The Mad Apprentice Review

mad-apprenticeThe Mad Apprentice (The Forbidden Library: Volume II) by Django Wexler, illustrations by Alexander Jansson

Kathy Dawson Books, 2015. 978-0803739765

Synopsis: As a Reader, Alice is becoming exposed to a world she didn’t even know existed until she was sent to live with her Uncle Geryon – and it is not always a safe world at that. So when another Reader dies and Alice (along with five other apprentices) is sent to ‘deal with’ the dead man’s apprentice, she begins to realize that the world and the power of a Reader is so much more terrifying that she could have ever imagined.

Why I picked it up: I read and loved The Forbidden Library, but had forgotten there were two more books until I was searching for my next great read at my local library.

Why I finished it: Wexler has taken children’s fantasy to a different level with this series, marrying the traditional aspects of magic and the supernatural with those of a mystery/crime drama. Since she has come to stay with Geryon, Alice has been searching for answers about her father, but nothing definitive – a frustration that is driving her more and more through these last books of the trilogy. She is hoping she will be able to find more pieces to the puzzle when she is tasked with investigating the murder of another Reader. It quickly becomes clear that the apprentices are dealing with more than they can handle, and as Alice and the others race to find a solution, we see our heroine once again stepping forward to become a leader. As I stated before, Alice’s motivations are much stronger in this volume and it is helping to round out and grow her as a character. She’s quickly learning to think on her feet in order to keep one step ahead of the creatures that case them. She’s learning to be smarter about playing dumb, which sounds sort of funny but it’s what is helping her keep her fact-finding mission a secret from her master. This novel moves at a much faster clip, keeping the adrenaline of the characters and the reader at a high even in the last few chapters. It’s another series to read if you are missing Harry Potter or The Kane Chronicles and sure to delight those readers who really liked the first book. It’s guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Other related materials: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler, illustrations by Alexander Jansson; The Palace of Glass (The Forbidden Library Volume III) by Django Wexler, illustrations by Alexander Jansson; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke; Inkspell by Cornelia Funke; Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke; The Books of Elsewhere series by Jacqueline West; Coraline by Neil Gaiman; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; The Mapmakers Trilogy books by S.E. Grove; The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White, illustrations by Andrea Offermann; Jinx by Sage Blackwood; The Copernicus Legacy: The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott, illustrations by Bill Perkins; The Wildwood Chronicles books by Colin Meloy, illustrations by Carson Ellis; 13 Treasures trilogy by Michelle Harrison; The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey

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The Poe Estate Review

the_poe_estateThe Poe Estate by Polly Schulman

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015. 978-0399166143

Synopsis: Sukie O’Dare is haunted. Literally. Since her sister Kitty died, her ghost has been hanging around keeping an eye on Sukie the same way she did when Kitty was alive. And if it weren’t for the fact that Kitty is still extremely overprotective, it might even be cool. But it’s not, and now everyone thinks Sukie is a spook. A spook that is being haunted by ghosts other than her sister; ghosts that won’t rest until Sukie has fulfilled their strange request.

Why I picked it up: I really enjoyed the first two books in the series and I was eager to read more of Schulman’s work.

Why I finished it: While Schulman’s books have the luxury of being able to stand alone, some of the relationships with the characters and the events to which they refer will make more sense to you if you have read the other two books. That is one of the things that I like about this series: you get to find out what happens with the characters without a whole other book dedicated solely to them. I like Schulman’s take on the fantasy/horror/gothic novel genre and that this book is creepy without being too creepy. Sukie has had to deal with a lot since her sister Kitty as died, and readers who have lost someone close to them can understand a lot of her frustrations at the changes that are happening within her family. She’s having to make adjustments that aren’t exactly comfortable, especially when the spirit of her sister is stuck while Sukie continues to move forward. This theme about changes and moving forward is a central theme to the story that gets explored not only with Sukie, but her family ghosts as well. Spirits often need closure in one life before they can move on to the next, a problem Sukie seeks to tackle along with her friend Cole and the staff at the New-York Circulating Materials Repository. The mystery and the magic of the library once again plays a key role in aiding our protagonist in finding answers to a more urgent dilemma and also finding answers about who they are themselves. For me, it was a reminder that libraries are welcoming places where one can find the answers to almost any question we could have. It’s a fun and exciting story that will be enjoyed by both fantasy and gothic novel fans.

