Category Archives: 8-12 years of age

#Mx3 Review: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385371032
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve year-old Gabriel Finley has lived with his Aunt Jasmine in her old Brooklyn brownstone since his father disappeared three years ago. As he gets older, he has increasingly more questions about his father’s disappearance.  As he approaches his thirteenth birthday, his aunt presents Gabriel with his father’s journal in hopes of answering some of these questions.

Called the Book of Ravens, the journal tells of a time when humans and ravens spoke to each other as equals. Partnered for life, humans and their raven partners, known as an amicus, rarely parted ways.   This relationship ended after  group of ravens, enticed by immortality, did the unthinkable and killed their human partners. Now, these evil ravens, known as valravens, were punished with an endless life of darkness and despair.  The only way to tell the evil ravens from the good was to ask them a riddle. Valravens, unable to laugh, would not be able to answer the riddle.

Unbeknownst to Gabriel, he has the ability to communicate with ravens.  Gabriel would never be confused for a super hero. Quiet, with just a few friends, Gabriel suddenly realizes that he holds the power to save his father. Always quite skilled at solving riddles, Gabriel and an unlikely group of allies begin their quest  to a secret world beneath the city in hopes of saving his father.  His nemesis in this journey is his uncle Corax, shunned from his family at the age of twelve. Also skilled with the ability to speak with ravens, Corax’s life took a darker route than Gabriel and his father.

Rich with unusual characters and a fantastical world full of imagination, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle is a genuinely captivating middle-grade novel perfect for younger fans of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.  The themes of friendship, family, and loyalty combined with the fantastical journey form a well-rounded and enriching read.  That said, there are some darker aspects of this novel that might lend itself to be read with a parent.  I read it with my nine year-old and we found ourselves eagerly looking forward to reading time each night.

Readers will quickly pick up on the novel’s similarities with Harry Potter and its homage to Norse mythology. Beyond this, the author excels at making this book stand out on its own merit.  Hints at sequels have my son & I clamoring for more. Highly, highly recommended.



Review: Party Games: A Fear Street Novel by R. L. Stine


  • Grade Level: 7 – 12
  • Series: Fear Street
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (September 30, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250051615
  • Source: Publisher

When Rachel Martin is invited to Brendan Fear’s birthday party at his family’s home on Fear Island, she can’t resist. Despite her friends’ warnings, her crush on Brendan clouds her judgement and she readily accepts the invite. Brendan’s infamous parties are known for their unusual party games.  This time, however, the party games turn deadly. One by one, the guests begin dying, their means of death mimicking childish games. As their hopes for escape vanish, Rachel and the other guests quickly realize they are stuck on this remote island with a killer.

Who doesn’t love the Fear Street novels? Like many others my age, many of us grew up reading these terrifying teen horror novels.  When a new book in the series was announced I was thrilled beyond measure. Unfortunately, however, Party Games didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Without revealing too much about the plot, there is definitely a supernatural vibe to this book. Isolated, mysterious island, hints of brutal deaths and possible haunting.  Unfortunately, Stine decided to take a pass on this and instead opted to go the path of a mysterious masked killer.  This was quite unfortunate as I tend to think Stine fans (young and old alike) tend to prefer his novels with a supernatural edge. Additionally, I felt the ending was wrapped up a little too quickly, almost as if Stine ran out of ideas and decided to end it quickly.

My devotion toward the Fear Street novels is so strong that I would still recommend this novel despite my complaints. Perhaps I’m too old to appreciate them? Or perhaps Stine does have a contingent of fans that would read and enjoy anything he’s written.  Like with his adult novel last year, Red Rain, perhaps my expectations are just too high? I’ll let you decide.  Have you read Party Games? What did you think?


