Category Archives: Book Reviews

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, 2012

Keeper of the lost citiesKeeper of the Lost Cities has been on my tbr list all summer. I know Shannon slightly through blog interaction, so I’m familiar with her shenanigans and her sparkling personality, and I watched her book travel through the publication process. I also adore the cover art, so of course I was curious to read it. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t align until the end of summer—almost a year after its release—but I’m sort of famous for having books on my lengthy tbr list for over a decade. I’m glad I didn’t put it off longer.

Sophie Foster doesn’t fit in. With a photographic memory and keen intelligence, she’s advanced years ahead of other 12-years-old without even trying, but she’s a social misfit. And she can hear people’s thoughts.

That’s because Sophie learns she isn’t human—she’s an elf!

But she soon learns she’s not a normal elf, either. There’s much she needs to learn about elven society, laws, customs, and school curricula, but it quickly becomes apparent that her telepathic powers far exceed anyone else’s, even her mentor. And then she begins remembering things she knows she never learned or experienced.

Answers about her abilities, implanted memories, and human upbringing lead to a rebel elven society that wants her back, or want her dead.

Squeaky AwardThis was a fun read. I liked Sophie right away, so it was easy to become involved in her story. And the details of this fantasy world—the school and its subjects, faculty, and students; the magical creatures and abilities; the social structure; the settings; and even the toys—were reminiscent of Hogwarts in their imagination but had enough uniqueness to not feel like a copycat. They’re real kid-pleasers. I’d say 10+ on this one, mostly owing to the considerable length, but it’s also appropriate for younger listeners.

This was one of those effortless reads, light and enjoyable. I didn’t have to overcome poor editing or sloppy writing. It was just plain good, and Shannon kept it perfectly clean. You know what that combination means…a Squeaky Award! And two thumbs way up.

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis, 1954

the horse and his boyOnce again I’ve been delighted by my journey through Narnia with my son. Like all the others, we finished The Horse and His Boy in a week because neither of us wanted to put it down. (Though not moving on to math had something to do with it, too, I’m sure.)

Though late in the series, this book jumps back in time and takes place during the rein of the four Pevensie children. Lewis begins his story far south of Narnia, in the savage land of Calormen where a young orphan boy (Shasta) who is about to be sold into slavery meets a talking horse (Bree) and together they decide to make an escape to freedom in Narnia via its friendly neighbor, Archenland. They meet up with a young Calormene girl (Aravis), who is fleeing a forced marriage, and her talking horse (Hwin). During the course of their escape, they mix in with the Narnian court’s unpleasant visit to Calormen and discover a Calormene plot to overthrow Archenland. These elements give the plot a boost, but it’s the mix of characters that makes this one fun.

Shasta is actually a white-skinned child, which marks him as a northerner and not a Calormene native at all. But Shasta has grown up poor and ignorant and does not realize this. Bree, however, a noble war horse who’d been kidnapped out of the north as a foal and seen much of the southern world, does know it. Where Shasta is quiet, meek, and unassuming, Bree is an excellent leader. Their escape across the dessert is successful in large part because of his strength and courage. He does tend to be prideful, however. So does Aravis, who is giving up a good deal of wealth. It’s particularly tough on her when she has to sneak through the great city of Tashbaan, knowing full well she should be carried in on the backs of slaves. Hwin, the mare, is also quiet and meek, but wise.

Though Hwin and Bree were born in Narnia, none of them the four knows quite what to expect upon reaching their destination. And their first meeting with Aslan proves life-changing. It is these deep moments with the great cat, the Narnian diety, that are always the best. My favorite scene in this book is when Shasta crosses the pass between Narnia and Archenland in fog and darkness with something padding along beside him. When Shasta finally finds the courage to speak, he mourns that he’s the unluckiest boy ever. When asked, he then recites a list of all the terrible things that had befallen him on his adventure. The Lion, still unseen by Shasta, replies with quite a different perspective:

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

All this time, unknown to Shasta, Aslan had been guarding his footsteps. It reminds me a bit of the poem, Footprints in the Sand. And when Shasta recrosses the pass in daylight the next day and sees the narrow path and steep drop-offs he navigated in the night, he realized that even as he and Aslan spoke, the lion had been protecting him from danger. *Shivers!*

The Horse and His Boy is another fabulous adventure with strong undertones of faith and love. It’s one of my favorites. I highly, highly recommend the entire series.

