Review/ Forensics Squad: Unleashed

Review/ Forensics Squad: UnleashedForensics Squad Unleashed by Monique Polak
Published by Orca Book Publishers on March 28, 2016
Pages: 208

Tabitha is thrilled to be attending a summer forensics camp, even if she has to go with her sort-of friend Mason. Soon she is learning to dust for fingerprints, photograph a crime scene and take footprint impressions. Even though the camp instructors have set up a "crime" for the kids to solve, Tabitha longs to use her newfound skills to solve a real-life mystery. She's pretty sure a dognapping ring is active in her Montreal neighborhood, and when her beloved dog, Roxie, is stolen, she convinces her forensics "team" to help her find Roxie and nab the 'nappers.

A story unravelling in my own home town of Montreal…on streets that I have walked…at a university that I know…about learning how to become a detective (my dream since reading Nancy Drew) … how can one go wrong by reading “Forensics Squad: Unleashed” by Monique Polak?

Leave out the fact that Monique is a GREAT Montrealer, fantastic teacher (my former professor from college), novelist, journalist, etcetera, etcetera, this is a fun and engaging book for anyone who loves a good mystery.

Tabitha had no clue that once attending a summer forensics camp, she would be putting her wits to the test, not only in the classroom but in real life as well.  When her dog goes missing, Tabitha and her classmates decide to take matters into their own hands.  They quickly realize that a classroom scenario is much safer than in real life.

Filled with real life teenage quirks that Monique captures so well in her writing, this story takes you on a journey between classroom forensics and the real world.  I couldn’t put the book down and I can’t wait to read another one.  So, Monique, when is the next one coming out?

Review/ The Perculiar Night of the Blue Heart

Review/ The Perculiar Night of the Blue HeartThe Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on June 6, 2017
Pages: 224

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren DeStefano comes a gorgeous tale of friendship found and fought for against a haunting danger. It's just right for fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak.
Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn't much like to be around other people. He'd rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.
Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn't need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she's kind to everyone at the orphanage... Lionel most of all.
Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth — and starts to take control — they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.

I am never left unsatisfied when reading a novel by Lauren DeStefano.  “The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart” touched my very soul.  I love how Lionel and Marybeth, two children who couldn’t be more different from one another, find a way to bring out the goodness in each other, even though the world doesn’t see it.  What a wonderful world it would be if we could all find the good in our neighbours rather than the bad, the negative, or the differences. Any character that is willing to stand up and fight for the trueness and love in another will always be a champion read for me.

Lionel is different.  So different in fact that the people at the orphanage ignore him.  That is, everyone except Marybeth.  She is his friend and takes care of him simply by accepting who he is.  This bond will go a long way in cementing their friendship.  In fact, to the point of saving a life.

On a peculiar night, a blue light takes possession of Marybeth.  A girl who once obeyed all the rules, looked proper, and behaved accordingly, slowly becomes transformed by a force out of her control.   Her transformation is slow at first but as the light grows stronger, the changes happen faster.  Lionel notices these changes.  Sensitive to her movements, behavior, thought process, Lionel takes it upon himself to save Marybeth.  However, can he do so in time?  As this blue light force becomes stronger, the Marybeth he knows and loves slips further away.

This story had me holding my breath.  At certain moments, I actually had to remind myself to breathe.  “The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart” was shelved in the 9-12 years age category, however, due to the topic of possession, I would recommend it for older readers, 12+. I believe that younger readers would have difficulty understanding the seriousness of the situation that Lionel and Marybeth find themselves in.  And this story deserves to be fully understood.

Guest Review/ The Final Six

Guest Review/ The Final SixThe Final Six (The Final Six, #1) by Alexandra Monir
Published by HarperTeen on March 6, 2018
Pages: 352

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.
For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.
As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

My fourteen-year-old son, Nathan, read a book entitled “The Final Six” by Alexandra Monir.  He couldn’t put it down…literally.  He read all day and all night long.  His eyes were blood shot and his hair tussled, but nothing could drag him away from finishing this novel.  At the end of the book, Nathan looked at me in despair, “The journey is not done yet, I need the next book.  I just have to read it and find out what’s going on!”  Unfortunately, much to his disappointment, the second book is not out yet, nor is there a set release date.

