The River Boy by Jessica Brown

The River Boy

Jessica Brown, Author

Finch & Fellow Publishing Home, Historical Fiction, 2016

Pages: 148

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Montana Frontier, Abuse, Friendship, Adventure, Imagination, Courage, Hope

Synopsis:

Nine-year-old Clara is worried about spending a lonely and boring summer on her family ranch in Montana, which is two miles outside of town. It is 1909 and she lives with her parents and two older brothers on a ranch that her grandfather built after the civil war. Everyone pitches in to keep the ranch operating — weeding cornfields, planting gardens and caring for the livestock.

Feeling that “hollow” space inside her, Clara heads to her special place, the grassy banks of the river. There in the middle of her river, she spots a boy sitting on a big rock. Josiah invites her to join him and lends his hand. He asks Clara if she knows what the rock is here for?  “It’s for people who  know how be still,” says Clara. He smiles at her and at that moment, Clara knows they will be friends. Josiah is unlike anyone she has ever met before. He enjoys exploring nature,  is full of full of ideas and has a huge imagination. They decide to write a book together and hope to travel all over town and countryside to collect people stories.

As their adventure unfolds, Clara realizes that Josiah has dark secrets. He lives with his sister and father, who is an abusive alcoholic. Clara hopes that if Josiah can publish his book, he will be able to move to somewhere safe. They run an advertisement in the town newspaper and invite people to submit their stories. But they butt heads with the publisher, Dr. Lowell, who is furious and prints a retraction. It will take much gumption for Clara and Josiah to fight for their book. And there is a town full of people who each have a story to tell. The town’s folk come together and send their stories to Clara and Josiah and stand up to the arrogant Dr. Lowell. Ultimately Clara realizes that sometimes assumptions about people may not be correct and it may take time to look deeper to truly get to know what drives behavior.

Jessica Brown has penned an original novel about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences. It is a heartwarming tale full of hope with believable characters you will love, rich dialogue, and vivid imagery appropriate to Montana in 1909.  The pacing is perfect with short chapters. Brown creates a satisfying and story about friendship and courage for young readers. It reminds you a bit of Sarah, Plain and Tall, one the author’s favorite childhood books.

Jessica Brown  loves to cook, hike, read, and go on road trips with her husband and son. She grew up in Texas and has since lived in Indiana, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, England, Ireland and New Zealand. Her graduate studies include English, creative writing and spiritual formation. She has written a memoir, The Grace to Be Human, which will be released this year. Visit Jessica at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Magical Realism, Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Mystery, Courage, Friendship, Treasure

Book Jacket Synopsis: When the Problims’ beloved bungalow in the Swampy Wood goes kaboom, the seven siblings have no choice but to move into their grandpa’s abandoned old Victorian house in the town of Lost Cove. No problem! For the Problim children, every problem is a gift.

Wendell and Thea — twins born two minutes apart on a Wednesday and a Thursday — see the move as a change to make new friends in time for their birthday cake smash. But the neighbors find the Problims’ return problematic — what with Sal’s foggy garden full on Wrangling Ivy, toddler Toot’s 365 stanktastic fart varieties, and Mona’s human catapult.

Truth be told, rumors are flying about the Problims! Rumors of a bitter feud, a treasure, and a certain kind of magic that lingers in the halls of #7 Main Street. And an evil neighbor, Desdemona O’ Pinion, will do anything to get her hands on those secrets — including sending the Problim children to seven different homes on sever different continents!

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s newest novel, The Problim Children, is a thrilling read packed with a lot of eye-popping kid-appeal. Readers will be happy to know it is the first of three books in the series.  It is a boisterous and rollicking ride through a wild and wacky world that is magical from the start. The children bring with them circus spiders, a purple robotic squirrel and a pet pig, Ichabod.

Lloyd is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. Her writing is lyrical and her voice is original. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket.

Meet the seven weird and lively Problim Children, each one born on a different day of the week and named after that day: Mona, Tootykins, Wendell, Thea, Frida, Sal and Sundae. These seven are open-minded and have heart. Their parents are off on an archaeological dig somewhere in the world, while 16-year-old Sundae is in charge of her siblings. For me, the strength in the story is in Lloyd’s richly developed characters. Baby Toot communicates with his siblings through his farts, which are footnoted at the bottom (i.e. #227: The Hushfart: Softer sounding than a referee’s whistle, but still shrill. Smells like dirty clothes. Means: be quiet!)

