Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Invictus violates the Prime Directive and it’s brilliant!

Invictus, by Ryan Graudin, (Sept. 2017, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316503075

Recommended for readers 13+

I’m a big Doctor Who fan, so when I saw Ryan Graudin talking about her then-upcoming book, Invictus, at BookExpo earlier this year – and talked about Doctor Who‘s influence on the show – I knew this was going on my TBR. I was not disappointed.

Farway Gaius McCarthy is born outside of time, the son of a time-traveling Recorder (think researcher with a video camera) and a Roman gladiator from 95AD. All Far’s wanted to do is explore history, but someone’s set him up, and he fails his final time-traveling exam. He’s contacted by a shady operation with a offer he can’t refuse: he gets his own ship, puts together his own crew, and gets to travel through history to steal treasures from the past. He recruits his cousin, Imogene, as historian: the brains of the operation, putting together costumes and researching historical eras; his girlfriend, Priya, as the medic; and his friend and game fiend, Gram, as navigator. They get a cut of the payday and vacations in between missions. It’s all good – until a mission on the Titanic puts Far up against the very woman that caused him to fail his final exam. Eliot is a woman with secrets, but she needs Far, for some reason. She cajoles her way onto his crew, leading them on a mission back in time that will have huge consequences not only for Far and his crew, but for the universe.

I loved Invictus! Not only is is loaded with amazing little Doctor Who references – don’t worry, if you’re not a fan, you won’t miss out on anything – it’s a space opera with humor, adventure, and a devil-may-care hero who could have DNA from Captain Kirk and Han Solo. Far is a brash swashbuckler who hates not having all the info, but he also knows how to play his cards right. He’s got his own demons: his mother’s disappearance haunts him, as does his expulsion from the academy, and he takes the responsibility of protecting and keeping his crew safe and happy very seriously. Eliot is a colossal monkey wrench thrown into his works, and he has no choice but to stick with her and get to the bottom of things. There are wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey subplots (that’s a Doctor Who reference) and intrigue that will keep sci-fi fans turning pages. Prime Directive? (That’s a Star Trek reference.) Pfft, what’s that? That’s for academy kids.

History-hopping, time-jumping, big drama, a sense of humor, and a diverse cast of characters make Invictus such good sci-fi reading. More, please! Invictus has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA.

Ryan Graudin is an award-winning YA author. Her Wolf by Wolf duology was a 2017 Carnegie Medal nominee and won the 2017 Sequoyah Book Award. Check out her author page for more information her books, her appearances, and sign up for her newsletter.

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Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine will take you on the ride of your life

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine, by Frank L. Cole, (Aug. 20017, Delacorte Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780399552823

Recommended for readers 9-13

Take a little bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, toss in elements of Jurassic Park and The Matrix, and add a dose of Inception, and you have Frank L. Cole’s newest book, The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine. Four kids with varying physiological complexities – Trevor, the daredevil; Cameron, the genius; Devin, the video game master/burgeoning Internet sensation; and Nika, shy and sheltered by her overprotective grandfather – are chosen to test out The Adventure Machine, a ground-breaking new adventure ride from CastleCorp. They set out for the ride of their lives while their guardians watch, but no one expects what happens when the ride breaks down, and they discover that they’re stuck in the middle of a plot that threatens them and their families – or are they?

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is a big adventure for middle graders who love twisting plots, action, and a smidgen of conflict. As the kids’ adventure progresses, they grow as individuals and as a team; Trevor and Cameron learn to be aware of the impact their actions have on others, and they all learn the importance of self-advocacy.  It’s a fun read with characters that grow on you, with lots of thrills to keep pages turning.

