Ask Emma: Frenemies

A few months back we reviewed a fun new take on the classic Jane Austen novel Emma with the middle grade read Ask Emma. Today we’re taking a look at the followup by Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk.

The Story: Emma could not be happier. Her blog “Ask Emma” is doing better than ever and summer is coming up soon. Everything is going great – until it’s not. When Emma realizes that one of her best friends and crush, Jackson Knight, is going to DC on a conference that helps kids out, she’s livid. Helping people out is her specialty and instead shy Jackson Knight gets to go? In order to be allowed, Emma makes a deal with one of her teachers: she will be impartial for forty-eight hours. Easy, right? Except Emma, as opinionated as she is, is finding it a lot harder to keep silent, especially when it’s her friends that need help. And as the DC trip grows closer, she realizes that giving impartial advice might be harder than she thought.

My Thoughts: The first Ask Emma resembled Austen’s original novel much more than this one, but nevertheless this was an enjoyable read. Sheryl and Carrie Berk are a lovely mother/daughter writing duo and this book does not disappoint.

Parental Advisories: I am always pleased to find a middle grade read that I can certify as 100% squeaky clean and Ask Emma: Frenemies definitely passes the test.

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

One of my favorite heroines is explored in this new novel by David Elliott. Written in a lyrical prose that manages to capture the sweeping epic of her life, Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc is worth a read. This book was released within the last few months, making this the perfect time to give this new book a review.

The Story: Ever since the flame has seen Joan’s bright spirit and mighty courage, it has known that she will succumb to the fire. Ever since Joan has heard the Voice, she knows that she cannot be a normal girl. And ever since the many voices, the many souls intertwined in this grand narrative have met, they know that France and its history will never be the same. This is the tale of Joan of Arc, as told by the dress she discarded, the sword she carried, the horse she rode, and the people she shared her life with. These are the Voices that write the truth.

My Thoughts: Of all the books I’ve read this year, this has definitely got to be one of the most uniquely formatted. All of the voices in the book are well written poetic verses that draw the reader closer into the intriguing depths of Joan’s life. Though this is much more of a fictitious than factual read, David Elliot does an excellent job of weaving in historical fact and fiction in this unique novel.

Parental Advisories: I recommend holding off on handing this book to your younger readers as the book discusses virginity, lust, and what it means to be a witch, themes that might be better off discussed with teens.

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Brightest Star in the North

For young fans of pirates and swashbuckling tales, this novel centered around the new character of Carina Smith from Dead Men Tell No Tales is the perfect read to introduce children to the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

The Story: Carina may be an orphan, but she knows that she has a special destiny. The father that she never knew may have left her behind, but she’s sure that he meant for her to do great things – even if it means she has to bend the rules a little bit and get into trouble to discover the truth. From the orphanage where she is kept to a position at a grand lady’s home to the Caribbean where the truth of her heritage might finally be uncovered, Carina Smyth is willing to do whatever it takes and prove that she is worth her namesake.

My Thoughts: I remember the first Pirates of the Caribbean film I ever watched and the inevitable clamor for swashbuckling reads that followed. While children’s fiction has a generous supply, recently this genre of books has not been in as much demand so this new addition based off of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is definitely entertaining. Carina is an engaging heroine and her adventures prior to the film’s timeline are really fun to read. I recommend picking this up at some point.

Parental Advisories: If you’ve seen Dead Men Tell No Tales, this is even more tame. With the exception of some slight romantic elements (as well as an awkward interaction for parents to explain if they so choose between the characters of Henry and Carina), this book is squeaky clean.

 

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100 Dresses: The Starlight Slippers

This week we’re reviewing the third in a fun middle grade fantasy series by Susan Maupin Schmid. We’ve already viewed the first two books in this poster HERE, and today we’re looking at the newest novel in the series.

The Story: Princess Mariposa is getting married (for real this time) and the castle is all in a tizzy, including the princess herself. She’s determined to get her hands on the Starlight Slippers that once belonged belonged to Queen Candace, years before the dragons came to the palace. Darling is excited about the slippers too, for an altogether different reason. She knows the truth about the magic of the castle and she hopes that these slippers might be the key to discovering more about the secrets of the magic. And speaking of keys, she’s still not figured out where the secret key she has leads to. Roger and Gillian have been helping, but Darling can’t seem to find the right keyhole. To make matters worse, something mysterious is disrupting the wedding plans and the dragons that lurk on the castle roof are growing restless. She knows it might be any day now that they get loose and it’s becoming more and more important that she discover the truth about her legacy as one of the last Wrays. Time is running out for Darling – can she solve this mystery too?

My Thoughts: From the first book in the series, I enjoyed Susan Maupin Schmid’s entertaining voice and well-paced narratives, each reminiscent of other successful fantasy authors whom I’ve enjoyed. My younger sister was something of a vetting audience for the first book and highly enjoyed it as well. The characters are as engaging as ever, though I’d definitely give the previous two books a reread so you’re not lost picking this book up.

