Tags: adventure stories, book reviews, books for young readers, children's fantasy, Fantasy, Middle Grade books, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, Tween fiction
Today I’m reviewing the first two books in the Azra’s Pith Series. This is a middle grade fantasy series by Elizabeth Parkinson-Bellows.
In Book 1, Alexander Drake’s Extraordinary Pursuit, we meet young Alexander Drake. He lives alone with his distant father and has recurring dreams of his mother who has passed away. When his father leaves on another trip, Alexander is sent to stay with his grandmother. In his father’s old room, Alexander discovers a box in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Inside is an odd-looking key and maps and pictures drawn on a tweed fabric. His curiosity gets the better of him, leading him into the forest near his grandmother’s home and on an adventure that will change his life.
The second book, The Return of General Drake, picks up immediately where the first book left off. Alexander makes it to Verhonia, which angers the evil Imperius. His minion, Roman, prepares his murk army to attack the city. With the safety of the realm in jeopardy and Alexander under a spell that has placed him in grave danger, General John William Drake returns to Verhonia. Can evil be defeated or is all lost?
The premise of this series is a great one. A young boy without friends, who is feeling neglected by his only living parent, is sent away and ends up on a life-changing adventure. In Alexander Drake’s Extraordinary Pursuit, Alexander discovers many surprises about his destiny and his family. The book ends with a cliffhanger that leads into the next book.
By Book 2, Alexander is starting to put some of the pieces together. What he underestimates, however, is how far the evil Imperius is willing to go. With his plan to stop Alexander from reaching Verhonia a failure, Imperius wages war on the city and casts a spell over Alexander, sending him on a journey to Cantilonia. Though General Drake had vowed never to return to Verhonia, with Alexander in danger he has no choice.
What I feel Parkinson-Bellows does well in these books is create a series set primarily in a mythical land filled with quirky characters like Ferdinand, a talking frog and Cozmo, a cunning wolf. These are exciting adventure books filled with action that middle grade readers will devour. Where the books fell a bit short for me was in the stilted dialogue and lack of depth in character development. My feeling is that the focus on creating quirky characters might have led to how the dialogue didn’t flow well to me. The conversations didn’t seem natural. There are also places in both books where resolutions came too quickly for the characters, so there isn’t a digging into the characters’–primarily Alexander’s–emotions and thought process.
That said, both books were enjoyable light reads. Though, I don’t like it when a book ends in a cliffhanger that forces you to buy the next book in order to see how it all plays out, these are short and economically-priced stories, so it doesn’t prevent the reader from continuing.
Rating (for both):
Alexander Drake’s Extraordinary Pursuit
File Size: 1169 KB
Print Length: 110 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Wild Child Publishing (June 6, 2011)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
The Return of General Drake
File Size: 269 KB
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Wild Child Publishing (April 25, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Being the frizzy-haired tomboy with buck teeth gave me a slight case of shyness as a kid. A colorful imagination meant escape and adventure at the drop of a hat.
Over the years I learned that the insecurities I carried around were a waste of time. I still prefer a football game to a manicure any day of the week. That indispensable imagination has found its way into my writing providing a sense of joy and a true purpose.
Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash (Ends 5/15/13)
Enter for your chance to win at http://www.iamareader.com/2013/02/alexander-drake-blog-tour.html
Tags: book reviews, books for young readers, Fiona Ingram, guest book review, Mark Goldblatt, Middle Grade books, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, Twerp
Age Range: 9 and up
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (May 28, 2013)
Julian Twerski isn’t a bully. He’s just made a big mistake. He has done something he is deeply ashamed of, something that goes against the grain of his conscience. When he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade—blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he’s still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can’t bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.
There’s nothing like a ‘real’ story to bring a smile to one’s face. The book was inspired by author Mark Goldblatt’s own childhood growing up in Queens during the 1960s. Reading it, one can’t help being taken back to the ‘growing up’ years, when everything is confusing, nothing goes right, everyone else is cooler/faster/cleverer and girls are an unfathomable mystery. Told from Julian’s point of view in typical middle-grader stream of consciousness, the author takes the reader on a trip back in time. Incidents pack Julian’s life and he reacts to them in a visceral and sometimes confused way. Life lessons can be hard, and Julian rolls with the punches, doing his best. He doesn’t always pull it off, but he does make sense of things where he can. Julian is a likeable character and he truly does want to make amends. Kids will enjoy this, but I think their parents will also relish this trip down Memory Lane. Times may change, but kids don’t. Author Mark Goldblatt’s style is quirky and different, but appealing with a touch of nostalgia. Five stars.
About the author: Mark Goldblatt is a lot like Julian Twerski, only not as interesting (that’s what he says!). He is a widely published columnist, a novelist, and a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Twerp is his first book for younger readers. He lives in New York City.
