Monday, November 13

Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! (Review and Giveaway Entry!)

Having stayed up just last night to help my poor toddler feel better from Croup, this book seems especially appropriate today! Check out my review of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! and see below to enter a giveaway for a pretty awesome prize...

Aliens Get the Sniffles Too!
Written by Katy S. Duffield, illustrated by K. G. Campbell

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0763665029
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: November 7, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: extraterrestrials, sick/ill, cold treatments, pets, family relationships

"Little Alien is sick. And sick is extra-terrestrial bad when you have two scratchy throats, five ears that hurt, and three runny noses. Splatch! Sputter! Spurt! Luckily Mama and Daddy Alien have an arsenal of lunar decongestants and meteor showers on hand to make him feel a little better (not to mention a Milky Way milkshake to help the medicine go down). Even so, the family's alien pooch, Mars Rover, can't stand to see his little buddy feeling out of sorts. Can a loyal pup's funny tricks finally coax a smile?"

Oh, the joys of a sick child! This loving alien mom and dad do all sorts of things to help their poor child, as loving parents would. In the end, though, it seems as though the dog will be getting the credit. Maybe my recent late night makes me a tad more bitter about this than I should be—the parents did all they could! Despite my own bias, I'm sure kids will love the story. It's got a dash of humor, plenty of relatable woes (oh the sniffles and sore throat!), and a very lovable dog. The illustrations are soft, with Campbell's colored-penciled settings and characters, making it feel cozy. It seems a good read when you've got an under-the-weather child. Check it out! Or enter the giveaway below for a chance at your own copy.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Katy Duffield is the award-winning author of more than twenty-five books for children. She lives in Florida with her husband. To learn more, and to download classroom resources, visit katyduffield.com. Twitter: @KatyDuffield. Check out Katy on Pinterest!

K. G. Campbell is the illustrator of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and the author-illustrator of Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters. He was born in Kenya, raised in Scotland, and now lives in southern California.

TWO giveaway opportunities!!
1. One grand-prize winner will receive an out-of-this-world alien backpack with a signed copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! along with tissue packs, toy mini aliens, and space pencils.
2. Ten lucky runners-up will receive a copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too!

To enter, click here

Tuesday, November 7

How To Turn Your Favorite Video Game into a Book (By Danica Davidson)

Hello all and welcome to today's blog tour stop and book birthday celebration for Danica Davidson's newest Minecraft adventure story, Adventure Against the Endermen. Ms. Davidson was nice enough to provide some valuable insight into her writing process with a guest post today. Check it out!


About the Book

Adventure Against the Endermen
(Unofficial Overworld Heroes Adventure #1)
Written by Danica Davidson

Sky Pony Press (November 7, 2017)
978-1510727021

"The Overworld is in danger once again, this time from vicious Endermen! Mayor Alexandra summons Stevie, Alex, Maison, Yancy, and Destiny to try and stop the attacks. When the friends investigate, they quickly realize that the Endermen are looking for something. Could it be Stevie’s Ender crystal?

"Soon the group of friends—now an Overworld task force—are caught up in a battle larger than any they could have imagined. Can they protect the world of Minecraft from Endermen—and the larger threat of the crystal?"

How To Turn Your Favorite Video Game into a Book
By Danica Davidson

How do you turn your favorite video game into a book? The most important thing is to find the story.

Monday, October 30

Top Nonfiction to Scare Your Pants Off This Halloween

Happy Halloween! I couldn't help but share a special edition of my favorites of the month: the scary, suspenseful, and yetalso true! Behold, top nonfiction to scare your pants off...

Don't Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True Stories
Anna Claybourne

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1426328411
Publisher: National Geographic
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: Grades 5 and up
Genre: Nonfiction, Horror
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: paranormal, unexplained events, haunted places, curiousities

"Love to tell scary stories around the camp fire? Like to solve mysteries? Brave enough to hear the truth about some pretty freaky phenomena? Then cuddle up with this spooky spine-tingler, filled with delightfully frightful true stories of real-life monsters, doomed domains, menacing mysteries, strange disappearances, and so much more.