So, what has got my teenage son so engrossed in reading?  Please continue to read Nathan’s review of “The Final Six.”

Some time in our future, scientist realize that our planet is dying because of global warming.  In order to save the human race, the world unites.  Despite measures to correct pollution and restore the earth’s balance, it is too late for society.  The tipping point has occurred, and no one is safe. A state of emergency for the world is declared.  The earth is inhabitable.

Twenty-four teenagers are being trained because of their unique physical and mental abilities.  They will fly a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.  This location contains oceans which will allow for life to continue.

By the end of this novel, six of the twenty-four teenagers are chosen to complete the mission and save humanity.

The book begins with a mystery.  At the end of each chapter, some of these questions are answered but more questions are asked.  At the end of the book, many more questions are asked, and I can’t wait to find these answers.  This kept me turning the pages.  I couldn’t put the book down at the end of a chapter.  I needed more answers and now I had new questions to ponder.

The characters were relatable and likeable.  Leo and Naomi are the main characters.  Leo is from Italy and Naomi is Iranian-American.  We follow their lives throughout the book.  They are two individuals who would have never met if it wasn’t for the circumstances the world finds itself in.

I believe this is a good book for readers ages fourteen to sixteen.  They will enjoy the speed and intensity of this novel.  I also found out that there will be a movie in the future.  As for now, I just want to read the next novel and find out what happens.  In the meantime, I am reading it a second time.

*I quickly have to thank Nathan for doing this guest review for the blog. He is Jennifer’s son. Be sure to keep an eye out for more guest reviews by Nathan in the future.*

Review/ Summer Days, Starry Nights

Review/ Summer Days, Starry NightsSummer Days, Starry Nights by Vikki VanSickle
Published by Scholastic Canada on June 1, 2013
Pages: 240

A famous rock star, a family secret and a boy with a great smile make for one unforgettable summer.
It's 1962, and thirteen-year-old Reenie Starr comes alive the minute guests begin to arrive at her family's summer resort. She dreams of the day she can run Sandy Shores, and she spends her time helping out at the resort, swimming, climbing trees, and singing under the stars.
One day, Reenie's mother announces that she thinks the resort could use some entertainment. She invites Gwen, her best friend's almost-grown daughter, to come and teach a dance class. Although Gwen seems sad and remote, Reenie's thrilled to have her there.
As Reenie starts to learn more about the world beyond Sandy Shores, she comes up with a plan that could really put it on the map. She also finds herself caught between the simpler world of her childhood and all of the wonderful new discoveries (boys) and heartaches (boys) that growing up can bring. Reenie thought she wanted Sandy Shores to never change, but after this summer nothing will ever be the same again.
With the same humour and insight that she brought to the acclaimed Words That Start With B, Vikki VanSickle expertly captures those lazy, hazy, crazy days of the last summer before high school. Though set in a different time, Summer Days, Starry Nights is sure to resonate with all young readers on the verge of adolescence.

When I attended YA Fest Montreal a few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with and speak to Vikki VanSickle.  This is how I happened upon my next book.

I was twelve years old the summer I watched the movie “Dirty Dancing” starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.  It stirred me in ways I didn’t know a movie could.  The music was fun, the dancing was tantalizing, and the romance…oh, the romance…

“Summer Days, Starry Nights” by Vikki VanSickle brings me back to the days when I was twelve and wishing I were sixteen.  The days when being a tween just wasn’t enough and growing up wouldn’t come fast enough.

A quick and easy read, this is a great coming of age book for tweens.  A book you can easily throw into your bag as you head to the beach or the pool.

Rennie loves staying at her family’s resort.  She helps her dad with all the chores and then still has time to spend sneaking away and soaking in the sunshine.  She loves the resort as much as she loves her family.  However, her mom hasn’t quite been herself and this strain has become noticeable to the other members of the family.