Guest Review: Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli

  • Age Range: 7 – 12 years
  • Series: Amp! Comics for Kids
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (October 1, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1449435483
  • Source: Publisher

Today, I’m excited to welcome my youngest son, Justin (8), for a guest review! He’s only reviewed a few books for me but, as he gets older, he’s interested in following his brother’s footsteps in providing fairly regular reviews for this blog. Take it away, Justin!

Even though I am only in third grade, there are a lot of things that the character in this book likes that I like too. Desmond is in sixth grade and loves monsters, just like me. He likes to create special effects and stunts to scare people. I haven’t done any of these things myself because I don’t want to get into trouble but that doesn’t stop Desmond! Luckily (like me!) he has a mom that sticks up for him and gets him out of trouble!  The problem with Desmond is that he is really smart and doing good things with his talent instead of bad. There are so many people who try to get him to do this, but Desmond is more interested in terrifying and scaring people.

One person is out to get Desmond and that is his principal, Mr. Needles. Mr. Needles knows Desmond is up to no good and really wants to catch him in the act. Desmond can’t stop misbehaving but knows if he gets caught he won’t be able to attend the class field trip at the end of the school year.  So, he is forced to enroll in three after school activities as a way to keep him out of trouble. Will it be enough to stop Desmond? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

My mom asked me to tell you why I liked this book. In addition to really liking Desmond, I also liked all of Desmond’s cartoons and drawings that are included. It reminded me a lot of two other series I like, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate.  These drawings made the book seem shorter and made me want to read faster so I could get to the next drawing.

Also, at the end of the book Desmond tells people how to make monster magic (like making fake blood!) at home! I think this is probably the coolest part of the book. But I’m going to ask my Mom for permission first!

If you are a kid in third grade and higher and you like Halloween, monsters, and books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid I think you will like this book too! If you do, let me know, ok?

Thank you, Justin! Here is where I will add a bit of a parental advisory! Desmond’s antics are a little out of control at times! As Justin read, he and I discussed Desmond’s behavior and why it was inappropriate. I do highly recommend this book for the audience Justin suggests but with a caveat that you have a discussion with your child to remind them that Desmond is a fictional character, in a book, and why duplicating his behavior is ill-advised!

Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader: Guys Read: Other Worlds by Jon Scieszka

ReluctantReaderColorTales of a (formerly) Reluctant Reader is a feature in which my oldest son John,  a formerly reluctant reader) discusses books that he thinks other reluctant readers (former or not) will enjoy!  Today’s book is Guys Read: Other Worlds :

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Grade Level: 3 – 7
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press (September 17, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0061963798
  • Source: Publisher

I don’t read a lot of fiction, but when I do I am most excited about books about outer space and spaceships, maybe because I’m such a big Star Wars fan. My mom calls this science fiction. I call it awesome.  Anyway, I’m a big fan of the Guys Read series already, so when my mom told me they were coming out with one about science fiction I was beyond excited. Then (it gets even better!) I saw that it included stories from some of my favorite authors like Tom Angleberger and Rick Riordan and I was sold. Epic, right!?

What I’ve learned is that while I don’t always like to read long books (sorry mom!) I don’t have a problem reading shorter stories. I think a lot of kids who don’t like to read will like this, too. It’s like you get a really great story in just a few pages. I can read an entire story in just a few minutes. It’s brilliant, really.

I don’t want to say too much about each of the stories so instead I will tell you about my favorites:

Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo by Rick Riordan: Ok, this one was just funny!! We all know who Percy Jackson is, right? Anyway, in this story he’s trying to celebrate his friend’s birthday when they run into Apollo. Yes, that Apollo. Apparently Apollo is trying to do a concert but he’s missing one of his backup singers. I’m totally serious! Percy has to help find this singer because, really, who can say no to Apollo. My mom says this story isn’t printed anywhere else so, Percy Jackson fans, don’t miss this!

Bouncing the Grinning Goat by Shannon Hale: I really liked this one! The main character is a girl who is pretending to be this really tough warrior from this place that has a really bad reputation. She’s able to lie about it for a while but has to face the truth when they are actually attacked by some really bad creatures. I guess it sort of teaches a lesson about being true about yourself. I just thought it was awesome.