Other related materials: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman; The Wells Bequest: A Companion to the Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz; In A Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz; The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz; The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson; The Books of Elsewhere books by Jacqueline West; Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick; The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler; The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler; The Palace of Glass by Django Wexler; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; 13 Treasures Trilogy by Michelle Harrison

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Razzle Dazzle Unicorn Review

razzle_dazzle_unicornRazzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 978-1-4494-77912

Synopsis: When your best friend is a unicorn, there’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s competing with the Christmas tree as to who is sparklier, bonding with a goblin who likes to steal socks, or making friends with a lake monster, Phoebe and Marigold make the most of every day.

Why I picked it up: I love how funny and fun this series is!

Why I finished it: Unicorns are creatures that require lots of attention and care, as the reader has learned thus far. But once you prioritize the fact that your best friend is a unicorn, everything sort of falls into place. We start off with some holiday stories (that remind us that the holiday season is (perpetually) just around the corner) and move through the latter half of the year until we once again find ourselves at Camp Wolfgang. Simpson’s humor and art are what really make this series shine (literally and figuratively) and the multi-generational jokes are well-timed throughout this collection. This volume sees Marigold interacting a little more with Phoebe’s parents – the unicorn develops sparkle fever and has to stay home from taking Phoebe to school, during which time Phoebe’s mom must entertain the beautiful creature while she recovers. We also learn the difference between a common orn and a unique orn (Marigold obviously falls into the latter category), and that it is important not to confuse the two. It’s a smart, funny series that will have you laughing out loud and enjoyed by unicorn lovers of all ages.

Other related materials: Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson; Unicorn on a Roll: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson; Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; Alien Invasion in my Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling; The Ghostly Thief of Time by Ruben Bolling; Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; Hamster Princess books by Ursula Vernon; Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke; Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack; The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale; Lunch Lady books by Jarrett J. Krosoczka; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Stinky Cecil books by Paige Braddock

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Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code Review

hooks_revenge_2Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code by Heidi Schulz, illustrations by John Hendrix

Disney-Hyperion, 2015. 978-1484717172

Synopsis: Having defeated the terrible Neverland crocodile, Jocelyn now sets her sights on recovering her father’s long lost treasure. But in order to find it, she needs to be able to read the map. In order to read the map, she needs the key. And in order to get the key, she’s going to have to collaborate with that annoying Peter Pan. Plus, she has to try to stay ahead of the evil Captain Krueger – which won’t be easy considering he has a faster ship and more men in his crew – and try to convince her captive, Evie – the girl Pan has brought to be his new mother – that the pirate’s life is not for her.

Why I picked it up: Jocelyn had to have had so many more adventures after she vanquished the crocodile….

