Fantasy with a Sci-fi Bent
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In Black Lightning, by K.S. Jones, readers meet Samuel, whose mother was recently killed in a car accident. Because Samuel’s father disappeared some time ago, the boy is deemed an orphan. Although his mother intends for him to live with his grandfather, Samuel’s uncle’s wife has different plans for the boy. All this leads to Samuel’s running away and eventually ending up in another world where surprises and challenges await him. When Samuel experiences a test of faith in himself, he learns not to give up on his dreams—even when others have told him that something is impossible.
Few things make me happier than to find a great read for a middle-grader. The reason should be obvious: there are so few of them. Yes, at times one stumbles upon a good story. But rarely does one stumble across a great story that is also well told, and therefore, appropriate for recommending to middle-grade readers. I was delighted to find just such a thing with Black Lighting. In it, K.S. Jones provides her readers with a suggested and intriguing connection to the Native-American culture. Best of all, the story, which is told as a fantasy of sorts, includes elements with an almost sci-fi bent. If you’re looking for something for your middle-grade reader, check out this Literary Classics award winner, Black Lightning.
Allied With the U.S. Armed Forces
Thank you, NetGalley, for this opportunity to read and to review, Code Girls.
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It should come as no surprise to learn that woman played extraordinary roles in assisting the U.S. armed forces during WWII, but having an actual account of some of the roles they played is quite unusual. Liza Mundy offers, in Code Girls, an interesting history of the (primarily young) women who helped to break the communications codes of the axis powers. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about these women and especially appreciated the account of how they set up entirely false units and communications to assist with keeping the plans for the Normandy landing on D-Day a secret from the enemies of the U.S. and its allies. For anyone interested in code-breaking in general, and in learning more about these times, I highly recommend Code Girls.
A Better Understanding
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No One Needed to Know, by D. G. Driver, opens when Heidi (who so wishes she’d been named something more fitting, like “Storm”), and her brother, Donald, engage in a make-believe battle on a “boat” set that sits in the midst of their local park. Right off, the reader learns something interesting about Heidi who, in response to Donald’s question about whether he’d stopped the bad guy, tells him, “No.” She can’t explain why her “impulse was always to turn him down,” yet it was. Soon, the reader discovers that Donald is not your “typical” 16-year old. Rather, his learning disability means that Heidi, his younger sister, is already ahead of him in some regards. Her awareness of that fact is growing in her pre-teen years, and with it comes her frustration with his behavior—behavior she cannot fully understand. Seeking to engage in more “grown-up” ventures, new troubles take hold for Heidi, as she discovers that Donald is bullied. But in her attempts to help him, she too becomes a victim of harassment. Fortunately for the both of them, Heidi eventually provides the means for building a bridge toward understanding--for herself and for others.
D.G. Driver offers middle grade readers a lesson in bullying in her award-winning, No One Needed to Know. Having been bullied herself as a girl—because she had a “differently-abled” brother—Driver quickly gets to the heart of the matter. When someone stands out as “different,” often others may not know how to speak, what questions to ask, or even how to act. Driver’s story illustrates for both the young and the not-so-young, that bullying is never acceptable, and that a better understanding will likely bring about better results.
A Whole New World
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Every now and then I hear someone say that she is not a fan of “fantasy.” That always makes me chuckle, because I’m fairly certain that if asked, most of the people who say that would admit that the stories they most enjoyed (whether reading them or watching them in movie form) over the past years, will include a healthy number of stories with some element of fantasy/magic. (Examples include the Pirates of the Caribbean stories, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and so on, and so on!) In truth, these are the stories that seem to capture the greatest audiences. So it is that A Shift Toward Prey should certainly find its place among readers. This Literary Classics award-winner, provides a new world, a cast of intriguing characters, some political nuances, a healthy dose of life lessons, and more!
Natalie Allison introduces readers to a world divided into two halves—one forever enjoying the light of the sun, inhabited (for the most part, anyway) by humans, and one never enjoying the sun’s light—inhabited by the Shifters—those who may change back and forth between their human and animal forms. With war about to erupt on both sides of the divide, the adventures begin. The humans, looking for potential allies and acting on rumor, journey to the Everdark. Meanwhile, inhabitants of the Everdark prepare themselves for an invasion of a species that their legends warn may be incredibly dangerous. Caught up in the political machinations in the Everlight, is Matthias. His counterpart on the Everdark side, is Chiari. Each reaches for understanding of the world of the other, while being drawn into a series of dangerous and exhilarating adventures. Lovers of fantasy, take note. You’ll want to follow this series!