"Meet ghosts, ghouls, and zombies. Go inside haunted houses, hidden graveyards, and deadly secret passages. The Fright-o-meter rates each story for its level of scariness. Full of thrills and chills, this book will have you sleeping with a nightlight for sure. Read if you dare, but don't say we didn't warn you!"

Few times are there books that, when shipped to me, do I immediately start reading (ignoring the other half-read books on my desk). Of course, I do have a penchant for scary stories, so this particular book already had a leg-up in that regard. But still: true stories and reports of some of the scariest places and things on earth? All bundled up into one handy reference book? Yeah, this one was a big winner. Each page highlights a new a disturbing story in its spread. Its "Fright-o-meter" does indeed prepare readers for the amount of creepiness about to be shared (although, as it admits, it is pretty arbitrary—I, for one, find the Island of Dolls much more disturbing than sinkholes, but that's just me...). Altogether, this book does indeed promise thrills, chills, and plenty of goosebumps. Read with care!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures 
(The World of Weird Animals)
Jess Keating, illustrations by David DeGrand

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0553512304
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: August 8, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: library book

Themes: animals, dangerous creatures, predators

"Some people think monsters are the stuff of nightmares—the stuff of scary movies and Halloween. But monsters can also be found right in your backyard. Animals like aye-ayes, goblin sharks and vampire bats may look scary, but they pose no threat to humans. Others, such as the prairie dog, seem innocent—cute, even—yet their behavior could give you goose bumps. What makes a monster? Read this book to find out, if you dare..."

Keating shares some of the coolest animal facts around, no joke. She has done impressive amounts of research to create this book (and the others in The World of Weird Animals series, including Pink is for Blobfish and the upcoming Cute as an Axolotl). Yet, it's still accessible enough to be enjoyed by young, early readers. A delicate balance indeed!

This monster book is also particularly thought-provoking. While it's easy to be creeped out by some of the animals spotlighted herein, it's the last animal Keating highlights that really brings it all together and makes one, indeed, ponder, "What makes a monster?" I'll not spoil it for you, but just encourage you to read it. Highly recommended, and I know kids will love it. (Heads up, though: there are some disturbing and frightening creature habits discussed that could be rather scary for the younglings. Maybe give it a full perusal before sharing it with your kids?)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

This Book Isn't Safe
Colin Furze

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0451478764
Publisher: Razorbill
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: engineering, crazy inventions,

"Colin Furze's bonkers and brilliant inventions such as a homemade hoverbike, DIY Wolverine Claws, an alarm clock ejector bed, and Hoover shoes have earned him more than 5 million YouTube subscribers and more than 450 million video views. Now Colin is on a mission to inspire a new generation of budding inventors with This Book Isn't Safe! Included are instructions on how to make ten brand new inventions with a basic at-home toolkit, alongside behind-the-scenes stories about some of Colin's greatest inventions and top secret tips and tricks straight from his invention bunker (aka a shed in his backyard in Stamford Lincolnshire)."

Okay, so this one isn't really scary, so to speak (unless you're the mother of a kid who wants to follow in Furze's footsteps). I will admit straight up that I hadn't actually heard of Colin Furze until this book was sent to me in the mail. So of course I end up watching 2 or 3 (or 10) of his YouTube videos and have come to this conclusion: this book is his videos in paper form. That is to say, it's loud, crazy, overwhelming, and completely awesome. This book will easily satiate his fans with his continued crazed inventing (because who wouldn't want concrete crushing shoes?).

