Archive for October, 2013

MYSTERY, FANTASY, ADVENTURE

Pirates, Pirates! (A Rogue’s Tale)

Written by Saoirse O’Mara
Cover by Svenja Liv

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This is the third book in a series: The Lost Diadem (Part 1) and Trouble in the Mage Guild (Part II) preceding this volume. I did not read the first two, but had no trouble picking up the fantasy adventure in this newest release.

Tayla is a young teen living in Davon. She had previously met Govon when she picked his pocket to obtain money in a desperate attempt to survive. Govon is also struggling to support himself. They become friends. After an adventure to find the lost diadem, he becomes apprenticed to Dalen as a trainee for the City Guard. Tayla is adopted by a tavern owner and his family. In this third adventure, the story opens with Tayla witnessing a sailor being beaten on the docks. She brings him to her friend Larissa, a priestess in the Temple. Unfortunately, he dies before he can explain who attacked him. Tayla asks Govon for help in solving the mystery, but she is upset and dismayed when he informs her that he is too busy preparing for his final evaluation to help her. So Tayla is determined to find answers on her own. Larissa and her friend Katia vow to assist her. Things get murkier as a merchant ship is attacked, and a prominent woman citizen is beaten. Tayla goes undercover and lurks in the taverns spying on sailors trying to uncover who is behind the plot. Will she be successful? Who is behind the murder? What do pirates have to do with the plot? Will Tayla be reconciled with Govon?

This is a perfect fantasy adventure for tweens and young adults. It touches upon many of the issues they are grappling with in their lives. O’Mara addresses loyalty, family bonds, hard work, friendship and the search to discover right and wrong. The characters are well developed and the story line moves along quickly with just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. The beautiful cover art captures the mood and setting. The length is under 120 pages so it will not deter a middle grade reader. Perfect book for a rainy afternoon. Hope to see more from this talented writer.

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TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

Ta Ta for Now! (Stories about Melissa)

Written by Bethany Lopez

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This is a fast paced well written story about a fourteen year old girl named Melissa, her family, and the beginning of her freshman year at Dearborn High School. The protagonist writes in a journal format spilling out her hopes, fears and emotions.

Even as an adult reader, I found myself laughing, crying and sympathizing with Melissa. The oldest child of four, Melissa describes her brothers and sisters: Megan, the seventh grader who has no pride in her appearance, Mikey, the nine year old pesky brother, and Monica, the still adorable five year old baby sister. Her parents take their responsibilities seriously and do their best to guide her.

In the beginning of the story, Melissa has just begun to make journal entries in the book Megan has bought for her birthday. Melissa is apprehensive about the first day of high school, especially because her mother is also a teacher at the school! Her life is a roller coaster. Melissa’s best friend Jess has turned into a goth and won’t even talk to her. Melissa is desperately trying to get Brian, a star athlete swimmer and football player, to pay attention to her. A new girl named Layla appears eager to befriend her. Melissa’s entries are filled with the ups and downs of a teenager’s life. There are boy troubles, family quarrels, parental disputes and problems at school.

Many of the lessons learned are not acquired without grief or hardship, but we are introduced to a young lady who is doing her best to find out who she is and how she can fit it without losing her own identity. Bethany Lopez does a good job of delineating the joys and fears as well as the trials and tribulations of a fourteen year old high school freshman. Story action moves along quickly and the sub plots involving supporting characters are seamlessly interwoven. The reader empathizes with Melissa while the supporting cast of characters alternate in lifting her up and pulling her down. Length of the story (about 150 pages) is perfect for a young teen reader. Takes you back to a time that many adult readers would like to forget.

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A HERO IN DISGUISE

Nate Rocks the World (Volume 1)

Written by Karen Pokras Toz

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Nate Rockledge is a ten year old boy who, like most boys his age, has a barrage of problems. He hates school, and because he has no athletic talent is always the last one chosen. Nate’s family seems dysfunctional to him. His mother can’t cook or sew, yet she expects him to eat the food she prepares and wear the lopsided Halloween costumes she insists on sewing for him. She also forces him to hang out with her friend’s daughter, Lisa, who is the class nerd. Nate has a thirteen year old sister named Abby who torments and teases him. His dad tries to be cool, but retells the same old stories so often that he makes a fool of himself. Nate does have a cool friend named Tommy who is often involved with his adventures, yet Nate’s only enjoyment is drawing cartoons and daydreaming that he is a superhero. In those moments he can say, “Nate Rocks.”

