The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

Posted on

THE EXPLORERS:
THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY
by Adrienne Kress
(Delacorte Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

THE BLOG TOUR

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley book cover image

 

Allow me to take the liberty, given the wit and wildly sassy style of Adrienne Kress’s fantastical middle grade novel, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley, to share with you, readers, the several unused openings that I toyed with before settling upon something completely different though perhaps a bit more mundane:

Can a pig ever be considered precocious?

Teeny hats off (and I mean that in the best possible way) to author Adrienne Kress for her latest novel!

Kress had me at Explorers.

REVIEW:
Now, all those intros aside, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken inside the thrilling walls, doors, rooms and slide (yes, slide!) of The Explorers Society, one of the most marvelous places I’ve been to in a long time, and the driving force (to say the least) behind this very imaginative adventure. Getting to know the cool cast of characters whose journey kept me turning the pages as more and more secrets were revealed, was also tons of fun.

The story of The Explorers unfolds with the rescue of a pig in a teeny hat by a 12-year-old, rule-respecting, STEM scholar named Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also got a photographic memory. The pig, it turns out, belongs to a member of The Explorers Society, located in a seemingly innocuous building in a back alley near Sebastian’s routine route home. Rather than being rewarded for his helpful deed as logic would dictate, logic being another characteristic that can be attributed to young Sebastian, he is punished by the society’s president. Sebastian must now, to avoid arrest (yes, arrest!), do chores daily after school at the society in order to learn to take risks and expand his limited horizons.

As he becomes familiar with the amazing interior of the society (trust me, it is absolutely unreal!), Sebastian, prodded by the president Myrtle Algens, seeks to do something inappropriate that only someone who thrives on appropriateness can do. Just what that is, he hasn’t a clue. So, while unsure exactly how to push these boundaries, Sebastian accidentally uncovers a small hidden door behind which sits a box. Sebastian takes this box home and discovers in its contents assorted articles, photographs and other information about a disbanded group of explorers called the Filipendulous Five. When he asks Algens about them he is less than politely asked to leave the society’s premises and never return!

Upon departing, Sebastian encounters a forlorn-looking girl sitting outside. The girl, we learn, is Evie, an orphan on the run from some scary-looking dudes, one with a jaw wired shut, the other with (I kid you not!), a partially melted face. According to a letter she was given before she escaped the bad guys, Evie discovers she has an important connection to the The Explorers Society. This letter, written by her grandfather who she didn’t know was alive, indicates he’s in grave danger. Somehow though, this information, when shared with Algens, has gotten her kicked out of the building despite believing it would be a place of refuge. Things become even more confounding for the poor girl when Sebastian explains that her grandfather is none other than Alistair Drake, the head honcho of the Filipendulous Five! Soon Evie and Sebastian team up and take off on a series of exciting and risky exploits (it’s true, Sebastian skips school!) at the local zoo, the university, as well as inside The Explorers Society, all in an effort to find a mysterious key mentioned in the letter and save Evie’s grandfather while trying to elude wired-jaw guy and melted-face man.

The Explorers is a fabulously funny, fast-paced read with 27 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter contains just the right mix of mayhem, dialogue, description and derring-do. Kress’s imagination is boundless, something I’m certain middle graders looking to lose themselves in an adventure/mystery will appreciate. Her sense of humor is also spot on. I must mention here that I had the good fortune to be sent an advanced readers copy for the blog tour so the artwork that is due to accompany the novel wasn’t included. But I can’t wait to see it since the story itself is quite visual and would lend itself well to film or TV.

Now dear readers, the story doesn’t end here because there is definitely more to come in an as yet unnamed sequel that, I have to admit, is the appropriate thing to do when the author leaves you with a cliffhanger making you wonder what’s to become of Sebastian, Evie and the rest of the characters you’ve grown to care about. I’m also very curious as to whether Sebastian’s school ever calls his parents, that is unless all the action occurs on weekends. That would certainly calm his nerves. Watch this space! 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

More upcoming stops this week and next for the blog tour include:

Tuesday 5/9/17 – Geo Librarian
Wednesday 5/10/17 – Life by Candlelight
Thursday 5/11/17 – Jumpin Beans
Friday 5/12/17 – Always in the Middle

Monday 5/15/17 – Librarians Quest
Tuesday 5/16/17 – The Book Wars
Wednesday 5/17/17 – Middle Grade Mafioso
Thursday 5/18/17 – Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Friday 5/19/17 – Tween You & Me


The Wishing World by Todd Fahnestock – Virtual Tour

Posted on

 

 

THE WISHING WORLD
By Todd Fahnestock
– A Virtual Tour –
(Starscape Books; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

The Wishing World book cover

 

Join Lorelei, the eleven year old heroine of  The Wishing World, as she goes in search of her missing parents and brother and ends up in Veloran, a place made up of children’s dreams, fantastical creatures and adventure on every page. Tweens who love action, adventure and fantasy will find that Fahnestock’s new novel successfully combines all three elements, key ingredients of a page turning read.

