The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan


The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (112 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Experience the magic of authentic giving in this holiday classic from the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

All year long Lily and Liam look forward to the holidays at their grandparents’ farm. It’s always the perfect trip: walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, giving gifts. But this year, thanks to a white cow alone in the meadow, things will be different. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift.

This holiday classic from a beloved author rings in the season by celebrating the joys of family, community, and true giving.

No one should be lonely over Christmas, not even a cow!

Lily was a kind and compassionate girl who obviously loved her younger brother a lot. It was heartwarming to see how hard she worked to make him feel better about White Cow being all alone in the barn, especially once she realized that he wasn’t going to give up until he figured out how to find a friend for that lonely cow. Some of the most memorable scenes showed what happened after she decided to help him track down another cow before Christmas arrived.

I would have liked to see more time developing Lily and Liam’s characters. There were a few times in the plot when I wondered if Liam was supposed to be written as a kid who was living with an invisible disability because of how difficult it was for him to accept change and how determined he was to follow the same routine every day. Lily’s strong urge to protect her brother was also something that caught my attention. While all of these things could have simply been normal parts of their personalities and not hints about how a family dealing with special needs might experience the world, it would have been nice to know for sure how I should be reading that.

One of the nice things about living in a small town is how people in rural areas can look out for each other. I really liked seeing how the adults in that community quietly looked out for Lily and Liam. These kids were obviously known to be the visiting grandkids of a certain couple, and I enjoyed seeing how they tried to reach their goal while being surrounded by adults who were keeping a friendly eye on the situation.

The True Gift is something I’d recommend to anyone who loves animals.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke


E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

LASR Anniversary Scavenger Hunt: Mountain of Love and Danger by Gail Pallotta


Thanks for joining us on our anniversary scavenger hunt! It’s easy to play– first read the blurb below, then answer the question on the Rafflecopter. You might win a $100 Amazon/BN GC.

Jack Greenthumb finds romance in Fairwilde Kingdom—a different day—a different girl. Then a cruel mystery begins. Dad’s beaten, the family farm destroyed and Jack’s true love, Gwendolyn Bante, kidnapped. Jack’s undercover operation reveals Gwenie’s a captive atop a mountain accessible only by helicopter. Reaching her is a dangerous expedition even for a champion rock climber like Jack. However, a Greenthumb Acres employee plants a miraculous seed from Heaven for the rescue. Suspense mounts as Jack scales the perilous cliff to face a brute and a treacherous descent in this retelling of the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Buy the book at Amazon.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 5+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

From award-winning author Carole P. Roman comes a new chapter book featuring Susannah Logan, a young student having a very bad day.

It all begins with homework trouble and an invitation to a sleepover that she doesn’t want to go to. Would you want to go to a sleepover in a creepy house? Rather than dealing with her problems, Susannah stuffs them into her backpack. But how much can a backpack take? Will she be able to confront her worries before the backpack bursts? Or will she just continue to hide them away?

Join Susannah and her friends in this story sure to charm busy young readers everywhere.

I’ve read many of the If You Were Me books by this author so it was fun to see that Ms. Roman has written her first chapter book.

It’s a cute read and one I know that children will love reading or having read to them.

The main character Susannah hasn’t finished her homework, has parents who always seem to be in a hurry, she hates oatmeal, isn’t fond of bananas yet one is in her school bag. And unlike the other kids at school, she can’t decide what book she wants to read. This all somehow causes her bag to get fuller and fuller until the zipper breaks and the bag gets stuck under the bed.

It’s a funny tale but with a message that sometimes what we perceive to be true isn’t always the case. Susannah’s parents might seem busy but they have time for her and that we all face the same dilemmas in life and it’s always parents who come to the rescue…if you let them.

A fun read that I think would be great to read during the summer break with your children or grandchildren as they get ready to head back to school.

Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland


Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland
Publisher: Sonny’s Legacy Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Coming September 12, 2017! Megan’s Munchkins is the first book in the middle grade fiction series Megan’s World. Not everything hidden in the closet is scary, even if it’s furry and has sharp claws! Every teenager’s dream come true and every parent’s worst nightmare, Megan’s Munchkins is a short and sweet tale about a middle-school girl finding, quite by accident, the pet she had always wanted. Plus three more! It’s almost Spring break and adventurous thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson finds four tiny day-old kittens in the park and makes a decision on the spot that will turn her life upside-down. What does a young girl do who has been told by her parents over and over again that she may not have a pet? In Megan’s mind, there is no question. She must save these motherless newborns, even if it means keeping them a secret from her mom and dad. The next five weeks are an exhausting blur of vet visits, endless cycles of feeding schedules, household chores, homework and sneaking around, but Megan has never been happier in her whole life. The kittens grow quickly and begin to venture out into the world beyond the closet. Megan knows it is only a matter of time before her she must tell her parents about her secret. Fate steps in and her secret is discovered. What will happen to her precious babies now?

Keeping a secret for five weeks isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Megan was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how she solved the problems that can come with trying to raise four newborn kittens by yourself. My favorite scene involved her trying to get the kittens to drink formula when they were too small and weak to understand what she was doing. She clearly loved her pets quite a bit and spent plenty of time researching everything they would need to grow into strong, healthy cats.

One of the biggest reasons why Megan’s parents didn’t want her to have a pet cat was that they and her older brother were allergic to them. The way this part of the plot was developed didn’t make sense to me because the Thompson family never went into much detail about how severe their allergies were or what would happen if they were exposed to cat dander. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the storyline, I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The relationship Megan had with her brother was warm and friendly. I appreciated the fact that he was so kind to and supportive of her. They seemed like they were very close even though Kevin was much older than his little sister. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in middle grade fiction, so it was fun to watch siblings get along well.

Megan’s Munchkins was a sweet, gentle story that I’d recommend to anyone who loves cats.

Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick


Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (250 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jax is a fourteen-year-old magic-taker from Androva. He’s also a rule breaker. He should not have opened a portal to our world in daylight, no matter how fed up he was with the rules, or how interested he was in Shannon.

Shannon considers herself to be ordinary. She loves escaping into fantasy books, but she never actually believed in magic. Not until the day she opens her eyes to find herself surrounded by it. And that boy, the one with the green eyes, who winks at her before he disappears into thin air. Who is he? Where does he come from?

When Shannon first touches the silver force field created by Jax, a treaty is broken, giving an ancient enemy the chance he needs to regain his power. The two teenagers don’t have much time to figure out what is going on, and they’re going to need all of their combined magical ability to stand a chance of surviving.

The next ten days will be the most exciting and terrifying of their lives (so far!).

The Legacy of Androva is a series of contemporary fantasy books for lower young adult / upper middle grade. The stories are self-contained, with no cliffhangers in between books.

Shannon’s nap is about to end with something other than a sweet dream.

The dialogue was nicely written. I liked seeing how much attention the author paid to giving each character a unique voice. Jax and Shannon had unique speaking styles that immediately told me which one of them was talking when a new scene began with a quote from one of them. That is something I always enjoy finding in stories, so it was nice to have it.

The pacing was quite slow. As interested as I was in the idea of harvesting magic and meeting people from another planet, it was difficult to keep reading at times because of how long it took for the plot move forward. There were multiple points where the plot stopped progressing altogether in order to explain certain parts of the backstory or how a certain spell worked. As nice as it was to have those pieces of information, I would have really liked to see more time spent developing the plot and speeding up the pacing of it so that I could felt more concerned about how it would all turn out.

With that being said, the spells in this book were fascinating and not really what I’d expect to see in your average fantasy tale. I can’t talk about most of them in detail without giving away spoilers for the storyline, but all of them were spells that I sure wished I could cast. The one for cleaning your teeth, for example, was a lot of fun.

Check out Stealing Magic if you like creative fantasy novels set in the present day.

Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa DeLaCruz


Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa DeLaCruz
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Length: 320 pages
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Honeysuckle

The sequel to the #1 New York Times best seller The Isle of the Lost

Mal’s an expert at intimidating her enemies, but she’s broken the habit since leaving her villainous roots behind. So when she and her friends Evie, Carlos, and Jay all receive threatening messages demanding they return home, Mal can’t believe it. Sure, she’s King Ben’s girlfriend now, and she’s usually nice to her classmates, but she still didn’t think anyone would be silly enough to try to push her around.

The thing is, it kind of worked. Especially since she and her friends have a sneaking suspicion that their villainous parents are behind the messages. And when Evie looks into her Magic Mirror, what she sees only confirms their fears. Maleficent’s just a tiny lizard after her run-in with Mal at Ben’s Coronation, but she’s the worst villain in the land for a reason. Could she have found a way to escape? Whatever’s going on, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay know they have to sneak back to the Isle and get to the bottom of it.

Without its infamous leader, the island’s even worse than when they left it, but the comforts of home-even a home as gloomy as the Isle of the Lost-can be hard to resist for recently reformed villains. Will the kids be able to beat the evil bubbling at the Isle’s wicked core, or will the plot to destroy Auradon succeed?

The Villains are back and they’ll play just as dirty as they have to to force their offspring back to the Isle of the Lost.

Mal and her friends have made a life, a good life, in Auradon, away from their parents and away from the world they were born into where they were expected to grow up to be just as awful as their parents. I thought the author did a good job of making a point in the story about how changing on the outside doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t a change on the inside.

That was my take away from the book. My daughter simply enjoyed the continued story of the four friends and the familiar Disney references. She saw the blurb for the new book coming out later this month and, as someone who wanted to meet more of the villains on our recent trip to Disney than princesses, she was super excited to see who all would likely make appearances for the third adventure for Mal, Jay, Evie and Carlos. My fingers are crossed that Gaston will sing his song!

Return to the Isle of the Lost picks up seamlessly from the first book. Mal and King Ben are still an item and the mean girls in town are still pretty mean, just not “Lost Isle” mean. The plot isn’t terribly complicated and it wasn’t difficult to figure out the direction the author would take to resolve the conflict. I did like that the gang, especially Mal and Evie, show personal growth in this book.

This is a good book for young readers who enjoy an adventure story that isn’t real heavy. Disney purist might have a problem with some of the license the author takes with the beloved characters but it isn’t anything I felt was unforgivable. Parents who like to read what their kids are reading will find it engaging as well. The dialogue is good, funny at times, and the story moves along smoothly to a satisfying end that should lead well into the next book. An easy recommend.

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth by G.A. Schindler


Last Voyage a the Vengeferth by G.A. Schindler
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (130 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An adventure tale pitting man against nature. The Vengeferth pirates meet a great white shark, then they’re capsized by a rogue wave. Seven crewmen escape the overturned ship to spend months a’ sea in a smallboat. During that time they share stories from their lives. They encounter the Crazy Cousin, a foundering ship with a broken pump and a belly full of water. And she has more problems.

Anything can happen when the only thing standing between you and bad weather is a single ship.

What an adventure this was! The wave that capsized the Vengeferth made me shudder, but it was what happened to her crew afterwards that kept me so interested in the plot. The stories the characters told about their previous lives were just as entertaining as their attempts to live on almost nothing but raw fish for months on end while they waited to be rescued.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. There were a lot of them, and the narrator didn’t spend quite enough time explaining what everyone’s job was on the ship. This made it hard to remember who was who and which backstory belonged to which character. It would have been helpful to have more time to absorb this information before their troubles started. I often had to stop and double-check this stuff to clear up my confusion.

To be honest with you, it did take me some time to get used to the dialect that the characters spoke in this tale. Once I did, though, I really liked how colorful it was. Sailors definitely wouldn’t worry about speaking proper English, so it made perfect sense for them to speak so casually. I’m glad I took the time to figure out what they were saying in the beginning. It quickly became worth that little bit of extra effort.

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth was a wild adventure that I’d recommend to anyone who is looking to sail the high seas.

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.