THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras: First in a new Middle School Reader Series

May 21, 2019

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras

I’ve been really into historical fiction this year, reading especially the novels of the middle ages in Europe.  I especially love the tales from Wales, Ireland, and Scotland and how they intersect with British history.  So the new series for middle school and older readers set in medieval Scotland caught my attention.  It will be a terrific fit for readers who have loved The Song of the Lioness series.  Drest, the main character (and The Mad Wolf’s daughter of the title) reminds me a bit of Alanna:  she is brave, kind, courageous, and loyal.  We follow her on her quest to free her father and brothers from a castle prison after invading knights capture them, but leave Drest behind.  Drest is feisty enough to decide she can make it to the castle and set them free, though she isn’t sure how she’ll accomplish it.  On the way she picks up some very complex and interesting characters, whose different life experiences give her a chance to understand the many sides of truth.  The writing is superb; I was completely wrapped up in this thrilling and surprising adventure, and look forward to the next book in the series.


GIRAFFE PROBLEMS by Jory John and Lane Smith

May 11, 2019

Giraffe Problems By Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

It’s not easy being a giraffe, especially when your fellow African animals are so darn attractive.  At least that’s how Edward the giraffe feels.  His neck is just too. . .necky. “Everybody stares at it. This guy. That guy. Him. Her. Them. Whatever that is. Her again.”  And it’s true; most of his neighbors don’t respond very kindly to his very long neck.  Luckily, a wise turtle is able to convince Edward that his neck is just right for a giraffe. In a lovely fold-out page, we see Edward using his neck in a very giraffe-like manner. (And it also looks excellent in a bow tie.) Not only does the book carry a very powerful message, it is never sappy and comes alive with the author and illustrator’s well-known sly humor and wit.  Highly recommended!

JUST JAIME (Emmie and Friends) by Terri Libenson

May 4, 2019

Just Jaime (Emmie and Friends) by Terri Libenson

Once you’re in middle school. issues of friendship are at the forefront.  Books to the rescue, since you can read about other characters and their middle school dilemmas and try out different solutions, empathize with characters, and discuss with your own friends.  It only works, of course, if the stories you read are true-to-life, interesting, humorous–and it doesn’t hurt if they are graphic novels.  Terri Libenson has become one of our go-to middle school authors. (see our reviews:  Invisible Emmie, Positively Emmie).  Her latest–Just Jaime–is equally compelling; here, we share Jaime’s ups, and of course downs, with her long-time best friend Maya.  If you know middle schoolers who are looking for an engrossing read, you’ll know what to recommend!

MAC UNDERCOVER:  MAC B., KID SPY #1 by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery

April 27, 2019

Mac Undercover: Mac B., Kid Spy #1 by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery

What would you do if the Queen of England called you and asked for your help on a dangerous mission?  If you’re like Mac B., you’d agree–only once the Queen writes a note to his school
and another for his mom.   Then, Mac flies off to England for a mysterious adventure. And of course, Mac B. is Mac Barnett and as he tells it, he was a spy for the Queen when he was a kid.  Yes, Mac Barnett is the narrator and main character–as a younger version of himself.  Lots of silliness and fun in this rollicking adventure.  And even some true history sneaked it:  like the Queen’s love of corgis, and the quite tragic history of jeans in the former USSR.  I also love the illustrations, the larger print type, and the short chapters, which will all appeal to the 7-10 year-olds this book is perfect for (and the their parents/teachers/caregivers).  I always appreciate Barnett’s offbeat humor, sp I can vouch for its appeal in that area as well.  And good news:  there are now more books in the series (three as of spring of 2019).


April 20, 2019

Fallen Empires:  Cleopatra in Space #5 by Mike Maihack

Spring Break seemed like a good time to bring the grand-twins the latest books in a favorite series.   Fallen Empires was just such a book (and I must admit, it was satisfying to see it was such a compelling hit).  Xavius Octavian–super villain who went from being Cleo’s best friend to a hard-hearted and ruthless dictator–continues his assault on the galaxy.  We also learn more of the complicated history that made him what he is.  Cleo continues to be her confident, plucky, amazing self, and the other characters create a diverse and satisfying part in the adventure tale.  The art is simply amazing in portraying Cleo’s action sequences and her special personality.  I continue to love the futuristic Egypt landscape, with its pyramid skyscrapers and gleaming buildings. The series is really a lot of fun to read and reread, looking for details in the graphics.  I understand there is one more book planned in the series. . .I’ll be watching for it.  It doesn’t seem possible that we first read Cleo’s adventures way back 4 years when the twins were 8 years old; we reviewed the Book #1 Target Practice enthusiastically.  You can also check out our reviews of Book 2:  The Thief and the Sword,and Book 4 The Golden Lion.  Though the kids are now 6th graders instead of second graders, their delight in the series remains, so I can attest to its interest for a range of ages.  Check it out!



April 13, 2019

The Bad Guys:  Intergalactic Gas (The Bad Guys #5) by Aaron Blabey

A couple of years ago, I discovered (and recommended) The Bad Guys (#1).  Since that time, the series has grown to 9 titles!  I kept up with the first couple and shared them with our nephew Ian.  This week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my great-nephew (!) Roger and going to the Seattle pubic library during spring break. Browsing through the books, Great-Uncle Jim pulled out book #5, remembering how much Ian had enjoyed the early books in the series.  We brought the book home, and read it aloud, (though it was the perfect reading level for 6-year-old Roger, who has definitely cracked the code). We all laughed so hard we were practically crying.  In this story, the Bad Guys are still trying to convince the world that they  have reformed and are actually Good Guys.  When they discover the world is ending, they are determined to save it.  To succeed, they must “borrow” a rocket and come up with a series of intricate plans.  But Mr. Piranha throws a wrench in the works when he might just have eaten a few too many bean burritos.  Uh oh. . . Luckily for the friends, they use his farting gas explosions to save the day.  Silly, funny, and fun to read.  (But be warned–a lot of potty humor jokes, so if you don’t want your kids hearing them it may not be a good fit.)  If this one strikes you and your kids’ fancy, check out the other titles.  We sent Roger The Bad Guys:  Attack of the Zittens, and just heard via email that he sat right down and read it as soon as it arrived.  We can highly recommend the readability for advanced first-graders, and second-grade readers, though the series is fun for all ages to share together.

A QUESTION OF HOLMES by Brittany Cavallaro: The Charlotte Holmes Series Conclusion

April 6, 2019

A Question of Holmes, (Charlotte Holmes, Book 4) by Brittany Cavallaro

Cavallaro’s contemporary Holmes and Watson retellings stand out in recent YA novels for their clever dialogue, intriguing plots and complex characters.  I have enjoyed all the mysteries and was not pleased to learn this was to be the conclusion to the series.  But despite my misgivings, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the final chapter.  In this book, Holmes and Watson have a chance to reset their romance and start again, this time with their solid history and a sense of trust between them.  But while attending a summer program, they are drawn into a murder mystery–a new case for Charlotte.  The plot revolves around a “cold case” of the summer past and is set in the theatre group at Cambridge.  I found the conclusion to be very satisfying, allowing some sweet closure, and imaginings of this dynamic duo’s further adventures.  Kudos to Cavallaro!  I await her next books with eagerness.