Book review: A Box of Bones, by Marina Cohen

Cohen, Marina. A Box of Bones. Roaring Brook Press, 2019.  $16.99. ISBN 9781250172211. 281 pages. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

At the local Festival of Fools, Kallie meets a faceless man who gives her a wooden puzzle box. Kallie is logical and does not like wasting time on things she deems foolish, so she almost dismisses the box. However, the box has her intrigued and since it is mathematical, she decides to try to open it. When the cube opens up, nine small cubes fall out. They are made from an ivory colored substance and each cube has a picture on it. Every time she rolls the dice, they end up in the same order. Kallie wonders if the images on the cubes have meaning. As events start to unfold that match the dice, Kallie realizes that she needs to find a way to stop the disastrous events from happening. When Kallie was young, she was told that her mother died when she fell off a boat. This story follows Kallie’s adventure and links it back to an alternative world of Liah and the bone carver, where the box originated. When the author is telling Liah’s story the words are italicized so the reader is able to follow it. The way the author parallels Liah’s life and Kallie’s life gives understanding to the present events. This book will appeal to both readers who are logical and those who enjoy fantasy and adventure. It is a perfect blend of both.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book. It would make a great story for a family to read together or a teacher to read to a class. It shows readers that friends come in all forms and there are benefits to giving others a chance.

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Hale, Shannon and Dean Hale. The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (Princess in Black series, book 7.) Candlewick Press, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781536202212. 89 pages. Ages 5-8. P8 Q8

Princess Magnolia smells a stinky smell! Princess Black comes to the rescue to get rid of the smell. Princess Black saves the day..or does she? Princess Snapdragon is trimming bushes when the stink blew into her garden. Princess Black appears and both of the princesses battle the smell. This goes on, with many more princesses getting involved until they come to the source of the stink. You will have to read the story to find out what is causing the smell and how they find a solution. The ending of the book is adorable!! Thick glossy pages, colorful illustrations with exaggerated facial expressions make this short chapter book engaging.

Verdict: With the theme of teamwork, girl power, perseverance and kindness, readers will be captivated from the beginning to the end of the book. Even though this is book 7 in the series, it is the first of the Princess in Black book that I have read. I will definitely read more in the series. I highly recommend this book for libraries for elementary aged readers.

December 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Mad Mage’s Academy, by Matt Forbeck

Forbeck, Matt. The Mad Mage’s Academy. (Dungeons & Dragons: Endless Quest series). Candlewick Entertainment, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781536209242. 122 Pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

You are a great thief who agreed to steal Halaster’s spell book, which is hidden away safely in Dweomercore, Mad Mage’s academy. You pretend to be a young wizard-in-training planning on applying to study at the academy. Will you be able to pull it off? When Halaster Blackcloack, master of Dweomercore says that you do not look like a wizard, what do you do? Charge into the school? Attack Halaster? Or Apply to the school? Your next adventure will depend on which choice you make. The illustrations are Dungeon & Dragon themed and add an element of danger and adventure to the text. If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, the characters in the book will be familiar to you. If you have no knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons, the setting and events may not have relevance, but the adventure will still draw the reader in. Readers will enjoy being in charge of their adventure and since there are so many options to choose from, this book can be read multiple times by choosing different endings.

Verdict: Tweens who read choose your own adventure stories and are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons will enjoy this book. This book is appropriate for the age level recommended. If you want to engage a reluctant reader, this is the perfect book for you. Each section is short and the reader is in control of his/her destiny.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, by K.D. Halbrook

Halbrook, K. D. Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 323 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-18107-7. Gr. 5+. P8 Q7

Silver Batal dreams of being a water dragon racer, which is hard as she lives in a part of the country which is covered by sand. Silver’s parents want her to follow in her father’s footsteps–he designs jewelry, something Silver does not want to do. When the king comes to her village the country’s greatest dragon racer is coming too.  She is Silver’s idol and Silver can’t wait to meet her. Silver is shocked to find out how rude she is. An old woman helps Silver to see her dreams when Silver discovers that she is hiding a water dragon, which also has a baby. All they have to do is make their way through the underground tunnels getting as close to the capital as possible without being discovered.

Verdict: Silver is a strong, determined young woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even though some of her choices get her into trouble. I love strong female characters who inspire young girls. I look forward to reading the other books in this series.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Game of Stars, by Sayantani DasGupta

DasGupta, Sayantani. Game of Stars. (Kiranmala and the Kingdom of Beyond, book 2).  Illustrations by Vivienne To. “Uncorrected proof.” Scholastic Press, release date February 26, 2019. [384] pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781338330861. P7Q8

Returning to her New Jersey suburban life after learning that, in another dimension, she is the daughter of the Serpent King, is a bit of a letdown for 11-year-old Bengali American Kiranmala. But when the Demon Queen turns up in her bedroom along with a direct challenge—and the news that her friend Neel is in trouble, Kiran  heads back into a new set of adventures, though (alas) this time into an other –dimensional  reality TV contest, sans flying horses.

Verdict: Eleven-year-old Kiranmala is a wonderful protagonist—witty, confident, strong, and able to deal with wacky situations couched in Bengali folklore and culture. Readers will delight in the swash and buckle, puns and wordplay, with a dash of quantum physics folded into the mix.  In a Kirkus article, Dasgupta explains that she created the stories to address her son’s need to find books with POC characters reflecting him and his heritage instead of all-white heroes of he found in series such as Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter (see    Highly recommended middle grade fantasy series, with both books able to stand alone, but better as a series.

April 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Chasma Knights, by Kate Reed Petty, illustrated by Boya Sun

Petty, Kate Reed. Chasma Knights. Illus by Boya Sun. First Second, 2018. $17.99. 112p. ISBN 978-1-62672-604-8. Ages 5-8. P7Q6

Bullying is the focus in this story of tormented pink Beryl, a Neon Knight, who cannot “catalyze” toys like the other knights of Chasma such as Sulfurs and Oxygens who blend their own powers with those of cute little creatures. Unbeknownst to the bullies, however, Beryl takes broken toys that the others have thrown away and makes them into different objects. Yellow Coro, an Oxygen knight, learns of Beryl’s abilities but disobeys orders not to catalyze them. The ensuing disaster briefly breaks up the friendship, but they learn to appreciate each other and spin off on each others’ skills.

Verdict: Brightly colored, graphic novel about jealousy and bullying evolves into cute and far too sweet. The illustrations also depict the living broken companions as alive, but no one does anything about the problem. They are just discarded. The knights are elements, but no science information ensues, and the plot lacks any motivating factors.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

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.