The Scout by D.J. Machale: This one was my favorite, by far!! You think you are reading about this kid who is a Scout (I thought Boy Scout because I am one) and is trying to get out of camping with the other Scouts. Turns out to be far, far different than what I could have every imagined.

The Dirt on Our Shoes by Neal Shusterman: This is another one of my favorites. These people have been in space for 60 years and are finally landing on a planet that they will call home. Turns out the whole point of the trip was a lie. It has some pretty gross scenes in it (that involve…you know…poop and stuff) but overall it was pretty great.

So these are my favorites. I liked the other stories but probably not as much as these.  The other stories are from authors that my mom really likes: Shaun Tan (he writes graphic novels) and Ray Bradbury (we read his book The Halloween Tree every year). I mean, I liked them enough but the Ray Bradbury one was  kind of creepy.

What I really want to say is how great this book would be for kids who have a hard time reading a really big book. This just shows that sometimes big things come in smaller packages (kind of like me, haha!). And I know my mom says it’s not nice go call books boy books or girl books. This definitely looks like a boy book (it does!) and it is called “Guys Read” but I think girls would really like it too.  So, run out to your favorite bookstore and pick this one up. It just came out yesterday so be the first of your friends to own it. If they don’t have it, though, I’m sure you can find one of the other Guys Read books. They are all pretty awesome.


Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader: The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson

Tales of a (formerly) Reluctant Reader is a feature in which my thirteen year old son, John (a formerly reluctant reader) shares this thoughts on books geared toward reluctant readers. The review below is entirely his own with no alterations other than corrections in spelling.

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press (February 26, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062071858
  • Source: Publisher

Haley a pretty normal teenage girl living with her family in Connecticut. All of her friends are looking forward to spending their summers going off to fun camps. Haley’s plans are a bit different; she plans on spending the summer driving around the country with her very supportive parents, investigating the disappearances of several people thanks to a grant from a mysterious research foundation. There’s more than just missing persons, though. Around the same time they go missing, the towns they live in undergo a lapse of time in which they don’t remember what happened. Sixteen minutes are lost with no explanation. Haley uncovers a group of people referred to as We are the Missing,who claim to have experiences with alien abduction.

Dodger lives in Washington and, like Haley, is awarded a grant to investigate the unusual. Unlike Haley, he doesn’t really have a supportive family and is always trying to get the approval of his father. Haley and Dodger meet when the foundation supporting their research mission calls everything off when things get too dangerous. Haley and Dodger soon become the ones investigated, instead of the ones investigating. They are the only ones who can find out the truth about these disappearances and must do so before they too go missing!

Wow…was this an intense book! Normally, I’m not really in to alien abductions or anything spooky like that but this book changed my mind! From the very beginning, the story grabbed my attention. It was almost as if I was watching a movie rather than reading a book!  One of the things I really liked about the book were the two main characters, a boy and a girl. Both Haley & Dodger were very interesting people, Dodger maybe more than Haley because he heard voices. But because there is both a boy and a girl character, I think this book would be interesting to both boys and girls my age.

Also, the journey the two go on is pretty sweet! All-expense paid two week vacation!? Yes please! The investigations they go on are pretty intense so this also almost feels like a mystery as well. Maybe a sci-fi mystery? In any case, I’m going to be telling all my friends about this book! Now I need to come up with an exciting way to spend my summer vacation!

Guess what! My mom says that one lucky reader of this blog can win a copy of this book. Awesome, right? To enter, just fill out this form below. The winner will be emailed by my Mom on Friday, March 15. Tell all your friends about this giveaway! Trust me, you don’t want to pass this up!

Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader: I Have Opinions

Typically, this feature is reserved for my formerly reluctant reader son, John-John, to discuss books that he’s read recently. Specifically, books that he believes will appeal to reluctant readers. Instead, I’m turning over the blog today to John-John so he can discuss some issues he’s been having with books and the opinions he’s aching to share.  So, without further ado….

Hi everyone! Today I’m not here to talk to you about a book but instead I wanted to talk about some issues I’m having with books. My mom calls me a formerly reluctant reader because I used to hate to read. Now I really like it, but I’m getting frustrated. My favorite books have always been non-fiction. I like to learn about things, especially space, history, military and more. I’m trying to read more fiction (my mom says it will open up a whole new world for me) but I’m having challenges finding fiction that interest me.  See, I like fiction that is based on “real” things. I loved the Percy Jackson series and the Kane Chronicles and The Heroes of Olympus books.  Now what? It seems to me that not nearly as many books are geared for boys, especially reluctant readers,  if you take a look at the books for girls. Not a lot of my friends that are guys read and maybe this is why? If people want boys to read more, write more books for us!

Another thing-I sort of get overwhelmed when I see a huge gigantic book on the shelf. Another way to attract kids who don’t like to read is by making books that are shorter, broken up either by pictures or comics. This is why I loved books like Frankie Pickle, Big Nate, and The Wimpy Kid. I didn’t feel like it was a challenge to read them because all of the writing was broken up.  Now those books are below my reading level but I return to them when I can’t find anything else to read.

Also, I love graphic novels. But you know what? Not a lot of graphic novels are available for kids my age.  The violence level is usually too high or there is too much foul language. I discovered the Star Wars Clone Wars graphic novels and love them but there should be more like those.

I was lucky enough to discover books published by Capstone Books, books that are written for kids like me. They are one of the few publishers out there that seem to “get” kids like me. They publish books in graphic novel format, books on subjects that interest me. Hello, Tony Hawk! They’ve got him! You would think that other publishers would do the same, but they don’t.

I guess the point of me writing this post was to ask publishers to write more books for boys like me. I’m not into sports and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a bit of a nerd. So, publishers and authors out there, can you please write more books for nerds like me?



Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader: Star Wars, Clone Wars: Incredible Vehicles

Tales of a (Formerly) Reluctant Reader is a feature in which my twelve year old son, a formerly reluctant reader, reviews a book he particularly enjoyed! These words are his own and in no way influenced by his mother :)

  • Reading level: Ages 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: DK CHILDREN (August 15, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0756686911
  • Source: Publisher

We have a lot of Star Wars books in our house. Since I can remember, I have been a fan of them movies, characters & books. I have books that discuss the characters and the storylines of most of the movies.  Even after I have read all of these books, I think this is one of the best Star Wars books I have ever read. It describes in great detail nearly every vehicle mentioned, including spacecraft, landcraft, and watercraft in Star Wars Clone Wars.

The image shown of each of these vehicles are far more detailed that I have ever seen.  Here is an example: 


Each vehicle is shown, every little aspect of that vehicle diagrammed and described. You can find out which class each vehicle is in, the weapons it has, and more.  Cross-sections are provided for some of the larger vehicles. Never could I have imagined what each of these ships looked like inside!

Star Wars fans of all ages will love this book, I promise. You may notice that this book is published by DK. That is reason alone to buy this book! The pictures and details they put in each of their books is amazing! I spend hours exploring each of their books! So go out and buy it (or in my case, have your mom buy it!). I’d love to know what you think!




Review: The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

  • Reading level: Ages 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0545290147
  • Source: Big Honcho Media

Some time in the past, the United States went to war with China and its allies, using militarized weapons like nuclear bombs.  China responded with P11H3, a strengthened version of the flu.  It was referred to as the Eleventh Plague, spreading through the nation like wildfire. The last aired reports indicated that the death tolls were in the hundreds of millions in the United States alone.

The Collapse took place shortly after P11 hit.  Everything shut down, including the government, factories, hospitals. The lights on the United States were literally turned off, citizens burned out of major cities to prevent spread of the virus.

