Review: School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

School for Sidekicks
Kelly McCullough

Feiwel & Friends
I received an ARC from the publisher
Released August 4, 2015
336 pages
YA / Superheroes / Fantasy

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Being a hero isn't always what it's cracked up to be in this funny and genuine novel from adult fantasy author Kelly McCullough.
Evan Quick is a GIANT superhero geek who dreams of one day becoming a superhero himself. Every morning he checks to see if he's developed his powers overnight, and every day there's nothing. No flying, no super strength, no invulnerability—that always hurts to check—no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to turn off the alarm clock without smacking the switch.
But then Evan somehow manages to survive a supervillian's death ray, and is sent to the Academy for Metahuman Operatives. Unfortunately, his new school is not what he expected, and instead of fighting bad guys, Evan finds himself blacklisted, and on the wrong side of the school's director. If Evan ever wants to realize his dream, he must convince his "mentor" Foxman, a semi-retired has-been, to become a real hero once again.

School for Sidekicks is a strange little book, straddling the line between middle grade and YA. It’s much longer than the standard middle grade novel, but the protagonist just turned 13. It deals with friendships and parental relationships more than coming of age, but at the same time protagonist Evan Quick is far more rational and less emotional than someone his age usually is. It’s written for an older audience, but its characters and subject matters are more directed at a pre-teen audience. It’s a weird book that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be, which left me feeling more distracted by the book’s form than I really should have been.

School for Sidekicks is an interesting idea. Evan lives in an alternated version of our world, where a bomb went off in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1988, resulting in thousands dead and even more discovering they suddenly have super powers. Slowly afterward superpowered individuals start appearing all over the world. By the time Evan is growing up in Minneapolis – now dubbed Heropolis – it’s been a generation since the explosion and superpowers are a big money making machine. The original heroes and villains are brand names with movie franchises, merchandising, even theme parks where their fans can worship their deeds and history. Evan desperately wants to join the elite group of powered people, but wakes up every morning to find that he’s just super boring.

Soon after his 13th birthday, he goes to Captain Commanding’s local theme park, where weird things start happening to him. A few weeks later, during a school field trip to the local Museum of Heroes, he finds himself trapped by Spartanicus, super villain extraordinaire and ultimate nemesis of Captain Commanding. A chain of events unfold unlike anything Evan could ever imagine and he suddenly finds himself waking from a coma at the School for Sidekicks. He’s surrounded by superpowered teenagers and a million questions that lead to conspiracy after conspiracy for him to unravel.

The world Kelly McCullough creates is really fun with superheroes and powerful villains being a bland part of everyday life. Evan is a capable and often enthusiastic narrator, though at other times his internal monologue can get a little annoying and repetitive. The other powered teens are difficult to tell apart with either generic or non-descript code names that often sound similar. A mean girl has no real motivation other than because it felt like there should be an antagonist at the school and her front never really develops into much.

The conspiracies and larger plot threads keep School for Sidekicks intriguing as Evan tries to figure the truth behind why villains don’t seem to stay locked up for long and how he can help make the world better. For a book titled after a school, there aren’t many boarding school shenanigans here and most class scenes are told in bits of dialogue that can often seem more intriguing than whatever thing Evan is internally moping about that causes him to not pay attention in class. I really wanted to learn more about what you learn in a class about turning dinnerware into weapons!

I’m not sure if this is the first book in a series, but the ultimate conflict at the end wrapped up very quickly considering how much buildup there was and it made the ending feel a bit more like things being checked off a list rather than a natural conclusion. Perhaps future books could shed some light on all the open ended questions Evan is left with while working in more consistent pacing throughout.

I think School for Sidekicks would be a very entertaining book for kids about the same age as narrator Evan with same types of interests. This would be a great wish fulfilment tale for a 13-year-old superhero obsessed boy, but outside of that narrow readership, this book feels like it’s missing something to tie everything together and make it all gel more completely. 

 

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Mini Review: Lost by S.A. Bodeen

Lost
SA Bodeen

Feiwel & Friends
I received an ARC from the publisher.
Published July 28, 2015
144 pages
Middle Grade / Adventure / Fantasy

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The mystery of the island deepens as members of the Robinson family disappear and strange animals are discovered.
Sarah Robinson and her family are shipwrecked on a remote and mysterious island. Their food is running out, and their fear is escalating–there is no sign of rescue. The mysterious girl they found unconscious at the beach is healing, and what she tells them about the strange island and especially about someone called the Keeper has the family on edge. When Sarah’s dad and Marco’s younger brother go missing, the mystery becomes dangerous. Now, it’s a matter of life and death. Now, the family is truly lost.

