Friday, September 30, 2016

The Thief's Apprentice by Bryan Methods, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
All of London lives in fear of the Ruminating Claw. He's silent. He's ruthless. And he's been living inside Oliver Diplexito's family home. In fact, he's the man who serves Oliver his dinner!
Timid Oliver has the shock of his life when he learns his father's butler, Mr. Scant, has a secret life as an infamous thief. Oliver expects to be the Claw's next target, but the truth is far more frightening. Mr. Scant wants Oliver to be his partner in crime!
As Oliver bumbles through the darkest corners of England, he discovers secrets within secrets. Mr. Scant is waging war on a society of thieving tycoons, taking from the crooks and giving to the rightful owners. But when the society strikes back, it could mean doom for the Claw and his apprentice . . . 

(272 pages)

It took me four months to finish The Thief's Apprentice. I think that has more to do with my own insanely busy summer than it does with the book itself, though. I read the first few chapters back in May, and enjoyed them, but then I went on a week-long trip and decided to leave my copy at home for when I would have time to really focus on it. By the time I got back, though, I'd forgotten everything I'd read so far. I kept meaning to get back to The Thief's Apprentice, but every time I'd crack it open I would read only a page or two before I needed to run off again. Then more urgent books, with release dates staring me right in the face, began pressing in on my reading time. I began to hoard my increasingly scarce free time, saving it only for books I had to read immediately and the occasional shiny new library book that caught my eye.

Finally, though, The Thief's Apprentice worked its way to the top of my priority review list. And when I picked it up to read a chapter before bed . . . I got sucked in for and hour and a half. Because I discovered all over again how fun this book really is.

Actually, I think that's the perfect word to describe The Thief's Apprentice: "fun." It's chock full of danger and excitement and drama that's extremely unrealistic but, somehow, even more appealing for its craziness. It's also set in historical London, which–if you're American, anyway–adds an extra layer of charm to everything. It's a pity I didn't read The Thief's Apprentice sooner, because it's just the sort of silly escapist fun I wanted last summer.

I'll pause for a minute and talk about the downsides of the book, so I can get them over with. For one thing, the first few chapters are not as gripping as they could have been. Part of the reason I wasn't more aggressive about finishing The Thief's Apprentice was the fact that I wasn't completely sucked in by the beginning. In fact, the vibe I got from the book's beginning made me think that it would be an exciting but also dull sort of story–the kind that drives eleven-year-old boys wild with excitement, but whose thrills are a little too unrealistic for the rest of us. As I said in the last paragraph, it's not like that at all: the unrealistic nature of the action actually adds an escapist charm to the story. But in the first few chapters, I was having my doubts.

The only other real problem I had with The Thief's Apprentice was that it skated over some things I would have preferred details of. Perhaps this is just it's middle-grade targeting coming through, but the narration almost entirely skips over describing Oliver's day-to-day life. We get sketches of his home and school situation, enough to whet my appetite for more, but that more never comes. I also would have liked more details of what, exactly, Mr. Scant was having Oliver study and how he managed to so rapidly improve in his studies.

While this is a book targeted specifically toward kids–and I did occasionally get the vibe that I really wasn't the target audience–I was surprised by how witty and clever it still was. Some of Oliver's observations about everyday life are very spot-on, and he makes them in a manner that's almost tongue-in-cheek. I also spotted a literary allusion or two, which was fun as well.

When it comes down to it, I think The Thief's Apprentice is a great, fun (yes, there's that word again!) book. It didn't completely blow me away, or leap right up to a top position on my favorites list, but I enjoyed reading it and I'll be interested in reading the sequel sometime down the line. I have a sneaking suspicion my younger brothers (who are more a part of the target demographic) will be even more enchanted than I was by Oliver's thrilling tale.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eden's Escape Blog Tour (+ Giveaway!)

Edit 10/4/16: the giveaway is over and I have emailed the winner.



All right, guys, it's time for my blog tour post for Eden's Escape! I've got several goodies for you today: an excerpt from the book, a Top Ten list by M. Tara Crowl herself, a giveaway for signed copies of both Eden of the Lamp books, and (slightly less exciting, I know) my own review of Eden's Escape. Read on for the first three items I just mentioned; to read my review, click here (and here for my review of Eden's Wish). Before we get going, though, let's learn about the books themselves:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click to view
on Goodreads
All twelve years of Eden's life have been spent in an antique oil lamp. She lives like a princess inside her tiny, luxurious home; but to Eden, the lamp is nothing but a prison. She hates being a genie. All she wants, more than anything, is freedom.
When Eden finds a gateway to Earth within the lamp, she takes her chance and enters the world she loves. And this time, she won't be sent back after three wishes.

