The Nest by Kenneth Oppel Book Review

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel 
Illustrations by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 6, 2015

The baby was born sickly. Steve's parents worry and fret as they drive the baby back and forth from one doctor's appointment to the next, never sure if the news will be good or bad. Steve has always been a worrier though, so what's one more thing to worry about? That is until he is stung by a strange wasp and begins to have eerie dreams. The Queen says that she is going to replace the baby with a new one, one that isn't sickly. At first this seems like a good idea, but as he gets more and more details, Steve begins to realize that things are not right. That new baby isn't going to be his brother. He doesn't know what it will be, but it won't be Teddy. And then he learns what the wasps intend to do with his real brother.

Much like David Almond's Skellig, The Nest weaves a creepy tale that feels just a tad too close to home. The initial situation, one of a sickly baby and an anxious child who is just a little too young to be told everything that is going on is firmly believable and understandable. Which is why when the wasps are first introduced, like Steve, the reader wants to believe that it is just a dream. Who has ever heard of wasps making a baby in their nest? In the beginning, when this element was introduced, I truly hoped that it would all turn out to be real and not some kind of dream or hallucination and the book delivered. This is no dream. There is a Queen wasp who is creating a new baby in a nest attached to Steve's house. She is going to replace the sickly baby with it and all she needs is for Steve to say yes and open a window. That's all.

Steve is also a great character in that he clearly has some OCD issues, has difficulty making friends, and is very anxious. Although this could mean that Steve is on the autism spectrum, I like that Oppel didn't label it. Besides there are plenty of kids out there who have these issues and aren't labeled with any particular disability. It just speaks to a larger audience that way and doesn't turn it into a "disability" book. (Disclaimer: Nothing wrong with these types of books, but I do like the idea that disabilities can be in a book without the book being about disabilities)

There were a couple of times when I may have said, "Holy shit" out loud, but mostly because I don't do creepy very well (don't ask my why I am reading the second Diviners book). I did have one issue with the Knife Man and not feeling like his presence was explained fully enough, but it wasn't enough to ruin the book. Perfect for kids who love a bit of horror and are middle grade readers of David Almond, Mary Hahn Downing, and Neil Gaiman.

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer Book Review

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer
Illusatrations by Gorō Fujita
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Release Date: August 4, 2015

When a little boy meets a stranded alien child, they immediately strike up a friendship. Together they explore the neighborhood, go to school, and have many adventures. Not even a great friendship can cure an alien who is homesick though. The little boys knows what he must do in order to help his friend, even if it means having to say goodbye.

This classic alien friendship story written in second-person point of view has all the fun of Home and the pathos of Earth to Echo and E.T.. As a young child, one of the hardest things to learn about friendship is how to help someone when they are sad, sick, or lonely. Some children possess this empathy naturally while others need a bit more help in knowing what is the right thing to do when their friend is sad or homesick. On the flip side, this would also make a good book for children who experience homesickness often whether that be because they stay away from home often (babysitters, grandparents, split families) or because they miss something even bigger due to a move or change in circumstances. The illustrations are lovely and help convey the close bond between this child and his alien friend as well as the familial ties that bind us to one another.

Dino-Swimming by Lisa Wheeler Book Review

Dino-Swimming by Lisa Wheeler 
Illustrations by Barry Gott
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release Date: October 1, 2015

The Land Sharks take on the Algae Eaters in a dino-swimming showdown. Raptor and Stegosaurus start it off in the individual medley, while the Ptero twins battle it out in the butterfly race. Then Galli and Diplo wow the crowd with their flips and tricks off the diving board! But which team will win the swim meet? It comes down to the last event, the backstroke. Both Stego and Galli think they'll take the prize. Let's hope these dinos remembered their goggles―this swim meet is bound to make a splash!

Kids love dinosaurs, which is probably why so many picture books exist with dinosaurs doing everything from eating, brushing their teeth, getting lost in New York City, and now...swimming. It's the usual fictionalized tale with lots of dinosaur names and not much else. Not that this makes the book bad, because kids will absolutely love it, but it is just another dinosaur book in a weird setting. I know that doesn't sound fair because really, there are so many dinosaur books out there it's not like originality can even be a thing. Any dinosaur loving kid will want to get their hands on this book and double bonus if some of those kids also have a love for swimming.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon & Dean Hale Book Review

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon & Dean Hale
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Today is supposed to be the perfect birthday party, but as the guests arrive so do the monsters. Princess Magnolia must rush to her broom closet and change into the superhero Princess in black. Of course, running off in the middle of a birthday party is going to make some people suspicious, but Princess Magnolia is able to do so...although she may have lost a shoe in the process.

