Spark by Sarah Beth Durst

Spark

Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Reviewer: Renee

Summary

When a shy girl and her dragon-like companion discover their country’s idyllic weather comes at a steep—and secret—cost, they recruit fellow students to defy authority and attempt to spread the truth.

Storm beasts and their guardians create perfect weather every day, and Mina longs for a storm beast of her own. But when the gentle girl bonds with a lightning beast—a creature of fire and chaos—everyone’s certain it’s a mistake. Everyone but Mina and the beast himself, Pixit. Quickly enrolled in lightning school, Mina struggles to master a guardian’s skills, and she discovers that her country’s weather comes at a devastating cost—a cost powerful people wish to hide. Mina’s never been the type to speak out, but someone has to tell the truth, and, with Pixit’s help, she resolves to find a way to be heard.

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Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is a great example of how you don’t have to be the loudest person to be heard or acknowledged. It also has dragons that control the weather.

When Mina hatches a lightning dragon, her family immediately thinks something is wrong. Those who bond with lightning dragons are loud and unruly, the complete opposite of Mina. Mina tries to tell them she loves her dragon, Pixit. They don’t listen and try to get her another dragon despite Mina trying to make them listen. They feel they know what’s best for her. Mina ends up going to lightning dragon school with Pixit, where she sees how loud the other lightning dragon guardians can be. Maybe her parents were right after all.

Mina has trouble using lightning and she thinks it’s because she’s not like the other guardians. Pixit keeps telling her she can do it, but she has to do it her way because she’s not like the other guardians. Mina has her doubts. When she starts playing lightning ball with the other students, she gets creative in guarding the goal since she can’t use lightning. Some of the students realize Mina doesn’t do things the way everybody else (which is the way things have always been done) and they see the advantage her creative solutions.

During her first thunderstorm, Mina is thrown across the mountains and meets the people who live on the other side. This is forbidden. The world beyond the mountains is cruel. They are supposed to stay within the mountains, where it’s safe and the weather is always perfect.

She learns that the perfect weather created and maintained by the storm beasts and guardians comes at a great cost to those who live outside. She figures out the 10 year celebration is the cause of so much destruction to the outside world. When she gets back, Mina feels like she needs to inform everybody, but nobody listens to her. Her friends listen to her and they come up with a plan to spread the word that the 10 year celebration needs to be canceled or innocent people will die past the mountains. They don’t do it by shouting and demanding to be heard. They follow Mina’s lead. As more students believe and question the need for the 10 year celebration, it’s decided the lightning school will be shut down. Nobody and nothing in or out until the celebration is over. And they moved up the celebration. However, the people outside don’t know the celebration is moved up and are in danger. Mina needs to lead the others if she’s to stop the celebration and save the outside world.

Some scenes are repetitive and keep reminding Mina (and the reader) that Mina is quiet and nobody listens, but overall it’s a great story that demonstrates how you don’t need to be the loudest person to make a difference. There are different ways to be heard.

Aladdin: Far from Agrabah by Aisha Saeed

Aladdin: Far from Agrabah

Author: Aisha Saeed
Reviewer: Renee

Summary

One magic carpet ride to a mysterious land, one unforgettable adventure….

Princess Jasmine has always wanted more out of her life – to travel beyond the palace walls, to get to know her people better…to one day become sultana and lead Agrabah. Unfortunately, her overprotective father does not agree. And he keeps introducing her to foreign princes, including a strange – if admittedly charming – one named Ali.

Prince Ali has a secret. He’s not actually royalty from the far-off kingdom of “Ababwa”, as he’s claimed to be. He’s really Aladdin from the streets of Agrabah, who’s stumbled upon an all-powerful genie and a magic carpet and used the first of three wishes to become a prince. Because he, too, longs for a different life.

And when “Prince Ali” presents the magic carpet to Princess Jasmine, she agrees to embark on a journey with him…and asks that he take her to his homeland, Ababwa.