Posing as the new kid at a California middle school, Eden revels in all of Earth's pleasures-- but quickly learns that this world isn't as perfect as she always thought it was. Eden soon finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between powerful immortals. A ruthless organization run by a former genie will stop at nothing to acquire the lamp and its power-- even hurt Tyler and Sasha, the new mortal friends who have given Eden a home. To save her friends and protect the lamp's magic, Eden must decide once and for all where she belongs.
(272 pages)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting-- only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris-- home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.
(320 pages)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author:
M. Tara Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She lives in New York City.







~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, now here's an excerpt from Eden's Escape itself. It's from Chapter 12; Eden's friend Melodie is helping her try to avoid Brightly by going incognito.

“Wow,” Eden said. “You do love clothes." 
“I told you.” Melodie started to sift through the racks. “Now, what we’ve got to do is find something that looks like the opposite of anything you’d ever wear." 
“Isn’t the point for me to go unnoticed?” In Eden’s line of sight were an orange jumpsuit that looked like a prison uniform, a shiny green skirt like a mermaid’s tail, and a feathered Native American headdress. “I don’t think I’d blend in wearing most of this stuff." 
“We’ll put you in something subtle.” 
Taking it all in, Eden wondered where exactly Melodie planned to find that. 
Though Melodie’s wardrobe seemed chaotically disorganized from an outsider’s perspective, she seemed to know precisely where everything was. After careful consideration, she pulled out a white collared shirt, a navy blazer, a pleated green-and- navy skirt, shiny black shoes, and a navy beret to top it all off. Eden put all of it on as instructed. 
“See?” Melodie said delightedly. “You’re just a regular student in Paris!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And now it's time for my personal favorite part of this tour: the Top Ten list by M. Tara Crowl herself!

M. Tara Crowl

My top ten places to write and/or be inspired in NYC

So much has been written, sung, and said about New York. One person can never experience everything it has to offer, and no two people will experience it in the same way. And that’s one of the things I love most about it. It’s a city so vast that you’ll never tackle it all, but you can still make it feel like your own.
August 30 marked my five-year anniversary of living in NYC. I’ve been elated, frustrated, heartbroken, and rejuvenated in this city. When I set out to write my new novel, Eden’s Escape, I knew there was nowhere else in the world that I’d want to be the first home on Earth for my protagonist, a twelve-year-old genie named Eden.
Eden has the rare privilege of being shown around the city by someone who’s lived there for hundreds of years: her new guardian, a genie alum named Pepper. In Eden’s Escape, they explore some of these locations together. Others, she’ll have to discover later. But here they are: my top ten places in NYC to write and/or be inspired.

1.     Central Park. It’s world-famous, and for good reason. I live downtown, but I try to take a trip up here at least once a season. It’s beautiful any time of year, but it’s downright magical in the snow.
2.     New York Public Library. This big, gorgeous library is right in the center of town, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. In a city where everything aims to wow, it stands out as majestic and timeless.
3.     MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art). NYC is known for its many museums, but this is probably my favorite. Thought-provoking art, and a beautiful courtyard to sit and ponder it.
4.     Top of the Empire State Building. When Eden arrives in New York City, she’s instructed to go here to meet her new guardian. When she overlooks the city from the top, she feels like its queen. When I’m here, that’s how I feel too.
5.     The Village Vanguard. This iconic West Village jazz club opened in 1935. Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and John Coltrane have played here, along with so many other jazz greats. You go downstairs, sit at a table, and soak in the music—no talking or phones allowed. When you’re here, it could be 2016 or 1967. The one thing you’re sure of is that you’re in New York—and when you’re here, that’s all that matters.
6.     Raoul’s. Another classic NYC establishment that transports me to another era. This Soho bistro opened in 1975. It has a colorful history and delicious food.
7.     Books of Wonder. A mecca of children’s books! Not only is this store chock full of children’s, MG, and YA treasures; its owners, huge supporters and champions of authors, host tons of amazing events. (I met Ann M. Martin here!)
8.     Nitehawk Cinema. I love going to the movies, and this is my favorite theater. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it’s small and hospitable, with comfy seats, indie movies, and table service. During the movie, you write your order on a slip of paper with a little pencil, and—voila!—a server appears with your order. For me, it doesn’t get much better.
9.     Two Hands Restaurant & Bar. I’m biased on this one. My husband owns this restaurant, and my “day job” is as the office manager. But the food and coffee(!) are sublime, and the bright, airy interior and friendly staff make it a dreamy place to think and write.
10.  My living room. Ideas flow when I wander the city, but when it’s time to get real writing done, I have to hole up in silence and get to work. There’s nowhere I’m more productive than in my apartment, by myself. Books don’t write themselves!
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I've only visited New York once, but now I'm itching to go back and explore the places on M. Tara Crowl's list–they all sound amazing. Especially Books of Wonder, which honestly sounds like my dream bookstore.