The plot is enchanting filled with wonder, mystery, danger and a lot of humor. And there are clues to a hidden  treasure. Moving into their grandpa’s house is an adventure, a new beginning and a chance to make new friends. Except the residents are suspicious and don’t welcome the children to their new town. There is history with the Problim family and people are afraid history may repeat itself. But the children are charming and find a way to work their way into some of the their hearts. Prediction: This will be a winner with readers! And they will be teased with the inclusion of the first chapter of the second book at the end.

Natalie Lloyd was born on a Monday (but she’s a Thursday girl at heart). She loves writing stories full of magic, friendship and the occasional toot, including A Snicker of Magic, which was a New York Times best seller, and Key to the Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Justin, and their dogs, Biscuit and Samson. Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Duck and Cover by Janet Smart

Duck and Cover

Janet F. Smart, Author

Saguaro Books, LLC, Historical Fiction, 2017 (Paperback)

Pages: 162

Amazon Digital Services LLC  (eBook)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Friendship, West Virginia, Bay of Pigs, Russians, Cubans

Opening: “I Survived the long drive from Cleveland. Now if I could just survive the Russians, I’d be OK.” 

Synopsis: After his dad dies in an accident at work, twelve-year-old Teddy Haynes and his mom come back to live with family in rural West Virginia. They hope to start over, but some people say the Russians are going to blow up the United States.  How can they start over if the world comes to an end?

He finds his life filled with talk of bomb shelters, a cat and dog that don’t get along, clinging two-year-old twin nephews, and a pretty girl he’s too shy to talk to. To help cope with their fears, Teddy and his friends convert an old cave in the woods into a bomb shelter. Will they be able to work together and pull through the tense-filled months during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962?  And will Teddy be able to overcome his grief from the loss of his father?

What I like about this book:

Janet Smart has written a moving and sensitive novel that will teach generations of readers about the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. She balances the tension with a good dose of humor to lighten the anxiety the kids feel. This nostalgic read will be a stroll down memory lane for many adults as they recall “duck and cover” school drills, during an uncertain time.

The narrative is written in first person. The story is character-driven. She gives the reader deep insight into Teddy’s loss, fears, his active imagination, and his coping skills. Teddy’s a determined protagonist with big dreams of becoming an astronaut one day. He tries to encourage his friends to have dreams, because most of them, like Bobby, know they will head into the coal mines like their ancestors.  His best friend, Melvin, has a limp from polio and wears a smile that stretches clear across his face. Melvin is good for Teddy because he’s optimistic, cheery, light-hearted, logical, has a flair for using big words and enjoys a good prank.  Skeeter likes to write and organize things. So she’s handy to have around as they plan their bomb shelter, even though Teddy is uncomfortable around a girl he’s sweet on.

The theme of the war weighs heavily upon their minds. But the plot focuses on brave friends who decide to take action. It is about their big adventure of building a shelter in a “haunted” cave. They scavenge through junk yards for chairs, mattresses and wood. They fill it with first aid supplies, flashlights, canned goods and water.  There is a lot of suspense for the foursome and some uncovered secrets.

Smart’s novel would make an excellent addition to any school library. It’s also a timely read with threats around the globe.

Janet F. Smart lives in picturesque West Virginia. She is the mother of three grown boys. She enjoys writing for children, bringing her thoughts, dreams and imagination to life. A flicker of a childhood memory was the inspiration for this novel. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Jingle Bells by Susan Jeffers

Jingle Bells

Susan Jeffers, Artist/Illustrator

Harper Collins Children’s Books, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Sleigh Ride, Winter, Jingle Bells, Adventure, Ice Skating, Holiday Book

Opening: Jingle bells, jingle bells.

Synopsis: Ride along through a winter wonderland with a girl, a boy, and their pony — plus a mischievous dog! It’s a joyous adventure to Grandma’s house where a very special guest helps spread the yuletide cheer.

Why I like this story:

Artist Susan Jeffers’ takes children on an enchanted wintry journey set to lyrics of this beloved and joyful holiday song, Jingle Bells. Jeffers’ pastel illustrations are lavish and energetic. Each double-page spread captures the magnificent detail of the winter woodland scenes with romping furry critters, a playful dog bounding alongside the sleigh and a big adventure with a few bumps along the way. The ending is very clever.  This book is a lovely keepsake and gift.

Children will have fun searching for the many animals Jeffers has hidden among the trees and in the snowy bushes. There is a picture guide of the hidden winter critters at the end of the book.