Narolev’s Comet and a necklace made from comet stone are clever clues the author introduces early on following the abduction of Lorelei’s family by a mysterious monster. These clues, coupled with Lorelei’s indomitable spirit, lay the foundation for a quest that she will mount with the help of a Disney movie-like crew of magical creatures named Gruffy (a griffin), Squeak (a mouse), Pip (a toucan), and Ripple (a water breathing princess). Yes, this fast-paced story is packed with the most unusual characters, some human, others not. What stands out the the most is how imaginative the plot is. If wishes can come true, like they do in the Wishing World, are all wishes good ones? And if not, what conflicts will ensue when good wishes encounter bad ones? That’s exactly what Lorelei is up against as she must navigate the unpredictable world of Veloran. In fact, there’s never a dull moment making this a go-to read for those with short attention spans in need of instant gratification.

Lorelei learns from her devoted cohorts that she is a Doolivanti, one with magical powers that are soon realized when she writes imagined words and thoughts in the air that help save her and her friends more than once. As she traverses Veloran in pursuit of her family, Lorelei finds her wish to locate her parents and bring them home is thwarted by the wicked Ink King, another Doolivanti who has caused wanton suffering and death. Together with a brave army of assorted Veloranians (my terminology), Lorelei must face off against the Ink King in order to rescue her family and head home. In doing so, this plucky young heroine makes some important choices that will have far reaching and lasting consequences for her future and for the future of Veloran.

There’s good news at the conclusion of The Wishing World and that’s that a second volume is due out in 2018 for those like me who want to see where Fahnestock goes with this engaging premise and endearing cast of characters.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

 

Head shot of The Wishing World author Todd Fahnestock

Author Todd Fahnestock

Bio:
TODD FAHNESTOCK won the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age Award for one of his short stories, and is the author of the YA bestseller Fairmist as well as The Wishing World. Stories are his passion, but Todd’s greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. The Wishing World began as a series of bedtime stories for his children.

Synopsis:
In the Wishing World, dreams are real. You can transform into your own hero, find wild and whimsical friends, and wield power as great as your imagination. But Lorelei doesn’t know about any of that. All she knows is that a monster took her family.

It happened during a camping trip one year ago. Hiding inside the tent, she saw shadows, tentacles and a strange creature. By the time she got up the courage to crawl outside, the monster–and Lorelei’s mom, dad, and brother–were gone.

Lorelei is determined to find her family. When she accidentally breaks into the Wishing World, she discovers a way. It’s a land more wonderful than she could have imagined, a land of talking griffons, water princesses, and cities made of sand, where Lorelei is a Doolivanti–a wish-maker–who can write her dreams into existence.

There’s only one problem: the monster is a Doolivanti, too. What he wishes also comes true, and he’s determined to shove Lorelei out, keep her family, and make the whole Wishing World his. To save them, Lorelei must find the courage to face him, or her next wish may be her last.

Social Media Links:
Author Website
Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon

See Who Else is Writing About The Wishing World:
Virtual Tour Page


The Sword of Summer: Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

Posted on

THE SWORD OF SUMMER
Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan 
(Disney Hyperion; $19.99, Ages 9-12)

The_Sword_of_Summer_Magnus-Chase

Welcome to the first book in Rick Riordan’s new series,
The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Imagine this: it’s your 16th birthday. You wake up on a cold Boston street, your friends tell you this evil dude is looking for you … and not because he wants to bring you a birthday present. Your untrustworthy uncle reveals that you are the son of the Norse god, Frey, god of fertility of the land, peace and prosperity. Yeah, right. As the son of Frey you have the power to summon an ancient, long lost sword. Apparently, whoever wields it can do some pretty cool stuff with it. Some pretty scary stuff, too. And just think, all this time it’s been sitting at the bottom of the Charles River. Nasty.

Oh, and that evil dude looking for you? He’s the god Surt, Lord of Muspelheim, the realm of fire. He wants that sword, too. And not just to polish it up. See, he’s got this plan (or maybe it’s something like his destiny) to use the sword to free the wolf Fenir and set doomsday into motion. Wolves … dude, you hate wolves!

Someone has to stop him.

Could this be your destiny?

Ready to romp through the nine worlds of Asgard to prevent the end of the world? Well, before you take off, there’s just one. small. thing.