Anyway, it's time to move on to the final part of today's post. I'm sure many of you avid fans of the Eden of the Lamp series are simply dying to get your hands on signed copies of both books. If so, you're in luck, because that's what I get to give away today! Enter in the Rafflecopter form below (US and Canada only), and once the giveaway's over at the end of the month I'll announce the winner on here and send their contact info to M. Tara Crowl. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And that's all I have for today. Have you read either Eden of the Lamp book? If you have, share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Disclaimer: I received complimentary copies of both books so I could participate in this blog tour; I'm also being entered into a $50 giftcard giveaway as a thank you for posting this tour post in the month of September.

Eden's Escape by M. Tara Crowl, 2016 (+ Giveaway!)

This is my review of the second Eden of the Lamp book. Don't read on unless you've read Eden's Wish (my review–which includes a giveaway for both books).

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting--only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris--home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.
(320 pages)

Okay, well it's time for my review of Eden's Escape. It just came out earlier this month, and I got copies of both books from the author so I could participate in the blog tour. I'm posting my tour stop with all its goodies today too, so click here to check it out–I've got an excerpt from Eden's Escape on there, plus an exclusive Top Ten list written by Ms. Crowl herself just for Read Till Dawn.

Now for the review itself. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect after the ending of Eden's Wish with the announcement that Eden would be going to live on earth. I thought Eden would probably be struggling to fit in, going to school, making friends, doing all the things she did in the first book but on a much grander scale. Instead, Eden spends most of the book in hiding after a granting goes horribly wrong: a scientist named David Brightly has tracked her lamp down and rubbed it, for the express purpose of performing experiments on Edem until he can figure out how to get unlimited wishes. She makes a desperate escape, but has to leave the lamp behind; the rest of the book covers Eden's attempts to avoid being found by Brightly (a feat made a thousand times harder by the fact that his company made all the phones, and he's not at all shy about tapping phones to get the information he needs), find allies, get the lamp back, and generally set everything to rights. It seems like a pretty hopeless mess at some points, and it was interesting to watch the magic of the lamp collide with all the advantages of cutting-edge technology.

It was also fun watching Eden try to interact with modern technology for the very first time. Xavier completely neglected to teach her anything about it, because he thought it was a waste of time, so she's stuck figuring things out on her own. One of my favorite scenes is when she sits down at a computer to get on the internet. She stares at the screen for a minute, clicks the Word icon on the bottom because she thinks the "w" stands for "web," and then proceeds to type in what she needs and wait for the results to pop up. It was funny, and really realistic! It may have been slightly less realistic to see how quickly she caught on to the internet after that–I've spent some solid time teaching my grandmother how to navigate the web, and it definitely wasn't as intuitive for her. I guess being a genie makes Eden better at figuring things out than my human grandmother, though. That's one of the perks of being, you know, a magical immortal being with supernatural powers.

I don't want to talk too much about the story itself, for fear of spoilers. I would like to just touch on the interpersonal relationships, though, because I think they're both the main weakness and the greatest strength of Eden's Escape.

My only real complaint is Eden's relationship with Pepper. Now, don't get me wrong: I love Pepper. She seems like a fascinating character, and a very kind one. I would happily spend a whole book just learning about her backstory or watching her move forward in the present. My trouble, though, is that she and Eden develop a strong bond too quickly. They're together in New York for just two weeks, yet when they're separated and then reunited both act as though they were in a legitimate mother-daughter relationship. I love that Eden adores Pepper–because I do, too–but I was just a little turned off by the way she saw her as a mother figure so soon after leaving Xavier and Goldie (the couple who actually raised her, and who she recognized as her true family in Eden's Wish). You'd think there'd be a little more homesickness for her masters, but Eden barely thinks of them throughout the novel except in relation to her attempts to rescue the lamp.