Posted in Adventure, History, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The League of American Traitors gives us a glimpse at darker American history

The League of American Traitors, by Matthew Landis, (Aug. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510707351

Recommended for readers 13+

Seventeen year-old Jasper is an orphan, losing both parents in under a year. His father was never much of a father to him, so when a lawyer approaches Jasper at his father’s gravesite, he ignores his offer of help: there’s no money involved, and that’s what he needs, now that he’s on his own. But when he’s attacked by unknown assailants, he learns that he’s the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold: possibly the most infamous traitor in American History. Like an American Revolution-era Percy Jackson, Jasper discovers that descendants of history’s traitors belong to a group called The League of American Traitors, and that the True Sons of Liberty – a militant Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution – holds a heck of a grudge. Every time a traitor’s ancestor turns 18, they’re challenged to a duel by one of the Libertines, as the League calls them. The League kids go to a special school that teaches them the survival skills they’ll need in a duel, but Jasper’s case is special. His father was researching his ancestor, and he was onto something. Something that the Libertines will do anything to keep secret. Cyrus, his father’s lawyer and member of the League, urges Jasper to continue his father’s research; it will give all of the League families a new lease on life. Jasper has new friends that stand ready to help, but the Libertines have spies everywhere.

The League of American Traitors is a fun thrill ride through American history. A little bit Percy Jackson, mixed with some National Treasure and a dash of Hamilton, teens will enjoy this look at America, where our heroes’ hands may be a little dirtier than we imagined. The author knows how to keep a book moving, and once introductions are made, supporting characters come with their own rich backstories. This one’s a fun add to fiction collections, especially for fans of realistic intrigue and adventure with a twist.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Review and Giveaway: The Adventures of Henry Whiskers

Animal adventure books are guaranteed fun for readers, and mice are a consistently popular choice. Look at some of the most beloved, enduring children’s books: Stuart Little, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Rescuers, The Tale of Desperaux, and Babymouse, who’s growing up with her readers, having started with an elementary school character whose moved to middle school. There’s even a picture book that introduces younger readers to a young Babymouse. Mice are cute, tiny enough to get into places we can’t even fathom, for exciting adventures – and yet, small enough to be defenseless in a dangerous world. Kids can identify.

That said, we’ve got a giveaway for two books in a fun new series: The Adventures of Henry Whiskers! One lucky winner will receive copies of both Henry Whiskers books by Gigi Priebe–book 1, THE ADVENTURES OF HENRY WHISKERS, and book 2, THE LONG WAY HOME. (U.S. addresses). Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway today – ends September 7th! (Edit: The link was showing the contest had expired, so I’ve extended the deadline to September 7th and updated the link.

 

The Adventures of Henry Whiskers, by Gigi Priebe/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Jan. 2017,  Simon & Schuster Kids), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-6574-8

Recommended for readers 7-10

Henry Whiskers is a fun intermediate series starring a family of mice living in the drawers at the base of Queen Mary’s Dollhouse in Windsor Castle: quite possibly, the most famous dollhouse in the world. When the tourists are gone for the day, the mouse families wander the castle; for 25 generations, the Whiskers family have been caretakers of the dollhouse, and Henry Whiskers, son of the last caretaker, takes his job very seriously. He may be young, but has a deep sense of duty to the Whiskers legacy, living up to his father’s reputation. Henry can often be found reading the miniature classics in the dollhouse library when he’s not helping his mother take care of his family. In this first story, Henry and his cousin, Jeremy, set out in search of Henry’s sister, Isabel, who goes missing when the dollhouse is sent for cleaning. They’ll face off against Titus, the castle cat, and meet the rats who live in Rat Alley and aren’t fond of the mice at all. Henry shows bravery, a strong sense of justice and equality, and not only saves the day, and works to foster understanding between his own community and the rats.

 

The Adventure of Henry Whiskers: The Long Way Home, by Gigi Priebe/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Aug. 2017, Simon & Schuster Kids), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1481465779

Recommended for readers 7-10

Henry’s latest adventure takes him outside the castle walls and into the city of London itself! He discovers an old map in the library, but he and Jeremy are caught by the palace cook, who believes she’s doing a good deed by sending them far away from the castle, so they won’t find their way back. Yikes! Henry learns more about his father and meets new animals on his latest escapade, while Mother worries about her son at home.

The Henry Whiskers books are just right for more confident chapter book readers who have a sense of adventure. Henry is a good little role model that readers can identify with, overcoming obstacles while making sure to look out for others as he goes. Daniel Duncan’s black and white illustrations add to the enjoyment of the narrative, and a photo of Queen Mary’s Dollhouse gives kids an idea of how big the dollhouse (and drawers) really is.