What was that about Gnomes?
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In my experience, the hardest age group for which one can find engaging, well-written stories, is middle-grade—and in particular for the third-fourth grade or so. These young people have moved beyond baby stories and picture books. They want magic and adventure—and their parent’s want things for them that are well-written, in full sentences and with the limited use of slang, and so forth. Well, young readers and their parents will be delighted to find The Six, by K.B. Hoyle. Drawing parallels with stories that came before, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this adventure finds six young—new—friends off on an adventure. Unfortunately for Darcy, a recent reduction in her family’s economic situation means that she will give up her former summer camp days at Gregorio’s Equestrian Camp. Instead, her family visits a camp in Michigan. A couple of long time acquaintances of her, including Samantha, have vacationed there before. Sam intends to show Darcy around and introduce her to her other camp friends, but Darcy isn’t all that interested. As these things tend to play out, the two are thrown together, along with a few additional young ones, when they happen upon a magic place guarded by gnomes.
As a child, I loved mysteries, magic, and adventure stores. As a parent, I looked for those elements in stories for my own children. Often I found that the stories themselves were spellbinding, but they weren’t really written for young ones to read for themselves. Sometimes this has to do with the style of the writer. Other times, it has to do with a lack in subject matter—or at least in the “purpose” of the story. Not so with K.B. Hoyle’s works. Here young ones will find subtle, but powerful reminders about kindness, honesty, self-inspection, inclusiveness, and more. If you’re looking for a good read for your young one, look no further than the award-winning, The Six.
Girl "Super" Heroes
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My 21-year old daughter mentioned to me the other day, the difficulty she has in finding “girl super-hero stories” for the little one she nannies. We talked about how girls will read stories with boy-heroes, but how if they never read those with girls heroes, the subliminal message seems to be that there are some things that will not be available to them in this life. Well, I’m happy to know that Carmela Dutra offers up a little girl “super” hero, in Little Katie Goes to the Moon. You see, Katie would love to visit the moon to find out if there really is a man there. Soon, she and her puppy, Smudge, prepare themselves for their trip, complete with space suits that will keep them warm and that will allow them to breathe. Then, comes the blast-off!
One of the things most fun about children’s books is what can be taught to inquisitive little minds while they are being entertained. With her award-winning Little Katie Goes to the Moon, Carmela Dutra teaches young ones some facts about the moon, comets and satellites; what the “ground” of the moon would feel like under your feet; lunar laser ranging experiments; some famous historical astronauts; distances and gravity; and even moonquakes. In the end, upon discovering that—of course—Katie and Smudge, were playacting in her backyard, I was reminded of a conversation I had (several times, actually) with my son some years ago, when he was a preschooler. He told me that he wanted to go to the moon someday. I smiled, nodded, and said, “That sounds good. Just don’t move too far away from home. Okay?” Likewise, Katie visits the moon, but she eventually determines that it is time to return home. Fortunately, along the way, she accomplishes what she’d first set out to do when she discovers that the dark spots on the moon do indeed make it appear as though there is a man in the moon!
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C.M. Huddleston, a retired Registered Professional Archaeologist, treats middle grade readers to another adventure in her Literary Classics award-winning, Greg’s Second Adventure in Time. A time traveler by virtue of his DNA, Greg travels back to 1778. There, he learns about the hardships of the early settlers who traveled beyond the Alleghenies, as well as about Native Americans, including raw information about where they lived and what they ate. But this is not a “history” book. It is not a story centered around dates and places of past events. Rather, it is one that engages the minds and hearts of young readers as they can imagine hardship, loss, accomplishment, danger, and ultimately, the exhilaration of a victory that will allow them to live to see another day. With the story centered in large part around Daniel Boone and the Siege of Boonesborough, Greg’s adventures introduce readers to a variety of interesting characters while also, along the way, offering interesting facts about the science of archaeology.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is difficult to find engaging reads for middle-graders that meet all the requisites of the readers themselves, and of their parents. C.M. Huddleston’s stories offer up a witty and sometimes “mouthy” main protagonist, in the form of Greg. At times he talks too much, he’s startled by the changes he is beginning to experience (at age 13) in terms of the girls he finds interesting—and he still finds “potty humor” to be engaging. (Case in point: Greg’s definition for “guano,” the excrement of bats—from which saltpeter, used for making gunpowder, may be leached, is “bat poop.”) I find Greg to be a genuine representation of a 13 year old, with the added benefit of having an intact family (notwithstanding that “Dad” is almost never home!). Young ones who love adventure will find just that, in Greg’s Adventures. Along the way, they’ll learn take in a healthy dose of some good history!
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Author Steve Wilson delights readers with his fourth Michael Neill Adventure, the award-winning, in Eye of Charybdis. When Marine Corps Lieutenant Michael Neill and his love interest, Marine Staff Sergeant Christina Arrens, struggle to find a way to come together in an organization that forbids their union (at least as things stand), Neill prepares for another clandestine operation. He is named part of a team that seeks to solve the mystery of a downed commercial airliner. Given the resulting death of all of its passengers, governments around the world, including the U.S. government, wonder who is responsible, and what political and/or military actions may be appropriate to take in response. Before long, evidence suggests that the Russians are experimenting with a massive airplane that flies just above the ocean, and that is outfitted with a weapon that can send an electro-magnetic pulse to disrupt, or even to destroy, the electronics used to operate surrounding air- and sea-craft.
As is the case with the earlier Michael Neill Adventures, Steve Wilson offers readers in Eye of Charybdis interesting historical details, a peek into the workings of the U.S. military, a variety of interpersonal relationships, and a man of faith at the center of it all. Also, as he has done before, Wilson brings together players from various backgrounds, each of whom hopes to thwart the Russians' efforts, including Dr. Taylor Brisbane, an Australian physicist; Bailee Russo, her research assistant; a few Ukrainians with an historical relationship to Neill; and Neill himself, along with his team. Once it is determined that the flying weapon they seek may be hidden along the Russian coast, Neill’s team sets out to find it and, hopefully, to destroy it. Soon, they are faced with a dilemma. Will they get the assistance they need from the brains behind the weapon, the Ukrainian scientist, Dr. Zhukov, and his daughter, Tanya?
Eye of Charybdis by Steve Wilson offers numerous examples as to why Americans can be proud of their military and grateful for the sacrifices of its members. Men are sure to enjoy the background and the military mission. But women, too, will enjoy this book, as Wilson introduces a number of critical female leads. These characters are scientists, military specialists, and more. It is a tribute to the author that he has done this, as women play such crucial roles in so many areas in this day and age. Of that, we can all be proud—and of this installment of the Michael Neill Adventure stories, Wilson can certainly be proud.
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In Criminal, Book 2 of her award-winning The Breeder Cycle series, K.B. Hoyle leads readers through the continuing adventures with Pria and her new found friends, members of The Freedom Fighters, a group of those who refuse the ways of the Unified World Order. Having determined that they need more information, as much had been lost of the Great Destruction of Information that occurred when the UWO took over, plans are made to send Pria from Asylum, back to her former life in the city, where she’d been kept as a Breeder for the UWO. But when she arrives, not all is as she’d expected, and once more, her friend, Pax, must help her to find reality and to assist her in her fight for survival.
The Breeder Cycle provides readers—and in particular, young adult readers—an interesting glimpse into another world. The dystopian story comes complete with intrigue, a bit of mystery, and even a potential traitor or two. But it is the interpersonal dealings that make Criminal, Book 2 of the series, so special. As Pria had grown up separated from those around her and ignorant of the ways of men and women, she is confused when she discovers her growing feelings for Pax and the physical reactions she feels when near him. Though she is surprised to learn the particulars about human intimacy, K.B. Hoyle actually impresses upon young readers the mystery that can result from the “coming together of two souls.” The subject is handled with understanding and beauty and respect, in stark contrast—and as a welcome difference—to much of what society currently offers our young people.
How Many Have You Visited?
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Hayley Rose does it again with her award-winning Fifo “50 States," illustrated by Jessie B. Orlet. In its pages, Rose takes young readers on a journey across the continental 48, with a jaunt to Alaska in the far northwest, as well as one to Hawaii in the far southwest. Set out in alphabetical order, the information for each state includes the number of its entry into the union, the name of its capital, and details about its state flower, tree, bird, and slogan.
The illustrations in Fifo "50 States," provide added details that emphasize what each state is best known for, ranging from unusual weather, to natural wonders, to industry. It will open doors for parents to discuss the details with their children, helping to acquaint them with the states and with interesting tidbits about each, perhaps preparing them for their own journeys of discovery in the future.