Susan Jeffers, the Caldecott Honor and New York Times bestselling artist of The Nutcracker and The Twelve Days of Christmas. She won the ABBY Award from the American Booksellers Association and a Caldecott Honor from the American Library Association. Her work has been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Her books have sold millions of copies and have been published around the world. Visit Jeffers at her website.

Resources: Take a walk outside in the fresh snow and identify animal footprints. Look for signs of their burrows.  Sing Jingle Bells. Go sledding.

Happy holidays everyone!

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Amanda in New Mexico by Darlene Foster

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Adventure, School trip, New Mexico, Haunted hotel, Ancient pueblo, Ghosts

Synopsis: Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. She shares a room with Cleo, an anxious classmate who insists she see ghosts. Although Amanda is determined to prove there is no such things, she can’t seem to shake the feeling that something or someone is watching her.

Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit a rugged and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past.

Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps The Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest and adventure of Amanda’s travels series.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has written another lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling, exploring and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series won’t be disappointed with this fast-paced book which will keep them on edge with a spooky plot and unexplained events.

The story is character driven. Amanda is a fun, upbeat, curious, caring and memorable character that readers will want as a friend — especially since she has keen radar and is always ready to solve a good mystery.  And, Amanda can’t resist a good mystery — even if it involves ghosts, cold breezes brushing her shoulders and unexpected incidents. Her friend Cleo is more sensitive to the presences around and finds it safer to sketch the sites they visit instead of explore. Caleb is more pragmatic, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda.

Readers will learn about history, geography, architecture, artifacts and shiver at the presence of ghosts that are rumored to be haunting many of the places they visit in Taos — the Mable Dodge Luhan house, the Governor Bent Museum, the Taos Pueblo, the Rio Grande Gorge and bridge, Ojo Caliente hot springs, the Palisade Sills, the St. James Hotel, and the Enchanted Circle Pottery. They will have an opportunity to attend the Day of the Dead celebration.

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind is the sixth book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; and Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music.  I recommend you start with the first book, but the Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl.  A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain. Visit her Darlene Foster at her website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

Overboard: Survivor Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Overboard: Survivor Diaries

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jul. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Whale-Watching, Boat Capsizing, Cold-Water Survival, Survival Skills

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale-watching tour off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold, chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must navigate the freezing ocean water. It will take all of their grit and knowledge to survive.

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson has penned a fast-paced adventure series for children about survival in extreme elements. Overboard is the first book in the series, with Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! to follow.   Pen and ink drawings add to the drama at sea.

The plot is realistic, engaging and the tension palpable. Overboard focuses on Travis and Marina using skills they know after their site-seeing boat capsizes in icy waters and on shore until help arrives.  What do you do first? How much time do you have before hypothermia sets in? How do you stay calm? What skills do you need most?

I predict this series will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know.

This is an inspiring and important survival series for kids and families to read together. It is also an excellent classroom book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: At the end of the book are U.S. Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips.  Once you’ve read the book, Johnson has set up a survival game on her website. Make sure you play the game!

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Ice Dogs, is a real-life survival expert. She is also the author of the Survivor Diaries Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! She has lived in northern Ontario, Canada, for more than forty years. She’s a conservation officer with seventeen years experience working in remote areas and cold-water environments, and has trained with the Canadian Coast Guard. Follow Terry on her website.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

Fort

Cynthia DeFelice, Author

 Square Fish; Reprint edition May 17, 2016, Fiction

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Building a fort, Friendship, Bullies, Standing up for yourself

Opening/Prologue: This is the 100 percent true story of the summer I — Wyatt Jones — was eleven and built a fort in the woods with my friend Augie Valerio.  It isn’t the story I handed in to my teacher about how I spent my summer vacation. See, there’s stuff that happened that you can’t really talk about in school. Not unless you want to get in trouble…

Synopsis: Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the time of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort — and with a kid who can’t fight back — the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned.

Why I like this book:

This is a fast-paced adventure story for boys and a terrific summer read! It’s a summer experience boys would dream of having. It is set in the woods of upstate New York and reminds me of a different time period. Wyatt and his dad visit every summer, where his father teaches at a college. Wyatt hangs out with his best friend, Augie who lives there. Wyatt’s father gives him the trust and freedom to just be a boy and enjoy his summer, which is opposite from his mother’s parenting style.

Wyatt and Augie are very different characters. Wyatt is more tech savvy and strategic and Augie is smart about nature, hunting, fishing and survival in the woods. Both boys have a healthy respect for each other’s differences. As a result, their joint talents contribute to the best summer vacation both boys have ever had. There are other interesting characters there to support the boys when needed. But this is really a kids story.

