Review: The Shadow Throne

Jennifer The-Shadow-Throne-Front-Cover-677x1024Nielsen has given intermediate age readers a satisfying, often thrilling conclusion to an outstanding trilogy. King Jaron of Carthya must find a way to lead his peace-loving people to victory over three invading armies. If he fails he will lose his throne, his loved ones, and his life. His foes are many and powerful, and his allies few and faithful. If there is to be any hope of preserving the kingdom he must spread his resources thinly and wisely, utilize every resource and skill to its utmost. But this time Jaron’s best may not be good enough.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coming Soon: Embers and Ice (Rouge #2)

Here’s good news for fans of Isabella Modra’s intriguing novel Rouge, which is reviewed below and available for purchase on amazon.com. The content summary and cover for the second book in the series, Embers and Ice, have been released. It’s a great cover design with the hand reaching through the hardened lava that imprisons her, and the teaser hooked this reader quickly!  Here it is:

Everyone is wrong about hell. EAI-ebook[1]
 
Vulnerable and weak after her battle with her guardian Joshua, Hunter is snatched up by the Agents who work for a ruthless and cold institution called ICE. There, Hunter is imprisoned with other mutants of different ages and abilities, forced into a nightmare of constant experiments and brutality. 
 
Joshua is a mess. Frantically trying to fix the mistakes he made, Joshua embarks on a quest across the country to find Hunter and rescue her. But the company he keeps is continuously distracting him, and Joshua can’t control the strange feelings of love and comfort that begin to boil inside his cold, icy heart.
 
Will Hunter escape and find her fire again, or will Joshua and his mistakes find her first?
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review: Rouge

Modra, Isabella. Rouge. epub. Available through amazon.com. 2013.  Rouge

Hunter Harrison is not like other people. From the moment of her conception she has been different, marked, set apart. Hunter has special powers and abilities thanks to a combination of unique circumstances: a geologist-vulcanologist father who brought home a mysterious rock that seems to contain a life form and a doctor mother who became infected with an engineered disease known as Feucotetanus. These unfortunate circumstances lead to the sudden and violent deaths of her parents while endowing Hunter with an inner, living fire that renders her invulnerable to heat and capable of producing fire at will or when she loses control. Hunter is raised by Joshua, a coolly calculating geologist who was her father Leo’s best friend and cared for Hunter’s mother, Liz, after Leo’s was killed. Liz died in childbirth, begging Joshua to care for and protect her child, and Joshua has devoted his life to carry out that promise.

Shortly after Hunter turns eighteen, she loses her temper during an argument with Joshua. As her temper rages, Hunter feels a fire rising and burning within her, and suddenly, the kitchen stove behind Joshua explodes in a fireball. Joshua realizes he must tell Hunter the truth about herself. He reveals the fiery circumstances of her conception, birth, and her very being, explaining that her father died because one of the mysterious rocks he brought home from a volcano has broken open, releasing a lava-like creature that started the fire that killed her father and melded with the Feucotetanus in her mother’s blood. The combination made Liz impervious to fire and also united with the newly-formed embryo Liz had conceived to make Hunter impervious to fire like her mother but also give her special powers over fire. He explains that they must work together to master her powers and keep them secret from others.

Hunter meets a classmate, Eli, at a party and for the first time finds someone who likes her for herself. As she grows closer to Eli, she finds herself more and more at odds with Joshua and more determined to make her own choices about her life and her powers. She realizes her abilities can be both a curse and a gift, depending upon how she chooses to use them. An explosion in a school science lab presents Hunter with a life and death situation which alters the course of her life forever.

This first novel offers an original concept that will appeal to superhero and comic fans. Give a beautiful young heroine a nice but normal boyfriend; an over-protective, slightly maniacal guardian; and fire abilities that put Smaug to shame, and you have sure-fire teen appeal. The manuscript does, however, contain several mechanical errors that should be corrected by a good editor before the book appears in print. Sex scenes, although not graphic, make this book better suited to high school collections rather than middle school.