Please note that I reviewed an ARC. The book will be available on 28 May 2013.
Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.
Tags: books for young readers, children's books, Children's picture books, From the Family Bookshelf, Middle Grade books, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, Young Adult fiction
It’s hard to believe we’re already into the third week of April. I should have posted this earlier, but I’ve had other commitments lately. The girls are on vacation this week, too, so we took them to New York City for the weekend. We had a fun time, but were saddened to hear about the bombings at the Boston Marathon today. Our prayers go out to all those impacted by this tragedy.
Now, onto reading. Dad is ever so slowly making his way through A Light in Zion, the fourth book of the Zion Chronicles by Bodie and Brock Thoene. he’s been a fan of their work for years. I hope I get a chance to read some of their books, as the hubby highly recommends them.
The Lil’ Diva (11) and the Lil’ Princess (9) and I have been reading almost every night together. We read Hank Zipzer: A Brand New Me by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. This is the latest book in the series. The girls and I loved it. I want to go back and read the others. Right now, we’re working on Scarlet, the second book in The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer and Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur. Next up will be Emma Dilemma and the Two Nannies by Patricia Hermes and When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little.
As for me, I am feel great about my reading. After overloading my review schedule for the first quarter of the year, I’m determined not to take on any new review requests at The Book Connection until I catch up. I’ve already read four books from my TBR Pile that are part of the 2013 Catch Up Reading Challenge. Here’s what I’ve read since my last post in February:
Executive Command by Gary Grossman (political thriller)
Princess April-Morning Glory by Letitia Fairbanks (fairy tale)
Just for Today by Kevin McNamme (children’s picture book)
Dangerous Impulses by F.M. Meredith (mystery)
Fairy May by Jo Linsdell (children’s picture book)
I Left My Prostate in San Francisco – Where’s Yours? by Rick and Brenda Redner (health issues)
Nate Rocks the Boat and Nate Rocks the School by Karen Pokras Toz (middle grade novels)
The Abraham Man by R. Gregory Lande (American history)
Untimed by Andy Gavin (time travel adventure)
Beyond the Valley by Rita Gerlach (Christian historical romance)
First Colors and First Numbers by tiger tales (board books)
The Kensei by Jon F. Merz (vampire novel)
What Did Jesus Say… by Reverend Terry Allan Christian (Christian nonfiction)
Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble (Christian romantic suspense)
American Patriots by Rick Santorum (current events)
That’s it for this edition of From the Family Bookshelf. Hope you have a great week.
Tags: adventure stories, book reviews, giveaways, Humor, Karen Pokras Toz, Middle Grade books, middle grade fiction, Nate Rocks, Nate Rocks the School, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, virtual book tour
Nate Rockledge and gang are back in the third volume of the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the School by Karen Pokras Toz. Now in fifth grade, Nathan, Tommy, and Sam are glad to take advantage of being older. Mom finally concedes to having Nate’s birthday party outside of the house for once. There’s baseball at recess and a cool Halloween dance to help the class raise necessary funds for the annual fifth grade trip to New York City. But when the trip to NYC is at risk of being canceled, Nate steps up to help with the fundraising committee. With paper and pencil in hand, Nate Rockledge becomes Nate Rocks, saving the town from evil robots and helping recover stolen paintings and cars.
I’ve enjoyed this series since the beginning. In this latest book in the Nate Rocks series, Toz lets loose her imagination and sense of humor once again to come up with a great middle grade adventure story boys will love. Familiar and new characters blend together in this zany story filled with Nate’s mom’s horrible cooking, whiny complaints from know-it-all Lisa Crane, annoying older sister jabs from Abby, Dad’s poor storytelling, and the adventures of one creative boy stuck in the middle of it all. A neat surprise ending winds down this story that moves along at a good clip.
This series keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to see what Nate is up to next.
Paperback: 138 pages
Publisher: Grand Daisy Press (February 20, 2013)
A Word from Lisa Crane
Hey everyone – it’s me, Lisa Crane. For those of you who have been following this tour, I need to set the record straight. You know what they say – there are two sides to every story. In fact, the only thing in the book, Nate Rocks the School, that’s actually accurate about me is the part where I tell everyone how Nathan got his black eye last summer. Even Abby said it was true, so it must be, right?
Anyway, Nathan makes it sound like he’s doing all the work to try to raise the money we need for our school trip to New York. Well that’s just not true. In fact, if anything, he’s making even more work for us. Yup, that’s right. For example, it was his idea to have two school events, not one. He’s the one who made us do things on such short notice, and he also did a lousy job trying to get donations. Then to make things even worse, Nathan’s mom insists on making all the food that we’ll sell at the snack table. (Between you and me, everyone in the school knows to stay away from Mrs. Rockledge’s baked goods – even my mom knows that, and she’s Mrs. Rockledge’s best friend!) We’ll barely make any money from snack sales, and that’s usually a big seller!
