JADA SLY: ARTIST & SPY by Sherri Winston
Middle Grade (ages 8-12)
After five years in France, Ten-year-old Jada Sly has just moved to New York, along with her father and her father’s assistant, Cecile. Her father runs the Sly Museum which has just been refurbished. Jada’s mom was killed over a year ago in a plane crash.
Or was she?
Jada is certain her mother is still alive. And that there are men following Jada. And that her mother is a spy. But proving all that is harder than she thinks. Her father keeps sending her to therapists to get over her imaginings. But her new friends, all members of the International PIE club (which is really a spy club), help believe her and help her out. Jada keeps all her clues and drawings in a sketchbook, but someone keeps stealing them. It’s up to Jada and her friends to figure everything out.
This is a fun story full of action, adventure, and a bit of angst. I love that the characters are diverse and that Jada isn’t your typical white, small town kid. We’re in the middle of New York with a well-to-do black girl from France. How fun is that? The mystery is a good one that is solved in the end but with just enough loose threads to let us know that more stories with Jada and her friends are coming.
What I liked: the diversity and believability of the characters; the writing was well done and moved at a good pace; although this is the first in a series, the story did end well.
What I didn’t like: honestly? Not much of anything. I really enjoyed this book.
Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to all kids who like a good mystery along with action and adventure.
I received this ARC for free in exchange for an honest review.
A TALE OF WITCHWOOD PARK by S.W. Develin
Middle grade fantasy (ages 8-12)
Kendra, Jimmy, and Daniel are outcasts in their school. Kendra is a quiet introvert who rarely speaks above a whisper. Jimmy is a bully. And Daniel is a geeky kid nobody wants to have around, and is never picked to play on a team. They are pulled into an adventure in an enchanted forest by a troll and have to overcome obstacles (including the standard evil queen) in order to get back home.
Things I liked: The story is imaginative and charming and the unusual twist is intriguing (no I won’t say – spoilers!). The standard ending with the kids overcoming their obstacles and winning the day is a definite plus. Okay, that may have been a little bit of a spoiler, but we all know it was going to happen. They become much stronger, showing other kids who may have social problems that things can change.
Things I didn’t like: Okay, this is why it only got two stars from me. The book needs a good strong editor. The point of view is all over the place. The author rushes it too much – either less needs to happen, or this book needs to be three times longer than it is. Rather than showing us what’s happening, the author tells us everything which makes for uninteresting reading. In case my editorial prejudice was showing, I gave it to my grandkids to read (11 & 15) and they both put it down after two pages saying it wasn’t very good—and yes, they are both heavy readers who enjoy a good fantasy. But that’s the problem. This isn’t a good fantasy. I hate to say that, but it’s not. The bones of a really good story are there, but the body isn’t.
Recommendation: I honestly can’t recommend this book. I believe it’s got a good basis. A really good one. It has a unique twist that is intriguing and is about kids who don’t fit in who find their strength, but the writing is so poor that without a substantial content edit, I can’t recommend it.
THE WORLD ENDS IN APRIL by Stacy McAnulty
Middle Grade, ages 8-12
Eleanor Dross’s world is ending. Her best friend is leaving for a new school; an unfriendly girl tries to break her nose with a ball in gym class; oh, and she reads online that an asteroid is going to destroy the Earth on April 7.
Eleanor is a great character, but does she ever have issues—which is a good thing. She lives with her dad and two younger brothers (mom died); she has a grandfather who is a prepper (someone who believes in being prepared for the end of the world, or anything else), a best friend who is going to leave her to go to a school for the blind, and more. She has trouble making friends at school and her grades… a strong C, when she remembers to do her homework. Her dad tries to understand her obsession with believing the world is going to end in April, but he doesn’t get it. Eleanor does some things that are questionable, but she does pay the consequences (suspension, letters home, etc.) that show that her decisions aren’t always good and she has to pay the price.
This is a good story for any middle grade reader or even as a read-aloud. There’s a lot of angst on Eleanor’s part, dysfunctional families, challenges, and even some good science thrown in for fun. The end part about being prepared for emergencies has valuable information and the blurbs on actual asteroids that did really hit Earth at various times in history is interesting. This could be a good “science” book add-on as well as starting discussions on appropriate behavior, being prepared, astronomy, history, and more.
I received this as an ARC from the publisher for an honest review.
ELEMENTS OF GENIUS: NIKKI TESLA AND THE FERRET-PROOF DEATH RAY by Jess Keating
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) Humorous Action Adventure
Nikki Tesla blew a hole in her bedroom floor. Well, actually, her ferret, Pickles, did while aiming Nikki’s death ray at her. Okay, it was an accident, but it was enough for Nikki’s mom. She’s scared for Nikki so she contacts the Genius Academy. Nikki doesn’t want to go, but the “goons” who come to take her, threaten to put her mom in jail if she doesn’t. So she goes—along with Pickles. And meets Leo DaVinci, Bert Einstein, Charlotte Darwin, Grace O’Malley, Mary Shelley—and yes, they are very much like their namesakes. Nikki is certain she’s not going to fit in here any better than she fit in at any of her other schools, but then her death ray is stolen and it’s up to the geniuses to get it back.