Why I finished it: Jocelyn might have gotten her feet wet, but she still seems a little green at this whole pirating business – especially as it relates to the Pirate Code. For one thing, pirates are supposed to kidnap (she takes Pan’s new mother, but Evie is probably the world’s worst hostage), ransack (she doesn’t want to go after a merchant ship for fear of disrupting trade agreements), fight (her crew is provoked into defending her, but it now means Captain Krueger knows about Hook’s treasure), and above all, not to be trusted. But Jocelyn seems somewhat torn between doing whatever and doing the right thing. She definitely doesn’t want to adhere to the standards that her grandfather has set down for her and she’s more apt to want a loophole in the Pirate code than she is to follow that either. She’s clear about the fact that she wants to live her life on her terms, and that is something she does manage to do. She finds ways to get done what needs to be done in order for the end result to be the most beneficial for her and her crew, even if things often go sideways. But Jocelyn’s spunk and spirit keep her crew and the reader cheering her on as she fights to take what is hers. The reader sees more of a struggle for Jocelyn to find an in-between where she can belong, much the same way we struggle to find a niche for ourselves. Hendrix’s illustrations add another layer to the story, as good art does. He’s taken the time to really study the descriptions and then creates for the reader a series of images that bring the reader deeper into the plot’s key moments and contribute to the fantastic overlay of the book. I’d recommend this book for fans of fractured fairy tales and those of you who like a good spin on a classic story. I’ve very much enjoyed the tales of Jocelyn Hook thus far, and I am excited to see what more is in store for her and her crew.

Other related materials: Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz, illustrations by John Hendrix; Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie; Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrations by Scott M. Fischer; Peter and the Starcatchers books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrations by Greg Call; Peter and the Starcatchers Never Land books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrations by Gregg Call; Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff; Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Surtliff; Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff; Fairy Tale Reform School series by Jen Calonita; Kingdom Keepers books by Ridley Pearson; The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley; The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris D’Lacey; The 8th Continent series by Matt London

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The Wells Bequest Review

wells_bequestThe Wells Bequest: A Companion to The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013. 978-0399256462

Synopsis: When Leo witnesses the appearance of himself and a beautiful girl in his bedroom via a time machine, all of his perceptions of reality suddenly begin to change. Then, his teacher tells him about the New York Circulating Material Repository – a place that houses objects rather than books – and he becomes convinced that this is the place he will find both the time machine and the girl. And what Leo finds there surpasses even his wildest expectations.

Why I picked it up: I loved Grimm Legacy, so when I noticed it on the shelf browsing through the library I nabbed it.

Why I finished it: And so, we find ourselves back at one of the most fascinating libraries in modern literature. It’s a place known only to a few and whose secrets go even beyond the walls of the library itself. Leo wasn’t keen to believe science fiction was real until he saw some of the objects housed in the repository while researching his history of science report on robots. The things we read about in books couldn’t possibly be real…then again, he spends most of the book in a sort of state of disbelief at his own luck. First, he finds the perfect science project topic that plays to his strengths. Then, he finds a great place to do his research…at which works the amazing girl who appeared with him in the time machine! What I like about both Bequest and Legacy is that although the story itself draws on the fantastic, Schulman manages to keep the reader grounded in the real world. This time, she explores elements of science and the notion of scientific progress. It made me step back and think about just how much science goes into our daily routines, nevermind what sort of journey an object has come on to become what has become familiar to us. It questions reality while making us think about how much more there is for us to discover. So whether it be time travel, girls, libraries, or robots, Leo and the reader will have changed in numerous ways by the time we have reached the final pages.

Other related materials: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Schulman; The Poe Estate by Polly Schulman; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz; In A Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz; The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz; The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson; The Books of Elsewhere books by Jacqueline West; Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick; The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler; The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler; The Palace of Glass by Django Wexler; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; 13 Treasures Trilogy by Michelle Harrison

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Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab Review

nick_and_tesla_1Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, illustrations by Scott Garrett

Quirk Books, 2013. 978-1594746482

Synopsis: Nick and Tesla thought they were going to have a super fun summer with their parents. Turns out, they’re being sent to live with their eccentric Uncle Newt instead while their parents travel overseas to study soybeans. The siblings are convinced that it’s going to be the most boring summer ever…until Tesla loses her necklace when their homemade rocket misfires and goes over the fence of an old, creepy house. It’s supposed to be under renovations, but neither of them can see any sort of renovating going on. Plus, there’s that black SUV that seems to be following them ever since they left the airport…

Why I picked it up: I’d already read the third and fourth books in the series, so I wanted to go back and read the first two! Also: SCIENCE!