If you ask me, my ideas for fundraising are so much better. If only Nathan and that best friend of his, Tommy, would listen to me. We’d be done already. When will those boys learn? Anyway – I guess if you want to see how it all turns out, you’ll have to read the book. Just remember what I told you!
Karen Pokras Toz lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. Karen’s middle grade childrens’ novels: Millicent Marie Is Not My Name and the Nate Rocks series, have won several awards including First Place for Children’s Chapter Books and the Grand Prize Overall in the 2012 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for a Global E-Book Award for Pre-Teen Literature. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). Her first adult contemporary novel, invisible, will be released this summer. For more information, please visit www.karentoz.com.
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/NRSchoolBN
I received an e-copy of this book from the author through GWR Publicity. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.
The Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection giveaway:
A Nate Rocks Swag Pack.
Rules for the TC&TBC giveaway
1) Visit Karen’s website at www.karentoz.com and leave a comment at this post telling me something you learned while there. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win.
2) Winners must be 18 years of age or older and reside in the United States.
3) Prize will be shipped directly to the winner by the author or her representative.
Grand Prize: One reader will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and Nate Rocks Swag Pack.
Grand Prize Rafflecopter visit below link:
Tags: adventure stories, Billy Cooper's Awesome Nightmare, character interviews, children's fantasy, history legends, Humor, Middle Grade books, Penny Estelle, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, The Wickware Sagas, time traveling adventures, William Tell
Billy Cooper’s seventh grade class has been given a last minute, weekend assignment. They must draw a piece of paper out of a box and prepare an oral book report on the person or event they select. Billy draws the name, William Tell, whoever that is. He has a full weekend planned, but figures he’ll do a ten minute search and then be able to skate right through the assignment, having plenty of time for his busy weekend.
His outlook changes when he finds himself in the fourteenth century, standing in front of William Tell’s house. Billy’s modern day style and lingo has William Tell thinking the lad is a bit unbalanced, but asks if he would like to go along with him and his son to the town of Altdorf. It is here Billy learns just who William Tell is and why he is a legend.
Billy jumped up, took two steps backward and fell hard on his back from about four feet up, knocking the wind out of him. He was seeing blue sky and rolling green hills. An old, two-wheeled wagon was what he had fallen out of.
The old man hurried over. “You alright, lad?”
Billy jumped to his feet before the old man could help him up. “Who…who….who are you? Where am I?” Billy stuttered, panic shooting through his body.
“Easy lad,” the old man said. “I was to bring you here.”
“Bring me where? Who said to bring me? Who? This is crazy! I’m not supposed to be here!” Billy’s voice got louder.
The man pulled out a satchel of coins, smiling. “Your mother paid me well to bring you to your aunt in Uri.”
“Uri?” Billy asked. “Dude, there’s no Uri in Arizona, I don’t think, and my aunt lives in Cottonwood.”
“Jonathan is my name, lad, not Dude.” The old man reached for Billy’s head. “Maybe when you fell you became…addled in your thinking.”
“I did not become…whatever. You’ve kidnapped me! I want to go home!”
A Chat with Billy Cooper from Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare
Hi everybody. Uhm, my name is Billy Cooper and I am in the seventh grade. I am supposed to come here today to talk about some of the stuff that happens in old lady Wickware, oops, I mean Miss Wickware’s history class. But I’ve got to tell you talking about this makes me just a little nervous. See, nobody actually talks about it out loud, but we all know weird things happen in her class.
Well let me just tell you my story. On Friday, everybody in last hour class was supposed to come up and draw a name of some historical person out of a box. Anyway an oral report was due on Monday. Come on! I had plans for that weekend – lots of cool plans. I didn’t have time to do a report on some dude named William Tell. But here’s the thing – after I had drawn out my piece of paper, Miss Wickware put her hand on my shoulder and I saw flash of sizzling electricity shoot from her eyes right into mine. My whole body felt like it was buzzing! I’m not kidding, AND nobody else saw it happen. You’ve got to admit, that is strange – right?
Anyway, I figured sometime during the weekend I would get on the computer, google this Tell guy, and find out what he did that was famous. I would skate by on this assignment.
WRONG! The next day, I find myself outside some house in the fourteenth century. Not only that, the house belonged to William Tell. Let me tell you I found out why this guy is famous. This dude was dead on with a bow and arrow.
To be honest with you, I’m not sure if he would have even made history if I hadn’t been there to help things along!