Parental Advisories: As usual, this is a clean and entertaining read with no reason to give parents worry.

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August Isle

Though summer is long gone, Ali Standish’s novel August Isle is sure to transport you to a summer beach with a fresh slice of tangy pie on your lap.

The Story: All Miranda wants to do is relax and enjoy this summer. Is that too much to ask? Finally she might be able to bake. Maybe she might even be able to share her summer with her mom for once. Unfortunately, her family has other plans. With her father taking on a big case and her mom leaving for what feels like the millionth time, Miranda is going to the one place she’s always wanted to go, the one time she doesn’t want to go there: August Isle. She doesn’t know much about the place where her mother grew up, but she’s hoping that by being there maybe she can discover the truth of why her mom no longer loves her as she used to. After Miranda breaks into a supposedly abandoned shack across the harbor, she, her cousins Sammy, and new friend Caleb are stuck helping out old Mr. Taylor, whose secrets may have more to do with her than she thinks. From sailing lessons that terrify her to the baking contest that she’s ashamed she can’t actually bake for, this is going to be a summer that she’ll never forget.

My Thoughts: Ali Standish outdoes herself with this excellent novel. Miranda is a likeable and relatable main character and the supporting cast is just as enjoyable to read about. The plot, pacing, and prose are well-written; this is easily one of the most engaging reads I’ve picked up within the month. The emotional points of this book are touching and you may even find yourself a little choked up at the end.

Parental Advisories: Cussing is made mention of during the book, but is never actually written out.

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The Next Great Paulie Fink

Psychological twists and cultural myths are explored, albeit through the small medium of rurual Mitchell School. Don’t underestimate Ali Benjamin though – The Next Great Paulie Fink brings character, wit, and thoughtful perusal of an intellectual topic that goes beyond a simple children’s story.

The Story: How does one go from being a nobody to being a legend? Simple: have many stories. For Paulie Fink, it doesn’t matter that he’s missing. The entirety of his school knows who he is and they’ve all got opinions on the boy they thought they knew. But is Paulie Fink really the class clown, who always had a quippy comeback? Is he the evil genius, who always had a trick up his sleeve? No matter who he was, Caitlyn now has to find a replacement, an individual who can live up to the name. The only problem? Caitlyn doesn’t really know who Paulie Fink was, which means she has no idea who she’s looking for now. Through the stories and interviews from across Mitchell School and a couple of rather intriguing philosophy classes (plus some, um, interesting goat shenanigans), Caitlyn is discovering more about Paulie, her school, and even herself than she ever thought possible.

My Thoughts: I genuinely enjoyed the concept and reading of this book. Paulie Fink was an interesting enigma and the unique format of the book (told via Caitlyn’s point of view, interviews, written entries, etc) made this fun to page through. I actually really recommend this book for reader anywhere from early elementary to junior high or the beginning of high school just for the kind of philosophical topics discussed.

Parental Advisories: Typical juvenile humor sprinkled liberally throughout, but clean in the ways that most parents would be concerned with.

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Lizzie Flying Solo

For animal fans and middle grade readers who are looking for stories with lots of heart and hope, I would recommend checking out this week’s read Lizzie Flying Solo written by Nanci Turner Stevenson.

The Story: Once upon a time Lizzie had a home and a complete family with her dad, who was not a criminal. Now she has neither of those things and instead she’s living with her mom in an inbetween home. Waiting for her father’s trial and life to land back in normal-town is hardly easy. Still, she has Bryce, an equally new student at her school, as a friend and even better, she has the stables nearby where she can watch Fire. Lizzie has never been able to forget about the difficulty of her life like she can when she watches this horse. If only she could ride him; better yet, Lizzie really wants to own Fire. But with the financial situation her family is in, there’s no way she’s going to be able to pay for a pony. Still, Lizzie’s fortunes may worsen, but her spirit is not beaten. She knows that she and Fire are destined to ride together and if she can’t fix the broken things then she will rise above them.

My Thoughts: This is a quaint and straightforward story that is what it claims to be. Lizzie is an engaging main character surrounded by genuine characters who have lives of their own, engaging backstories and complicated stories of their own. The plucky spirit of ambition and drive that Lizzie has to get her goals is actually a pretty great example for middle graders. This is definitely a middle grade book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well written or interesting. I’d definitely recommend this for younger readers.

Parental Advisories: Child abuse is made mention of and divorce is a heavily explored topic in this book, so this is definitely a book that you want to discuss if you’re handing this off to younger readers.

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The Camelot Code

King Arthur is revived in this middle-grade novel that brings urban fantasy to the modern century. Mari Mancusi brings this innovative new story to life in her newest novel The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek.