On an adventure in a fantastical kingdom, Aladdin and Jasmine get caught up in the magic therein. But soon sinister outside forces come into play, threatening to strand them there forever.

Will they learn from legends past? Or will the alluring promise of a path to a new life get the best of them?

View this book on Goodreads.

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed getting to spend more time with Aladdin and Jasmine but Aladdin’s lie got to me a bit. I really hate when people lie and throughout this story he has to keep up the appearance that he is a real prince and they are actually in Ababwa. It got a little annoying at times (there are only so many times I needed to be reminded he was lying to be with Jasmine) but it was great seeing Jasmine observing and trying to decide what type of leader she could be, if given the chance. She has a better arc than Aladdin because she’s not pretending and was able to change in the end.

 This story takes place during “A Whole New World.” While traveling everywhere on the magic carpet, where time and space work differently, Jasmine says they should visit Ababwa, Prince Ali’s home. He gets creative and Genie creates his perfect kingdom from ruins. Unbeknownst to them, somebody is actually living nearby and witnesses the kingdom spring up out of nowhere.

 While there Aladdin, ahem, Prince Ali, asks Jasmine to help with making decisions and helping the citizens. Jasmine is delighted. She’s always wanted to be more involved but the Sultan and Jafar would never let her. She listens to each citizen and feels like she’s actually making a difference as she helps them solve their problems. Everything is going perfectly, until that one real person decides to cause trouble that could ruin the illusion and expose Aladdin and keep them trapped in Ababwa.

 Stories that take place in the middle of a movie are usually difficult for me to get invested in since I know how it ends (I’ve watched the movie so I know they make it back to the palace). However, this story excelled at having Jasmine and Aladdin explore their feelings, ideas, and identities. I knew they would get back safely to the palace, but I was still worried about some choices they were being forced to make and how they would handle it.

The Ice Princess by Thea Stilton

The Ice Princess

Dutch title: De IJs Prinses

Author: Thea Stilton
Series: Princesses of Fantasia #1
Reviewer: Marlou

Summary

There is an Empire …

… a cold, inhospitable area, where a young princess watches over a great secret. But there is someone who wants to revive the time of the old sorcery, and only Gunnar, the big white wolf, can defend the princess.

And so he shows her his true nature.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Review

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thea Stilton is a childhood favorite author of mine and I had never read this series of hers. I saw the first five at the library and decided to take them with me, they’d be great summer reads.

Ice Princess was totally adorable and had a pretty decent plot line. Usually, I can guess what will happen with Middle Grade books, but this one was not as predictable as I thought it would be.

This cute Middle Grade book gets three stars from me and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read a fun Middle Grade fantasy.

I’ve read this book in my native tongue (Dutch) which was a little weird at first, because I usually only read in English. Everything just sounds way better in English. I wasn’t as annoyed with the language as I expected to be and I’m quite relieved about that.

I’m most certainly going to finish at least these five, but maybe just the entire series. I’m pretty sure the library has all of them. They’re just so terribly cute and the story is interesting enough that it makes me want to keep reading, which is a very good sign. The second book was my sister’s favorite one so I’ll see if I like that one best too.

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The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan

The Serpent’s Shadow

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: The Kane Chronicles #3
Reviewer: Marlou

Summary

He’s b-a-a-ack! Despite their best efforts, Carter and Sadie Kane can’t seem to keep Apophis, the chaos snake, down. Now Apophis is threatening to plunge the world into eternal darkness, and the Kanes are faced with the impossible task of having to destroy him once and for all. Unfortunately, the magicians of the House of Life are on the brink of civil war, the gods are divided, and the young initiates of Brooklyn House stand almost alone against the forces of chaos. The Kanes’ only hope is an ancient spell that might turn the serpent’s own shadow into a weapon, but the magic has been lost for a millennia. To find the answer they need, the Kanes must rely on the murderous ghost of a powerful magician who might be able to lead them to the serpent’s shadow . . . or might lead them to their deaths in the depths of the underworld. Nothing less than the mortal world is at stake when the Kane family fulfills its destiny in this thrilling conclusion to the Kane Chronicles.