Book two of The Princess in Black is the same formula as the first. Princess Magnolia must keep running off to fight monsters while her guests wait impatiently for her return. And as with the first, she is able to convince them that she is just really good at hide and seek. Perhaps it is just me, but I think it is a bit sad that The Princess in Black must hide her identity. As a superhero fan, I understand the purpose of secret identities, but I would like to think that people would only love her more if she revealed her superhero status. Besides, she doesn't appear to live with anyone and the only "bad guys" are ogres who don't see something like the Princess in Black as much of a detterant. Just saying.

I love these books. I love that there is a female superhero for this particular age group of readers. They do exist mind you, but they are so few and far between that we must champion the ones that are out there. I absolutely adored seeing some of the Princess in Black Halloween costumes that were featured on A Mighty Girl.

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud Book Review

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: September 15, 2015

After some success, Lockwood & Co. made up of Anthony Lockwood, George, and Lucy have been busy. Plenty of cases, but nothing big and they still aren't being taken seriously as a real ghost hunting agency. All that begins to change though when Lockwood hires a new assistant, annoyingly perky and hyper-efficient, to help them manage their cases. Now, they are starting to get bigger jobs, like the bloody footprints that keep appearing at a fancy house. Nothing is quite as it seems though as Lucy's psychic powers seem to be growing stronger and she is beginning to attract unwanted attention of a ghostly nature. Meanwhile, in Chelsea, most of the big agencies are looking for the source of a ghost outbreak with no luck. With the bloody footprints case newly solved under their belt, Lockwood & Co. is sure that they can solve this one too.

One of the many reasons why I love this series is that it is so nuanced. Although this could easily be just a fun ghost hunt adventure, Stroud is careful to give each of his characters a bit of mystery and depth. Except George perhaps, since George is exactly as he seems. Lucy's powers are growing stronger and stronger and she struggles with letting Lockwood know about her new abilities and exploring them more. Perhaps she would be a bit more open to sharing with Lockwood had he not hired Holly who seems to have captured his attention. This was both a positive and negative for me. One of the things I have always loved about this series is the absence of a love story. It never felt necessary and I am a proponent of the idea that people can work together and be friends and not be romantically involved. It seems that this is where the story is leading to. Lucy is terribly jealous of Holly and since we are in her head much of the time, we are just as suspicious of Holly as Lucy is. This drove me nuts because Lucy, who is usually cool, calm, and collected becomes careless and compromising all because of Holly.

As for the ghost stories, although I would state that none of their jobs were as scary as the Screaming Staircase from book one, I would posit that the buildup to whatever is really going on is promising to be awesome. Where did all these ghosts come from? What is the true source of everything? What is the room that Lucy finds at the end? Who set it up? I have no idea how many books Stroud is planning on writing for this series, but so far they have all been fantastic so I am okay with he keeps on writing them, just as long as we begin some more answers here and there. And if Lucy is going to pursue a relationship with Lockwood, I think it is time for Lockwood to be a little more trusting and a lot less secretive.

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth Book Review

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth 
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: September 29, 2015

As with all books in Muth's Zen series, Zen Socks features Stillwater and his usual parables that are meant to help illustrate a Zen-like attitude toward a particular problem. In this story that problem is patience and kindness and how we can help each other to be better people. These gentle reminders, while seemingly preachy, are gentle reminders that even a small act of kindness can mean a great deal to the one who is the recipient of that kindness and that instant gratification is not a wise way to live. I like these simple truths and think they are very accessible for young readers. Muth's illustrations are as always hauntingly beautiful.

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler Book Review

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Just behind an ordinary house
filled with too little fun,
Ernest D. decides that today will be the day he explores the depths of his pond.

Beyond the pond, he discovers a not-so-ordinary world that will change him forever.

Like any classic fantasy, the pond behind Ernest D's house is a portal to an amazing world. There are the usual things that one expects to find in a small pond: fish, sharks, squids, and birds. Yes, birds. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Ernest discovers a magical world on the other side of his pond. As much fun as he has there though, he soon finds himself missing home and so he returns. 

Fantastically fun and beautifully illustrated, Beyond the Pond felt very classic in its execution, but will feel brand new for its intended audience. 