So Nate the protagonist alternates between a ho-hum existence and a penchant for imagining heroic exploits where he is suddenly drawn into situations in which people desperately need help. For example, rescuing a dog from a burning house, releasing a girl tied to railroad tracks, helping a child find her way home, and becoming an astronaut to save the earth from being destroyed by a meteorite. The reader is sucked into the action because the dialogue and story line are woven in such a way that you cannot help but cheer Nate on in his exploits even when they seem highly improbable. Then a day comes along when Nate gets the opportunity to be a real hero.

The book is recommended for middle grades or ages nine through twelve. I feel that the book appeals to boys and girls because Abby is also a strong female character. Lots of tweens will see similarities with how they view their relationships with family and school friends. There is a great deal of humor in the story. You might even find yourself laughing out loud. Young readers will find many family and school incidents which will be similar to the events happening in their own lives. The approximately 140 page book is a quick read with lots of action that will attract even a reluctant reader. Classroom teachers might want to use the story as a morning read aloud over a few sessions to garner reading interest and enhance listening skills.

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FOOD FASCINATION

Mission Explore Food

Written by Geography Collective and Tom Morgan Jones

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This is a most unusual book targeted for children nine and older. There are almost three hundred pages divided into six sections. If you expect a conventional book on food groups and good nutrition, you are not looking at the right choice. Some adults may find parts of it distasteful. This volume does provide a lot of information written in a way that many children will enjoy and includes some very unconventional activities. .

The book is available in hardcover and kindle editions. While the kindle version has nice pop up features, you will need a paper journal to complete activities. Basic premise of the book is to change the way you view food forever. Practical information is provided on how to deal with emergencies related to food like choking, poisoning, insect bites and first aid. It teaches how to set up balanced meals, use sustainable foods, and the methods of cooking and harvesting foods. There are diagrams showing the cuts of meat, and lessons on preserving foods, and how to forage, hunt and fish. An extensive glossary explains terms that will be unfamiliar to a child exploring the many topics included here.

Probably the most unusual parts of this work are the mission or exploration sections. For example, in the balanced food section there is an activity to train yourself to eat foods you don’t like. Some suggestions are to take a given list of foods and record how they affect your breath, combine foods from several different countries, reverse the order in which you eat your daily meals, and make a graph comparing the number of calories people in different countries eat. Children are given different statements and asked whether they believe them to be fact or fiction. Some missions are rather conventional like planting herbs, flowers and bulbs. Others are truly unique like making chocolate poo and keeping a poo diary in the section on waste. The reader learns how to make a band of edible musical instruments, graph and eat his height in spaghetti and eat his words on sugar paper. Cooks in the kitchen learn how to make ginger beer monsters, bake cookies in the shape of countries and invent their own cheese by combining a few ingredients.

I think by now you have a good idea of what this book is about. The content is somewhat rambling, but the work has a lot of value in the basic knowledge that it imports. Even though some of the missions and activities may appear somewhat strange, most children will find an interest that they would like to explore. I feel that the book is most valuable as a reference tool on food nutrition, earth science, geography and environment.

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TIME TRAVELING

The Imagination Station: Voyage with the Vikings Volume 1

Written by Marianne Herring and Paul McCusker

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This is the first book in a series combining fantasy, history, adventure with Christian values. The books are sponsored by Focus on the Family based on the Adventures in Odyssey radio broadcasts. They are early chapter books marketed for ages seven and up, but the text is large font and vocabulary not too difficult making them easily understood by a child a bit younger. There are a few black and white simple illustrations assisting a younger reader to grasp story references and providing more incentive for reluctant readers.  At the end of the tale, there is a secret puzzle to solve based on the text adding to the aura of a detective story.  Additional information is available on the website that is included. This is an added incentive for homeschooling parents and classroom teachers who wish to use the book as a springboard for discussion to other historical figures, events or geography of the period.