Yes, there's a lot in this book. A lot of graphics, thought bubbles, exclamation points, photos, asides, colors, fonts—you name it. I was a bit overwhelmed (but like I said, it's an accurate representation of his videos and millions of people like those, so...). I wish that the actual inventions and instructions were a bit more obvious (organized, that is to say) amidst the other pages of bios, behind-the-scenes reports, and engineering tips (which are actually super helpful and a really awesome asset). Still, overall, a great book to add to your STEM collection. Kids will love it. Their mothers might be a bit more hesitant (haha).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Magician and the Spirits: Harry Houdini and the Curious Pastime of Communicating with the Dead
Deborah Noyes

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0803740181
Publisher: Viking Books
Date of publication: August 22, 2017
Age: Grades 6 and up
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: library book

Themes: spiritualism, Harry Houdini, death, debunking

"A century ago, the curious idea that spirits not only survive death but can be contacted on the 'other side' was widespread. Psychic mediums led countless séances, claiming to connect the grieving with their lost relations through everything from frenzied trance writing to sticky expulsions of ectoplasm.

"The craze caught Harry Houdini’s attention. Well-known by then as most renowned magician and escape artist, he began to investigate these spiritual phenomena. Are ghosts real? Can we communicate with them? Catch them in photographs? Or are all mediums “flim-flammers,” employing tricks and illusions like Houdini himself? Peopled with odd and fascinating characters, Houdini’s gripping quest will excite readers’ universal wonderment with life, death, and the possibility of the Beyond."

I was fascinated by Harry Houdini as a kid, and even read a biography or two. So I got pretty excited about reading this when I saw it at the library. Imagine how disappointing it was, though, to read but two pages of the introduction and already know it (spiritualism) was all a total sham. I think it could've been a bit more exciting had Noyes let the reader take the journey of discovery with Houdini. With every new medium introduced, Noyes conveys their impressive array of paranormal abilities followed quickly by the crushing truth: tricks of the trade meant to dupe the public. Perhaps, because of the Halloween season, I was looking more for a scare or dose of creepy than a history report.

But! That was a lot of harsh words for what really is a thoroughly researched and well presented topic. I mean, seriously: Noyes has journal entries, interviews, quotes, photos, and all sorts of primary sources that really delve into Houdini and his work debunking these mediums. The thoroughness of it all makes it easy for the reader to feel transported back in time. Truly, it's pretty impressive. Overall, the scholarliness makes a better read for older kids—a great recommendation for middle and high school history lovers.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, October 26

Five Tips OF WHAT NOT TO DO for Aspiring Picture Book Writers (By Stacy McAnulty)

Hello folks! Welcome to this blog tour stop celebrating the newest picture book from Stacy McAnulty: Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years (illustrated by David Litchfield). After the opportunity to interview her here on the blog for Mr. Fuzzbuster, Ms. McAnulty was nice enough to write a guest post this time around. With at least seven picture books published (and another on the way!), Stacy is sharing some valuable insight into the picture-book-writing process with this post. But first! About her newest...

About the Book

Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years
Written by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield

Henry Holt & Co (October 24, 2017)
ISBN: 978-1250108081

"'Hi, I’m Earth! But you can call me Planet Awesome.'

"Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children's book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits."


Five Tips of WHAT NOT TO DO for Aspiring Picture Book Writers
By Stacy McAnulty

As a parent, my rules tend to lean toward what not to do. No name-calling. Don’t hit. No iPad until your homework is done. Don’t eat candy for breakfast unless it’s a holiday. Etc. So it feels more natural for me to create a list of no-no’s for aspiring writers rather than a list of tips.
Here goes.

Tuesday, October 24

School Library Decor: Where Will Reading Take You? (with a free printable!)

I finally (finally) got my school library's decorations up. Hey, and it's only October. Woo! Anyway, I wanted to share the ideas here, point out some cool resources, and even share a free printable travel poster.

Travel poster? Travel poster. Here, you can see what I'm talking about. Check out this library...


Thursday, October 19

Series Highlight: The BabyLit Primer Board Books

I'm so excited to highlight some favorite board books in our house. I'll admit straight up though...it's more my favorite than my daughter's. But I'm also a firm believer that adults should enjoy reading to their kids with books they themselves love. Right? Right. Which is where the BabyLit books come in.