This novel was provided in digital format by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in young adult | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review: Counting by 7s

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s. New York:Dial, 2013. Grades 5-8.

As the cover suggests, twelve-year-old Willow Chance is always swimming against the tide. A genius who is misunderstood by almost everyone around her, she has only had one friend in her life, a girl whose friendship faded after she moved away. Willow aces a difficult exam in record time shortly after beginning at a new middle school. The teacher is convinced Willow cheated and sends her to the principal who refers her for counseling with Dell Duke. She begins to reach out to Mai, the high school Vietnamese girl who brings her brother to counseling sessions that precede Willow’s. Duke is taking all three young people home in his car the day Willow’s parents are killed in a horrific car accident. The police are at the Chance home when Duke pulls into the drive. Mai quickly realizes Willow has no one to help and tells the police they are old family friends and will take her in. They all go to the nail salon managed by Mai’s mother where Mai explains the situation in Vietnamese so the police and social worker do not realize the lie. Thus begins the temporary custody arrangement that changes all their lives. This is a story with plenty of grief and little comic relief. It is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. The themes of the healing and transformative powers of nature, service and caring shine through every character.””As the cover suggests, twelve-year-old Willow Chance is always swimming upstream. A genius who is misunderstood by almost everyone around her, she has only had one friend in her life, a girl whose friendship faded after she moved away. Willow aces a difficult exam in record time shortly after beginning at a new middle school. The teacher is convinced Willow cheated and sends her to the principal who refers her for counseling with Dell Duke. She begins to reach out to Mai, the high school Vietnamese girl who brings her brother to counseling sessions that precede Willow’s. Duke is taking all three young people home in his car the day Willow’s parents are killed in a horrific car accident. The police are at the Chance home when Duke pulls into the drive. Mai quickly realizes Willow has no one to help and tells the police they are old family friends and will take her in. They all go to the nail salon managed by Mai’s mother where Mai explains the situation in Vietnamese so the police and social worker do not realize the lie. Thus begins the temporary custody agreement that changes all their lives.

This is a story with plenty of grief and little comic relief. It is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. The themes of the healing and transformative powers of nature, service and caring shine through every character.

Posted in children | Leave a comment

Review: Handmade Books for Everyday Adventures

Zamrzla, Erin. Handmade Books for Everyday Adventures. St. Paul, MN: Roost Books, 2013.      handmade books cover                                                                          

I have read several books on bookmaking by hand. Most have standard ideas, and if you’ve read one you’ve pretty much read them all. Most will have a handful of usable ideas at best, but Zamrzla’s new work is an exception. I found project after project that is ideal for use with children either in a family or classroom setting, though most are too complicated for young children to make alone. I found the journal and collection bag of particular interest, perfect for scavenger unts, nature walks, or for that “junk pockets” child who picks up and saves all sorts of things all the time. Found items are to be placed in the bag and details written in the attached book. When through it all folds newly up and tucks away. But that is by no means the only fun and practical idea here. There is a waterproof book for poolside or the beach, a photo notes book to attach to a camera to record settings and notes about those special pictures, another book made from library book pockets and cards, and so much more. This book is accessible to neophytes to the art but is ideal for experienced book crafters.

Posted in adult | Leave a comment

Review: Tuesdays at the Castle

George, Jessica Day. Tuesdays at the Castle. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. Grades 3-6.

