Category Archives: Book Review

MG Review – Loot by Jude Watson

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Twelve-year-old March lives a different life. He’s the son of Alfie McQuin, a notorious jewel thief. One night in Amsterdam, a heist goes horribly wrong and March watches his father fall from a rooftop. Before he dies, Alfie manages to say a few words to March: “Find jewels.” Or did he say, “Find Jules”?

March discovers that he has a twin sister named Jules. The two of them are offered a job to steal back seven precious moonstones for seven million dollars. With the help of two more misfit kids, they plan a series of robberies staying just ahead of the law and the other thieves that want the stones too. The moonstones are believed to be jinxed. Their mother died trying to steal them ten years ago and now their father is dead too. Will the moonstones claim March and Jules as their next victims?

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I thought it was appropriate for kids to be cast as thieves and that lifestyle glamorized, but Jude Watson handles it well by giving it a Robin Hood feel. She also shows how that lifestyle is not glamorous at all and how March and Jules wishes they had a normal life with a normal family. The kids vs. bad adults is done well too.

Young readers will love the fast-paced action and the edge-of-your-seat excitement as the kids barely avoid capture over and over again. They will also love how the March, Jules and their friends decipher the clues.

As for MG writers, I think you should read LOOT for a plotting and pacing lesson. Watson’s chapters are very, very short. Each chapter is basically one scene and the scenes fit together like waves in a tidal pool. First is a calm scene as the kids plan their next heist. The tension builds in the next scene as they prepare to strike and then one or two scenes of high-action during the robbery. This pattern takes place within the bigger story arc as March learns to trust his sister and the mystery unfolds. The short chapters also create a sense of urgency because time seems to pass too fast for the kids to make their do-or-die deadline.

LOOT is a wonderful page-turner with the added bonus of character depth and development as well. And it has a great ending.

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MG Review – The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

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The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin has been called a powerful retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, but calling it that doesn’t do it justice. First off, it isn’t exactly a fairy tale and second, it isn’t a retelling of the Andersen classic. The two stories have very little in common other than a nightingale and what happens when the nightingale sings—people are cured and forgiven. So the Nightingale’s Nest would be better described as a powerful story inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen classic. That being said, it is wonderful. Let it inspire you.

The Nightingale’s Nest is powerful, compelling and haunting. With many references to grief and child abuse it will stay with you long after you have finished it. But these subjects are handled in such a clever way, neither adults or younger readers will not find them overwhelming.

The story is told from the point of view of Little John a twelve- year old boy whose little sister has died. We get an inside view of how different people process grief. Little John thinks everything is his fault. His Mother has lost touch with reality. She thinks her daughter is still alive. His Father is a drunk, depressed and hard on his son. Then Little John meets Gayle, a foster child processing grief of her own. Her parents she says have flown away. She shows signs of physical abuse and is mentally fragile. She has built a nest to await her parents’ return. But when she sings, she cures things. Is it magic? Maybe. Little John promises to protect her but lets her down. Lured by the promise of money he takes her to an old man who says he wants to record her singing but we soon believe other horrible things happen. She loses her voice, When Little John realizes what he has done, he tries to make it up to Gayle but everything goes wrong. Eventually, he gets it right and Gayle forgives him and the old man. She then disappears. We never know if she really was a bird and flew away or was a girl. We don’t know if the magic was real either but either way, Little John is transformed. I suspect you will be too.

This is such a fine example of magical realism, it is a must read.

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MG Review – The Graham Cracker Plot by @shelleytougas

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I’m going to be honest. I was afraid to read this book. Shelley Tougas and I share an agent, the wonderful Susan Hawk, and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel if I hated it. The good news is that not only did I not hate it, I LOVED it. Seriously, she had me on the opening page:

DEAR JUDGE HENRY,

I will tell you three things right now.

Number one: I’m almost twelve years old. I do not want to go to prison, even if it’s a prison for kids.

