The Incredible Adventures of Scruffer & Co – Part 1 by John Serbin


The Incredible Adventures of Scruffer & Co – Part 1 by John Serbin
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (200 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A self-centered teddy bear becomes real and has to learn how to live in this new reality. He is soon joined by other teddy bears with differing personalities. Together, they embark on a series of comical adventures as only fun loving teddy bears can.

If you enjoy the characters and humor of Calvin and Hobbs, The Far Side, and Peanuts, you will definitely fall in love with this comical company of teddy bears as they experience the world from their unique perspective.

Who would have guessed that a teddy bear could be this mischievous?

This was one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. Nicholas, later known as Scruffer, was a stubborn bear who didn’t understand why his humans were telling him to do certain things and avoid doing other things. His behavior lead to plenty of accidents and misunderstandings as he adjusted to life outside of the store where he’d waited for so long to be chosen. I grinned every time he felt that old, familiar urge to play by his own rules because I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out for him this time.

I found it hard to stay interested in the plot because of how slowly it moved. There were several periods of time when nothing much was happening at all. While I liked all of the characters quite a bit, they needed to have more problems to solve and conflicts to face to keep my attention. Knowing what teddy bears like to eat for certain meals and snacks was amusing, but I needed more than that to stay connected to their story.

My favorite scenes were the ones where the characters had long conversations about all kinds of topics. Nicholas had plenty of strong opinions, and he wasn’t afraid to share them with anyone who was listening. I’d never thought about the idea of a toy behaving this way, so it was entertaining to see how he reacted to the new places and ideas his humans shared with him.

The Incredible Adventures of Scruffer & Co – Part 1 should be read by anyone who has ever secretly wondered what stuffed animals do when humans aren’t watching them.

Trouble Returns by Nancy Oswald


Trouble Returns by Nancy Oswald
Publisher: Filter Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full (207 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Aloe

BoM LASR YA copy

Trouble Returns is the third installment in the Ruby and Maude Adventure series.

Eleven-year-old Ruby is in an unbelievable amount of trouble. Trouble in school, trouble with the Sisters of Mercy, trouble with her cat named Trouble, and trouble with Pa after he proposes to the school principal. In 1896 Cripple Creek, Colorado, Ruby narrowly escapes death, and her donkey, Maude, steals the story with an unexpected surprise.

Ruby is not real good at staying out of trouble. She defends herself and her animals from those who would harm them, just like any good tomboy would do. The new schoolmarm is not impressed by that so she gets punished. When the teacher talks to her father, Ruby feels so bad. But she has reason to feel even worse. Her Pa decides she needs a mom and he’s going to date the teacher!

This is written in the style of the old classics. She’s a girl whose mother died earlier in her life and she and her Pa travel the land and sell candlesticks and camp. Now they’re in a cabin and he’s looking for a mother for her.

Ruby’s companions are a mule named Maude and a cat named Trouble. She has a good girlfriend named Lizzie.

The antics of the animals, Ruby’s fights with boys and girls, and the fact that she has testify at court about a man who tried to kill her keep your attention all the way through. Ruby keeps hoping her Pa will change his mind about the wedding, but no…

Ms. Oswald’s story flows easily off the pages into your mind. There are a lot of unexpected situations in the story so you can’t wait to see what will happen next. The author does a nice job of bringing everything together and ending the story well. I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to the next adventures Ruby will be having, just like I am, when you’ve read it.

Boss of the Whole Sixth Grade by Ann Herrick


Boss of the Whole Sixth Grade by Ann Herrick
Publisher: Chaucer Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (106 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stargazer

Greta can’t wait to be at the top of the grade-school heap–especially since she’s dealing with loss at home. Her father’s away in Antarctica, her mother’s still angry with Greta’s Dad for leaving, and Grampa’s losing his memory. But even sixth grade starts to feel like “life stinks.”

Greta discovers she’s not in the same home room with her best friend. New girl Kiki moves onto the scene and starts acting like the boss of the whole sixth grade. And the handsome new teacher seems way too interested in Greta’s mother.

Greta agrees to be a candidate for class president only to stop Kiki from winning. She regrets accepting Kiki’s bet that if Kiki wins the election, she gets to tell Greta what to do for the whole school year. It takes some inspiration from her school project about René Descartes and his “I think, therefore I am” beliefs to help Greta keep her sixth-grade experience from totally going down the toilet.

Sometimes life just falls apart and it seems like nothing can go right.

Greta is in sixth grade which places her at the top of the school food chain, but it seems like she can’t catch a break. Her mom and dad have separated, her grandfather is losing his memory and now there is a new girl at school stirring up trouble and telling everyone how they should dress and act.