This is an action adventure story with a lot of angst, twists, turns, and, well, adventure. It’s fast, fun, and sure to appeal to kids who want something a little different. Nikki is like every kid who’s had to move multiple times and just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Having a ferret along for the ride is cute. The story moves quickly as we follow our geniuses through Italy, Switzerland, and to the Arctic.
What I didn’t like? The end. Yes, the story is complete, and it satisfies. They manage to save the world from the bad guys and all that, but… the story isn’t over. The last line (I won’t reveal it so as to not give away the ending) proves that the story isn’t over, but continues on into other books. I’m not a huge fan of that kind of ending, but…as I said, *this* story is complete so that’s good. I know it’s a marketing ploy to get people to continue to buy books, but it’s not something I enjoy. It’s a satisfying ending—and yet, not.
Still, it was a fun read and the author gives great tips at the back that tell who the kids are named after and blurbs on their namesakes. I do recommend this book, just be forewarned that it’s not over even when you reach the end.
REVIEW: THE RED PYRAMID by RICK RIORDAN – 5 sparklers
Rick Riordan has written books in the mythological fantasy genre before, but his unique spin on ancient gods and goddesses updated to the modern world truly shines in his Egyptian series, the Kane Chronicles. While the Percy Jackson (Greek) series have had time to fully settle into the universe it establishes, the stories of Sadie and Carter Kane take place at around the same time in the same universe. The Kane Chronicles’ unique cast of characters ranging from teenagers to shapeshifting cats to gods themselves brings a charm to the story and the series as a whole.
The story begins with Carter’s first person view of his side of the adventure. He and his dad travel the world, searching for and collecting information on various Egyptian artifacts, and for two days a year, they visit Carter’s sister Sadie, who lives with her grandparents in London. After a strained and awkward reunion and a mysterious meeting between their dad and a familiar-looking man named Amos, Carter and Sadie are whisked off to an Egyptian museum, the one that houses the Rosetta Stone.
Little do they know, however, that Mr. Kane plans to use the Rosetta Stone to summon an Egyptian God, the god of chaos, Set, no less. Without much explanation, Sadie and Carter are recruited in their father’s plans. After things go south, their dad is unfortunately killed in the event, and Set escapes to wreak havoc upon the world.
Once they return to the house, the Kane siblings run into the elusive Amos, who informs them that they must come with him to Brooklyn and begin their training in the path of magic. They unenthusiastically agree, and begin on their journey to take down Set.
The Red Pyramid truly is a fun read, and Rick Riordan’s storytelling fails to disappoint with this entrance into the world of the Kanes. The story is told through a shifting first person point of view; Carter and Sadie take turns telling the story every two chapters. Additionally, the narration is played off as a transcription of a recording, so occasionally throughout the story one of the siblings will comment what the other is doing in real time. This unique style causes the two to feel much more human and connected to the reader, something that a lot of other authors do not do.
Another area that this story shines in is plot. The adventure is well thought out, and many of the plot twists are unpredictable but not unexpected, and every part of the story flows cohesively into the next. The battle sequences and final confrontation are hectic, as is Riordan’s specialty, but they are easy to follow and figure out what is going on.
The entire book is centered around magic, and what one can and cannot (and, by extension, should and should not) do with it. Oftentimes with magic comes a chance of a character being overpowered, but the author always makes sure to avoid this by making clear a simple rule: magic takes effort. This rule separates the possible from the impossible, and makes some spells incredibly harmful or even deadly to the wielder. The way that Riordan sets up the entire system makes magic just another weapon, something that a character gets better at using with time, but doesn’t overtake the battlefield.
The mythology series come with gods too, and with gods comes omnipotence. Again, this is completely prevented, not by the author but by the myths themselves. Riordan’s way of staying true to the myths but updating the characters of mythology to modern life (such as giving them smartphones, playing basketball, and so on) is truly unique to the series. In Egyptian myths, gods are not omnipotent. They can be limited, and the books reflect this fact by making sure that the gods in question can still be overcome and held back.
The cast of characters is stupendous in this book. History nerd Carter, who’s always willing to crack a joke even in the heat of battle. Sarcastic Sadie, who constantly mocks Carter and crew, but deep down hopes to protect everyone. And the villainous Set, whose evil plans seem surface level in comparison to the true villain of the series. Later in the book we meet Bast, the spunky cat goddess, and Zia Rashid, the mysterious magician whose alliances are difficult to place. Every character is well thought out and gets the character arc they deserve, and no character is left behind leaving the audience something to be desired.
Riordan’s The Red Pyramid is a perfect establishment of a story, and fully deserves the praise it receives. Overall, this story deserves a full five stars. Young adults and youth will definitely enjoy this books and other works by the author.
Review written by Te’ B.