Why I finished it: What I like the most about this series is that it features kids just being curious about the world around them. Yeah, there is some mystery involved too, but the gadgets you can build yourself really sell it. It’s encouraging kids to experiment with everyday things, to create things either just for fun or that have a practical purpose (personally, I’m still trying to figure out how to make a robot that does homework for you). Nick and Tesla could choose to be bored and stare at the walls; instead, they find a way to turn broken pieces of whatever that are scattered around their uncle’s house and turn it into something amazing. STEM is getting more and more popular in schools and libraries, and this series reinforces a lot of the themes that the program is trying to teach. The plot is easy to follow, making it easier for struggling and reluctant readers to get in on the action also. The authors do stress that some of the projects will need to be done with help from an adult, so make sure to exercise safety and caution; see if they can’t be turned into things the family can do together. It’s a quick, engaging read that will appeal to both science and mystery lovers alike. For more science fun, check out “Science Bob”‘s web site and nickandtesla.com.

Other related materials: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith; Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith; Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith; Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith; Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder ad Steve Hockensmith; Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future with 20 Projects by Kathy Ceceri, illustrations by Sam Carbaugh; Recycled Robots: 10 Robot Projects by Robert Malone; Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff by Curt Gabrielson; Frank Einstein books by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs; The Math Inspectors series by Daniel Kenney and Emily Boever; Uncle Albert series by Russell Stannard; George’s Secret Key to the Universe series by Stephen and Lucy Hawking, illustrated by Garry Parsons; Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things by Carlos Bueno

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Molly and the Bear Review

cameron-company-molly-and-the-bear-soft-cover-1Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott

Cameron & Company, 2016. 978-1937359850

Synopsis: When pan phobic Bear moves in with Molly and her family, life becomes anything but ordinary. But with a lot of patience and understanding, Molly gradually begins to help Bear outside of his shell…even if there is some crying and whining along the way.

Why I picked it up: I am a huge fan of quirky animal stories, strong female protagonists, and family comics.

Why I finished it: It takes a special sort of person to handle a 900-pound pan phobic grizzly, and Molly happens to have the right personality. Despite the fact that some of Bear’s trivial idiosyncrasies leave Molly scratching her head, she is (to a point) happy to oblige to his requests. It’s not that she’s being dismissive; she merely wants to find a way to relieve some of Bear’s anxieties: his fear of cats, his worry that the air isn’t safe to breathe when they land after a plane flight, the stress of whether or not Molly is going to leave the house when she puts her socks on (sometimes she just has cold feet), and how to get her father to warm up to him. Originally published as a webcomic, Bob Scott has collected the most comprehensive collection of his strips to give the reader a little bit of a taste as to what Molly and the Bear is about. As previously stated, it’s easy to¬† get drawn in to the comic not only because of the characters, but because Scott’s art pays such a loving homage to the Golden Age comics of which we are so fond. There is a playfulness to the art and the writing that shows the reader just how much fun Scott has writing and drawing the strips. I thought it was particularly clever that he’s thrown in a few artist gags into the mix – they might go over some reader’s heads because they seem somewhat out of context, but I think it’s a way for Scott to poke a little bit of fun at himself. It’s a funny, heartwarming comic about just being yourself and the joys of friendship. For more of Molly and Bear, check out the comic here.

Other related materials: Garfield comics by Jim Davis; Snoopy: Contact! (A Peanuts Collection) by Charles M. Schulz; Woodstock: Master of Disguise: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Charlie Brown and Friends: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Beginning Pearls: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; The Croc Ate My Homework: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; Skip School, Fly to Space: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; When Crocs Fly: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; The Mutts Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; The Mutts Winter Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; AAAA!: A FoxTrot Kids Edition by Bill Amend; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; Oh, Brother! Brat Attack! by Bob Weber, Jr. and Jay Stephens

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