Buy links for Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare
Penny Estelle was a school secretary for twenty-one years. She retired and moved to her fifty-four acre ranch in NW Arizona, where she lives off the grid. Solar and wind is her only source of electricity. What an adjustment for a city girl!
Penny started writing for children right before retiring. She claims after working so long with children of all ages, she has plenty of material to work with.
Penny has three MG/tween stories out and her debut book for adults was recently released. She also has a non-fiction story out about her life with solar!
Penny and her her books can be found in the following links:
@pennystales – twitter
Tags: adventure stories, contemporary fiction, Humor, Karen Pokras Toz, Middle Grade books, Nate Rocks, Nate Rocks the Boat, summer camp stories, The Children's and Teens Book Connection
The adventures and imaginations of Nate Rockledge continue in Nate Rocks the Boat by Karen Pokras Toz.
Having survived fourth grade, Nate is looking forward to spending an entire summer with his friends. His parents have decided he’ll be spending his summer a different way, however–at an overnight summer camp with his older sister, Abby. Ugh! At least he’ll have his best friend Tommy to tag along with. Best of all, his trusty sketchpad can transform him into Nate Rocks, a 10-year-old extraordinaire who battles snakes, floods, ghosts, and criminals.
I was impressed with the first book in this series, Nate Rocks the World, so when I heard Toz had a new book out, I made sure to ask for a copy. This is a middle grade adventure story with a heavy dose of humor. Poor Nate has a mother who can’t cook, an annoying older sister who always tries to ruin things for him, and a father who relives his childhood by telling and retelling numerous stories of his and his brother’s exploits. In this second book of the series, Nate’s plans to hang out at home for the summer get tossed in the air when his mother announces he and Abby are going to summer camp for the next six weeks.
Doesn’t everyone have one of those summer camp horror stories? I know I do. Right off the bat, I want to learn more. Toz relies on her trademark style of imagination, adventure, and humor to bring this story to life. With Camp Spring Ridge counselors, color wars, a no-neck bully, and dining room duty, Nate has a lot going on. Toz immerses the reader in that summer camp experience with a ton of laughs, some Nate Rocks adventures, and a few battle of the sexes antics. This, along with a surprise ending, will keep readers zooming through the pages.
This is a perfect series for reluctant readers and those who enjoy funny adventure stories.
Look for my review of the latest Nate Rocks book tomorrow, Nate Rocks the School.
Paperback: 142 pages
Publisher: Grand Daisy Press (April 21, 2012)
I received a free e-copy of this book from the author. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.
Tags: A Brand New Me, Chapbooks for Tweens, Chapter books, contemporary fiction, contemporary tween fiction, Hank Zipzer, Henry Winkler, Humor, Lin Oliver, Middle Grade books, The Children's and Teens Book Connection, Tween fiction
Hank Zipzer: A Brand New Me is the latest middle grade novel from Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. This New York Times best-selling series is about Hank Zipzer, a funny young boy with learning challenges. Currently in fifth grade, his teacher Ms. Adolf tells him he’ll never amount to anything. Principal Love spends a lot of time lecturing him. When Hank discovers he’s in danger of not graduating, fulfilling his community service requirement might be the key to a brand new Hank.
This is the first Hank Zipzer book I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. Though I tend to shy away from celebrity written books, I found this one at a school book fair and decided to give it a try. Like Julianne Moore did with Freckleface Strawberry, Winkler and Lin have created a memorable character in Hank Zipzer. The Lil’ Diva (11) and Lil’ Princess (9) enjoyed this book for the drama and humor. As a parent who grew up watching the Fonz on Happy Days, I loved the little clues to where the inspiration behind the book and series comes from that the girls would never pick up. There’s a mean-spirited teacher that Hank describes as grey (hair, clothes, skin) with the last name of Adolf, and Winkler is Jewish. One of the teachers from the Professional Performing Arts School is named Garry Marshall, just like the producer/writer/actor who worked on Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Joanie Loves Chachi. Then there’s Hank’s father who wants him to learn a trade that will help him succeed, which is definitely a more traditional way of thinking than the spirit of entrepreneurship we see today.
I’m certain part of the appeal for me is in spying these clues the authors included in a series based upon Winkler’s childhood. But I can’t deny this is a book that will ring true with young people today. It’s great to see Hank succeed in an arena where he has always struggled. Kids will relate to that. Sometimes adults are too quick to judge a child’s abilities or discount less than superb grades as lack of motivation. A child who struggles with a learning disability, like the Lil’ Diva, will find a friend in Hank Zipzer and some sense of triumph right along with him.
I can’t wait to go back and read the other books in this series. I’m sure my girls are up for it, too.
Age Range: 8 and up
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (April 20, 2010)
I bought a copy of this book at a Scholastic book fair. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.