to the realm. But Rahkki makes one honest mistake and sends the Giants into a rage. He flees for his life.

The trilogy is character-driven. In the final book we see a lot of character development and growth. Rahkiki remains clever, but he begins to trust himself and his abilities. He is courageous because he’s looking at the bigger picture of peace for the entire realm and not focusing on himself or just his clan. His brother Brauk’s tough, hard and angry edges are smoothed and he plays a vital role in the final battle, as does Princess I’Lenna the eldest daughter of the Queen. I’Lenna is smart, exposes her mother’s betrayals, and risks her own life for the future good of the realm.

This novel is a fantasy involving three groups of characters – the pegasi, the Sandwen clan and the giants. But the characters also deal with real issues if they want to stop battling one another and find peace. Each group has to learn each other’s languages, customs, and cultures in order to attempt to resolve their differences and bring freedom and peace to the realm. There is a lot that readers will take away from this trilogy.

Make sure you check out the maps Alvarez includes of the territory for each of three groups and information about the key players. Verdict: This trilogy is a winner! I suggest you read the books in order.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkely. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters #1, Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky, #2, and the Guardian Herd series. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferDiaries or on Instagram @jennifer-lynn-alvarez. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe Vol. 2

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Suspense, Treasures, Mystery, Adventure, Family Relationships, Humor

Prologue: “The wind came as a night visitor, sneaking through the town of Lost Cove like a clumsy bandit. Knockings boats against each other in the harbor, pushing over trash cans, tossing tree limbs into the street, and swirling across the barren land where a river used to be. A purple-tailed squirrel sleeping in a tall magnolia tree on Main Street startled awake. It was not afraid of this weather … but it was definitely curious. “…” At House Number Seven, the wind burst through an upstairs window with a huff and a puff and a roar. It billowed down the stairs, all the way to the basement, and whispered over the face of a dark-haired girl as she dreamed.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

All the Problim siblings are capable of magic if they stick together. But trusting each other isn’t easy for the seven siblings when neighbors like Desdemona and Carly-Rue O’Pinion are working double-time to turn the town against them.

From catapulting cattle to runaway corndogs to spiders on the pageant stage, the Problim brothers and sisters are blamed for every catastrophe at this year’s carnival. And to top it all off, Mama Problim is missing!

Can the seven siblings come together in time to save the carnival and rescue their mom from a villain even more dastardly than Desdemona? Or will they discover too late what it truly means to be a Problim?

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd never fails to delight with her exquisite, lyrical prose and fun-loving narratives.  She is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. She is an original voice in children’s literature. Her sequel, Carnival Catastrophe, is a witty romp in weirdness and chaos, as the siblings are frantic to rescue their missing mother (an archeologist) and have some fun in the town’s annual Corn Dog Carnival.

You can’t help but be enamored with the weird and beguiling Problim children and their beloved pig, Ichabod. Lloyd writes her characters with depth, emotion and charm. Each of the seven kids is named after a day of the week and  has a magical talent — from flatulent toddler “Tootykins” (Tuesday) to Wendell, (Wednesday) who works with water. In this sequel, Mona (Monday) takes center stage. She is creepy, odd, and wears spiders that dangle as earrings and from her finger tips. She is definitely the weird child. When she decides to participate in Lost Cove’s Corn Dog Carnival  beauty pageant, she dresses as a vampire. She is prone towards trickery, which proves to be scary during the pageant. Although Mona enjoys her individuality, readers will enjoy her profound character growth — something that takes great courage as she relates to her arch nemesis, Carley-Rue O’Pinion. and realizes that her assumptions may be wrong.

The plot is a thrilling and dangerous adventure, as Mona and her siblings search for treasure and their missing mother.  Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket. There is a lot of fun and humor along their journey. For readers who are charmed by the Problim Children, there will be a final book in the trilogy. Lloyd leaves readers with a cliff hanger. Both young and older readers will enjoy Carnival Catastrophe. It is the perfect summer read!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, Authors

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 144

Themes: Underachiever, Survival Camp, Comical, Adventure

Synopsis:

Underachiever Hank Zipzer goes on an unfortunate school camping trip in a comical, kid-friendly novelization of the popular BBC series based on Henry Winkler’s best-selling books.

What will it take for Mom and Dad to trust Hank to go to the mall unsupervised with his friends? Cooking a family dinner — er, disaster — doesn’t exactly say “responsible.” But what if Hank signs up for the school’s legendary survival camp and makes it through the whole weekend? Maybe he should factor in being teamed up with his nemesis, McKelty, in a leaky tent, not to mention a desperate search for a cell phone in a field of cow pies. . . . The amiable character originated by Henry Winkler — inspired by his own childhood — comes to life in a humorous adventure set in a font designed to boost readability for kids with dyslexia.

Why I recommend this book:

The title is a sure giveaway that this book is a hilarious adventure for reluctant readers. Many kids will identify with Hank, who really wants to prove that he is responsible and gain the trust of his helicopter parents, but somehow he can’t stay on task. He really tries, but is easily distracted. He also can’t resist a good prank and his antics get him in trouble. Hank is a well-developed character that readers will cheer because he is so real and lovable. This story has heart!

Hank’s best friends, Frankie and Ashley, accept Hank for who he is — you never know what’s going to happen when they are together. They are also a nice balance for Hank, even though he convinces them to sign up for the survival camp.  Papa Pete is the only one who seems to understand Hank and encourages his parents to “let go.”

This series offers hope to children who learn differently. Based on Henry Winkler’s own struggle with dyslexia as a child and teen, he has taken special care to make sure that the book has been set in a OpenDyslexic font that has been created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.  He continues to invite readers to comment on the font so that improvements can be made. What a gift for children!

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.