 

Source: NicolTallis.com

 

Check out this video, which provides a peek into the dollhouse. Stunning, isn’t it?

 

Gigi Priebe is the mother of three, the founder of Stepping Stones, an award-winning children’s museum in Norwalk, Connecticut and the author of The Adventures of Henry Whiskers, the first in her middle grade series. When she is not writing–or rewriting–she is a philanthropic advisor and community volunteer in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband, a cat named Tigger, a dog named Clover, and probably some mice. To learn more and to download a free curriculum guide, visit gigipriebe.com.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

Magic, madness, and a cow-ostrich romance!

The Emperor’s Ostrich, by Julie Berry, (June 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596439580

Recommended for readers 8-12

A zany fantasy romp with a dairy maid in search of her lost cow puts readers on the path to an adventure that will introduce them to a self-described romantic hero, a spoiled emperor on the run, and his ostrich, who forms a bond with the runaway cow. Begonia, the dairy maid, is a responsible young woman who helps her mother care for the family farm and her younger sister; when her cow, Alfalfa, meanders away, Begonia sets out to find her and ends up on a magical quest that will put the responsibility for saving the emperor and the kingdom squarely on her shoulders. Thank goodness she has help from Key, a wandering young man who describes himself as a romantic hero; and two magical beings, who oversee the adventure from a distance.

The story is a fun fantasy adventure with nods to magic, corruption, feminism, and commentary on overindulged wealth. Readers will enjoy the lovestruck cow and ostrich, the banter between Key and Begonia, and the host of characters they encounter on their adventure. Booktalk this with Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy novels: author Julie Berry calls The Emperor’s Ostrich her love letter to his books.

Julie Berry’s book, The Passion of Dolssa, is a 2017 Printz Honor title. The Emperor’s Ostrich received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series: a good series for Alex Rider fans

As pop culture phenomenons get younger, the need for these teens can only increase. From pop stars and young stars and starlets to trust fund kids and scions of political powerhouses, everyone is a potential target. Now, imagine if there were an elite team of teens that receive Special Forces training to be that next line in defense. They’re trained to blend in with the crowd, to be a member of an entourage; they’re trained to protect. The teens of Guardian are a private, elite force, and Connor Reeves is their newest member.

Bodyguard is an interesting series. Part Alex Rider, part Jack Bauer from 24, it’s the story of 14 year-old Connor Reeves, a new recruit to the Guardian organization. Most of the first book chronicles Connor’s recruitment and training, with an interesting subplot that frames the series on a larger level. There’s a big terror plot afoot, and a Yemeni group is behind it, creating havoc on each of Connor’s missions as they progress toward their as-yet unknown greater goal. The first four books chronicle Connor’s first two missions; each mission spans two novels. In the first two books, Recruit and Hostage, Connor is sent to protect the US President’s headstrong, rebellious daughter; in Hijack and Ransom, he and a fellow Guardian protect an Aussie media mogul’s daughters as they vacation on their luxury yacht.

   

The writing is fast-paced and action-packed, with interesting characters and the potential for an exciting conclusion to this building subplot. I had some issues with the author’s initial descriptions of the terrorists, though: it’s a bit discomfiting, especially for someone like me, who works in one of the most diverse library systems in the country. Happily, Bradford puts more emphasis on plot development as the novels progress. Connor tends to come across as a white knight, and Bradford needs to let his female characters breathe a little more, but overall, this is a good middle school-level series for kids who wants to read a series similar to Alex Rider.

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series was originally released in the UK; the first four books are available in the States now, with three more to come. The Bodyguard series webpage offers a rundown on the books, plus audio excerpts; bodyguard training tips, and a teacher’s guide for the series.

Want a shot at winning your own BODYGUARD set? Enter my raffle by filling out this Google Form! Good luck!

Bodyguard: Recruit, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736972
Bodyguard: Hostage, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736996
Bodyguard: Hijack, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737016
Bodyguard: Ransom, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737030