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead Book Review

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead
Illustrations by Erin E. Stead
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Peter and his father are moving to a new house that is within a dark and unfriendly wood. Peter does not want to be there and not even his dog Harold is helping. Scared of the things that may be hiding in the woods, Peter makes a tall pule of pillows. He stitches and sews, pushes and pulls, and when he is done he has created Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge, to protect him and Harold. Lenny is a great guard, but Peter worries that Lenny is lonely and so he makes Lenny a friend, Lucy.

Philip Stead's books are always a hit or miss for me and I think with this book, my adult sensibilities were getting too much in the way. All I kept thinking was, where is this kid getting all those pillows? Why is his dad letting him put that stuff out there? All of those blankets and pillows are going to get dirty and moldy.

The illustrations were lovely as Erin E. Stead always delivers in that respect, but I just couldn't get into the story. I understand that this is supposed to be a story about loneliness, fear, and friendship, but there just wasn't enough to it. What is Peter afraid of? The dark woods? Leaving home? A new place? Why isn't Henry enough company? And let's add to all of this, two giant creepy-looking pillow people who may or may not be alive. Shudder. Then we add Peter's new friend who appears so suddenly that she feels like an afterthought. There is so much that could happen in this book and yet nothing does.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins Book Review

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 24, 2015

Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. He is a bit grumpy and the only thing he does enjoy is eating eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out ot be real, live goslings, Bruce begins to lose his appetite. Now the goslings think Bruce is their mother and they aren't going away.

Absolutely adorable, Mother Bruce is familiar and yet different enough to feel original and fun. I think anyone would lose their appetite if their meal was to hatch into adorable baby geese. I also love that poor Bruce has to not only deal with being a very unprepared and unwilling mother, but then he has to help his gosling family go south for the winter. Poor grumpy Bruce. I mean, bears are supposed to hibernate in the winter, not fly south. The illustrations were cute and lively, the real gem being Bruce's many expressions and his unibrow. Oh and Bruce with four goslings strapped to his front was perfection.

This book is coming out at just the right time because I forsee it being a perfect present to go under many a Christmas tree.

Not Mother Goose, meet Mother Bruce! Enter to win the adorable new picture book, Mother Bruce.

Giveaway open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Learn more about Mother Bruce here

About the Author
Ryan T. Higgins is an author/illustrator residing in Southern Maine. He lives with his three dogs, three cats, two geckos, one tortoise, one son, one daughter, and one wife. He has wanted to be a cartoonist since as far back as he can remember. (Actually, that’s not entirely true—he wanted to be a tiger until he was three, but, sadly, that didn't really pan out.) Ryan’s first picture book, Wilfred, was named a 2013 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Honor Book. Visit Ryan online at

Waiting by Kevin Henkes Book Review

Waiting by Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 1, 2015

An owl, a puppy, a bear, a rabbit, and a pig all sit arranged on a child's windowsill--waiting. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig waits for rain. Bear is waiting for the wind. Puppy snow. And rabbit just enjoys looking out the window because he enjoys waiting.

Sometimes there are stories in which nothing really happens. Of course, in a book about waiting one does expect there to be a bit of a drawn out conclusion. Unlike Toy Story this menagerie of knick knacks seem to be happy with their lot in live, content sitting on a windowsill. This is what I would consider a "quiet book", a term I usually reserve for books that end up as Newbery award winners and nominees. Nothing happens until the very end and even then the conclusion isn't very exciting. It is a wonderful notion to think of toys as being alive, but it turns out the toys in this child's bedroom look like they are grandma's hand-me-downs and boring to boot.

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes Book Review

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Release Date: May 15, 2015

While she is visiting her grandma, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, written by her mother as she was growing up. As her mother moves around the United States as a "military brat" her mother used her poems as a way to record her experiences. The connection to her mother feels closer and closer and the girl decides she should leave some poems of her own for another young girl or boy to find and bond over.

The most embarrasing thing I have ever said to an author was to Nikki Grimes. "I love your books," I had gushed and then added, "I don't usually like or read poetry but yours are great." I'm sure I am not the only one who has said something similar, but the look on Ms. Grimes' face was withering and I immediately knew how stupid that had sounded. It was also untrue. I read poetry a lot. I have numerous poems memorized which I can (and have) pulled out at parties. I have enjoyed novels in verse, understand the difference between a sestina and pantoum, and have read most "classic" poems. When I began at Hamline University, I felt challenged by all these wonderful advisors to really understand poetry and so I read a couple of books about the history of poetry, forms, and analysis. All that said, I am a terrible poet and gave up writing anything decent long ago. I imagine that to a poet, someone, especially someone who claims to be a writer, saying they don't like poetry is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

I know that is a lot of unnecessary information for a book review, but it is important that I let you know (and Nikki Grimes) that I do enjoy poetry greatly and what I really meant was, I am a terrible poet and I am in awe of people who can use language so wonderfully.

