Book review: Ready for Action, by Brian Lynch, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

Lynch, Brian. Ready for Action. Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor. (Toy Academy series, book 2). Scholastic Press, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781338149166. 185 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

Tempest Boomcloud, an action figure, has been forgotten and is in a carton next to discarded toys. She uses her battle glove to tear through the packaging to escape. Meanwhile, at the Toy Academy, students are getting ready for a parade to celebrate Elite Action Force Now’s twenty-fifth anniversary. A vital part of being an action figure is being a sidekick. Grumbolt, a stuffed animal, gets chosen to be Rex’s sidekick. Rex is a bully and no one wants to be his sidekick. Grumbolt decides to be the very best sidekick so that Rex will appreciate him. No such luck! Rex adores his van and doesn’t care about Grumbolt. Key Bee, a key chain, is the action figure and Micro is his sidekick. Micro does not respect or believe that Key Bee can amount to anything since it is a key chain. When Tempest enters Toy Academy and steals Rex’s van with Key Bee in it, the true adventure begins. Written from the action figures’ points of view, with short chapters and line drawings, this book realistically shows to what an action figure might feel and go through.

Verdict: With themes of facing your fears and being an upstander, this creative adventure will keep readers engaged, especially ones who enjoy action figures. Readers will be captivated until the end!

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman

Kadarusman, Michelle. Music for Tigers. “Prepublication advance reading copy.” Pajama Press, publication date April 28, 2020. [192 pages.] $17.95. ISBN 97817280543. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

Thylacines–Tasmanian tigers–are large, extinct, dog-like marsupial predators, once found across Australia, last seen on the island of Tasmania almost a century ago.  Like the North American Sasquatch, there are occasional sightings, with grainy video or photographs, but no credible evidence of living specimens has been found.  With Louisa’s scientist parents off to study endangered amphibians in the Ontario wetlands for the summer, middle-school violinist Louisa has to  has to spend her summer with her uncle in the Tasmanian rainforest.  Bush conditions—scary spiders and venemous snakes, kerosene lamps and inconsistent electricity, lack of internet—mean that Louisa cannot concentrate solely on practicing her violin for the upcoming auditions and the camp’s isolation throws her into the company of Colin, a boy on the autism spectrum.  Then there is the mystery of the large animal that seems to be stalking the camp, especially once Louisa begins practicing violin.  Her grandmother’s journal gives her the clue that the large animal might be a thylacine, descended from animals brought to the camp to protect them from encroaching loggers and miners at the turn of the 20th century.

Verdict: Students who enjoy  nature stories, especially those who are interested in cryptid species, will enjoy this book.  The idea that a large extinct predator species might actually be found is exciting.  I really liked the ways that Louisa and Colin interacted with each other, Colin sharing his knowledge of the bush and Louisa finding a way to demonstrate facial cues  to help Colin identify emotions.  This character and setting driven plot appeals on many levels and introduces a setting not well represented in children’s books in the United States.  I recommend it for middle school and public libraries.

February 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Fast and the Furriest, by Deanna Kent, illustrated by Neil Hooson

Kent, Deanna. The Fast and the Furriest. Illustrated by Neil Hooson. (Snazzy Cat Capers, #2.) Imprint, 2019. $13.99. ISBN 9781250143471. 211 pages. Ages 7-10.  P7 Q7

Ophelia is a cat burglar who works for the FFBI. Cat burglars treat each heist as an opportunity to hone their skills. They return what they take. Ophelia’s archenemy is Pierre von Rascal of Thievesylvania. When Opelia is sent on a mission, Pierre and CCIA dogs are hot on her tail. To add more humor, a fish is Ophelia’s inventor and works with her on the mission. Full of cat puns and cat related words this adventure will be sure to entertain and engage readers. Graphic novel style illustrations are interspersed throughout the book, making this a great book for graphic novel enthusiasts to transition to novels. This is book 2 in the series, but can easily stand alone.

Verdict: If you have a reader who likes graphic novels and cats, they will enjoy this book. The balance of chapter book and graphic novel is perfect. I recommend this book.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Not If I Save You First, by Ally Carter

Carter, Ally. Not If I Save You First. Scholastic, 2018. $18.99. 293p. ISBN 978-1-338-13414-8. Ages 12-14. P7Q7

Carter moves from her usual urban settings for romantic thrillers to the wilds of Alaska where a former Secret Service agent is hiding with his daughter, Maddie, after the president’s wife was killed. Several years after that experience, First Son, Logan, is banished for misadventures to live with Maddie and her father. Immediately after his arrival, he is captured, and Maddie, despite her estrangement with Logan, is determined to rescue him, supposedly from Russians.

Verdict: The plot is as exciting as earlier Carter books but shifts into a survivalist mode in the Alaskan winter setting that focuses only on the two teenagers. Readers accustomed to the protagonist’s having a set of friends may be disappointed with the incessant conflict between Maddie and Logan. Flawed with improbable plotting and motivation, the romantic thriller may keep teenage readers on edge.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Van Gogh Deception, by Deron R. Hicks

Hicks, Deron R. The Van Gogh Deception. Houghton, 2017. $16.99. 306p. ISBN 978-0-544-75927-5. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

A boy sitting alone in the National Gallery of Art starts the excitement of a search for his memory and for his father who has been captured to hide the fact that he can tell the world that a Van Gogh being purchased for $183 million is really a forgery. The plot is filled with strategies to also capture the boy who searches for his identity with Camille, the ten-year-old daughter of the woman assigned to temporarily foster the boy, and the ingenious ways in which the two young people foil their would-be kidnappers.

Verdict: Although the art information may be a bit overwhelming for some young readers, the adventure is non-stop. To enjoy the classic artwork referenced, readers need access to a device/smartphone to view the integrated QR codes.

February 2019 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: 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.