I was pleased that Wyatt and Augie do the right thing when they realize Gerard, who is differently abled, has been mistreated and threatened by the bullies. They befriend Gerard, draw him into their plan, and help him find his voice.

The plot is believable, thrilling, tense and action-packed. It will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Augie and Wyatt discover two older bullies have messed with their fort, it’s time to act. Together they devise the most awesome strategic plan to teach two bullies a valuable lesson. It isn’t mean-spirited, but will make readers chuckle!

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many popular books, including Wild Life, The Ghost of Fossil Glen, Signal, and the Missing Manatee. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children’s Books. Visit DeFelice at her website.

**I won Fort in drawing on Greg Pattridge’s popular website, Always in the Middle. He reviews interesting and entertaining middle grade books. Please check it out!

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger

shannon-messengerMeet Shannon Messenger, author of my all-time favorite middle grade, fantasy/dystopian series, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, and published by  Aladdin. There are five books in the series to date, with her most recent November 1 release, Lodestar. An ambitious undertaking for Messenger, book six is being written for 2017. This will please her multi-gender and global fans. The book covers are gorgeous!

Parents and grandparents, this series would make an exciting holiday gift for the tweens and teens in your lives. And they will thank you for the introduction. I recommend you start with the first book, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, before you move on to Exile, Everblaze, Neverseen and Lodestar.

Shannon Messenger is a master storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured. The settings are vividly creative and capture a new magical world. Her adventure series keep readers engaged from the start, much like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Once you start a book, you are drawn into her magic until you have read the entire book.

The plots are multi-layered, courageous, complicated, gripping and packed with thrilling adventures. Her stories are not predictable and readers won’t have a clue of what happens next because of the many cliff hangers. Sometimes my brain hurts as I wonder how in the world Messenger manages to tease and eventually outsmart me with her twists and turns. This is a unique character-driven series with Sophie and her friends Fitz, Keefe, Dex, and Biana who all possess special abilities. These are characters you will love and root for as they take on many dangerous adventures. And, there is diversity with elves, dwarves, goblins, ogres, and many magical creatures.  Enough from me. I want to share a brief publisher synopsis of each book to give you a sense of this brilliant series.

keeper-of-the-lost-516tqvac1sl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 1: Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a Telepath, and has a unique ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her — something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast, even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and staying where she is will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind her family on earth and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from her own. She’s taken to a  parallel Elvin world where mystical creatures are protected and thrive. And she is startled to learn that she is an Elf. Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, a new school to attend, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Sophie must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world—before the wrong person finds the answer first and would even kill for…

exile-51hbosuywtl__sx333_bo1204203200_jpgSynopsis Book 2: Sophie Foster thought she was safe. Settled in to her home at Havenfield, surrounded by friends, and using her unique telepathic abilities to train Silveny — the first female alicorn ever seen in the Lost Cities — her life finally seems to coming together.

But Sophie’s kidnappers are still out there. And when Sophie discovers new messages and clues from the mysterious Black Swan group, she’s forced to take a terrifying risk — one that puts everyone in incredible danger.

In this second book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must uncover hidden memories as long-buried secrets rise to the surface, before someone close to her is lost forever…

everblaze-untitledSynopsis Book 3: Sophie’s talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers — before the come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves the Lost Cities teetering on the edge of war — and causes many to fear that Sophie has finally gone too far. With her world turned against her, Sophie is forced to rely on her friends, even though it means putting their lives in danger. And the deeper they search, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that Sophie’s most deadly enemy might be closer than she realizes.  Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion before they destroy everyone and everything she loves.

neverseen-51lg2iodwal__sx334_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 4: Sophie Foster is on the run — but at least she’s not alone. Her closest friends from the Lost Cities have gone with her to join the Black Swan. They still have doubts about the answers is to start working with them. As they settle into their new lives, they uncover secrets far bigger than anything they’d imagined.

But their enemies are  far from done, unleashing a terrifying plague that threatens the safety of an entire species. Sophie and her friends fight with everything they have — including aid from new allies joining them — but every choice has consequences. And trusting the wrong person could prove deadly. In this game-changing book, Sophie must question everything to find a truth that will either save her world — or shatter it.

lodestar-51j59ndelpl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 5: Sophie is back in the Lost Cities– but the Lost Cities have changed. The threat of war hangs heavy over her glittering world. And the Neverseen are wreaking havoc where they can. The lines between friend and enemy have also blurred, and Sophie is unsure exactly whom she can trust. But when she’s warned that the people she loves most will be the next victims, she knows she has to act.