The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia), 1955

I published this post on my self-hosted blog last spring. Since the first five Narnia books are on this blog, I wanted to put this one here, too.

the magician's nephewI’m nearly done working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia with my son. This is the sixth and second-to-last book in the series. Oddly enough, it tells of Narnia’s beginnings. Yes, for this one we jump back about two generations before the Pevensie children were born. At this time there lived in London a boy named Digory and his neighbor, Polly. Digory’s mother is deathly ill, so they came to live with his aunt and uncle. Uncle Andrew, unfortunately, was a horrible man—arrogant, selfish, and cruel. He had absolutely no business dabbling in magic.

Digory and Polly soon find themselves in the dying world of Charn, where Digory disturbs a great evil and awakens a sorceress. Later, when the children find themselves in the brand new world of Narnia, during that splendid first morning when Aslan sings the land and creatures awake, they bring the witch with them. It is a Genesis story. An Eden, complete perfection sullied by mankind’s error. But Aslan promises to bear the worst of the cost on himself.

As always, Aslan’s presence is rich and beautiful. He works a protection over all of Narnia that will last for many hundreds of years—accomplished through the hands of man. He is the lordly, noble hero of the series, but not all admire him. He terrifies Uncle Diggory.

“He has made himself unable to hear my voice,” Aslan tells the children. “If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves from all that might do you good!”

Yet for others, for the London cabbie and his wife (and their horse), who entered Narnia accidentally, and for the two children, their lives are forever changed by their encounter with the Lion and his beautiful land. Though Digory and Polly must return to our world (they do appear in other books, but I won’t spoil that surprise), the cabbie and his wife become the first great King and Queen and the ancestors of all humans in Narnia. We’re even treated to the story behind the lamp-post in Lantern Waste.

All in all, The Magician’s Nephew is another great adventure and a necessary precursor to books one through five. Here we find the beginning of the threads that will tie up the entire series in a neat package in the next and final book.

New from D. Robert Pease in the Noah Zarc Trilogy

Good news! Good news I wanted to share! I love this series and can’t wait to read the final book that releases TODAY!

Today the Noah Zarc middle grade, science fiction adventure is complete with the release of the third book: Noah Zarc: Declaration. At the same time the Noah Zarc Special Omnibus Edition is released which includes all three books in one volume, as well as twenty-two pencil illustrations by the author.

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble

Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be better. However, the twelve-year-old time traveler soon learns it could be a whole lot worse, when he is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying a newly habitable, post-apocalyptic Earth.

Amazon Kindle ON SALE TODAY for $.99! | Amazon Paperback | Barnes & Noble | Signed Paperbacks from Publisher

Noah Zarc: Cataclysm

While searching for answers to secrets that have remained hidden for over a thousand years, Noah becomes embroiled in a mission which could cause the greatest cataclysm in the history of the solar system; the total destruction of life on Earth.

Amazon Kindle | Amazon Paperback | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Signed Paperbacks from Publisher

Noah Zarc: Declaration

As battles rage across the reaches of space, Noah works to join together a rag-tag bunch of miners, farmers, and scientists who would rather just live in peace. With only a time-traveling ship full of animals and a general from the history books the Zarc family must stand against the most powerful man in the universe.

Amazon Kindle | Amazon Paperback | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Signed Paperbacks from Publisher


Noah Zarc: Trilogy – Special Omnibus Edition

All three Noah Zarc books in one volume. Including twenty-two pencil illustrations by the author.