The relationships are also a huge strength to the book, though, simply because they're so compelling. Whether it's Eden's relationships with the main characters from Eden's Wish, or with her new friend Melodie, or even with some of the members of Electra, there's always an interesting dynamic to watch. This goes to the character-building, too: Crowl builds dynamic characters, so that–for the most part, anyway–there are no stock characters. This is a huge plus, and it really makes the entire novel for me.

Overall, I'd say that Eden's Escape is a very strong MG fantasy novel (that's perhaps not quite as strong as its prequel). I really enjoyed reading both books, and I look forward to finding out whether there will be a third installment in the series. There's certainly room for one!

And now it's time for the giveaway. Enter below in the Rafflecopter form (the same one that's on the main blog tour post). Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I received complimentary copies of both Eden of the Lamp books so I could participate in the blog tour for Eden's Escape. I'm also being entered into a random $50 giftcard giveaway for posting my review and the blog tour stop during the month of September.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Truth or Dare by Barbara Dee, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
A few white lies during a simple game of truth or dare spin out of control and make life very complicated for Lia in this brand-new novel from Barbara Dee.
When Lia returns after a summer with her eccentric aunt, it feels like everything has changed within her group of five friends. Everyone just seems more…dramatic. And after playing a game of Truth or Dare, Lia discovers how those divides are growing wider, and tells a few white lies about what really happened over the summer in order to “keep up.” But is “keeping up” with her BFFs really worth it?

(256 pages)

When I got an email from Barbara Dee asking me if I wanted to review her latest novel, I was absolutely thrilled. I'd only read one of her books before - the amazing Solving Zoe - but I'd loved it so much that I can't believe I never looked up Dee's other books. That's why I jumped at the chance to read Truth or Dare, even though I probably normally would have said no - I figured, just this once, I could read a book about girls going through puberty and trust in the author that it wouldn't be cringe-worthy.

And you know what? I was right to say yes; I was happy to read Truth or Dare. I enjoyed it. The puberty drama was mixed in with much more serious storylines about grief, parental relationships, peer relationships, and bullying. Lia and her friends play truth or dare, sure, and Lia lies about hitting milestones that she hasn't. But the reason for this isn't just some lame one-upmanship game - instead it's the result of a complex cocktail of emotions and social politics.

I will say, though, that I never once competed with my friends in this arena the way Lia does. Heck, it never even came up! With that in mind, maybe the girls' obsession with puberty isn't exactly the most realistic thing in the world to me, but I'm willing to turn on my suspension of disbelief and accept this as the compelling, meaningful story that it is. Because Lia's dealing with some really hard things in her life: she's still trying to move past her mother's death, she's struggling to see her (rather eccentric) aunt as a mother figure, she's trying to one-up her friends because they're slightly cliquey and she's terrified of being left behind. These and many more storylines intertwine themselves throughout the book, grounding it. Making it feel real, and honest, and true-to-life even when the troubles Lia's dealing with aren't ones that I can personally relate to.

I'm not going to recommend this book to "anyone and everyone," because I don't think it would do well with such a broad audience. Most boys would be turned off by the mentions of bras and periods; some girls who actually are Lia's age might get the wrong idea about what sort of emphasis to place on the milestones of puberty. But for the rest of us, Truth or Dare is a good book. If you've read this far and you're sitting there thinking it looks cool, then I can almost guarantee that Truth or Dare will be a great book for you.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
It's not easy being Claire. (Really.)
Claire's life is a joke . . . but she's not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she's dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there's a boy, Ryder, who's just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody's really listening to her -- if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.
Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic -- while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious -- and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.

(272 pages)

I read Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It several years ago, and really loved it. I never remembered to look him up and see if there were any other books he'd written, though. Imagine my surprise and delight when this little gem showed up in a package on my doorstep! It was exactly what I was in the mood for, too. My mother has been going through her own (much less overwhelming, but still frightening) heart problems lately, and reading about Claire's struggle to cope with her father's condition really helps put my emotions about my mom's into perspective.

