Monday, February 19, 2018

#MMGM Review: Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett

From the Publisher:

In Magikos, life is dictated by the Book of Fate's ancient predictions, including the birth of a royal Chosen One who will save the realm. Princess Marabel has grown up in the shadow of her twin brother, Marco, who everyone assumes is the true Chosen One. While Marco is adored and given every opportunity, Marabel is overlooked and has to practice her sword fighting in secret.

But on the night of their thirteenth birthday, Marco is kidnapped by an evil queen, and Marabel runs to his rescue. Outside the castle walls for the first time, accompanied by her best friend and a very smug unicorn, Marabel embarks on a daring mission that brings her face-to-face with fairies, trolls, giants--and the possibility that all is not as it seems in Magikos.

My Thoughts:

This was a fun, fresh take on the traditional fairytale/princess story--and one not just for girls.

I liked the humor in this story, the tongue-in-cheek references to modern technology, and the go-getting attitude of Marabel, despite playing second fiddle to her brother. It was a quick read, and one I could see being really fun to read aloud, at home or in the classroom.

Recommended for kids (and grown-ups) who like fairytales, but are looking for a new take on the traditional stories.

**NetGalley copy provided for review**

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Cozy Mystery Book Review: Wedding Cake Crumble by Jenn McKinlay

Publishing date: Apr. 8, 2018

From the Publisher:

Wedding bells and death knells are ringing for the Fairy Tale Cupcake crew in this latest mystery in the New York Times bestselling series

With Angie and Tate's wedding just around the corner, it's a happy--but very busy--time for Mel. Not only is she doing double duty as both the maid of honor and best man, but her bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, has just been hired to provide cupcakes for a famous author's book signing. But when the author turns up dead, it's just the start of a murder mystery that Mel must solve.

My Thoughts:

This was the first book I read in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series, so I was expecting to take some time getting up to speed. Not so: I was quickly familiar with the characters, who are charming and just plain fun to hang out with.

The murder mystery was solid. I liked how the author (or characters) didn't take herself too seriously, and made a little fun of the fact that there was yet another murder in their small little town and social circle. In fact, the first few chapters reveal that several murders were committed before we get to the main crime: the murder of a local author with lots of skeletons in her closet.

The story drags a little toward the last quarter of the book, when two of the main characters get married. But I imagine that faithful readers will enjoy this part.

Jenn McKinlay has the cozy mystery genre down. I'd recommend this series, and think I might go read book one now... 

**NetGalley copy provided for review**

Friday, January 19, 2018

Congrats to the Edgar Nominees!

The Edgar nominees were just announced--congrats to everyone who made the list! Here are the top contenders in Juvenile and YA:


Audacity Jones Steals the Show by Kirby Larson (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
Vanished! By James Ponti (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster – Simon & Schuster BFYR)
NewsPrints by Ru Xu (Scholastic – Graphix)
The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Feiwel & Friends)
Grit by Gillian French (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperTeen)
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – Balzer + Bray)

Monday, January 15, 2018

MMGM Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti & Tony Cliff

Publication date: Jan 23rd 2018

From the Publisher: 

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

My Thoughts: 

I can't say enough good things about the Spy on History series (first book was on Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring)--I wish it had been around sooner. I often do library/teacher convention talks on how to reach reluctant readers, and this is a perfect example of a non-fiction title that would bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction for kids who may not like to read. 

The story is one of those footnote-in-history ones, about engineers tasked with deceiving the Germans in WWII. We follow soldier Victor Dowd and the Ghost Army as their missions are challenging, and seemingly too difficult to accomplish. 

I love how there are graphic novel-style illustration throughout, plus excerpts in bold, so the story visually moves along. The author does a brilliant job at building the arc of the Ghost Army's achievement, finding the thriller-like story in history, while not trivializing the sacrifice made by the people the Ghost Army was fighting for.  

There's a historical note in the back, plus a code for kids to crack, which is fun. This book, and the series, is an exciting addition for MG readers. I'll look forward to the next book. 