A mysterious symbol could be the key — if only she knew how to translate it. And each new clue reveals how far the dark schemes spread. The black Swan aren’t the only ones who have plans. The Neverseen have their own Initiative, and if Sophie doesn’t stop it, they might finally have the ultimate means to control her. Loyalties are pushed to the limit as the villains twist the game into something Sophie might not have the talent to win.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she studied art, screenwriting and film production.  She realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the bestselling author of this middle-grade series and the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries and translated into ten different languages. Visit Shannon Messenger online at her website. She also hosts a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post where  bloggers share links to their favorite middle grade books.

Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music by Darlene Foster

amanda-danube-51v70ddl03l__sx311_bo1204203200_Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2016

Pages: 120

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Travel, Adventure, Blue Danube, Riverboat, Mystery, Homeless boy, Violin

Book Jacket Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Amanda Ross finds herself on an elegant riverboat with her bestie, Leah, cruising down the beautiful Danube, passing medieval castles, luscious green valleys and charming villages. When she is  entrusted with a valuable violin by a young, homeless musician during a stop in Germany, a mean boy immediately tries to take it from her.

Back on their cruise, Amanda struggle to keep the precious violin safe for the poor prodigy. Along the way, she meets a mysterious monk, a Santa Claus look-alike, and the same nasty boy.

Follow Amanda down the Danube, through Germany, Austria and Hungry, as she enjoys the enchanting sounds of music everywhere she goes. She remains on the lookout though wondering just who she can trust.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has penned a lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series won’t be disappointed with this fast-paced book which will keep them engaged and quickly turning pages to discover what happens next. Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and is ready to solve a good mystery. Leah spends a lot time texting her friends at home, which annoys Amanda.

Readers will also learn a little history, geography and a few German expressions as they cruise along the beautiful Blue Danube River and visit Nuremberg, Regensburg, Melk, Vienna and Budapest. Amanda and Leah explore castles, cathedrals, graveyards, and museums. They learn about Mozart, sample local cuisine and shop for teddy bears at the Steiff store.

Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music, is the fifth book in the Amanda Travels series:  Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; and Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone.  I recommend you start with the first book, but the Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl.  A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain. Visit her Darlene Foster at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer 51pFkPl3l2L__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Good Summer

Liz Garton Scanlon, Author

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, May 5, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Runaways, Mothers and daughters, Absent mother, Family and Faith, Adventure, Friendship, Forgiveness

Pages: 213

Opening: “God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ivy Green’s summer has gone all topsy-turvy since her mama ran off to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida with a charismatic preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.

Hallelujah Dave, for goodness sake.

Ivy’s been left behind with her daddy and with the painful mystery of her missing mama. It’s no wonder she starts to lose faith in nearly everything she’s always counted on.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is having a crummy summer too. The Space Shuttle program’s been scrapped, and Paul’s dream of being an astronaut look like it will never get off the ground. So Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to set things right and maybe, just maybe, reclaim their faith in the things in life that are most important.

Why I like this book:

Liz Garton Scanlon’s emotional and heartfelt story is a timely story for teens with realistic issues like parental betrayal and abandonment. It is also a lovely coming of age story as Ivy Green is pressed to rely on her own inner resources and an unwavering faith to track her mother from Texas to Florida. She sets off on a secret adventure with her best friend, Paul Dobbs, who is logical and obsessed with science and space. While their mission is to find Ivy’s mother and bring her home, they also plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

The plot is strong and complex, deftly interweaving the lives of two very good friends, Ivy and Paul. It is packed with so much suspense (one-way bus tickets, thugs that steal Ivy’s money, a jail visit) that it moves along rather quickly. The text is smart and polished. And, you have to love that cover!

Ivy is a strong and smart character, with a believable voice. She is the perfect narrator because she doesn’t hold back. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions, weave a few lies, stand up to her father, tell people off,  handle the truth and learn to forgive. Paul is the opposite of Ivy. He’s a dreamer, but offers a level-headed balance to Ivy’s impatience. Their friendship is honest and moving.

I was concerned the book would be heavy on a debate between religion and science, but it turns out that’s not what the story is about. The discussions between Ivy, who has faith and Paul, who only believes in science, add for some really great conversations that tie everything together at the end.  And it opens room for discussions among readers. The story does give readers a sense of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Verdict: This is an excellent summer read for tweens and teens.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many celebrated picture books, including Happy Birthday, Bunny!, Noodle & Lou, and All the World. The Great Good Summer is her first novel. Visit her at her website.