Part of me, actually, wishes that Sonnenblick had put more of a focus on the rest of Claire's family, because the few glimpses we do get are very interesting as I try to decide which of them I would be. Realistically, I would likely fall into the role of Claire's brother Matthew - sacrificing my schoolwork and my time, losing out on things I loved in order to take care of my ailing parent. At least, I like to think that I would. Maybe I really would be like Claire, though, unable to look past the stroke symptoms and see my loving parent trapped inside a malfunctioning body. Whether I'd be Claire or Matthew, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be their mother - always faking a smile and trying to put a positive spin on things. There are days I barely remember to smile now, when everything is going relatively smoothly; no way would my reaction to catastrophe be to look on the bright side of everything.

I don't want to talk too much about what happens, because it will spoil the book for you, but I'll just say that this provides a very real and heart-wrenching portrait of what it's like to live with the aftermath of a medical tragedy. We see how the stroke itself is emotionally devastating for Claire, of course, but much more than that it's the day-to-day struggle of life after the stroke that takes it's toll over the long haul. Claire struggles with this, and with juggling her father's condition along with the regular dramas and worries of middle school. These are all, incidentally, very well done as well; her friends and classmates are realistic (if a tad difficult to tell apart at times), her struggles to succeed in dance and band are familiar to anyone who's ever been involved in extracurriculars, and her teachers are complex and nuanced.

If you think Falling Over Sideways looks good, then by all means pick up a copy and give it a go. I'm not going to say that everyone needs to read it, or that it's the most perfect book in the entire world, but I will say that it definitely hit all the right chords for me. If you decide to read Falling Over Sideways, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited ARC of this novel from Scholastic.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Jingle by Gordon Korman, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
JINGLE: a light clinking or tingling sounds, often heralding the approach of Santa, reindeer, or the mysterious thief of a priceless possession . . .
Griffin Bing and his friends are NOT happy. Instead of going away for winter break, they've been signed up to volunteer at a local Christmas extravaganza . . . as elves.
It's not easy being an elf. Not when Santa is bad news and Rudolph is being played by a Doberman who makes up his own rules wherever he goes.
But being an elf is nothing compared to being blamed when a prized Christmas possession -- worth over ten million dollars -- is stolen right from under your nose.
It's time for these elves to get off the shelf and track down a Christmas thief!
(208 pages)

When I told my family I had the latest book in Gordon Korman's Swindle series, the response was two-fold. First, everyone said something along the lines of "wait, for real? There's another one? This series goes on forever!" And then, invariably, they asked if they could borrow it when I'm done.

You see, my family loves Gordon Korman's books. I'm the driving force behind this (i.e. I check the books out from the library), but my siblings will always choose to read the latest Gordon Korman when given the chance. They've had a little trouble keeping track of the Swindle books, though, just because there are so many of them - and the titles/covers sort of blend together after a while. I've read them all, though, mostly in order (besides accidentally reading the second book first), and I've heartily enjoyed every single one. Considering that Jingle is the eighth book of the series, you'd think that the novels would be getting pretty watered down by now. That hasn't been happening at all, though. I will say that in a perfect world I would prefer to see a tad more character development from book to book (the characters all seem pretty static at this point), but since I love the team members the way they are it's not too hard a pill to swallow that they don't change/mature over time.

I'm not here to talk about the Swindle series as a whole, though. Let's focus in on Jingle. I thought it was a really fun idea to have this installment revolving around the holidays, because it added a bit of an edge to the mystery when everything went wrong. No one wants Christmas to roll around with a missing Christmas star! Well, no one but Mr. Slovak, I suppose.

That brings me to the biggest side plot of the novel, the competition between Ben's parents. His mom is Christian; his dad's Jewish. The theft of the star winds up pushing them into a decorating competition (think giant Santas and light-up dreidels competing for roof space), and things get pretty out of hand by the end of the book. It's really funny, but also slightly sad - I felt bad for Ben, torn between his parents' two religious holidays.

As for the search for the stolen star, I thought it was an interesting mystery but maybe not the best the series has seen. Griffin seemed not quite as sharp as usual - there were one or two times when he made a call that even I could immediately tell wasn't right. I felt like there was more dumb luck involved with this one than in the other books, and the surveillance cameras the team often uses somehow felt more like an invasion of privacy in Jingle than they have in any of the other Swindle books. Characters actually discussed this, though, so I guess that was done on purpose. Just a hunch, but maybe the team will be forced to confront the ethics of their tactics in book nine!