It’s now years later. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his small family, consisting of his father and grandfather, are now scavengers.  They travel back and forth along the East Coast, searching for items they can then sell for the items they need to survive: clothing, food & ammunition.  They aren’t the only ones roaming the wreckage of our former country, slavers also roam the roads, looking for individuals to enslave.

It’s not long before Stephen’s world is upended: his grandfather dies & his father is severely injured within twenty-four hours of one another.  Stephen is able to get his father to a encampment referred to as Settler’s Landing, a town created by a wealthy family, now existing almost as if nothing had changed.  They still celebrate Thanksgiving, say the Pledge of Allegiance, the children attend school.  To them, Stephen is an outsider, the bottom of the totem pole.

Stephen soon realizes that life after the war isn’t much different than it was before: the wealthy hold power, have control of which individuals are allowed to reside in their encampment. When the actions of Stephen and a rebellious girl cause the citizens of Settler’s Landing to take action against a neighboring encampment, Stephen questions his position in life, is he really a scavenger? Or should he stay put and make a difference in the future of his world? His mind, his memories, battle with the feelings he has now.  Is there a future worth fighting for or, is the world really over?

The Eleventh Plague is a pretty thought-provoking book about how the actions of our nation, our culture, can impact the future.  Aptly suited for the middle-school age group, I think had the author developed the characters and the back story a little more, this would be a compelling reader for teens as well. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable read, it certainly is an engaging story.  However, as an adult reading this, I felt I only new the characters at face value, I wanted to learn more about Stephen and Jenny, the young Chinese girl, uncertain about her identity in the “new” world.

I read this with my twelve-year-old son, John.  The discussion this book generated was the biggest benefit gained from reading this book. We talked about a whole host of issues, including war, relations with other countries, perceived feelings about members of other cultures, and more.  As mentioned above, I think this book is correct in it’s age level for twelve and above. There is no foul language but there is a considerable amount of violence, not shocking for a book about a post-war nation.  Young fans of the Hunger Games trilogy as well as John Marsden’s Tomorrow series would appreciate the similar storylines: young characters forced to find a means to survive in a war-ridden world. Recommended.

I have one copy of The Eleventh Plague to give away to one lucky reader. To enter, please fill out the form below. Open to US & Canadian residents only, please. The winner will be contacted via email on Monday, November 28th. Good luck!

Frightful Friday: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!


This week’s featured book is: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover:224 pages
  • Publisher:Candlewick (September 15, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0763655597
  • Source:  Personal copy

At 12:07 AM, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes up to find a monster outside his window. He’s not frightened, for this is not the monster he expected to see. He thought he’d open his eyes to see the monster from his nightmares, the one that has been haunting his dreams since his mother’s cancer treatments began.

The monster is an ancient one, existing for centuries. It wants something from Conor, it wants to tell him stories, in return to hear the truth from Conor. Conor, obviously, is perplexed by the monster’s requests. However, it continues to return nearly every night, at exactly 12:07 AM.

The stories the monster tells aren’t your average, typical stories. Of course, what would one expect from a monster? The stories the monsters tell are unique, each ultimately providing a valuable lesson. The monster attempts to impart to Conor the power of stories:

“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might reveal?”

“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything.  If they carry the truth.”


The illustrations, combined with the text, portray a truly haunting story. Not haunting as in ghosts (or yes, monsters), but haunting due to how real, how honest they are. Conor, despite himself, is afraid to admit the truth the monster seeks.  He’s a young boy, living with his mother after his parents divorce. To him, his mother is everything he knows. A lot of weight has been placed on his shoulders.  To make matters worse, he told his one true friend about his mother’s illness, and the news quickly spread throughout his school. His teachers now coddle him, refusing to punish him. The class bullies now have yet another reason to pick on him. It’s not suprising that Conor feels the way he does. Admitting the truth is oftentimes difficult than living a lie.