BabyLit books are retellings of classic literature in a way that not only pays homage to the original storyline, but also educates the reader on a certain specific subject. For instance, Les Miserables is a French Language Primer, Sense & Sensibility is an Opposites Primer, and The Secret Garden is a Flowers Primer. Really, the whole series is a pretty simple concept beautifully executed.

The three newest BabyLit classic novel retellings include some of my favorite favorite and are perfect for sharing with my own little girl. I mean, just check these out...

A Little Princess: A Friendship Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423645955
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: March 21, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: friendship, courage

In this BabyLit book, each page introduces Sara’s friends with text from the original novel, A Little Princess. The Friendship Primer shows the reader that the best of friends can be found in some surprising places. Turns out that this little board book is pretty true to the original story with little snippets about each of Sara's beloved friends--Emily, Ermengarde, Ram Dass, and more. It's even true to the original order of characters as they're introduced. And Oliver's illustrations are as adorable as ever. With the original classic being a personal favorite of mine, I love sharing this little book with my own daughter.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

Anne of Green Gables: A Places Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423647829
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: August 22, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: places, nature, Prince Edward Island

In this introduction to beloved redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, readers explore Prince Edward Island and the places that Anne loves. With words and bright illustrations, discover Anne’s home and her favorite pond, wood, field, garden, and the avenue to Avonlea. Again, Oliver's illustrations are sweet and colorful. The text chosen from the original novel adds the perfect amount of whimsy to this nature-filled book. It's less concerned with the storyline, but Anne's flowery language quoted here is a sure introduction to a beloved classic character.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Nutcracker: A Dancing Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1423647485
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of Publication: September 12, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dancing, ballet, toys, Christmas

This colorfully illustrated board book version of the classic Christmas-time ballet is sure to be a new holiday favorite. With soldiers marching, mice prancing, snowflakes swirling, dolls bending, and buffoons skipping, readers will be introduced basic movement terms and a classic story. For turning a ballet into a book, this is simply and wonderfully done. Oliver's illustrations are full of movement and emotion--perfect for this tale. Adams manages to tell the (very basic) tale on ornaments displayed on every other page. Overall, one that we'll be having fun with this Christmas as my little girl leaps, twirls, and shows off her favorite dancing moves.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, October 14

Top Picture Books in October

There were a lot of picture books that I enjoyed this month. Interestingly, there was definitely a self-improvement theme going through most of them. So if you're looking to help your kids be better people, check out some of these titles. And then, of course, I tacked on some creepy underwear because Halloween obviously. And my fascination with underwear books. That too.

I Am Not a Chair
Written and illustrated by Ross Burach

My rating: ★½

ISBN: 978-0062360168
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: February 14, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: library book

Themes: giraffes, identity, jungle animals, courage, humor

Could there be anything worse for Giraffe? Maybe being sat on by a skunk or smooshed by two hapless hippos, or worst of all—cornered by a hungry lion? No one seems to notice that Giraffe is not standing around just to be sat upon. Will he be able to find his voice and make his friends realize who he really is?

I really don't think this book is getting enough credit. Sure, it's pretty silly and the whole concept is a tad absurd, but that all just emphasizes the point of the book even further: to be true to yourself and those around you. Standing up to peer pressure and all that. So a good lesson and it's totally hilarious? Yeah, I'd say that's a winner! I laughed more with this book than I have in a while. The ending, especially, was a perfect touch. The illustrations are, of course, what make this book (because, really, a giraffe would not look like a chair otherwise). Overall, I really enjoyed it and am eager to share it with some kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, October 9

Top Graphic Novels in October

You know what? I really enjoy graphic novels. And lots of kids do, too. And yet, I still seem to forget to set aside more time to read them. So here's a few that I enjoyed this month and hopefully, more will be on the horizon. (And yes, I realize two of them are from Victoria Jamieson...but I really like her work, so no regrets there)