First, you gotta die.

Whew! So, are your ready for the The Sword of Summer, the first book in Riordan’s new series? I’ve got a feeling you’re hooked! From cold Boston streets, where the homeless (and not so prosperous) Magnus Chase lives, to the halls of Valhalla (the realm of the fallen heroes), prepare yourself for a wild and exhilarating ride through the many strange, wonderful, and sometimes frightening worlds of Asgard. Magnus and his friends, who include a snappy-dressing dwarf, a deaf elf, and a Muslim ex-Valkyrie, race against the clock to prevent a cataclysmic war.

Pursued by Valhalla heroes, giant wolves, and monsters, Magnus and his team bargain with powerful beings and magical creatures in order to prevent Surt from obtaining Frey’s sword, Sumanbrander. Whoever wields it has the power to bring about Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the gods Odin and Loki.

Percy Jackson fans will snap up this latest series (I can’t keep it on my library shelves). Using his now familiar model, Riordan has readers take a look at an unlikely hero struggling to understand who he is and the events swirling around him. Like all great heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, and yes, Percy Jackson), Magnus’ journey throughout the worlds of Asgard bring him a deeper understanding of self and greater empathy for his companions, who have sacrificed much to support him.

Riordan has inventively created a world blending Norse mythology with contemporary culture and peopled it with diverse characters in positive roles. In doing so, he shines a spotlight on contemporary issues such as Muslim culture, homelessness and people with special needs. Filled with nail-biting and dramatic action, it has the same irreverent humor found in Riordan’s earlier series.

Not familiar with Norse mythology? No problem, Riordan provides a handy glossary and other back matter materials to enhance the reader’s understanding of the ancient Norse world.

Visit all the worlds of Rick Riordan for more information on this and his other series.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

 


Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Posted on

CIRCUS MIRANDUS
Written by Cassie Beasley
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews & School Library Journal
A New York Times Book Review EDITOR’S CHOICE!

CircusMiranduscvr.jpeg

What more could you want in a book?
Some family secrets? Check!
A faithful new friend? Check!
An impossible quest? Check!
And an Invisible Magic Circus? What?
Exactly.

Grandpa Ephraim has told stories about Circus Mirandus for as long as ten year old Micah can remember. But are they real? Now Grandpa Ephraim is very sick and Micah needs to know the truth before it’s too late. Micah launches himself on an adventure to find out about the circus and the fantastic people and animals that perform there. Is this real magic? And will the man called the Lightbender really grant Grandpa Ephraim a miracle?

With an imaginative story and unique characters, this book takes you on a fast fun adventure. The writing style is emotionally and visually descriptive, and the story pulled me in right away. I immediately fell in love with the characters and their world.
Micah won my heart because of his growing courage and his deep love for Grandpa Ephraim. Jenny was the perfect new friend, enthusiastic, smart, and loyal. And, there was just the right amount of humor to keep my heart light as Grandpa Ephraim became sicker and Aunt Gertrudis became meaner.

Central to the world within this story was Circus Mirandus, a fantastic place that I wish I could visit myself. Seriously, you can’t get much better than this magic circus! And the Lightbender, with his unique but limited magic, kept me guessing till the end.
I could see Circus Mirandus in my head and I could feel Micah and Jenny in my heart. I enjoyed this book all the way through and the magic stayed in my heart when I was done!

Guest Reviewer – Jo Ann Banks

Jo Ann Banks is a writer of children’s stories, poems, and silly songs. Jo Ann has such an incredible love of children’s stories that some people say she never grew up. When she hears that, she just covers her ears and sings, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”

To learn more silly facts about her, go to joannbanks.com


Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School by Jen Calonita

Posted on

Flunked-Poison-Apples

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School
by Jen Calonita
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99, Ages 10+)

Middle Grade Novel Spotlight
featuring great giveaway opportunity on Rafflecopter.
Win one of five books! Enter today.

Advance Praise for Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School

FLUNKED-cvr.jpg“Charming fairy-tale fun.” – Sarah Mlynowski, author of the Whatever After series.

“Flunked is spellbinding and wickedly clever. Gilly is smart, spunky, and a hilarious narrator!” – Leslie Margolis, author of the Annabelle Unleashed and the Maggie Brooklyn mysteries.

“Flunked is a fresh and funny take on the enchanted world. (And who hasn’t always wanted to know what happened to Cinderella’s stepmother?”)” – Julie DeVillers, author of the Trading Faces identical twin series and Emma Emmets, Playground Matchmaker.