Reluctantly, Conor follows the monster on this journey through stories. When it’s up to him to tell the story, to tell the truth, it provides him with a sense of relief, not dread. He had a punishment pictured in his mind, a punishment so severe it was difficult for Conor to accept. While honesty is sometimes more difficult than lies, the truth is certainly freeing. Through the monster, Conor learned that it is an individuals actions that truly portrays the integrity of that individual.

I cannot begin to describe how this book affected me, emotionally.  Perhaps it’s because I have a son Conor’s age. Nothing could prepare me for the emotions I felt as I read this book.  I can admit it; I sobbed. No, I take that back, I bawled. Not the quiet kind of crying, but the gasping for air, shuddering chest, sort of bawling.  At first, I cursed Ness for toying with my emotions this way. However now I commend Ness for this; the story he portrays is honest, not flinching. No light & fluffy stories, but pure, brutal, honesty.  While it did break my heart, it touched and warmed my soul as well.  And while it is heartbreaking, it is a book that should be read by all, a lesson that should be passed on to others. A truly powerful gift. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this book, a testimony to its greatness, is how each and every individual will get something completely different out of it.

One may ask why I decided to feature this as part of Frightful Friday? Well, the illustrations, first off, are pretty haunting:


Perhaps, even moreso, I chose to feature this book because it continues to haunt me, days upon days after reading it.

I implore you: GO OUT AND BUY THIS BOOK.  This is not a book you borrow, or check out of the library. It is one you must own, you must savor, and must never forget. HIGHLY Recommended.


Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu


  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press (September 27, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0062015052
  • Source: Publisher

Hazel is having a difficult time adjusting to a new school, her parents’ divorce, and life in general. Her neighbor, Jack, is the only real friend she has. He understands her, sticks up for her when school bullies pick on her. Her mother would prefer that she have female friends but to Hazel, Jack is all she needs. Nothing can separate this duo.

Then one day a shard of glass falls into Jack’s eye. He becomes a completely different person: coldhearted, no interest in hanging out with Hazel.  He blows her off as if she means nothing to him. Hazel is the only one who seems to see this change in Jack; her mother dismisses the  change in Jack’s behavior, stating that things like this happen. Hazel is unwilling to accept this; nothing would tear their friendship apart.

When Jack disappears, Hazel knows something must be amiss.  His parents behave oddly, stating he’s gone off to stay with a relative Hazel’s never heard of. It isn’t until one of his friends confesses to Hazel something he’s seen that she begins to grasp what has happened. Jack was seen talking to a woman in white, made of ice and coldness.

Hazel has heard of this woman, the Ice Queen, but assumed the stories were all made-up.  So she begins a trek into the cold, cold woods, desperate to find and rescue her closest and dearest friend. Along the way she comes across several unique creatures and individuals.  When she finds Jack, she must remind him of the warmth that their friendship brings, to rescue him from the frigid grasp of the Ice Queen’s reign.

Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen, Breadcrumbs is a beautifully written modern fairy tale, with prose so lyrical it would be a sin not to read it aloud.  Here is but one sampling:

“For the snow was not snow anymore, but a woman–tall and lithe like a sketch, in a white fur cape and a white shimmering gown that looked so thin it would melt if you touched it.  Hair like spun crystal framed cream-colored skin.  The woman stepped closer, revealing eyes as bright as the sun reflecting off snow.  But they were cold things, and it was like looking for solace in frost.”


More than anything, Breadcrumbs is a story about two children, bonded together by the loneliness they share.  For Jack, his loneliness comes the state his mother is in, a shell of the woman she used to be. For Hazel, her loneliness comes from her parents’ divorce, from starting a new school, from being different than those around her.

This is a book that is ageless, it can be appreciated by adults as well as children. As stated above, I highly recommend reading it aloud.  Now that I’ve finished reading it myself that’s what I plan to do: read it aloud to my children. Highly recommended.