View this book on Goodreads.

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“If you’re listening to this, congratulations! You survived Doomsday.I’d like to apologize straightaway for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you. The earthquakes, rebellions, riots, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and of course the giant snake who swallowed the sun—I’m afraid most of that was our fault. Carter and I decided we should at least explain how it happened.”

What a book. Lovely. Tragic. Suspenseful. Funny. Need I go on?

Rick Riordan did it again. I was getting stuck in a reading slump and his books helped me right out of that.

Rick would not be Rick if there weren’t very funny moments when they’re in very serious situations.

Exhibit A:“‘There’s my baby!’ I cried, quite carried away. ‘There’s my Poochiekins!’

Ammit ran at me and leaped into my arms, nuzzling me with his rough snout.
‘My lord Osiris!’ Disturber lost the bottom of his scroll again, which unraveled around his legs. ‘This is an outrage!’

‘Sadie,’ Dad said firmly, ‘please do not refer to the Devourer of Souls as Poochiekins.’”

Uncle Rick also gives some very nice advice from time to time. “Dealing with any man means dealing with multiple personalities.” I mean, good to know right?

There was one thing in the book, just a small little thing, that got me thinking for a bit: “‘And if someone doesn’t believe in any afterlife?’ I asked.
Walt gave me a sad look. ‘Then that’s what they experience.’”

Just saying, but this makes total sense to me. People are always saying there can only exist one god/religion but that’s crap. I’m not saying god/gods exist the way Riordan writes it, but I do think that all the gods can coexist or that all the religions are just different stories about the same divine being(s). Alright, I’ll shut up about this now.

This book was lovely. It was a great book and it made for a great end to the trilogy. I think my favorite book was the first one (The Red Pyramid), because the story was all new and I liked Set better as the villain.

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The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: The Kane Chronicles #2
Reviewer: Marlou

Summary

Ever since the gods of Ancient Egypt were unleashed in the modern world, Carter Kane and his sister Sadie have been in trouble. As descendants of the House of Life, the Kanes have some powers at their command, but the devious gods haven’t given them much time to master their skills at Brooklyn House, which has become a training ground for young magicians. 

And now their most threatening enemy yet – the chaos snake Apophis – is rising. If they don’t prevent him from breaking free in a few days’ time, the world will come to an end. In other words, it’s a typical week for the Kane family. 

To have any chance of battling the Forces of Chaos, the Kanes must revive the sun god Ra. But that would be a feat more powerful than any magician has ever accomplished. 

First they have to search the world for the three sections of the Book of Ra, then they have to learn how to chant its spells. Oh, and did we mention that no one knows where Ra is exactly? 

Narrated in two different wisecracking voices, featuring a large cast of new and unforgettable characters, and with adventures spanning the globe, this second installment in the Kane Chronicles is nothing short of a thrill ride. 

View this book on Goodreads.

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Words are the source of all power. And names are more than just a collection of letters.”

Took me a while to finish this book. Not because I didn’t want to finish it, but simply because I was doing other things. I did want to finish this book. It was so good. A solid 4 stars from me.

I think I liked the first book a bit more than the second one. I did appreciate that it was quite different. I do not like the boy drama one bit. Sadie Kane is only 13 years old (yeah, I have to keep reminding myself of that) and she has a crush on two boys (she’s crushing hard) and, well, I think it’s unnecessary. One guy already brings enough trouble.

There was one funny part about boy drama that I quite enjoyed:
“I thought she’d make some comment about the bloodthirsty gods chasing us, but when she finally found her voice, she said, ‘That boy kissed you!’ Leave it to Liz to have her priorities straight.”