There's not much more to say about Jingle. All of Gordon Korman's books are fun, and this is no exception. If you're interested and you haven't read the other books in the Swindle series, though, please go back and start at the beginning. You don't want to spoil pieces of the first seven books by starting with the eighth book in a series!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Eden's Wish by M. Tara Crowl, 2015 (+ giveaway!)

Click to view
on Goodreads 
All twelve years of Eden's life have been spent in an antique oil lamp. She lives like a princess inside her tiny, luxurious home; but to Eden, the lamp is nothing but a prison. She hates being a genie. All she wants, more than anything, is freedom.
When Eden finds a gateway to Earth within the lamp, she takes her chance and enters the world she loves. And this time, she won't be sent back after three wishes.
Posing as the new kid at a California middle school, Eden revels in all of Earth's pleasures--but quickly learns that this world isn't as perfect as she always thought it was. Eden soon finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between powerful immortals. A ruthless organization run by a former genie will stop at nothing to acquire the lamp and its power--even hurt Tyler and Sasha, the new mortal friends who have given Eden a home. To save her friends and protect the lamp's magic, Eden must decide once and for all where she belongs.

(272 pages)

I may, on the surface, be a little old for Eden's Wish. According to the information sheet I got from the author, it's targeted toward kids aged nine through twelve; I'm seventeen, five years above the highest age suggestion. But I still loved reading Eden's Wish, perhaps partly because of its target age. You see, I'm in the middle of applying to college. I've been very stressed out about grown-up questions like where to apply, what to major in, and - oh, you know, no biggie - what I want to do with the rest of my life. I loved reading Eden's Wish, because it took me back, for a few hours, to sixth grade. You see, back then I would have been swept entirely away in the breathless combination of magic and relationships that is Eden's Wish. It was nice to take a break from my applications and be transported back to that simpler time in my life by reading Eden's Wish.

Before I go any further with this discussion of Eden's Wish, I want to get the negatives out of the way. There are only two troubles I have with the book, and both of them are pretty small. The first is that it does slightly blend in with other novels in its genre simply because there are so many fractured fairytales on the market about young characters dealing with unwanted destinies. This isn't a huge problem here, since Ms. Crowl creates a pretty unique storyline and Aladdin isn't usually retold that often anyway, but it does mean that in a few years I might have trouble remember many specifics from Eden's Wish. The other trouble I have with the book is that I get a general sense it could have delved deeper into the possibilities of its plot. Perhaps this is just a side effect of its younger audience, but I personally would have liked a better explanation of how the genies are born (is there a surrogate involved? Do they grow out of the lamp's walls? Does Goldie give birth to them?). It would also be cool to learn even more about how granted wishes shaped history, and about how Xavier and Goldie made the lamp in the first place.

Those were the minuses, so now it's on to the plusses!

I really loved Eden as a character. She wants to do the right thing, but she's so desperate to escape the confines of her lamp that she unwittingly brings danger to the world. The ethical dilemma that she faces throughout the book is - when you actually stop and think about it - really fascinating. I spent the entire book unsure whether I wanted Eden to be free from the lamp (but let it fall into the wrong hands), or to go back inside it and be safe (but trapped). I can't spoil the ending, of course, but it's definitely an interesting question.

The supporting characters are also very interesting and three-dimensional. Eden's human friends Tyler and Sasha are really great, and I enjoyed reading about them, but my favorite supporting characters were actually Xander and Goldie (the creators of the lamp, who raised Eden inside it). We don't get to see too much of them throughout the book, but observing their relationships with not just Eden but also all of the ex-genies was really interesting.

This review is getting long, so I'd better bring it to a close. There's more I could talk about, but suffice it to say that Eden's Wish is a good book. I wouldn't go around crying from the rooftops that it's the best book in the entire world, but it's good as a comfortable escapist MG fantasy novel. If that's what you, or a middle schooler you know, is in the mood for, then definitely give it a try! Also, from now until the end of September you can enter to win a signed set of not just Eden's Wish but also its sequel, Eden's Escape. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and also: the author's having a $50 giveaway to celebrate the release of Eden's Escape. Click here to check out my blitz post with the giveaway details!