Amazon Kindle | Amazon Hardcover | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Signed Hardcover from Publisher




D. Robert Pease has been interested in creating worlds since childhood. From building in the sandbox behind his house, to drawing fantastical worlds with paper and pencil, there has hardly been a time he hasn’t been off on some adventure in his mind, to the dismay of parents and teachers alike. Also, since the moment he could read, books have consumed vast swaths of his life. From The Mouse and the Motorcycle, to The Lord of the Rings, worlds just beyond reality have called to him like Homer’s Sirens. It’s not surprising then he chose to write stories of his own. Each filled with worlds just beyond reach, but close enough we can all catch a glimpse of ourselves in the characters he brings to life.

Find out more about D. Robert online:

www.drobertpease.com | Facebook | Twitter

A Measure of Disorder (Mother Earth Series, book 1), by Alan Tucker

a measure of disorderWho knew a simple science field trip could turn into such a whale of an adventure? Jenni Kershaw and her classmates can’t seem to find the bus for the return trip to school. Then they notice the landscape has changed, the vegetation is unfamiliar, not to mention the peculiar talking wildlife. They’ve been brought to an entirely new world.

Alan Tucker has a wild imagination, down to the tiniest, seemingly insignificant detail. But all those details become important as Jenni and her friends change form and learn to survive on Mother. This one is more than just an adventure, though. It touches on some deeper themes: balance, the shape of one’s soul (reflected in outward appearance), good vs. evil, and the problem of living within societal expectations that just don’t fit. (Prediction: I think if society doesn’t change in the next two books, there’s going to be some serious breaking out of those expectations!)

Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “Things that happen out of our control happen for a reason. Even if we can’t always understand what that reason might be.” Sounds almost biblical, doesn’t it? Though in this fictional world, Mother itself is the ultimate Authority.

A Measure of Disorder is unique and surprised me in many ways. My only complaint is that while there was some terrific action and adventure, it didn’t bring me to any highs or lows. The emotional tone of the book felt a little too steady for my taste. But I enjoyed the read, and I was absolutely amazed at the far-reaching effects of the changes taking place in the kids on Mother. Kudos, Mr. Tucker, on a well thought out tale!

Grab it FREE on Amazon!

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Alan TuckerAlan Tucker, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s also an Emblazon author. “I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Holes, by Louis Sachar, 1998

holesWant a nicely wrapped package with a few twists and turns? Try Holes, by Louis Sachar. This one won the Newberry back in 1999, and for good reason. Why haven’t I read this one before now??

Stanley Yelnats (love that!) isn’t very lucky. He was arrested for something he didn’t do and sent to Camp Green Lake. Except it’s not really a lake. And it’s not really green. As a matter of fact, it’s not really a camp either. It’s a juvenile lockup facility in the middle of the desert. They don’t even fence these guys in. There’s no where to run.

Every morning at 4:30, Stanley and the other boys are given a shovel and taken to the dry lake bed where they must dig a 5-foot deep/5-foot round hole. Stanley has no idea what they’re looking for, though due to some clever back story, the reader begins to piece together a puzzle that started 150 years ago, with Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. Throw in an onion man, an outlaw, a mule, and a few poisonous yellow-spotted lizards and you have a recipe for an entertaining read!

I absolutely loved this one and read it all in one sitting. It’s humorous. It’s clean. And the writing is so refreshingly crisp. Every last detail has significance that comes ‘round in those “ah-ha!” moments that are so fun to figure out. I read a number of reviews with complaints that this book contains events that are disturbing and graphic. I didn’t feel that way at all. No, the boys aren’t treated too well at the lockup facility, and some bad stuff happens. But the plot is so ridiculously unlikely, silly even, that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s fiction! And clean, well-written fiction at that. Two thumbs way up on this one. Highly, highly recommended!

The Dreamkeeper, by Mikey Brooks, 2013

case5.500x8.500.inddNever fear to dream…

Parker just wants to master his video games and maintain a degree of coolness at school. He never asked to be sucked into Dreams. He didn’t want to be paired with a “loser” or discover a plot with the potential to destroy both the world of Dreams and the world of Awake (our world). He’s just a gamer, not a hero. But when he accepts just who he is, he finds he’s capable of anything.