The Great Pet Escape
(Pets on the Loose! #1)
Victoria Jamieson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1627791052
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Date of publication: February 16, 2016
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Graphic Novel
Format: library book

Themes: classroom pets, rodents, escapes & adventures, engineering

"The class pets at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School want OUT . . . and GW (short for George Washington), the deceptively cute hamster in the second-grade classroom, is just the guy to lead the way. But when he finally escapes and goes to find his former partners in crime, Barry and Biter, he finds that they actually LIKE being class pets. Impossible!

"But just as GW gets Barry and Biter to agree to leave with him, a mouse named Harriet and her many mouse minions get in their way. How will GW's gang break out now? And just what will the students think when they come back to a rather messy cafeteria?"

I did chuckle a few times, it's true. The characters are funny and wonderfully developed, each with their own unique personality. In fact, quite a bit of the story was spent getting to know our hilarious heroes (Biter, especially, is a character that drives a lot of the humor in this story). The plot itself, however, was quick. Yes, I realize that it's a shorter graphic novel, as it should be for its target audience, but it did feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped. As the first in a series, though (the second was just released this summer), I'm sure these pets' adventures will continue to get better and better. This will be a hit with the kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

CatStronauts: Mission Moon
(CatStronauts #1)
Drew Brockington

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0316307451
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date of publication: April 18, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Graphic Novel, Science Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: cats, space travel & exploration, engineering, the moon

"When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the World's Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet!"

What an unexpected pleasure! Who knew I could derive such joy from cats who are astronauts? Brockington delivers a hilarious story in a world populated with cats. Yes, cats. As in, there's lots of tuna, yarn, a dislike of getting wet and other such cat-isms. It's quite perfectly juxtaposed with a rather heroic sci-fi story, and is sure to keep readers thoroughly entertained. While I realized the science behind it is quite fictional (as in, no, not educational for the kids reading it--missed opportunity!), I'm sure it will still spark their interest in space exploration and also have them eagerly grabbing for the next book in the series.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

All's Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jamieson

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525429999
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: September 5, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Format: library book

Themes: Renaissance Faire, middle school, homeschooling, friendship, identity, family

Another fantastically written story about the ills and thrills of middle school. Jamieson captures the inner struggles and turmoils of middle-schoolers without beating around the bush. Her main characters are relatable, even as they are unique. Imogene really develops as she tries to discover just who she is (is she the knight or the dragon?) as she moves from the Renaissance world she loves to the middle school world she certainly doesn't love.

Yes, I may have marked a star off. See, I loved Roller Girl (Jamieson's first) because that one really resonated personally with me and I felt the story was a bit more triumphant. In this book, however, there's more hardship and discouragement (bullies, mean teachers, disappointment galore), and a world that I've never experienced (I know, it's terrible, but I've never been to a Renaissance Faire). I'd still recommend it, especially to the middle school crowd.

(A small note to those parents who care: there is a minor reference to sex among Imogene's schoolmates and also a [attempted] sex talk from Imogene's mom [Imogene flees in embarassment]).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, October 6

Pug & Pig Trick or Treat (Review and Giveaway!)

Guys, I'm on a giveaway streak. So let's not end it quite yet, right? I mean, especially now that's it's the Halloween season and I have a really cute Halloween book to share today. So see below to enter the giveaway for Pug & Pig Trick or Treat!

Pug & Pig Trick or Treat
Written by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Joyce Wan

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1481449779
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Date of publication: July 25, 2017
Age: 2 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: Halloween, friendship, pugs, pigs, costumes

Halloween night has come to Pug and Pig’s house, and the darling duo is sporting matching costumes. The costumes are cozy. They glow in the dark. And they have masks! There’s only one problem—Pug hates wearing his. So he decides to rip it up and stay home. But Halloween just isn’t any fun for Pig without Pug! Can Pug find a way to be a good friend and get back into the Halloween spirit?