Greta makes a bet with the new girl which hinges on winning the election for class president. Greta is by no means the most popular girl, and already she begins to regret running for class president. Things becomes even more muddled when her mother realizes that Greta’s teacher is an old friend from her past.

Ann Herrick does a great job at showing the world from the point of view of Greta, from her internal emotions to the feelings of frustration and loss of control. The reader comes to realize and understand how frustrated Greta feels. The reader can empathize with the various predicaments that Greta faces.

The dialogue is fun, the situations are understandable and the characters are deep. Ann Herrick does a perfect job at relating the difficult situations to the age of the reader. There are lessons at various levels and even older readers will find great enjoyment and humor at the various situations. Older readers will also be able to reflect on their own youth and understand the feelings that Greta faces throughout the story.

I really enjoyed the personality of Greta. Many authors develop a character that the reader often views as “pure” or “good” but Ann is able to show the actions that Greta takes when she is feeling frustration or anger. Rather than just describing the feelings that Greta has, Ann shows how Greta lets those feelings out, whether in words or actions the feelings come forth.

This is one story that is full of lessons and reflections for readers of all ages, you don’t want to miss this great read!

The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave by Brydie Walker Bain

The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave by Brydie Walker Bain
The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave by Brydie Walker Bain
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (128 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Nat Sheppard’s world is turned upside down on the first day of the school holidays by the discovery of a secret room containing cave maps with clues to an ancient treasure. But Nat and her friends soon discover they’re not the only ones chasing the jewels. Professional treasure hunters are on the trail – and they’re prepared to eliminate anyone in their way.

Hunting for treasure is never easy, but is it supposed to be this hard?

Nat was a wonderful main character. She was brave, fearless, and kind. I liked seeing how she acted around her siblings as well. While there were times when they had the same kinds of disagreements that all siblings have, they seemed to be very close to each other. She was a great sister and role model to them. Seeing her treat them so kindly only made me like her more than I did when I first met her.

There were pacing issues with this story. The narrator spent a lot of time introducing the characters, describing the farm that Nat and her siblings lived on, and telling the audience why that property was so valuable. While I liked having such a clear picture of what was going on, this did make it hard for the rest of the plot to get as much attention as it needed. There were some very interesting scenes later on that felt rushed to me because of how little time the author had to show me what was happening in them.

I was fascinated by the caves. The descriptions of them made me wish I could explore all of them. There was something special about every single one of them. While I can’t tell you what Nat and her siblings experienced when they were underground, I will say that I had a great time guessing what the next cave might hold. The author did a good job at giving each cave its own personality, so to speak.

If you’re in the mood for adventure, give The Secret of Sinbad’s Cave a try.

McSorely’s Evil Tea by Helen Ryan

McSorelys Evil Tea by Helen Ryan

McSorely’s Evil Tea by Helen Ryan
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (160 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The story of an evil tea company and their plot to take over the world!

Sky Swift lives happily with her mother. She enjoys the simpler things in life like drinking tea, munching biscuits, oh and sniffing everything.

One day evil pays a visit. Her world has changed forever. Stalked by an evil tea bag and chased by an evil tea company that will stop at nothing to get her. They want her for their wicked plan.

Sky is in trouble. She needs help. But who can she turn to?

How much mischief could one little tea bag get into?

This was such an entertaining tale. The funniest scenes were the ones that described how evil tea bags think and act when no one is around to observe what they’re doing.I chucked my way through all of those sections. The descriptions of how tea bags behave were just plain silly at times, but they were silly in a good way. I definitely wouldn’t have expected anything less from a book called McSorely’s Evil Tea!

There were many punctuation errors. It was distracting to have to stop and reread sentences so often to figure out what they were trying to say. A few of them could have had so many different meanings that I was never quite sure which one the author was trying to get across to the audience. Had this not happened, I would have chosen a higher rating.

The dialogue fit in well with how the plot was written. All of the characters said exactly what they needed to say when they needed to say it. I liked the fact that there wasn’t any extra padding on their conversations. This was a good choice for a story that moved as quickly as this one does. There wasn’t any need for the characters to speak more than they did, so I’m glad that the author recognized this and allowed them to do other things with their time instead.

I’d recommend McSorely’s Evil Tea to anyone in the mood for something zany.

Flying Mutant Zombie Rats by Kat de Falla

Flying Mutant Zombie Rats by Kat de Falla

Flying Mutant Zombie Rats by Kat de Falla
Publisher: Ravenswood
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Summer vacation is almost here! And Pea O’Neil is stoked to try out the new local BMX track which is finally open. He and his gang of friends can ride all summer long!

But when Pea tries a back flip, he unwittingly opens a portal to another dimension and hordes of flying mutant zombie rats are unleashed upon the city. With the help of an otherworldly talking cat sent to help prevent the demise of humankind, Pea and his friends must hunt down the hungry mutants and send them back before the portal closes.

But when the zombie rats attack a neighbor man, the boys have to enlist the help of a graveyard looney and the city’s stray cats. With time running out, Pea and his gang track the monsters to the city’s sewer system. But in the city sewer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it’s eat…or get eaten.

Saving the world doesn’t leave a lot of time for cool, new bike tricks. Can Pea do both?

Pea was great. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the creatures that came through the portal. He was cautious and brave at the same time. This character also didn’t seem to have a problem acknowledging the funny side of what was happening. What really made me like him, though, were the jokes the narrator cracked about his situation. They came across to me as something that Pea would have really appreciated had he been able to hear them.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning of this story. The characters were all given complete introductions before the flying mutant zombie rats showed up. While I liked getting to know them, I would have preferred to jump into the rat invasion more quickly. There would have been time later on to explain certain parts of the characters’ backstories after they first met the the flying mutants.

The talking cat, Maximillian, was my favorite character in this book. One of the reasons why I find cats so fascinating is that they don’t always respond to humans the way we’d expect them to. They reject certain things that I would have assumed they would like, and they love other things that I never would have guessed would be appealing to them. Seeing how Maximillian responded to Pea’s crisis was a highlight of the plot for me. It was incredibly cat-like in both predictable and unpredictable ways!

I’d recommend Flying Mutant Zombie Rats to anyone in the mood for something wacky.

Cinderella’s Escape by Gita V. Reddy

Cinderella’s Escape by Gita V Reddy

Cinderella’s Escape by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Anna Maria lived with her stepmother Priscilla, and her stepsisters, Stella and Marcella.

Cinderella’s stepmother was no way as evil as Priscilla. Her stepsisters were a little less mean than Stella and Marcella.

Anna Maria did not live among cinders because there were no cinders. There were no mice and rabbits to play with either.

But there was a mystery to be solved and an escape to be made!

BRAINS + COURAGE = FREEDOM + HAPPINESS

Breaking free requires courage and the ability to never give up. Will Anna Maria have what it takes to make it?

One of the things I liked the most about Anna Maria was how hard she worked to solve her problems. There’s a difference between realizing that you’re in an unfair situation and assuming that there’s nothing you can do to change it. Seeing Anna Maria refuse to give up even when it seemed like there was no way she could succeed her made me like her even more than I originally did.

There were several plot holes that I found distracting. I would have liked to see some sort of explanation for them because the narrator had spent so much time dancing around them earlier on. To me, the answers to these questions were by far the most interesting part of the plot, so it was disappointing to not know more about what happened in those scenes. Had the narrator told me how certain things played out, I would have given this story a much higher rating.

The descriptions of the main character’s appearance and surroundings were so detailed. I especially enjoyed it when Anna Maria remembered what her life was like before she moved in with her stepmother. Her memories of those years were really vivid considering how young she was when everything in her life changed. Reading these descriptions was a highlight of the book for me.

I’d recommend Cinderella’s Escape to anyone who likes modern retellings of classic fairy tales.

Moondust by Neil Wilson

Moondust by Neil Wilson
Moondust by Neil Wilson
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical
Length: Short Story (143 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Ed Frost is testing his brand new telescope on the nearby hills when he spots a shadowy figure. Unusually, the stranger stops walking, leaves something behind and returns the way he came. Ed and his best friend Bertie investigate. They struggle but finally find an old sack. Inside are two terrified Welsh terrier pups, left for dead. Ed names one Moondust and the other Meteor. Moondust soon becomes a much loved member of the family, while Meteor’s life hangs in the balance.

By chance, Ed spots an advert for puppies in the local newspaper. He phones the number on the advert, pretending to be interested in buying a pup. The pups are being sold at a local farm. Ed and Bertie go to the farm on a spying mission. On the way they meet an old foe. He has been upset by his older brother who is renting the farm and selling the puppies in a heartless money-making business. The boys make an unexpected friendship and when they arrive to spy at the farm they are disgusted by what they see – bedraggled underfed pups, kept in dirty and cramped conditions – a cruel death camp for dogs.

A courageous and daring race for life begins. Can they rescue the pups and bring the sinister operator to justice?

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to hurt an innocent animal.

Ed was such an interesting main character. My first impression of him was of a reserved boy who had a lot of thought-provoking ideas running through his mind that he didn’t always necessarily share with other people. This turned out to be a pretty accurate sketch of his personality. It was nice to learn so much about who he was as an individual right away.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning of this story. The narrator spent a lot of time introducing the main character and his community before moving on to the events that were described in the blurb. While I enjoyed getting to know Ed, having such a slowly-paced plot was distracting. I would have liked to see how he reacted to the abandoned pets much sooner. This scene was the key to everything that happened afterwards, so it felt odd to put it off for so long.