“A reform school where all the teachers are former villains. Kinda writes itself, right?” – Betsy Bird’s Librarian Preview

Book Info:

OUR MISSION:

To turn WICKED DELINQUENTS
and FORMER VILLAINS
into FUTURE HEROES

Gilly wouldn’t call herself wicked exactly…but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run- down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly’s a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself).

Until she gets caught.

Gilly’s sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School- where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its heroic mission. There’s a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder: can a villain really change?

AmazonJen Calonita | B&N | BAM |!ndigo | IndieBound

Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind, but Fairy Tale Reform School is her first middle grade series. She rules Long Island, New York with husband Mike, princes Tyler and Dylan, and Chihuahua Captain Jack Sparrow, but the only castle she’d ever want to live in is Cinderella’s at Disney World. She’d love for you to drop her a line at jencalonitaonline.com or keep the fairy tale going at http://books.sourcebooks.com/enchantasia/

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Excerpt from Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School –

There’s a boy up there, standing on the crystal chandelier! He has slightly curly blond hair and is wearing a uniform—­a navy sweater vest over a white shirt with khaki pants—­but his boots are muddy. He’s stepping on priceless crystals with cruddy boots? Is he insane?
“Jax! What are you doing up there?” Kayla whispers heatedly.
“I’m cleaning the crystal for Flora,” Jax says and rolls his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making
a break for it.”
Kayla applauds. “Yay! This time I know you can do it.”
I shade my eyes from the light bursting through the stained-­glass window next to the chandelier Jax is perched on. “Busting out? Why?” I ask Kayla. “I thought you said this place was cool.”
Jax laughs loudly and looks at me. I feel slightly stunned. I’ve never seen violet eyes before. “FTRS was fun for a while, but strange things have started happening and I don’t want to be here when something bad goes down.”
Strange things? What kind of strange things? Why does Kayla suddenly look pale?
“He’s exaggerating,” Kayla tells me, but she doesn’t sound convincing.
Drip. Whatever Jax is holding is leaking. Kayla and I move out of the way so we don’t get wet. “Grease,” Jax explains to me. “It lubes the window.” He swings the chandelier, and as it nears the window, he uses a fork to try to pry the window open. “A few more tries and I’ll have it.”
“Then what are you going to do, genius?” I ask. “You’re two stories up.”
Jax’s eyes gleam. “I’ve jumped from higher spots before.”
“It’s true,” Kayla says to me. “Jax once jumped from the gym to the dining hall turret. That was three stories up. We call him the Escape Artist. One time he even managed to break into Azalea and Dahlia’s rooms and borrowed their keys to the indoor pool so the whole dorm could take a midnight swim.”
“Impressive,” I tell him. “And I thought I was good at tricking obnoxious royals.”
“She stole a dragon’s tooth clip from one this morning,” Kayla fills him in.
“Nice,” Jax says. “Your first pull?”
“No, I’ve been doing it for a while,” I brag.
“Me too,” Jax says. “My father is a farmer. You can only get so far trading vegetables. I needed to kick things up a notch.”
For some reason, I don’t think any of us are going to make the transformation Headmistress Flora is looking for. “Why do you want to break out so bad?”
“I’ve got places to see, and Enchantasia isn’t one of them.” Jax swings the chandelier so hard the crystals clang together. The window latch pops open, and I watch Jax leap from the chandelier to the tiny window ledge. I’m in awe. Jax looks down at us smugly before pushing open the window. “Are you sure you two don’t want to join me?”
“There’s no time for us,” Kayla says. “Get out of here. Wait!” Her eyes widen. “You deactivated the alarm on the window, right?”
“There isn’t one,” Jax insists. “If there was, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” But when Jax lifts the window, we hear:
EEEEEE! EEEE! EEEE! Unauthorized exit! Unauthorized exit!
The shrieking sound is so intense that Kayla and I cover our ears. Within seconds, Flora is out of her office and running toward us.
Swoosh!
I feel something brush past me and I whirl around. When I look up at Jax again, a large, muscular man with a long mane of hair is hanging on to the window ledge, his furry hands pulling Jax back by his shirt. How did the man get up there without a ladder?
“Mr. Jax,” the man says in a low growl, “we really must stop meeting like this.”

Click here for the Fairy Tale Reform School Quiz:
If you get sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School, it will help to have an ally. Take the quiz and find out who your mentor would be.

Rafflecopter HTML (Open 2/22-3/31) 5 Print Copies of Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School

a Rafflecopter giveaway


WINTERFROST by Michelle Houts

Posted on

WINTERFROST written by Michelle Houts
(Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 8-12 )

WinterFrost-cvr.jpg

Michelle Hout’s WINTERFROST brings readers to the forests of Denmark for a sweet fantasy adventure that is perfect for the holiday season.