In order to liven up activities at the resort, Gwen, the daughter of an old family friend, arrives to give dance lessons to the guests.  Long-legged, blond, and gorgeous, Rennie strives to be like sixteen-year-old Gwen.  Who wouldn’t rather be like Gwen instead of Rennie, especially when you’re twelve?

With Gwen’s help over the course of the summer, Rennie plans a huge dance party.  This would certainly show everyone that she isn’t a child any longer.  However, growing up comes with huge responsibilities and even bigger consequences.  With a surprise twist that I did not see coming, Rennie finds out that growing up isn’t all that it’s cut out to be and maybe…just maybe, she shouldn’t be in such a hurry.

If you loved “Dirty Dancing” and looking for a way to connect with the younger generation in your life, hand them a copy of Vikki VanSickle’s book, “Summer Days, Starry Nights.”



Review/ Rooftoppers

Review/ RooftoppersRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, Terry Fan
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on September 24, 2013
Pages: 279

Embrace possibility in this luminous novel about a girl in search of her past who discovers a secret rooftop world in Paris.
Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive—but “almost impossible” means “still possible.” And you should never ignore a possible.
So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian, threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has— the address of the cello maker.
Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers—urchins who live in the hidden spaces above the city. Together they scour the city in a search for Sophie’s mother—but can they find her before Sophie is caught and sent back to London? Or, more importantly, before she loses hope?
Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, calls Rooftoppers “the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination.”

I chose a book entitled, “Rooftoppers” off the shelves at Chapters.  It was next to another book I was considering and decided to bring this one home instead.  I’m glad I did.  This novel puts a unique twist on a somewhat common story-line.  A young girl, named Sophie, goes looking for her mother. However, she does so from above, and with help from above.  This is a wonderful adventure for boys and girls ages 10 and up.  Friendships are not limited to school yards and playgrounds.  In fact, the sky is the limit.

Orphaned during a shipwreck, Sophie floated into the possession of an elderly gentleman named Charles.  Charles is a quirky bookworm who dotes on Sophie and teaches her the ways of the world in a most unique manner.  When those who make decisions decide that Charles is not a proper guardian to care for Sophie, the two run away to Paris, in order for Sophie to avoid being placed in an orphanage.

Sophie always believed that her mother was alive.  Many told her that this was impossible.  However,…almost impossible means still possible…This belief motivates Sophie to find her mother.  From the rooftops in Paris, Sophie befriends a boy named Matteo.  Together, they walk tightropes and leap from buildings to find the cello music Sophie is positive comes from her mother.

Split knees, calloused hands and feet, and scraped chin, Sophie does not allow for anything to stand in her way.  From the heights of Paris buildings, she becomes a skywalker.  With the strongest belief in her heart and knowing that Paris is where she belongs, Sophie learns the ways of the skywalkers.  Without judgement, she accepts them for who they are, as they offer to accompany Sophie on her dangerous journey.

An exciting book, I could not put it down at night and fall asleep.  I wanted to read on and discover the secrets of Paris from above.

I may be wrong, but it is possible that you may enjoy reading this imaginative story through a whole new perspective.  As Sophie would say, “You should never ignore a possible.


Review/ Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Review/ Curiosity House: The Shrunken HeadCuriosity House: The Shrunken Head by Benjamin Lacombe, H.C. Chester, Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on May 3, 2016
Pages: 384

The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.
Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.
When the museum's Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H. C. Chester.
What you will find in this book:
A rather attractive bearded lady Several scandalous murders A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities A quite loquacious talking birdWhat you will NOT find in this book:
An accountant named Seymour A never-ending line at the post office Brussels sprouts (shudder) A lecture on finishing all your homework on time A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys

“Curiosity House – The Shrunken Head” by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester was a fantastic read after having watched the movie, “The Greatest Showman.”  For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see this movie in the theatre, you must do whatever you can to see it.  The movie has a magnificent storyline, great acting, and wonderful music that I now play on the piano.  It is not a chick flick.  In fact, my whole family enjoyed the movie for individual reasons, including my hubby.  He even listens to the CD in the car on his way to work in the morning.  He says, “It pumps me up and motivates me.”  Without giving too much away, the movie covers the life of P.T Barnum and how he came from little, followed his passion, and created the magnificent.  The message I felt from the movie is that the performers, or freaks as they were referred, being so different from ourselves, the viewers, are people too. They need a place and a family to belong.  It is what humanity deserves. Not just in the movies!