This story is such a lovely combination of words and pictures, carefully drawing out the pathos of the characters using two styles of poetry. Although there were moments when the poetic forms felt limiting as I would have liked more descriptions of the places that her Mama found herself in, I felt that the collection as a whole was complete. Obviously this book is relateable for kids whose parents are in the military, but I found myself relating simply because my parents moved me around a bit when I was a kid. I especially love that this book encourages child to write out their feelings and that writing can bring us closer to the people we love.

Lizard From the Park by Mark Pett Book Review

Lizard From the Park by Mark Pett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 8, 2015

While walking through the park, Leonard finds an egg. Inside is...a lizard! Leonard soon has a problem, though, and it's bigger than you can imagine. Will Leonard be able to keep his lizard under wraps, or is it becoming too much trouble to handle?

Let's just say it. Leonard hasn't found a lizard...Leonard found a dinosaur. Which is awesome. It does take a few pages for the reader to realize that this lizard is not what it seems, but this only adds to the comic factor. For those who are in love with books set in New York City, this one is right up your alley, hitting up most of the NYC highlights like the NY Public Library, subway, The American Museum of Natural History, and even a stop for a cronut. The illustrations are adorable as all of Mark Pett's work is, playing on the same color palette as The Girl and the Bicycle and The Boy and the Airplane  sans the brown background. And Leonard is just way too cute. Perfect for dreamers, travelers, and kids who have visited or live in NYC, Lizard From the Park is a simple story with big character.

Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann Book Review

Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann
Publisher: NorthSouth
Release Date: October 1, 2015

Underground, right beneath your feet is an entire city full of moles. Caught up in the progress, one mole struggles to retain the balance between progress and preservation.

This is an odd almost wordless picture book that felt almost scary in its industrial revolution and subsequent progressions. These moles mirror the life of humans and felt very much like a commentary on modern society. What happens when progress begins to take over and pushes out life and beauty? What's more the story ends rather abruptly on a bit of a downer, which made the story feel more like a morality tale for adults rather than children. It's not that I don't think kids will get it, I absolutely think they will, it is just that I don't think they will care. My biggest concerns at five were whether I would get to stay up late, if I could convince my Mom to give me some candy, and being able to read a full sentence. The idea of creating a story about progress and society for 3-7 year olds seems almost absurd. Leaving all that aside, the illustrations were beautiful and I would be interested to see what kind of story a young child would come up with if you just let them look at the pictures and leave out the words. Somehow, I imagine that they will come up with something far different than the intended message.

Armada by Ernest Cline Book Review

Armada by Ernest Cline 
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Release Date: July 14, 2015

Zack Lightman is a directionless dreamer. Working at a comic book store and obsessed with video games, he doesn't really see much of a future for himself beyond high school. Perhaps this is because his dad died at the age of nineteen and Zach has always felt like part of himself is living in the past. Zach knows that aimless teenagers never save the universe, but then, that's what video games are for right? But what if all those video games are a testing ground for some secret alien invasion? Sounds crazy until Zach sees a flying saucer and a few days later that same flying saucer shows up at his school to recruit him to fight said aliens. Now, it is up to the gamers across the world to save the earth from annihilation.

Back when I used to review movies, I rated movies on a ten point scale rather than five. There was a method to my madness, but the two important things that you need to know for the purpose of this review was numbers six and seven. Most movies are a seven. Good, but with enough plot holes that it can't quite make it into the the upper numbers. A seven is an enjoyable enough film, but is certainly not going to win any awards and probably has a few plot holes too. A six is very similar but with one caveat, these movies are usually for a very specific audience. For example: I adore the movie Ladyhawke. It isn't that great of a film, but for those who love fantasy movies it has earned itself a cult classic status.

Armada is a 6/10.

I enjoy playing video games, but I am by no means a gamer. This book is for gamers. Gamers are an integral part of the plot, great detail is put into the fictional video games, a ton of gamer history, and then gamers save the world. It's not necessarily a terrible book, just that the audience is very narrow.