Disclaimer: I received complimentary copies of both Eden of the Lamp books so I could participate in the blog tour for Eden's Escape. Also, I'm not responsible for sending the prizes in this giveaway: I will give the winner's information to the author, and she will mail out the books.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.
And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

(304 pages)

I don't think this is my absolute favorite of Haddix's books, but I can't exactly put my finger on why that is. Perhaps it's a touch too on-the-nose in its social critique; perhaps the reveals at the end are too wild to be entirely believable; perhaps the adults just didn't ring true for me (or if they did, I simply didn't like them). Or perhaps the ending is so bizarre that I honestly can't figure out what to make of it.

I have a hunch, though, that the Children of Exile series as a whole will be great - this book is clearly laying the groundwork for either a breathtaking action series or a thought-provoking social commentary (or both!), and I'm really intrigued to see where on earth the story goes from here. I'm especially interested to see Haddix tackle the ethical dilemmas she presented in Children of Exile, because I honestly have no idea how I feel about everything Rosie finds out in the end.

Speaking of Rosi, I really loved the kids in Children of Exile. I haven't read a character like Rosi in a long time: she's not particularly brave, not particularly clever (at least not that we've seen so far), is a useless fighter but an amazing babysitter, and is altogether too naive to be a good judge of anything. But it's her innocence - and the innocence of the other children - that's so fascinating. They were raised to believe war was a historical trouble, left behind in the stone ages; they were taught to be kind, and good, and to never hit back at anyone but instead to talk out their feelings until things were settled. Their upbringing was like some sort of politically-correct extreme, focused on respecting everyone. And in part, it truly is perfect; if everyone got along the way these children did, then war really wouldn't exist anymore. But after a while, it started to hit me: what sort of world is it, where there's no war or hitting or swearing, or even fighting? Where every conflict between your parents is magically solved in a single private conversation? It's a wonderful world, but it's not a real world. It never can be. That's partly why the children's return to their birth families is so terrible for them - they've lived in a bubble their whole lives, so they can't cope with the real world that is their home.

And that, right there, is why I always love reading Margaret Peterson Haddix novels: because they make me think. They make me look at some dilemma and try to figure out my own views. So just because Children of Exile wasn't a clear favorite of mine right from the get-go doesn't mean it's a bad book by any means - in fact, the more I sit here and chew over it the better I think Children of Exile actually is. I still hold points against it for keeping me at arms length for so long, though. Haddix has written many thought-provoking novels with major plot twists/withheld information, books I absolutely adored from page one. Somehow that didn't happen with Children of Exile, and I'm still a little bit sad about that. I guess every book can't be as perfect as Under Their Skin or Double Identity, right?

The truth is that Children of Exile is one of those books that you read, you analyze, you chew over . . . but you don't really love. I can recommend it as a thought-provoking dystopian novel, but I can't say you'll fall head over heels for it - because I didn't. I still hold out hope for the sequel, where I have complete faith that Haddix will pull all the strings together into a cohesive and fascinating whole; until then, though, my recommendation of Children of Exile as a standalone will have to be slightly tepid. If you do get a chance to read it, definitely comment below and let us know what you think!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Eden's Escape Release Day Blitz (With $50 Giveaway!)


Hello all, and welcome to the release day blitz for M. Tara Crowl's Eden's Escape! Over the course of the next month I'll post reviews of both Eden's Escape and the first Eden of the Lamp book, Eden's Wish. I'll also post an excerpt from Eden's Escape, an exclusive Top Ten list written by Ms. Crowl herself, and a giveaway for signed copies of both books. Today, though, we're focused on celebrating the release of Eden's Escape. To get you excited for her new novel, the author is giving away a $50 gift card. Very exciting, right? You can enter in the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post - but first, read on to discover more about both books in the Eden of the Lamp series!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click to view
on Goodreads
All twelve years of Eden's life have been spent in an antique oil lamp. She lives like a princess inside her tiny, luxurious home; but to Eden, the lamp is nothing but a prison. She hates being a genie. All she wants, more than anything, is freedom.

When Eden finds a gateway to Earth within the lamp, she takes her chance and enters the world she loves. And this time, she won't be sent back after three wishes.