Beth and her cousin Patrick are at a soda house named Whit’s End. Curiously, it is located in a rambling old house described as a kid’s museum. Beth introduces Patrick to the Imagination Station, which is a kind of time machine.  It’s owner, Mr. Whittaker, invents things. He suggests that the children use his time machine to go on an adventure to visit a Viking ship. He outfits them with Viking costumes. Then he asks a favor. Mr. Whittaker found a note in the Station asking that the traveler bring back a sun stone from a Viking to save someone named Albert. Off they go hurtling into space landing in an open field in front of a herd of reindeer.

The children meet Erik the Red and his son Leif Erickson. Leif has recently returned from his travels.  He has recently introduced Christianity to the land. Leif brings the children back to the Church for their own protection, while he prepares to embark on another voyage. Erik is mystified when Beth challenges him to a game of chess. Unfortunately, the children have still not been able to accomplish their mission to find the sun stone. Will they be trapped back in time in this village or will they stow away on the Viking ship with Leif?  Will they be successful in finding the sun stone and wending their way back to the Imagination Station or are they doomed to remain in the past?

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DEEP FREEZE

Arctic Fox: Animals Knowledge Series

Written by Deutsche Don Juan

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The author has written several books with the intent to inform the reader about animals and their environments. He writes well in an easy to read format that will appeal to both children and adults. Gorgeous pictures illustrate each of the major points. As is the case with previous books in the series, Don Juan covers every aspect of the arctic fox’s life. You will learn about appearance, feeding, geography, mating, behavior, habitat, predators, and dangers to humans. Near the end of this short sixty page book, the author provides a summary of fun facts with questions and answers. This makes the book perfect for a unit study or cooperative learning project in the classroom.

Without giving away all the wonderful details that the author provides, I will provide a short summary about this amazing animal. The arctic fox ( Vulpes lagopus ) has many common names. These include polar fox, white fox, and snow fox. This animal lives in the alpine tundra or arctic regions. Despite its name, this animal is not always white. It is born a darker brown color which gradually becomes white over time, while in summer its color actually returns to brown providing camouflage. Its body is round and fat with short legs and a thick tail preventing loss of heat; adaptations that evolved over time so that it could survive in this harsh environment. The arctic fox preys on smaller animals, the lemming being its favorite when available. In spring it will attack baby ringed seals. Fish found beneath the ice are also a food staple. Arctic foxes live in caves or burrow in the sides of cliffs. They are generally monogamous and choose one lifelong mate. The mother’s litter of kits generally ranges from seven to fifteen. Their average life span is only three to four years.  Polar bears are their biggest enemy, but wolves, snowy owls and humans also hunt them. They have keen senses especially in the area of smell and hearing. Arctic foxes carry diseases like rabies and encephalitis and may be affected by mercury poisoning from the fish that they eat.

Readers will learn much more by studying in detail the text and photographs in this unique book. Just the thing to stretch your mind and remind you of the wonders and beauties of nature.

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THERE IS A WAY OUT

No Exit: The Apple Grove Gang Vol.1

Written  by Hamilton C. Burger

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This is the first in a series of books about the Apple Grove Gang. The mystery adventure tale chronicles a group of friends who live in a small town forty or fifty years ago when children played outside and teamed together to solve common problems. The two main characters named Benny and Bug are about to begin summer vacation when they make a startling discovery. Not only is Exit 23 on the toll highway about to be closed, but this major loss of town revenue will force the closing of the community center where the local kids hang out. So the gang becomes determined to get to the bottom of this issue by sneaking into the mayor’s office to get the lowdown. But the mayor refuses to listen, and nothing seems to add up. Together with the help of a few adults, the gang use their detective skills to get the answers they need, finding many surprises along the way.

The characters are well developed and the story line moves along quickly in this book of approximately one hundred twenty five pages. The written dialogue is age appropriate with just the right amount of conversation and background description. Readers are given an authentic glimpse of small town life and local politics. However, in this story, the children come up with the solutions. Lessons of friendship and community loyalty are well developed.

This tale is a quick read for tweens and teens. Older adults will love the nostalgia and feel good vibes. Members of this gang are not into themselves and stand together as friends who need to make a wrong right. Nothing complicated here, just a story that will appeal to both girls and boys empowering them to believe they can also be problem solvers. A few more illustrations of  action scenes in the book might make the read more appealing to younger readers. This is a perfect lazy afternoon read and the quick pace encourages reluctant readers. At the end of the book, there is a bonus chapter introducing Gold Fever, the second adventure in the Apple Grove series.

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