Princess Celie is the Castle favorite. The capital C is significant, for not only do all the inhabitants of the royal castle of Sleyne love Celie, the youngest daughter of King Glower the Seventy-ninth and his queen, but Castle Glower loves her, too. The castle is much more than a residence and seat of power. It is a mysterious, living entity that selects the heir to the throne. Hence, every king of Sleyne assumes the name Glower. The castle makes its intentions and will known by adding and subtracting, moving and rearranging rooms, usually on Tuesdays. Celie loves Tuesdays at the castle and the changes it often brings. She spends hour after hour mapping the castle and knows it better than almost anyone. Nevertheless, she is disappointed when she, her older sister Lilah and her 14-year-old brother, Crown Prince Rolf, are forced to remain behind at Castle Glower while their parents travel to the distant School of Wizardry to attend her oldest brother’s graduation. The royal entourage is attacked on the return journey, and the king, queen and Prince Bran are presumed dead though their bodies are not recovered. As neighboring kingdoms send emissaries for the memorial service it quickly becomes evident that someone is plotting to take over the throne. The royal children are unsure who to trust, but Celie knows they can rely on the castle to help them save themselves and the kingdom.

Young readers looking for dynamic female characters will love Princess Celie. She is the youngest in a strong character set: Rolf is wise and brave beyond his years, Lilah is calm and capable, but Celie’s determination and courage dominate this satisfying fantasy for grades 3-6, and her success will give readers a vicarious sense of empowerment.

Posted in children, children's consideration, professional commentary | Leave a comment

Review: Three Times Lucky

Turnage, Sheila. Three Times Lucky. New York: Dial, 2012. Grades 4-7.

Let me preface this commentary by stating that I love Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a reason Miss Lee’s only novel leads all others in voting for the Best Novel of the 20th Century on Goodreads.com. It speaks to readers. It resonates with them. Scout’s voice rings true, and Atticus Finch is the ideal Southern gentleman father. That said, Sheila Turnage’s debut novel could be sub-titled To Kill a Mockingbird for Pre-teens. Before you cry, “Sacrilege!” let me explain. Plop Miss Jean Louise Finch in today’s world, substitute an amnesiac with military bearing and a slightly kooky cook for Atticus and Calpurnia, and – VOILA! – you have Mo LeBeau, “rising sixth-grader.” Mo is what Scout would be without the tempering effects of her wise, gentle father. Mo’s voice establishes the setting and marks the tone from the first paragraph, just as Scout’s does. The more I read, the more firmly the two girls entwined in my mind.

Mo came to Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, as a newborn infant swept in on the wreckage of a hurricane. Her parent figures (there appears to be nothing legal in this arrangement) are The Colonel, a man with no memory of his past before he wrecked his car in that same hurricane and awoke to find himself clutching a newborn baby whom he christened Moses, not realizing at the time that the infant was a girl, and Miss Lana, the wig-wearing, driving impaired cook at the town’s only cafe. The cafe is the heart of the tiny town, and readers quickly get to know all its inhabitants, from the cantankerous Mr. Jesse (think Bob Ewell in TKAM) to Mo’s best friend Dale, the small, often-bruised son of an abusive drunkard father (“I used to think Dale was clumsy. Then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon got drunk.”) and more, including Anna Celeste Simpson, Mo’s “Sworn Enemy for Life.”

Mo’s origin is a nagging mystery that motivates much of her behavior, including a large part of her antagonism for Anna Celeste, who, “…behind my back, says I’m a throw-away kid, with no true place to call home. So far, nobody’s had the guts to say it to my face, but I hear whispers the way a knife-thrower’s assistant hears knives.” She writes diary entries to her “upstream mother” and drops messages in bottles hoping that one day her unknown mother will find one and ultimately find her. This “throw away” aversion leads to one of the most moving passages in the book when her best friend Dale finally lets his temper explode, blasting Mo with the truth that her mother threw her away only once, while others are thrown away time and time again by the uncaring people in their lives.  

Turnage’s colorful language is peppered with Southern phrases and idioms that some may think condescending and slyly mocking of the backwater people who occupy her pages. Rather, it is an authentic homage to the rural South from a lifelong resident of eastern North Carolina. Teachers will find countless excerpts illustrating the six traits of writing, especially voice and word choice, in Mo’s story. Add racing, murder and kidnapping into this mix, and you have a novel that is sure to be a winner with intermediate-age readers and the adults who read with them.

Posted in children's consideration, professional commentary | Leave a comment