Also, Uncle Rick has managed once again to include his other series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) by mentioning Blackjack, Percy’s black pegasus:
“I looked across the river to Manhattan. It was a great view. When Sadie and I had first arrived at Brooklyn House, Amos had told us that magicians tried to stay out of Manhattan. He said Manhattan had other problems–whatever that meant. And sometimes when I looked across the water, I could swear I was seeing things. Sadie laughed about it, but once I thought I saw a flying horse. Probably just the mansion’s magic barriers causing optical illusions, but still, it was weird.”

This book was a little more all over the place. I didn’t mind that most of the time, but sometimes it really bothered me. It was still an awesome book though.

I’m very excited to read the last book.

Sadie and Carter don’t you dare die. I’m sure Anubis wouldn’t like that one bit.

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The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The Red Pyramid

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: The Kane Chronicles #1
Reviewer: Marlou

Summary

Since his mother’s death six years ago, Carter Kane has been living out of a suitcase, traveling the globe with his father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. But while Carter’s been homeschooled, his younger sister, Sadie, has been living with their grandparents in London. Sadie has just what Carter wants—school friends and a chance at a “normal” life. But Carter has just what Sadie longs for—time with their father. After six years of living apart, the siblings have almost nothing in common. Until now.

On Christmas Eve, Sadie and Carter are reunited when their father brings them to the British Museum, with a promise that he’s going to “make things right.” But all does not go according to plan: Carter and Sadie watch as Julius summons a mysterious figure, who quickly banishes their father and causes a fiery explosion.

Soon Carter and Sadie discover that the gods of Ancient Egypt are waking, and the worst of them—Set—has a frightening scheme. To save their father, they must embark on a dangerous journey—a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and its links to the House of Life, a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

View this book on Goodreads

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I guess it started in London, the night our dad blew up the British museum.”

I loved this book. Rick Riordan is my go-to author when I’m not sure what I want to read. I just know one of his books is going to get me out of my slump. It once again did.

The Red Pyramid is a little different from his other books (I won’t mention how exactly, you’ll have to find that out on your own).

Uncle Rick is the king when it comes to puns and silly jokes.
Exhibit A: “In person, if possible, Anubis was even more drop-dead gorgeous. [Oh . . . ha, ha. I didn’t catch the pun, but thank you, Carter. God of the dead, drop-dead gorgeous. Yes, hilarious. Now, may I continue?]”

He also mentions his other series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) in this book.
Exhibit B: “Manhattan has other problems. Other gods. It’s best we stay separate.”

There are so many good parts in this book but if I had to choose just one it would be the part where they meet with Anubis. Rick was describing a graveyard in a city and I guessed it was New Orleans. I was right, it was New Orleans. I loved that part simply because I guessed it right. It showed that I’m a true fangirl who’s obsessed with the TV show The Originals.

All in all this book was lovely. I finished it in two days. It got me out of my reading slump. Thanks, Rick, for another amazing book!

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Swap’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

Swap’d

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Series: CodeGirls#2
Reviewer: Renee

Summary

After her Click’d catastrophe, Allie Navarro is determined to redeem herself. So when the class gets an assignment to create a mobile game from recycled code, Allie pairs up with Courtney, her best friend from CodeGirls camp, to create the perfect app: Swap’d.

Kids buy, sell, and trade stuff at school all the time. Candy. Clothes. Video games. Slime. Why not make a fiercely competitive, totally anonymous, beat-the-clock game out of it?

Once Swap’d is in full-swing, Allie is certain that it’s the answer to all her problems. She’s making quick cash to help Courtney buy that really expensive plane ticket to come visit her. It’s giving her an excuse to have an actual conversation with her super-secret crush. And it looks like she might finally beat her archenemy-turned-friend, Nathan. She’s thought of everything. Or… has she?

The second book in the Click’d series by New York Times best-selling author Tamara Ireland Stone weaves together middle school friendship, first crushes, and serious coding skills in another fun, fast-paced, and empowering novel that will have readers cheering Allie on from the first page to the last. 