Tuesday, October 3

Top Middle-Grade Reads of the Month (Oct 2017)

My favorite middle-grade books from this month are definitely on the suspenseful side--spooks, high adventure, demons, mind games, betrayal, ghosts, and even evil robots. Maybe the Halloween spirit was hitting me a little early?

The Empty Grave
(Lockwood & Co. #5)
Jonathan Stroud

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484778722
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Horror
Format: personal purchase

Themes: ghosts, hauntings, experiments, business practices, friendship, London

"Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family's past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle. And to prevail they will have to rely on help from some surprising—and shadowy—allies."

Perfect. I'm serious. It was like...everything I ever wanted. And, really, I'm sorry if you're just now joining me (here, why don't you check out my reviews for book 1, 2, 3, and 4—yes, I've reviewed every one of them on here and I love 'em all). In this, the concluding book of the series, Lucy builds an even stronger bond to those around here (which, in turn, made me, as the reader, build my own stronger bond with these characters), the intrigue is in full force, key ghosts make their appearance, and the climax? Well, it was definitely the right way to end the series. Hugely recommended, especially before Halloween—read this series NOW.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw
(A Sam London Adventure)
Todd Calgi Gallicano

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1524713652
Publisher: Delacorte
Date of publication: August 29, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: mythological creatures, adventure, curses, national parks

"Haunted by a dream of a mythical gryphon, Sam London uncovers an ancient secret that will change the way he sees the world forever. Recruited by Dr. Vance Vantana, an eccentric zoologist and park ranger sent by the government, Sam is whisked away on an adventure that takes him to the farthest reaches of the globe. Along this journey, Sam learns an incredible truth: mythical creatures are real and living among us in our national parks. A special department in the U.S. government ensures that their existence remains hidden. But Sam’s dream is an omen that the secret may now be in danger. Someone seeks the power to expose these creatures and overthrow humankind—and that power can only be found in a magical talisman known as the gryphon’s claw."

A brilliantly done, epic fantasy adventure that brings the likes of Percy Jackson series to mind. Sam himself, though, is a character unlike most I've seen—his insecurities, home life, questions, doubts, struggles and joys really make him relatable and realistic (yes, even in a fantasy novel). I really enjoyed him, as well as Vance (who has great character history). I also really enjoyed the story and how it was presented (that the author is merely compiling the case files received from the U.S. Department of Mythical Wildlife with "dramatic interpretation") and its thorough details. The storyline, however, was what lost me just a bit, with a lot of hops, skips, and jumps (e.g. breaking the narrative to refer to a future plot point). My biggest complaint (which is still small in the whole scheme of things, mind you) is the presence of a double climax. It almost felt like the book could've ended in the middle and the sequel begun. Still, high excitement, frighteningly detailed creatures, and courageous characters makes for an easily recommendable fantasy adventure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine
Frank L. Cole

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0399552823
Publisher: Delacorte
Date of publication: August 8, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: eBook from publisher

Themes: special abilities, amusement park rides, friendship, virtual reality

"CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World’s Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.There’s Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There’s Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika’s wealthy grandfather isn’t too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he’ll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius.

"The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own. Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!"

Oh man, what a ride (pun intended). This was one that I was sad to finish and still thinking about long after I'd read the last page. While it can be hard to balance a book between four main characters and their varying points of view, I would say that Cole managed it quite well. Each had their own secrets, histories, and abilities that shaped them in unique ways to drive the story forward. And then there's the story itself—wow! It's got some trippy mind benders that really get you wondering and puzzling. While the Jurassic Park and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and Mr. Lemoncello's Library, too, now that I think of it) plot points are there, the actual concept is fascinatingly unique and often had me guessing what, exactly, was reality (to the point where it might have been a bit tough for me to follow what was happening exactly). Overall, the Adventure Machine is one super creepy ride—kids will love it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon