Sunday, March 19, 2017

Middle School: Escape to Australia

Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Comedy
Publishing Date: March 6th, 2017 by Jimmy Patterson

Summary: Goodreads~ In the newest installment of James Patterson's bestselling Middle School series, everyone's favorite underdog hero Rafe Khatchadorian is headed to the dangerous wilds of Australia! 

Rafe isn't exactly considered a winner in Hills Village Middle School to say the least, but everything's about to change: he's won a school-wide art competition, and the fabulous prize is getting to jet-set off to Australia for a whirlwind adventure! But Rafe soon finds that living in the Land Down Under is harder than he could've ever imagined--his host-siblings are anything but welcoming, the burning temperatures are torturous, and poisonous critters are ready to sting or eat him at every step. So with the help of some new misfit friends, Rafe sets out to show everyone what he does best: create utter mayhem! 

What I Liked: Out of all the amazing things about this book, one of my favorite parts was when Rafe stumbled upon this random group of kids that were just his cup of tea. The way it was portrayed, I really enjoyed the adventures that they went through, and even though it only lasted for a couple days (if that), it seemed like they made a lifetime's worth of memories (kind of cheesy, but you get the point). For example, Rafe and these kids made bonding time over creating chaos at an art showing. I mean how much better can you get? I really liked the newfound friendship in this novel.

What I Didn't Like: If I had to say something about what I didn't like, I found myself flipping through the parts where his host-siblings play pranks on him. I mean, it's okay if they mess with Rafe once or twice, but I will warn you, James Patterson (and company), really works and stretches to whole host-siblings-mess-with-Rafe idea, and it got kind of annoying to me.

Rating: 9 out of ten.

Why? Sadly, not my favorite book in this series, mostly because of the tedious flipping.]

Middle School: Escape to Australia (Middle School, #9)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Million Dollar Kick by Dan Gutman

Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Publishing Date: September 15th, 2006 by Disney Hyperion

Summary:  Goodreads ~ Whisper Nelson hates sports--all sports--with a passion! So when by a fluke she wins a chance to kick a goal past a professional soccer star for a million-dollar prize, she is torn. Should she try it and risk humiliation, or just forget the whole thing and save what dignity she has left? But the Million Dollar Kick might be Whisper's big chance not only to win a million dollars, but to regain confidence in herself.

What I Liked: First off, what I liked about this book is that Dan Gutman managed to pack all the good stuff for a middle grade novel into around a hundred pages. So I think that even for those who don't like to read at all, not only is it a good book, it's also a good book that will take around thirty minutes to an hour to complete. To elaborate on the "good stuff", I do like the whole build up to the kick. It was really cool to see this sport-hating girl not only get her confidence, but find a love for the game of soccer as well.

What I Didn't Like: Other than "I want more!", I'd have to say this was another classic cliched plot. Now in the words of Stuart Gibbs "There's always going to be a defined structure to a book" (or something like that), I agree, there will always be an expository, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. But I'm not talking about that. I'm referencing to the classic "kid gets lucky and then something happens which makes him unlucky but then he perseveres and is lucky again" I don't know if I'm the only one who sees a lot of books like this (or for the matter understood what the quotes even meant), but even though I am, I still found this book's actions pretty similar to other books, which made me a little bored.

Rating 8.2 out of ten.

Why? It's a great book, but you can't be the best book in only a hundred pages.

The Million Dollar Kick (The Million Dollar Series, #2)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Every Day on Earth by Steve Murrie, Matthew Murrie and Tom Bloom

Age Group: All Ages
Genre: Non Fiction
Publishing Date: August 1st 2011 by Scholastic Paperbacks

Summary: Goodreads ~ "Discover all of the amazing things that can happen around the world in just one day!

You already know all of the amazing things that can happen in just one minute on Earth, so think what could happen in a whole day! Your taste bud cells are replaced at a rate of 50,000 a day, almost 40,000 trees are cut down every day just to make paper bags, and a mayfly lives its entire life in a single day. This book is full of fun facts about space technology, pop culture, food, animals, sports, the human body, and more!"

What I Liked: I think I'd like to compare this book to the fabulous almanac/encyclopedia that National Geographic sent me a month or two ago. This is a book I recently picked up because the title intrigued me and honestly I'm into these sort of weird fact books. And it delivered. It has just a little bit of everything from practically every genre, so if you want to be a scientist or an athlete, movie star or you just like food, this book is for you. I especially loved reading this book when I had an hour or two to kill later Saturday afternoon. It just fascinated me, and funnily enough, I used one of the biology facts in my class and impressed my teacher. Weird, but cool.

What I Don't Like: The problem with having every single genre is that while it is sure to contain something that you like, there is always something that you don't like, which can be tedious. Naturally, I found myself bypassing all of the stuff I found uninteresting in order to get to the good stuff. Then again, in all almanac books, there's always gonna be sections that you won't want to read and just skip. Nothing wrong with it, but I'd like to point out that you probably aren't going to end up reading the whole book cover to cover. Just like to mention that.

Rating: 9 out of ten.

Why? Pretty solid book not going to lie, but it isn't your NY Bestseller action going to be turned into a movie.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Guest Review! Violet from Reading Violet Brings Impyrium by Henry H. Neff

So we have a different sort of post here. Recently, I have collaborated with Violet from Reading Violet, a blog which has some sweet book stuff like the one right here, and we are guest posting. Today is her opinion on Impyrium, and on Sunday, check out her blog for my review on Spy School. Enjoy!

Hello, everybody!  Today I’m so excited to be reviewing Impyrium by Henry H. Neff on JustinTalksBooks. 

Title: Impyrium
Series: No clue, but the second book comes out soon!
Author: Henry H. Neff
Age group: 8 - 12
Page count: 592 pages

Summary from Amazon:
    In the first book of Henry H. Neff’s new high-stakes middle grade fantasy series, two unlikely allies confront a conspiracy that will shake the world of Impyrium to its core.
    For over three thousand years, the Faeregine dynasty has ruled Impyrium. But the family’s magic has been fading, and with it their power over the empire. Whether it’s treachery from a rival house, the demon Lirlanders, or rebel forces, many believe the Faeregines are ripe to fall.
Hazel, the youngest member of the royal family, is happy to leave ruling to her sisters so that she can study her magic. But the empress has other plans for her granddaughter, dark and dangerous plans to exploit Hazel’s talents and rekindle the Faeregine mystique. Hob, a commoner from the remote provinces, has been sent to the city to serve the Faeregines—and to spy on them.
One wants to protect the dynasty. The other wants to destroy it. But when Hazel and Hob form an improbable friendship, their bond may save the realm as they know it…or end it for good.
    First, I’d like us to look at the cover.  The cover amazingly captured the intrigue, suspense and mystery of the book.  The creepy jester-looking shadow gave me an ominous feeling, and the vault door opening made me wonder what could be inside.  It also blatantly shows things connected to the book, similar to how clues are hidden in plain sight.  It reflects the mood of Impyrium very nicely!
    This book pulled me out of reality and dropped me in Impyrium.  The world is so well-developed and thought out.  Everything is well-described.  Little things are there that most authors wouldn’t think of.  The maps helped clarify where places in the story were, which proved useful as I received lots of information about locations.  The world is just so deep.

    The prologue pulled me right in.  It had great action and mystery.  Initially, I was worried I wouldn’t like it.  It was one of the best introductions to a story I’ve ever had.

    The action in Impyrium is so strong.  There is something going on in every chapter that is key to the story.  Everything little detail is relevant to the plot.  I thought the story was over after something big happened, but no!  There was still 100 pages left, and more big things happened.  It was amazing.
    I thought the portrayal of both sides was great.  The author leaves us in suspense, wondering which side is good and which is evil.  Both sides have flaws, but we root for aspects of both of them.

    The characters were fantastic.  Hazel has great powers, but she's flawed and relatable.  She’s not self-absorbent or haughty about her powers.  She sees them as a gift and a burden, and I was able to recognize that through the writing.

Hob was a character who wanted to make a name for himself, but cares for others more than he does himself.  He was smart, but did not gloat about his accomplishments.  Both characters were very down-to-earth and this made them very relatable in all their conflicts.

    Their friendship began sketchy.  However, both Hazel and Hob provided support and comfort for each other in times of need.  They understand how the other feels like.  Their attitudes were collected and happy to learn (most of the time).  Their motivational words to each other gave me inspiration.

    As Hazel grows up, she starts to realize things aren’t as perfect as she liked to imagine.  Her friend helps her guide through tricky parts of life.

    I grew to care very deeply about these characters.  When Hazel is connected as similar to someone wicked, I was very concerned!

    Since Impyrium is very thick, it might deter readers.  However, I would encourage them to push through because it is a great book.

    Occasionally, the author tries to teach us about the world of Impyrium.  This is done in classrooms where students/teachers answer questions.  I didn’t like this way of gaining information about the book very much.  I wish I could’ve been done a little more subtly.

    Overall, I give Impyrium a nine out of ten!  No book is perfect (ten out of ten), but Impyrium came very close!  It has captivating conflict, a strong friendship and a deep world.  It definitely deserves its stars!
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Author bio: 
Henry H. Neff grew up outside Chicago before going off to Cornell University where he majored in history. He began his professional career as a consultant with McKinsey & Company before leaving the corporate life to teach at a San Francisco high school and write fantasy novels.
His first series, “The Tapestry”, is a five-volume epic that follows the life and adventures of Max McDaniels. Its books have been translated into nineteen languages and were finalists for the Texas Bluebonnet, Missouri Truman Award, and Northern California Book of the Year.
Impyrium is Henry’s second series. You’ll find him working away in Montclair, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Taken from Amazon.  Click the link below to go to his website.
Thank you for joining me this week for my review!  Next week, on my blog Reading Violet, I will be reviewing Day of Ice by Andrew Lane.  Also, on Wednesday, March 1st, I will post an interview with Jennifer A. Nielsen.
Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cure for the Common Universe by Christian McKay Heidicker

Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Sci-fi, Realistic Fiction
Publishing Date: June 14th, 2016 by Simon and Schuster

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jaxon is being committed to video game rehab . . .

ten minutes after he met a girl. A living, breathing girl named Serena, who not only laughed at his jokes but actually kinda sorta seemed excited when she agreed to go out with him.

Jaxon's first date. Ever.

In rehab, he can't blast his way through galaxies to reach her. He can't slash through armies to kiss her sweet lips. Instead, he has just four days to earn one million points by learning real-life skills. And he'll do whatever it takes—lie, cheat, steal, even learn how to cross-stitch—in order to make it to his date.

If all else fails, Jaxon will have to bare his soul to the other teens in treatment, confront his mother's absence, and maybe admit that it's more than video games that stand in the way of a real connection.

Prepare to be cured.

What I Liked: There are too many aspects about this book to rave about, but there are two things I'd like to talk about. The first thing is that I'd never seen a book about video games that wasn't overly cheesy and or super intense. There is such a big market in the whole online, video gaming section that authors just want to neglect, and I'm so glad this book was written with the subject of video gaming in mind. The other thing I'd like to point out is that I'd like to continue with the uniqueness aspect. In his whole "rehab" scene, sure it was cliched when Jaxon was put on the underdog team, and sure, it was cliched when everything worked in his favor, but how each of the characters were developed were special. For example, there's this character named Soup, which basically has these insanely weird traits that make him so funny to read. Like for example, he's willing to cross-stitch for just to have a friend. It's little stuff like that that made this book so enjoyable.

What I Didn't Like:  For this portion, there are another two things I'd like to point out. The first is the fact that the book curses like every other page. "But it's a YA book. Who Cares?" you may think. However, it's kind of ridiculous. I mean 90% of the book, it is actually useful. But I mean, there's one part of the book where part of Soup's celebration dance is to say every curse word he knows. Like really? I mean do you think that's necessary? Also, the romance between Jaxon and Serena is honestly the worse. I don't want to give too much away, but in my opinion, I just didn't like how it was portrayed.

Final Rating: 9.4 out of ten.

Why? Pretty good, of course. But profanity will getcha, and it happened here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica

Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre: Sports Fiction
Publishing Date: September 16th, 2014 by Philomel Books

Summary: 12-year-old Charlie is a fantasy football guru. He may be just a bench warmer for his school's football team, but when it comes to knowing and loving the game, he's first-string. He even becomes a celebrity when his podcast gets noticed by a sports radio host, who plays Charlie's fantasy picks for all of Los Angeles to hear. Soon Charlie befriends the elderly owner of the L.A. Bulldogs -- a fictional NFL team -- and convinces him to take a chance on an aging quarterback. After that, watch out . . . it's press conferences and national fame as Charlie becomes a media curiosity and source of conflict for the Bulldogs general manager, whose job Charlie seems to have taken. It's all a bit much for a kid just trying to stay on top of his grades and maintain his friendship with his verbal sparring partner, Anna.

What I Liked: If there is anything that I like in a good book, it is middle-school-ish aged kids, sports, or said kids who become really important. Of course, I wouldn't be talking about those factors if the book didn't have all three. It was really cool to see some kid suddenly be propped up to fame and become a huge influence in the sports world. Not to mention how fun of a game fantasy football is, which I play even though it isn't for any money or anything. Mike Lupica is the premier middle-aged sports writer and for good reason; this book had a great story line and if you're willing to dabbel into sports fiction this novel will be great for you.

What I Didn't Like: I don't believe I can remember anything that made me think I didn't want to read it any further. I think something I would have changed was Anna and her family, who of course consist of the owner and general manager. At times they seemed slightly to arrogant for the novel. The novel was a funny and had a light mood but would almost be "interrupted" by some snarky remark, which frankly I could have done without.

Final Rating: 9.4 out of ten.

Why? It was a great book indeed, just do keep in mind it is a sports-oriented book, so if you don't like that kind of stuff, I would stay away from my recommendation.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Hand You're Dealt by Paul Volponi

Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Publishing Date: September 30th, 2008 by Atheneum Books

Summary: When Huck Porter's dad suddenly dies, it feels like nothing will ever make sense again. Huck's "best friend" thinks that Huck should just get over it, the girl he likes won't give him the time of day, and his mom now works all hours at a roadside diner to make ends meet. The only thing that still makes sense for Huck is the game his dad taught him, the game they spent hours playing together: Texas hold'em. 

Worse than all of that, though, is Huck's math teacher, Mr. Abbott -- a hungry card shark with an ego to match his appetite. He now wears the local poker tournament's first prize, a silver watch that Huck's dad wore proudly for three years. So Huck hatches a plan to knock Abbott off his throne and win back the watch. Only, bluffing his way into the tournament will mean lying to everyone Huck knows. But as Huck gets deeper in the tournament and starts to lose himself in the cards, he begins to wonder who he'll be when the last hand is played.

Raw and gritty, Paul Volponi's novel about grief, family, and poker is an adrenaline rush that starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the final page is turned. A coming-of-age story set at a card table, The Hand You're Dealt will leave readers wondering what they would risk in a game

What I Liked: So it turns out that I read this back last year around September, but I never got around to reviewing it, so I'd like to say that before people who end up picking up a copy and reading the book flame me for not being perfectly accurate. Anyways, as I recall, even though this book is marketed toward young adults, it is easily more kid-friendly than some of the other "middle grade" books out there. It honestly is just a thriller that may be slightly too intense to pronounce middle grade. Another thing that I'd like to point out is that it is a plot that centers around the "sport" (or game) of poker. This book is unique because it appealed to my love of the game of poker. While personally, I don't play for money or even for fun, I understand the ins and outs of the game and often recreational-ly watch hands in my free time. One of my favorite things about the game is that it appeals to all ends of the spectrum. Old (there was a 96 year old in the world series of poker main event) young, professional and newcomer. 99% of the game is dominated by professionals because it involves pure strategy and memorizing when to do what based on what you have as well as being the best actor you can and yet, even if you have no idea what you're doing, the 1% of poker makes it constantly exciting because that 1% is all luck, meaning anyone can win. Sorry for my little rant on why poker is the best (playing for fun, not gambling your life savings to the game), but I feel like it deserves the recognition it doesn't get. This book helps shine some light on the game because in a very fun and exciting way, highlights the game of poker.

What I Didn't Like: Of course, you, as the potential reader of this book, should note that this book isn't perfectly PG. I can't remember if there is any blatant profanity (maybe? just be aware there's a good chance there is), but there are some pretty intense "fight" scenes (not brawls, just arguments), so if you don't want 7 year old Timmy exposed to that kind of stuff, just be aware.

Rating: 9.2 Out of Ten

Why? It's an amazing book, but after I finished it, I felt like there was something lacking. I don't know what, but I just had a feeling it was missing something.