The Larsen family Christmas celebration takes an unexpected turn when the parents are called away, leaving 12-year-old Bettina in charge of the farm and her 1-year-old sister, Pia, for a few days. Bettina, a mature and responsible girl, is undaunted by the challenge. She’s confident that she can manage alone, especially since nothing ever happens on the sleepy island of Lolland in mid-winter.

But in the hustle and bustle of preparations, the family forgets to leave a bowl of warm, bubbling rice pudding in the barn on Christmas. Just as many families leave cookies for Santa, the Danes leave rice pudding for the nisse, tiny kind and clever elves who tend the livestock and stoke the fires. Klakke, the Larsen’s young and curious nisse, is hurt and resentful of the family’s forgetfulness, so he steals baby Pia from her carriage as she naps in the sunshine.

Bettina begins a frantic hunt for the baby until darkness falls. Unable to sleep, she finds a long-forgotten book belonging to her grandfather entitled How to Care for and Keep Your Nisse. From the book, Bettina learns that a disgruntled nisse might resort to mischief. Suddenly, she realizes that the forgotten bowl of rice pudding may have been the indirect cause of Pia’s disappearance.

Bettina’s belief in the nisse tenuously restored, she heads into the forest to look for Pia and enters a fantastic world of mythology and Danish folklore. Fans of tiny people stories like The Borrowers or The Littles will delight in the details that Houts incorporates, such as walnut shell chairs, firefly lanterns, and thistledown socks. The creative and unusual setting is a charming springboard for Bettina’s nisse adventures, following her as she flies on the neck of a goose, then a seagull, seeking a way to free her sister from a long-standing nisse family feud.

Hout’s unique, imaginative tale is a whimsical read for those just stepping into chapter books. The Nordic setting adds a fun twist to the fantasy adventure, and the brave, clever Bettina is an engaging heroine who thinks on her feet. Wrap up WINTERFROST as a perfect gift for young readers to enjoy during a snowy winter school vacation!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of WINTERFROST from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

Posted on

Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper
and illustrated by Raul The Third (Raul Gonzalez III)
(Chronicle Books, 2014; paperback $9.99, hardcover $22.99, Ages 8-12)

✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus & Publishers Weekly

Lowriders-in-space-cvr.jpg

Last month I met the editor of Lowriders in Space at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators) event and her enthusiasm about this new graphic novel was contagious. I couldn’t wait to read it and find out what all the buzz was about.  Now I know and intend to spread some serious bajito y suavecito (translation: low and slow) love your way! Lowriders in Space worked for me on so many levels, but I’ll start with Camper’s creative storyline since that’s what will capture kids’ attention and it’s what drives this novel forward.

Lowriders-in-Space-int-art.jpg

Interior artwork from Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third, Chronicle ©2014.

Middle grade readers will easily get on board with Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, the three amiable and unusual main characters whose impressive automobile-related skills help them reach new heights. The trio are eager to leave the used car dealership where they work and in order to do so they decide to enter the Universal Car Competition. With its grand prize haul of  “… a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel,” winning the UCC would provide the seed money needed to open their own garage. They immediately get started with a broken down shell of a car, ” … so slow it didn’t even go.” Then, utilizing their individual expertise (Lupe’s a self-taught auto-mechanic – YES, she fixes cars like a girl, Elirio’s a detail artist, and Flapjack’s an eight-armed cleaning marvel), they make a plan of action. The three contribute whatever funds they can muster up and find spare rocket parts at an old airplane junkyard. Will the resulting lowrider be special enough to win first place?

Camper’s tale is unique and engaging. It’s obvious she had a blast writing it. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it with anything but Raul’s original artwork and the impressive interplay between text and illustration. His ballpoint pen illustrations in black, blue and red on a yellowy-beige background are going to grab readers (even the most reluctant ones), pull them in and keep them thoroughly entertained. He’s created a retro feel that joyfully took me back to my youth, when buying comic books with my allowance was a much anticipated weekly outing. This book deserves multiple visits to pick up the many details included, so read, observe and admire.

Another highlight for me was how Camper’s incorporated many Spanish words and phrases for the reader to learn. Whenever there’s an * readers can find the translation below, plus there’s a glossary in the back with Mexican-American slang, car and astronomy terms (oh and don’t miss this section because there’s more to read afterwards and readers can get their appetites whet for Book 2).  So, in addition to having a strong Latino female character who repairs cars, Lowriders in Space also introduces readers to the culture of lowriders, it mixes in facts about outer space, and is equally accessible to reluctant readers as well as those simply seeking a rollicking ride that’s totally cosmic and caliente. In other words, this lowrider delivers!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel