Book review: The Search for TK, by Bobbi J.G. Weiss

Weiss, Bobbi J. G. The Search for TK. (Ride series, #3) Candlewick Entertainment, 2018. $7.99. ISBN 9780763698577. 263 pages. Ages 12+. P7 Q6

Kit’s horse, TK has been taken away because he is dangerous. For Kit, who had to overcome obstacles to ride her horse, it is devastating. The main plot revolves around finding a way to get TK back. As Kit is doing research for a project, she realizes some information she knew about her mother (who passed away before book 1) is not true, which leads to some loose ends and a mystery that might be resolved in the next sequel. The first few chapters summarize what has happened in book one and two. Without reading the first two books the reader doesn’t fully grasp the relationships between the various characters. The book does not have a lot of substance; however, it will appeal to youth who like horses. Though the book is the third book in the series, it can stand alone. The book sets up for another sequel.

Verdict: Since the book is made from a Nickelodeon movie, it may be popular with teens. I found the book shallow and not of much substance.

November 2018 review by Tami Harris.

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Book review: Bluecrowne: A Greenglass House Story, by Kate Milford, illustrated by Nicole Wong

Milford, Kate. Bluecrowne: A Greenglass House Story. Illus. by Nicole Wong. Clarion, 2018. $17.99. 262p. ISBN 978-1-32846688-4. Ages 11-14. P8Q9

Eight years ago, Milford began writing books about her imaginary harbor town, Nagspeake, of the early 1800s, some of them self-published through Kickstarter. This prequel tells about the house where her father thought his daughter, 12-year-old Lucy, would be safe with her stepmother, Xiaoming, and younger half-brother, Liao, after her injuries while at sea with on her father’s ship, The Left-Handed Fate. He is sadly mistaken when the two children are caught up with two time-travelers who want to kidnap Liao to take advantage of the seven-year-old’s skill with creating fireworks. Bluecrowne brings together two series from Milford—Arcana and Greenglass House but easily stands alone.

Verdict: The suspense never stops in this meticulously researched, detailed thriller with blended creativity and magic, menacing villains, well-crafted plotting, Lucy’s poignant feeling of loss after separation from her father and her life on a privateer ship in lyrical prose. Readers unfamiliar with Milford’s other books will want to read them after experiencing Bluecrowne.

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon, by Aaron Renier

Renier, Aaron. The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon. First Second, 2018. $18.99. 288p. ISBN 9781596435056. Ages 10-14. P8Q9

In the sequel to the graphic novel, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, Walker and the Jacklight’s pirate crew have survived a battle at sea complete with sea-witches and face more perilous adventures while shipwrecked on a deserted island with sparkly, shadowy creatures in a jungle. With friends Shiv and Genoa, Walker finds a secret passage leading to ruins and learns about the legend of an insane king and an aristocrat searching for a lost sister in a fallen civilization.

Verdict: The complexity of the plot, as Walker communicates with his grandfather and discovers the betrayal of his father, can be confusing, but the stunning illustrations by Sendak Fellowship winner Renier keep readers engrossed in the world that he has built, replete with shipbuilding, alchemy, hidden caves, two opposing ancient civilizations, and more. Renier provides enough backstory to clarify the plotting, but readers may want to return to the first book.

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Voyage of the Dogs, by Greg Van Eekhout

Van Eekhout, Greg. Voyage of the Dogs. Harper, 2018. 205 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9780062686008. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Four dogs come out of hibernation aboard the Laika, a space ship on a mission to set up a space colony, only to discover that the human crew is missing and the space ship itself is severely damaged, showing only hasty repairs.  Like the good dogs they are, the Barkonauts work to safeguard the ship, contact mission control, and maintain life support. Odds are against them, but they continue to work against an impossible fate.  After all, these are good dogs and good dogs always complete their missions.

Verdict: I really like this science fiction space survival story, not least because the dogs are the main characters.  They address complex technological tasks and still manage to act like dogs.  The poignancy of the story of the original Laika merely adds to the heroism of the four dogs as they attempt the impossible rescue of their human crew, even knowing the story of humans betraying the dog Laika.  There are not enough well written science fiction books for this age.  I recommend this one highly.  It should be in public, elementary and middle school libraries.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Rosetown, by Cynthia Rylant

Rylant, Cynthia. Rosetown. Beach Lane Books, 2018. 149 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781534412774. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

In 1972, life in small town Indiana is good for 9 year old Flora Smallwood, but change comes with the death of her dog, her parents’ decision to have separate households, and entering fourth grad.  Even the three times a week visit to her favorite used bookshop fails to cheer her up.  With the help of her old best friend and a new friend from Ukraine, Flora finds her way.

Verdict: Flora is a bookish girl, not quite secure in dealing with children of her own age, and anxious about the changes in her life.  She reminds me of Paulette Bourgeois’ books about Franklin the Turtle, a child who is not quite ready for the developmental hurdles the rest of his class seems to approach with ease.  Fortunately, Flora has the support of her parents, friends, and teacher to accomplish what she needs to do.  Gorgeous prose by Newbery and Caldecott Medal winner Cynthia Rylant delivers this gentle historical fiction story of a girl growing up in the white culture of small town Indiana. Though it does not quite do for Indiana what her 1995 release, The Van Gogh Café, did for Kansas, it is still worth reading. Recommended for elementary school and public library collections.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Phelan, Matt. Knights vs. Dinosaurs. Greenwillow Books, 2018. 148 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9780062686237. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

When knight errant Erec exaggerates his exploits at one of King Arthur’s feasts, claiming to have killed 40 dragons, Merlin sends him, along with three knightly companions and a squire, back to the time of the dinosaurs to learn the value of telling the truth.  Doughty battles ensue and the companions learn surprising truths about themselves and each other.

Verdict: Plenty of swash and buckle make this adventure fun to read and Phelan’s loose, flowing line drawings add depth and flow to the story.  The knights face naturally armed and armored dinosaur foes that tax their fighting skills, making cooperation necessary for their survival, while personal revelations threaten long held beliefs which makes that cooperation more difficult.  This adventure tale is simply told, yet includes a satisfying questioning of social norms in a writing style that works well for younger readers.  Highly recommended for elementary school and public libraries.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Lighthouse between the Worlds, by Melanie Crowder

Crowder, Melanie. The Lighthouse between the Worlds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 242 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781534405141. Ages 11-14. P8Q8

Griffin Fenn and his father Phillip live a simple life, maintaining a lighthouse on the Oregon coast.  Homeschooled since his mother’s death, Griffin learns the intricacies of glassmaking from his father.  Their ordered lives come to an abrupt end when an alarm sounds and strangers from the Society of Lighthouse Keepers ask Griffin’s father for help.  When his father disappears through the glass portal in the lighthouse, Griffin is left to deal with the Society and to find a way back to the lighthouse to rescue his father.  His father’s journal and remembered stories his mother told give Griffin the means of going through the portal and into a world ruled by magicians.  Griffin joins forces with Fi, a young servant from a conquered world who is a part of a growing underground resistance.

Verdict: Crowder’s elegant use of language and the concept of linked or parallel worlds remind me of Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. The grief of the small family immediately brings the reader into sympathy with Griffin and the menace of the Society of Lighthouse Keepers as well as the portrayal of danger from the Somni magicians keeps the interest going throughout the book.  Highly recommended for public and middle school fantasy collections.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.