Number two: Nobody calls me Aurora Dawn Bauer, not even my grandma, and she’s the most legal person I know. Everyone calls me Daisy.

Number three: Your face looks like squirrels flopped their tails where your eyebrows should be. I can’t tell if your eyes ever laugh, but you were all business when you told me to write this, and—

UGH. Mom just peeked over my shoulder and said, “Erase that stuff about his weird eyebrows or we’ll have more trouble. I mean it!” I went to my room and slammed the door. She’s a snoop.

Talk about a great opener! The rest of the book is just as charming. The Graham Cracker Plot does a terrific job of mixing the farcical with reality, humor with poignancy, as you follow the adventures of Daisy and her frenemy Graham in their attempt to break Daisy’s father out of prison. It’s not as outlandish as you might think, it’s a minimum security prison after all. Along the way you’ll meet interesting characters, see Daisy and Graham get themselves into all sorts of trouble, and watch as Daisy learns the truth about her dad and what taking responsibility for your actions really means.

This book has a lot of heart and plenty of fun. Do yourself a favor and read it.

 

 

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MG Book Review – Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by @LieslShurtliff

Spoiler Alert… Rumplestiltskin wasn’t a bad guy after all.  Or at least in the twisted fairytale RUMP by Liesl Shurtliff. Shurtliff paints a picture where the “villain” ends up being a likable protagonist who is only guilty of having an unfortunate name.

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Rump sets off to uncover his full name, who names their kid Rump, and the destiny that comes with it. This is important because he lives in a world where people believe that a person’s name is directly attached who they are and what they are to become.

The journey of self discovery begins when he finds his dead mother’s spinning wheel.  While he is warned against using it, the magic inside of him draws him to the wheel and straw becomes gold.  The need for more food leads Rump to spinning more and more gold, but what he soon learns is that he has no power over what he gets in return. This all leads to him to the fateful night we all know, the one where the queen is in danger of losing her baby if she can’t guess his full name.

While there is a mystery attached to Rump’s search for answers, there is not much in terms of thrilling action or nail biting suspense.  When researching this this book, I found reviews stating this as a flaw and the a low rating was given.  While I did expected more action, the character development and insight into Rump’s motives had me captivated.

The true test was with my 10 year old son.  He LOVED the story and begged for “one more chapter” every night.  He made comments like “I can really see the room in my head” and “wow, that stinks for him (Rump).”  The clear vision into Rump’s world and the empathy he felt for this flawed character more than made up for lack of fart jokes and epic battles.

I would recommend this book for mature 9 year old to young 99 year old. In the end, we can all learn from Rump that friendship, faith in yourself and perseverance can free you from whatever cards life deals you.

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MG Book Review – The Night Gardner by @JonathanAuxier

Reviewed by L. Tyre

I recently finished the new Jonathan Auxier novel, THE NIGHT GARDENER, and it was wonderfully creepy. But before I get into the novel, can we just take a moment to gaze on the incredible cover?

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The second I saw that, I was determined to buy the book. Sorry, no e-edition for me. I settled in and right away, I knew I was going to love this story. Listen to this:

“The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. The crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip.

And they were riding to their deaths.”

I just got shivers all over again!

Molly and Kip are on their way to work as servants for a family living in a creepy, rundown old manor. The family is unaware that they are slowly succumbing to an evil that has worked its way into their home. Can Kip and Molly survive their encounter with the evil inhabitant and save the family, or will they meet their end as so many others before them?

This is a super-smart ghost tale with a lot of hidden depth. I highly recommend.

(Not for the faint of heart. I’d say a brave 4th grader and up.)

Don’t just take my word from it. Here’s praise from people that actually matter!

STARRED REVIEWS

“Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message, Auxier’s atmospheric drawings and touches of humor amid the horror make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget.”   —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Storytelling and the secret desires of the heart wind together in this atmospheric novel that doubles as a ghost tale.” —School Library Journal, starred review

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