View this book on Goodreads

Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I actually enjoyed this more than Click’d. This story picks up after Click’d with Allie deciding if she wants to go to the same summer camp as last summer or to a new summer program at a high-profile company. She wants to do both, but she can’t. She hesitates sending her application for the summer program and doubts whether she would even be accepted. She’s afraid to tell her best friend since they were planning on going to CodeGirls together again.

Allie mentions she’s going to a game convention as part of the reward she got for being in the competition with Click’d. Her friend loves games and wants to go with her. They look up prices and their parents say it’s too expensive.

In school, Allie’s class is given an assignment to reuse code in a short amount of time. Allie needs a solution to get enough money to help her best friend from CodeGirls to visit for the game convention. She combines her two goals – the class assignment will be one that can raise enough money to purchase plane tickets. The two work together to build an app, reusing code from their summer projects. It seems like they’re going to do it, until Allie’s teacher informs her of something and Allie has to choose to ignore it, or continue and get the money. They are so close!

I love how this dilemma reminds Allie of what happened with Click’d and she has to make that tough decision again: does she move forward and get the money to bring Courtney there, or does she shut it all down and tell Courtney they don’t have the money? I like how this series handles these ethical issues that many coders have had to deal with in their careers. Sometimes it’s hard to look the other way.

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Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

Click’d

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Series: CodeGirls#1
Reviewer: Renee

Summary

Allie Navarro can’t wait to show her best friends the app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. Click’d pairs users based on common interests and sends them on a fun (and occasionally rule-breaking) scavenger hunt to find each other. And it’s a hit. By the second day of school, everyone is talking about Click’d.

 Watching her app go viral is amazing. Leaderboards are filling up! Everyone’s making new friends. And with all the data Allie is collecting, she has an even better shot at beating her archenemy, Nathan, at the upcoming youth coding competition. But when Allie discovers a glitch that threatens to expose everyone’s secrets, she has to figure out how to make things right, even if that means sharing the computer lab with Nathan. Can Allie fix her app, stop it from doing any more damage, and win back the friends it hurt-all before she steps on stage to present Click’d to the judges?

 New York Times best-selling author Tamara Ireland Stone combines friendship, coding, and lots of popcorn in her fun and empowering middle-grade debut.

View this book on Goodreads

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click’d is a great MG story about a girl who writes code and struggles with doing what’s right vs winning a competition. It’s the kind of story I wish I had when I was younger.

Allie loves writing code and she’s one of the best in her class. She’s always competing with Nathan, another top student who always seems to just barely beat her. Their teacher sponsors them both in an important contest that can get them and their app a lot of publicity. The problem? Allie gets a little competitive and releases her app to her school the week before the competition.

She watches the data as more people join and she’s exciting seeing her classmates using the app at school. Everybody loves it! However, one of her friends shows her a bug and she only has days to fix it before the competition. She tries to hide this from her teacher/sponsor and Nathan. She can’t let Nathan know there’s something wrong with her app and she definitely can’t tell her teacher in case she decides to pull Allie from the competition. As her app becomes more popular, the chances of the bug happening increases. Her friends encourage her to disable the app but if she does that, she can’t be in the competition. She promises her friend she’ll solve it before anybody finds out.

Nathan and Allie spend their lunches in the computer lab working on their projects. Neither admits they have a problem. Even though they’ve known each other a long time, they start opening up the more time they spend together. Eventually they each admit they have a problem in their app. They work together to try to fix both apps before the competition.

Allie had to face some tough decisions around her app: does she keep it live knowing it has a bug that sometimes shows personal information? Should she ask for help? Who should she ask for help? How does she explain what she did to her friend who was hurt by the bug?

I didn’t expect the ending but I appreciated it. As a coder, I related to Allie’s challenges and enjoyed watching her learn from her mistakes. She had to make a lot of decisions throughout the story and accepted that she made mistakes by the end.

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