**NetGalley provided e-copy for review**

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy 2018, everyone! I hope it’s a great year for you…
I’m making plans for 2018 (I like plans better than resolutions, which always seem a little vague), with equal parts writing and reading in the comfort of my office, as well as getting out into the world. I try not to be a hermit.
Here are my goals; share yours if you’re willing in the comments…

I’m working on a MG mystery, very fun and super structured in a mystery way, if that makes sense. A true whodunit for kids. It’s fun so far; I plan to spend January and probably part of February on the first draft. Kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only in January, which makes more sense anyway. January is cold and dull otherwise. 
I made myself set a reading goal, fifty-two books, which is one a week. Totally doable, I say. I read from picture books to mysteries for adults; I’ll post more reviews here too, as I read.
Out in the Wild World
I'm traveling this year, mostly around Colorado, but here’s the breakdown for now:

Feb. 7-10, 2018: Colorado Council International Reading Association Conference, Author visits 101 presentation

Feb. 10, 2018: ALA Midwinter 2018, Meet the Author at SinC booth 649, 9-11 a.m. 

Mar. 3, 2018: Colorado Book Festival, Denver Public Library 

Mar. 17, 2018: Denver Children's Festival of Stories, hosted by Second Star to the Right Bookstore, Denver, CO

Jun. 5, 2018: nErDcampKS, Heston, KS

Mystery TV

Okay, so it’s time for me to do more writing and reading, and less binge-watching. But I did get caught up on season two of The Travelers—love this science fiction series! It’s on Netflix… And of course, there’s Broadchurch. Still awesome as ever. 
That’s it for me. Oh, and I want to take more photographs and learn to play the banjo. I’m aiming high this year. 
How about you?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Cozy Mystery Review: Stowed Away by Barbara Ross

From the publisher:

It’s June in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and Julia Snowden and her family are working hard to get their authentic Maine clambake business ready for summer. Preparations must be put on hold, however, when a mysterious yacht drops anchor in the harbor—and delivers an unexpected dose of murder . . .

When Julia’s old prep school rival Wyatt Jayne invites her to dinner on board her billionaire fiancĂ©’s decked-out yacht, Julia arrives to find a sumptuous table set for two—and the yachtsman dead in his chair. Suspicion quickly falls on Wyatt, and Julia’s quest to dredge up the truth leads her into the murky private world of a mega-rich recluse who may not have been all that he seemed . . .

My thoughts:

I'm such a fan of the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and this book (the sixth in the series) did not disappoint. The story starts with Julia and her family--characters that are such a joy to visit with every book--deciding if they'll renovate or restore the family home on Morrow Island, all while preparing for the clambake season.

Old school 'friend' Wyatt is there to help with the renovation assessment, along with her wealthy, reclusive boyfriend who is nearby on his yacht. It takes a while before there is a crime, but it's clear later that there were a lot of characters to introduce and clues to plant. There something of a twist at the end which I saw coming, but Ross still pulls it off. This felt very much like an Agatha Christie mystery to me, which is a big compliment.

Great mystery, and this sixth book shows how a cozy mystery doesn't have to be repetitive. Barbara Ross has to be one of my favorite cozy mystery authors: she keeps the story and characters intelligent, but manages to create that cozy context readers come back for.

If you're not familiar with the series, I highly recommend starting with the first book, Clammed Up.

**NetGalley provided advanced copy for review**

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Picture book review: Vincent Can't Sleep by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

From the Publisher:

Vincent can't sleep . . .
out, out, out he runs!
flying through the garden--marigold, geranium, blackberry, raspberry--
past the church with its tall steeple, down rolling hills and sandy paths meant for sheep,
He dives at last into the velvety, violet heath, snuggles under a blanket of sapphire sky,
and looks up, up, up . . . to visit with the stars.
Vincent van Gogh often found himself unable to sleep and wandered under starlit skies. Those nighttime experiences provided the inspiration for many of his paintings, including his most famous, The Starry Night. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime--but he continued to pursue his unique vision, and ultimately became one of the most beloved artists of all time. 

My thoughts:

I'm from the Netherlands, so I'm intimately familiar with Vincent van Gogh, his art, his story and struggles as an artist, and his life. I was a bit skeptical that it would all translate into a children's book, never mind a picture book...

But the author did a brilliant job, connecting his insomnia (recognizable when you're a kid), his story as a child and then a grown man, a struggling artist, and his brilliant talent. There are some darker elements in the book (if you're familiar with Van Gogh's history), but they're brought in a way that works for the audience, I think. The illustrations are great as well.

At the back of the book, there's a short history, that would make this a great teaching tool. Highly recommend.

**Review of a Goodreads Giveaway copy**