The Story: Sophie is not exactly the most popular girl. Stuart is not exactly the most athletic boy. Guinevere is not exactly the most normal girl. Arthur is not exactly the most powerful boy. The only difference? The two pairs of kids live centuries apart and one pair of kids are destined to be some of the most important in English legend. Together, though, this unlikely crew might have to be something more. When Arthur finds himself in a present without his best friend, where his tragic story is well known, and where he’s disheartened. The world as Stuart and Sophie know it is getting a whole lot stranger, but luckily they’re something of experts in this field. Well, more or less. Surely years of fantasy video gaming has to count for something, right? Either way, Stuart and Sophie have been tasked by Merlin to help Arthur get back to his own time before England collapses. Worse, Arthur’s enemies have come to the future as well and they’re not going to stop until they have taken control of both the past and present.

My Thoughts: Mari Mancusi does an excellent job of playing with the psychological aspects of the King Arthur story. What would have happened had Arthur known about his legend? For middle grade and younger readers, this is an exciting adventure/fantasy story with a good emotional backbone and relatable characters. The plot is well woven and the pacing is great.

Parental Advisories: This is a clean read, though there is a bit of romance intertwined (but one can expect that in a story about King Arthur).

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As You Wish

I promised more YA reads via my IG (@_little_reader if you haven’t checked it out previously) and this week we’re reading one that I definitely think is worth at least one read in a lifetime (though THAT in of itself is an interesting argument).

The Story: Madison, Arizona is about as boring as boring gets. At least, that’s what the inhabitants do their best to convince visitors and passerby of. For Eldon, Madison is about as boring as he lies it is, even with the magnificent secret. Because, oh yeah, Madison’s caves out in the desert hide more than just rocks and hot springs: they have a special cave where every eighteen year old gets to make a wish. Not just any wish of course, the citizens of their backwater town aren’t that dense. Like anything else, there are rules. But even with rules hearts are broken and lives are ruined. Even with rules, Eldon knows the truth about how even the most harmless wishes can do the worst damage. His eighteenth birthday is fast approaching but he has no idea what to wish for, what will hurt the least. Maybe with the help of his best friend, Merritt, and the weird religious girl, Norie, Eldon can discover the truth about wishes – and maybe make the craziest wish of all.

My Thoughts: Right off the bat, I would not recommend this to readers younger than 17+. Sadly, like the majority of YA novels these days, the language scattered throughout is vulgar and there is made mention of explicit actions (though nothing is detailed). That having been said, Chelsea Sedoti does a really good job with this book. I’ve heard complaints of the main character being a jerk who is hard to like (agreed 100%) and of the plot being slow (somewhat), but I would argue that this is the kind of read that you have to have the taste for. I enjoy character exploration and that is what this book is supreme at. The audience really gets to see the repercussions of getting what you wish for told through flashbacks that – for some at least – had me moved. Eldon, while a selfish jerk, is actually a fairly engaging narrator.  The philosophical aspects are not to be ignored as well, as the entirety of the book is spent making the reader think of the implications of such a powerful choice. All in all, if I were to rate this book I’d give it 3/5 stars. It’s not exceptional, but it’s much better than it’s been made out to be.

Parental Advisories: As previously stated, this is a book filled with language not appropriate for anyone, let alone younger readers. Parents who see their teens with this novel should be well advised to understand that despite the lessons built into the novel, poor decisions, explicit actions, and crude language is scattered throughout the book.

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Speechless

 This week on the blog we’re reading a heartfelt story by author Adam P. Schmitt. This is a read that can be enjoyed by anyone, with its more psychological themes and mature character dynamics. Lets take a look.

The Story: The last thing Jimmy wants to do is go to his cousin’s funeral. Ok, the last thing he wants to do is go in pants that threaten to cut off the circulation below his waist. No, scratch that, the very last thing he wants to do is give a speech in too-tight pants at his cousin’s wake. Did Jimmy dislike his cousin? That would be light way to put it. It’s not as if he doesn’t have reason – Patrick made a mess of everything he touched, even the stuff that matters most. No wonder he’s having such a hard time finding something to speak about when it comes to his cousin. What can one say about a boy he hardly liked, let alone can find a really good memory about. But as Jimmy remembers his cousin and goes over his memories he realizes that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the boy he’s grown up with then he’s given him credit for – and maybe Patrick has given him something to say after all.

My Thoughts: From the first sentence of this book, my attention was grabbed. This is an interesting read that really grabs one’s attention. It’s superbly well written, with a voice that feels real and a protagonist who is at turns alarming and sympathetic. This is a book that one can enjoy, regardless of age. With its mature themes, subtle character relationships, and satisfying ending, this is a book that will leave you thoughtful and wanting to read more from the author.

Parental Advisories: This book has one almost cuss (b****) and one obvious cuss a**hole. Parental discretion advised, but it’s up to you. This is definitely a good book to discuss with the reader no matter their age.

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