 “Curiosity House – The Shrunken Head,” the first in its series by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, has just as powerful storyline, strange oddities gathered from all over the world, performers that will amaze, and children with special talents.  However, in this story, it is the children who steal the show.  Thomas, Pippa, Sam, and Max call Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, home.  No one else would have them, not even their own parents.  Orphaned at different times in their lives, these children feel like they belong.  They are not freaks, perhaps misunderstood.  Simply different than others around them.

Once a Shrunken head from Amazonia is stolen, things take a turn for the worse.  Murder, betrayal, and the fear of losing the only place they know as home.  To save the only man who has shown them some resemblance of family life, and to keep the museum open, Thomas, Pippa, Sam, and Max put their thinking and physical wits to the test while following the clues to solving this mystery.   They soon realize that no one is who they say they are and that more often than not, people wear Halloween masks to disguise their real selves.

 I thoroughly enjoyed reading every page of this book. If I wasn’t immersed in trying to guess “who dunnit,” I was squeezing through air vents with Thomas, or escaping the clutches of the lady with the feather hat or learning about the unusual artifacts displayed throughout the museum.  Humility sprinkled with humour keeps the story moving forward without taking away from the complexity of back-stabbing and the macabre.

Whether you are a fan of the movie “The Greatest Showman,” a connoisseur of oddities and artifacts, a spectator at the circus, or if mystery and murder is right up your alley, this is the book for you.

Review/Haunted Mysteries – The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

Review/Haunted Mysteries – The Crossroads by Chris GrabensteinThe Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein
Published by Yearling on May 12, 2009
Pages: 352

From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library and coauthor of I Funny and Treasure Hunters, comes a series of spine-tingling mysteries to keep you up long after the lights go out.
Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives. He died when his car hit a tree in a fiery crash, and his malevolent spirit has inhabited the tree ever since. During a huge storm, lightning hits the tree, releasing the spirit, who decides his evil spree isn’t over . . . and Zack is directly in his sights.
Award-winning thriller author Chris Grabenstein fills his first book for younger readers with the same humorous and spine-tingling storytelling that has made him a fast favorite with adults.
★ “A rip-roaring ghost story.”—Booklist, Starred

I remember back in the day when I would stay up all night reading.  Nothing my parents would say would get me to stop. Page after page, my eyes tracking the words as fast as they could. My hands trembling to turn the pages faster and faster. I had to get to the end of the book.  I had to find out what was going to happen.  Would they make it?  Will they survive?  This is the very same feeling I had when reading “The Crossroads” by Chris Grabenstein, the best-selling author of “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.”  I haven’t read a page turner like this in a very long time, not since the days of R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” series and later on Dean Koontz.  Ironically, it took a book for young readers (ages nine to twelve) to make me lose sleep.

This is a story of how an accident at a crossroads, many years ago, haunts a young boy in the present.  History has a way of repeating itself…or in this case, coming back to life to complete unfinished business. The thread that connects each character in the book is fascinating.  Some characters not only share personal traits and DNA, but a connection that crosses over time as well.

As previously mentioned, I’ve read books like this when I was younger, in my early teens.  I believe that this should be the age group for this novel as well.  Some youngsters may miss some of the complexities of the story.  If purchasing this book for someone, I would recommend ages eleven to fourteen.

I did find the age of the young boy to be too young to experience what he did and to do things he that he had done.  I would have preferred the main character to be a little older.  It would have made the story more realistic to me.  This would also appeal to an older audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, however it kept me up way too late into the night.  I’ll have to wait until I’m on vacation to read the next one.