Mikey Brooks has created a vibrant, wild world with a host of fabulous characters. My favorite is Gladamyr—the “Mare (nightmare) who loved.” What a great contradiction and an effective means to illustrate the book’s theme, that of the balance between good and evil. The two kid heroes, Parker and Kaelyn, are likeable and internalize some great life lessons during their adventure. And there’s a whole slew of others: Zelda, the eccentric psychic; Cerulean (these guys have great names, don’t they?), the tough-as-nails boss with the gentle heart; a handless and footless pirate; a Mare clown that juggles chickens. These are characters with a lot of character.

I really appreciate that Mr. Brooks keeps his language completely clean. There are some violent moments, but they’re dreamlike and kid-friendly. In fact, the setting and plot are very dreamlike—totally appropriate for the story, but my realism loving brain sometimes found the chaos a little hard to process. (That part reminded me a bit of Alice in Wonderland.) And the prose does get a litte rough in places. But there are far more positives than negatives, such as this great quote: “It wasn’t what appeared on the outside that made someone who they were, but what reflected on the inside.” Or, “Remember that the choices you make will not only lead you in a direction, they make you who you are.”

I enjoyed the imagination, detail, and positive thinking that went into this one.

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Mikey BrooksMikey Brooks is a member of Emblazon. He’s a small child masquerading as adult. On occasion you’ll find him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is the author/illustrator of several picture books including BEAN’S DRAGONS and the ABC ADVENTURES series. He spends most of his time playing with his daughters and working as a freelance illustrator. Mikey has a BS degree in Creative Writing from Utah State University. He is also one of the hosts of the Authors’ Think Tank Podcast.

Website  | Blog  | Facebook  | Twitter  | Goodreads | Amazon Page

Heirloom (Seed Savers, book 3), by S. Smith, 2013

heirloom front finalI was thrilled to be invited as a participant in the Heirloom book tour. In fact, I was thrilled to find the series for my tween son, who loves nothing better than to help me in our large garden on a warm summer morning. It’s sufficiently scary for tweens without being overwhelmingly so. It’s definitely middle grade, but this adult has also enjoyed it immensely. (Read my sons reviews of Seed Savers: Treasure and Seed Savers: Lily.)

The setting of Seed Savers is futuristic, the government more oppressive than it is today. Large corporations have taken over the food supply and the government agencies that regulate it. Growing food has become illegal for private citizens. Yet a thriving Seed Savers movement, those individuals dedicated to preserving the old way of life, won’t let the art of food production and preservation die.

treasure Heirloom is actually the third book in the series. In the first (Treasure), three children—siblings Clare and Dante and their friend Lily—get caught up with this grass roots movement. When GRIM, the government’s food policy enforcement agency, catches up to them, Clare and Dante must flee. The second book (Lily) tells what happens to Lily when she is left behind. Of course, she is drawn ever deeper into the movement and learns she has some startling connections to its beginnings. Lily was my favorite so far.

lily

Heirloom continues a split story. Clare and Dante are living with a host family in Canada and taking advantage of that country’s freedom to learn all they can about gardening. While this story line is a bit slow, it does give some information about the history that led up to the present food situation in America. The politics are probably beyond most tweens—they’ll most likely gloss over it—but it makes logical sense to an adult and fills in some holes. The real excitement takes place in Lily’s half of the story. GRIM gets very close once again, and Lily’s not sure who to trust. She finally takes off on a personal mission of her own, much as Dante and Clare did, but in an entirely different direction and with an entirely different motive.

blog tourI love the premise of this series, and as a gardener I identify strongly with it. While I absolutely loved the smoothness of the story and the beautiful prose found in LilyHeirloom had some rougher moments, particularly as Lily’s story is told in the first person. It’s more stylized, with more fragmented sentences and many, many phrases set off with commas, which portrays the tumultuous thoughts playing in her brain. I personally prefer the smoother beauty of a third person narrative. However, Heirloom is not lacking in truly artistic moments.