Putting that aside, one of my biggest complaints about the book was how little I cared for the main character. Zach is an aimless nobody with a dead-daddy complex whose life revolves around video games. He had no ambition, no drive, and a pretty flat personality in my mind. The secondary characters on the other hand were kind of fun. I loved the girl Zach meets at boot camp, although Cline doesn't really do much with her which is disappointing. His commander on the moon base has the most pathos of any of the characters and frankly I would have rather read his story, but that just wasn't in the cards. For the record, the pacing and build-up at that non-existent book would have been so much better too. Even his gamer best friends back home were somewhat entertaining although a bit cliche.

The constant 80's references that worked in Ready Player One felt clunky in this book. Zach's dad loved the eighties so Zach does too and so all of his pop-culture references come from that era and not the one he actually lives in. Sure there are teens out there who like the eighties, but it just felt like a gimmick and not an actual obsession.

Let's make no mistake this is a rehash of The Last Starfighter but more boring because everyone uses drones, but will make the gamers happy because it gives meaning to all those hours spent playing a game. I didn't like it, but there is a specific group of people out there would will find it enjoyable.

Max the Brave by Ed Vere Book Review

Max the Brave by Ed Vere
Publisher: Puffin Books
Release Date: June 5, 2014

Max is a brave kitten. He is the fearless Mouse-catcher, although he has never seen an actual mouse and so off he goes, in search of a mouse. One problem--Max doesn't actually know what a mouse looks like.

This book is just plain cute. That's it, adorable and funny and the perfect preschool storytime read.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm Book Review

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrations by Matthew Holm
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Release Date: August 25, 2015

Sunny Lewin has been shipped off for the summer to live with her grandfather in sunny Florida. Surrounded by old people with no hope of going to Disney World, Sunny finds Florida too sunny and too boring. Luckily, there is one kid around, Buzz who introduces her to comic books, golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and disappearing neighbors. Beneath one kids so-called vacation lies something more serious though, the real reason why she was sent to Florida in the first place.

Set in the 1970s, this semi-autobiographical graphic novel looks like a light fun read, but packs an emotional punch. Due to the SEMI-autobiographical part of this book, I did wonder a few times if the story would connect better with young readers if it was set now rather than the 1970s since the historical element played such a small role in the story, but it didn't detract from the story either and so I shall leave it be. The mystery surrounding Sunny's brother and her reasons for being in Florida reminded me very much of Raina Telgemeier's Sisters and for that reason alone, I think the book already has an audience. Cute, funny, and full of pathos, young readers are going to like this one and I daresay any adults who lived through the 70s will relate as well.

Stand Off by Andrew Smith Book Review

Stand Off (Winger #2) by Andrew Smith 
Illustrations by Sam Bosma
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 8, 2015

It is Ryan Dean's senior year at Pine Mountain and things are looking like shit, which Ryan Dean would never say out loud because he doesn't curse. Haunted by his past, Ryan Dean sees disaster everywhere. First is the disaster known as Sam Abernathy, Ryan Dean's twelve-year-old freshman roommate with a severe claustrophobia and a pension for microwave popcorn. Then there is his girlfriend Annie seems to be drifting further away from him. And what about the coach who wants to make him team captain of the rugby team, but it will mean filling the place that his best friend Joey used to have and Ryan Dean doesn't think he is up for that. Add in crippling night-time anxiety attacks and N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) ready to strike at any time, and Ryan Dean is sure he is going insane.

In this second installment we return with Ryan Dean, the lovable oaf from Winger who curses only in his head and somehow has a smoking hot girlfriend. Unlike the last book though, Ryan Dean has become a bit of a dick. After what happened to Joey, Ryan Dean is dealing with a lot and everything at Pine Mountain reminds him of his former best friend. Perhaps this is the reason he decides that he is going to hate his new roommate. Not that his roommate makes it hard for him, insisting on sleeping with the window open and being so damned nice all the time. The kid looks like a cherub so of course he should be loathed. It was hard watching Ryan Dean self-destruct in a way that only really hurt people can do. He pushes everyone away and is still so sure that he is a loser that he begins to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The thing is, Ryan Dean really is a cool kid even when he is being a complete douche, he just doesn't have Joey around the remind him of that.

I also love that these books deal with issues surrounding being gay. The first book dealt with it in a different way than this one, but both encompass experiences that felt authentic even if they were a bit tidy. There are some great rugby moments, a few tear-jerking incidents, one grief-stricken brother, too many unspoken curse words, and my favorite--Ryan Dean driving a car for the first time. You do need to read the first book to understand this one, but I promise, you will love Ryan Dean so much that you will be more than willing to read two books about him.