The puppies were definitely the stars of the show. It was especially fascinating to see how Moondust adjusted to life with Ed and his family. Moondust had a rough start in life, but that isn’t something that seemed to slow this puppy down at all. My favorite scenes explored how this dog reacted to an environment that was much more loving and kind than anything that had happened earlier.

Moondust is a heartwarming tale that I’d recommend to kids and kids at heart alike.

I Live in a Doghouse by Beverly Stowe McClure

SOG HOUSE
I Live in a Doghouse by Beverly Stowe McClure
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (115 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eleven-year-old Nick Cassidy’s stepsister delights in calling him gross names. His half-sister loves for Nick to push her in the stroller, to his embarrassment. What if the guys from school see him? All Nick wants is his father to come back and take him away from this crazy family. Is it any wonder he sometimes lives in the doghouse?

I LIVE IN A DOGHOUSE is the story of a boy’s struggles to accept his new family while he longs for the old. When his father finally returns, will Nick’s dreams come true? Or will he discover that memories sometimes are faulty, and it’s best to forget the past and treasure the present?

There’s no such thing as a perfect family.

Nick’s relationship with his stepsister, Grace, evolved slowly. I liked both of them quite a bit as individuals, although I completely understood why they found each other so irritating because the author spent so much time showing me their different points of view. Their sibling squabbles were incredibly realistic and sometimes pretty funny as well. The best scenes in this book happened when these two characters were in the same room.

Figuring out the best appropriate age recommendation was quite tricky. The storylines that involved feeling annoyed by younger siblings or completely misunderstanding why adults say certain things really sounded like they were written for kids in early elementary school. There was one subplot that involved much more mature material, though. It was handled appropriately, but the plot does talk about things that younger or sensitive readers might find scary. For this reason, I definitely don’t recommend passing this book along to anyone under the age of eight.

How someone treats their pets can reveal a lot about who they are as a person. Accident, Nick’s dog, has a very happy life. Seeing how much attention Nick gave to his dog only made me like him even more. While he definitely had his share of flaws, anyone who loves an animal as much as this character does is someone I’d like to know more about. Will Ms. McClure write a sequel? I don’t know! If she does, though, I’ll first in line to read it.

I Live in a Doghouse is about the families we wish we had as well as the ones that we’ve actually ended up with. Give it a try if you’ve ever wished one of your relatives could be something other than who and what they actually are.

Snoogers Rule, Mammoths Drool! by Kerry Crowley

Snoogers Rule, Mammoths Drool! by Kerry Crowley

Snoogers Rule, Mammoths Drool! by Kerry Crowley
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Short Story (141 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

You’d think eleven-year old rich kid, Marcus Fleming, has it made, but he doesn’t. He often feels like a disappointment, struggling to live up to his dad’s high standards.

One day, Marcus holds open a door for a very sickly-looking man. The thanks he gets is a sneeze that covers him in thick green slime. Marcus soon discovers that this slime has given him the ability to shoot radioactive mucus out of his mouth and nose. After fine-tuning his abilities, he dubs himself the superhero, Mucus Phlegmball, but is determined to keep his powers a secret.

When mutant squirrels threaten the town, Marcus feels compelled to step up, but worries he can’t handle it alone. He reveals his secret to his best friend, Chunk, and to Dr B., the sickly scientist who sneezed on him, and they agree to work together.

Through radioactive snot-filled time traveling adventures, Marcus is continually challenged and faces many of his fears. Can this insecure young man summon the courage to handle the responsibility of being a super hero?

It’s almost impossible to hold back a sneeze when your nose is full of snot, so why does everyone do it? What could be the worst possible thing that would happen if they didn’t?

My favorite scenes in this story were the ones that gave the audience a glimpse of what Marcus thought about but would never say out loud. He was such an interesting guy, and I only liked him more as I got to know him better. There is definitely something to be said for a main character who is as creative and smart as this one. While I don’t know if the author is planning to write a sequel, I’d love to see what kinds of adventures this character has in the future.

I would have liked to see more time spent showing how Marcus’ radioactive mucus worked. Some of the rules about what it was capable of and why this character’s nose was the only part of his body to be affected by the stranger’s sneeze didn’t quite make sense to me. Had this been explained in better detail, I would have given this book a much higher rating.

The squirrels caused so much mischief. They way they went about messing up the human’s lives was just so squirrel-like that I couldn’t help but to laugh. While I wouldn’t want them anywhere near my house, it was entertaining to see how much trouble these creatures could get into in such a short amount of time.

Snoogers Rule, Mammoths Drool! is a great choice for anyone looking for something fun and a little gross.