Posing as the new kid at a California middle school, Eden revels in all of Earth's pleasures-- but quickly learns that this world isn't as perfect as she always thought it was. Eden soon finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between powerful immortals. A ruthless organization run by a former genie will stop at nothing to acquire the lamp and its power-- even hurt Tyler and Sasha, the new mortal friends who have given Eden a home. To save her friends and protect the lamp's magic, Eden must decide once and for all where she belongs.
(272 pages)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting-- only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris-- home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.
(320 pages)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author:
M. Tara Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She lives in New York City.







Okay, it's giveaway time. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below to win a $50 gift card to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Disclaimer: By posting this blitz post today I'm being entered into a giveaway from the author to win a $50 gift card. Also, I haven't actually read Eden's Escape yet. I just finished and loved Eden's Wish, though, so I have very high hopes for it. You can read my full review (written after I read the book, obviously) toward the end of September.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Brimming with dragons, goblins, and logic puzzles, this middle-grade fantasy adventure is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Princess Bride or Rump.
THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.
All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

(279 pages)

I wasn't exactly sure what this book would be like, but I knew that I wanted to read it. There was no way, whatever way it wound up leaning tone- and theme-wise, that I couldn't like a book with such a whimsical list of main characters.

And I was right. It's a very good book, very original and interesting. At the same time, though, it wasn't quite as original and interesting as it could have been. I just get the feeling that Chilton could have run with some of the plot potentials and the themes more than he could have. Maybe it's just the audience, though - I guess middle grade novels aren't meant to delve as deep as I sometimes would like them to.

Anyway, the characters are interesting. I don't think there's a single character, other than one or two bad guys, who actually conform to all of their personality stereotypes. Both Alices are intelligent, engaging people to read; the boy is nice (if occasionally annoyingly passive about his future - though that gets better as the book goes on), and I actually really liked the goblin, too. Plain Alice is probably my favorite main character, but I enjoyed reading the snippets we get about Princess Alice's father; he seems like a really funny, nice guy.

To be perfectly honest, I don't know how well I'll remember The Goblin's Puzzle a year from now. I enjoyed reading it, but it's not as much of a standout as it could have been. Perhaps I'll re-read it someday if I forget enough of the plot details, but it'll never be one of those books I read again just to savor. Definitely read it if you think it looks interesting, though, and be sure to tell me in the comments section what you think!

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Twinning Project by Robert Lipsyte, 2012

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Tom is a smart, talented loner with a chip on his shoulder and a big secret: an imaginary twin on another planet. Eddie is Tom's opposite, a friendly, athletic kid who always looks on the good side. Tom worries sometimes: does confiding in Eddie mean he's nuts? The truth is even crazier than that. Eddie and his planet are just as real as Tom and his Earth, but fifty-some years in the past. And the twins are caught up in an alien master plan that might just mean Earth—both Earths—will be destroyed. Switching places and identities, "slipping" between planets and across decades, a desperate escape, and the unraveling of deeper secrets leave Tom and Eddie aware of the danger they're facing and the tools they can use to overcome it.
(272 pages)

This was a very interesting sci-fi premise, one that harks back to a lot of traditional elements of the genre (aliens, hidden powers, clones - or in this case twins - etc).

 Before I go any further, I have to get this off of my chest: the most immature scene was when the boys decided to prove that they were twins by comparing the spots on their butt cheeks where they'd been attached until surgical separation after birth. They literally pull down their pants and stand cheek to cheek to verify their story. It's gross.

Besides that one scene, which I'm sure most middle schoolers would roll with (or, more realistically, laugh at), the book is honestly pretty palatable for people of all ages. It's geared toward middle schoolers, though. It's a little more simplistic, not delving nearly as deep into the implications of this scenario as I would have liked, and the maturity level of the two main characters leaves something to be desired. Tom especially is very sketchily drawn; we're just supposed to recognize and accept that he's some great misunderstood tech genius who doesn't play well with others when really he just seems like a rude know-it-all who occasionally has some very deus-ex machina-type gadgets.

I do like the supporting characters, though, and I'm a sucker for stories about kids from the past trying to pass in the present. I haven't read very many, so the time we get watching Eddie from the 60's try to pretend he's a modern millennial was pretty fun. His attempts to get people off of their phones may have been slightly cheesy/unrealistically successful, but I still enjoyed reading about them.

Honestly, what you see is what you get. If this interests you, then go for it. Also, I think there's going to be a sequel. I have no idea when/if that's ever going to happen, though, and I'm not really interested enough to find out. The Twinning Project just really didn't thrill me the way that I'd hoped.