I was startled by several minor profanities this time around. Usually I just mention them in passing so parents know they’re there. But as they’ve been happily absent in the first two books, I thought I’d express my regret to find them in book three. I understand why they’re used. The character they are associated with is a rough, backwoodsy sort, and they fit him well. I could forgive them in an adult book, but this is very much middle grade fiction. In particular, it’s a series I have urged my kids to read because of the high quality of the writing and the absolute absence of negative factors. Finding profanity now feels a bit like a betrayal. I think the readership would be better served if this particular individual spoke with more creative, colorful expletives (sam hill, goldurned, dagnab, thunderation, blasted, etc.) rather than vulgarity. Just one mother’s opinion. (Ms. Smith answered this by mentioning there is also one d*** in Lily (that I totally missed), beside one in Heirloom along with three h***s. Mild, but there. A tough decision for a writer.)

In conclusion, however, I thought this third installment was a strong addition to a very enjoyable series.

Grab the books: (includes Kindle and paperback links)
Treasure
Lily
Heirloom

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smith 5x7 authorS. Smith grew up on a farm with a tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Although she now lives with her husband and three cats in the city, she still manages to grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden.

A licensed ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Ms. Smith has enjoyed teaching students from around the world.

Ms. Smith is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and an OSU Master Gardener. She gardens and writes at her home in the beautiful and green Pacific Northwest.

Want to catch more stops in tour? Find the schedule here.

Princess Kandake, by Stephanie Jefferson, 2012

Princess KandakeHistorical fiction is still one of my favorite genres, and Princess Kandake is a real treat. Stephanie Jefferson has created a strong teen female lead and set her within ancient Nubia. Kandake knows exactly what she wants, and she’s determined to go after it. Then life throws her a curve. How can she meet her obligations and still remain true to the passion that drives her?

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The writing is strong and lyrical. Kandake is likeable and true. Nubian culture is beautifully depicted. And it’s original. I’ve never read about this time or setting before and learned a good deal.

I could praise this one as a great novel about a “person of color,” as I happened to see it on a blog that celebrated such, but I wouldn’t want to limit it to such a description. Princess Kandake is a powerful story with a universal message and universal appeal. I highly recommend it.

(Here’s a video of how Stephanie made the props for the cover image of Princess Kandake. It’s pretty cool!)

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stephanie jeffersonStephanie Jefferson is a lover of story. She pretty much loves any kind of story well told, but her favorite is action/adventure. In her recent past, Stephanie worked as a licensed psychologist for kids and teens. Now she writes tales of courage and strength for that special segment of folks, ‘Tweens. Stephanie lives with her husband and bossy cairn terrier, Mr. Jenkins, in the mountains of Arizona. She’s also an Emblazon author.

Website | Facebook | Blog | Twitter | Blog for Moms  

Iris Brave (Soul Jumpers, 1), by Ali B.

I like to give authors a chance to tell us about their new releases, even if I don’t get an opportunity to read and review them myself. Here’s a clean new read by author Ali B.

iris braveIris Brave isn’t as courageous as her name suggests. That’s about to change.

Iris doesn’t take risks. Heights make her dizzy and she prefers to swim in the shallow end… with nose plugs.

On a summer visit to her grandpa’s farm, a mysterious stranger shadows Iris, leaving her cryptic messages. When this outsider turns out be a phantom from her family’s past, Iris sheds her timid ways to uncover the truth and protect the family she loves.

Along the way Iris discovers family secrets and enigmatic figures that lead her to question everything she’s ever thought was real.

Grab a copy:
Paperback
Kindle

Or visit Ali at her website.

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Ali B.Ali B. is a teacher, wife, mother and writer. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. I love books! My mother was an incredible librarian and she always had a stack of books by her chair. Now I have my own stack!”

She currently lives in San Diego with her husband, two children and three dachshunds. On writing this series, she says, “I love creating characters. I love giving them lives, adventures, challenges and quirks. For me, writing is about developing characters that are worth knowing, throwing obstacles in their path, and then sitting back and watching them grow.”