If I’m being completely honest, the reason Lost got bumped up my TBR mountain was because the font was huge and I was recovering from eye surgery. It had been weeks since I’d been able to actually read anything, so I dove in with a hunger for stories and words and language and adventure. Also because I was hoping that the book would somehow live up to the mystery and intrigue hinted at by sharing the same title with one of the weirdest adventure mystery television shows in the past few decades.

This is the sequel to Shipwreck Island, which I reviewed before. It picks up where the last book ends with Sarah and Marco stuck on an island with their newly blended family. Weird hybrid monsters keep popping out of the woods and general weirdness is around every corner. This second volume meanders with these same ideas, but this time Sarah’s dad and Marco’s little brother go missing. The mysterious girl they found at the end of Shipwreck Island has a tall tale about a Keeper and weird science experiments. It’s all very odd and mysterious.

It’s unfortunate that outside of the new girl’s story, Lost doesn’t really dive into any answers (much like the television show of the same name). It’s a lot of wandering the island, searching for lost people. Then it ends with the most interesting part of the book on the last few pages. This is very much a bridger novel between the world building of the first novel and whatever explanations might come in the third. Even with my eagerness to be reading again, I found it a little on the boring side.

The target demo for this middle aged book might remain more engaged, imagining themselves adventuring beside Marco and Sarah as they traipse through the jungle. It was more proof that I should probably stay away from middle grade as a whole. It’s hard for me to find engaging characters when there is little self-reflection in 11-year-olds. This series would probably be good for adventure seekers of a similar age to the protagonists and it’s definitely a short easy read. Just not for me.

 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Author Blog Tour: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Meg Cabot's blog tour for From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess. Visit here to see the full tour schedule.

As part of Meg Cabot’s tour for From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, Meg and First Second books asked a bunch of bloggers what they would do if they woke up tomorrow and found out they were royalty. This is a particularly difficult question for me to answer because it’s been a really long time since I imagined myself a princess. What do princesses do these days? Does it come with financial security and a charmed lifestyle? Would a charmed lifestyle work well with my not-quite-so-traditional personality? Could I just lounge around reading books and eating cupcakes and ignore the rest of the world? What would my princessly duties be?

So if tomorrow I learned I was a princess, I would be a barefoot jeans and sneakers type of princess, who avoided balls and makeup and fancy gatherings. I would travel the world trying to teach people the value of being nice to one another and learn about cultures all over the world. I would eat loads of unusual and yummy foods and meet interesting people. I would try to be good and spread a little bit of happiness around the world, not for the sake of cameras, but because it would be the right thing to do.

I would hope that my new found royalty wouldn’t come with paparazzi and crazy stalkers, so I could explore the world around me and see how best I could contribute to it. I would use my new privileged position to snuggle a koala bear in Australia, but not to get much more special treatment outside of that. I would still wait in lines and wait my turn. Just because I have title wouldn’t suddenly make me better than everyone else.

What I can tell you is that I wouldn’t be a designer dress and heels princess. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m too clumsy for such baubles. I wouldn’t feel comfortable having people do everything for me either, so I would still bake yummy things for myself and other people, maybe even fold my own laundry! I wouldn’t mind having someone to drive me around though…

But mostly I would try to be good, just like I do every day I’m not a princess. Maybe I’d be able to do it on a grander scale in a more world-wide type of capacity than I can now, but I would remain a student of the world, learning all the time and finding the best ways to contribute to make things a little better. I’d hope royalty wouldn’t change me that much.

 

So what would you do if you woke up to find you were royalty? Answer in the comments and enter to win a copy of From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot below! Winner must have a US mailing address to receive the prize from the publisher.

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From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess
Meg Cabot

Fiewel & Friends
Released May 19, 2015
192 pages
Middle Grade / Fantasy

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Olivia Grace Clarisse Harrison has always known she was different. Brought up by her aunt's family in New Jersey, book-and-music-loving Olivia feels out of place in their life of high fashion and fancy cars. But she never could have imagined how out of place she really was until Mia Thermopolis, Princess of Genovia, pops into her school and announces that Olivia is her long-lost sister. Olivia is a princess. A dream come true, right? But princesses have problems too.

In FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF A MIDDLE SCHOOL PRINCESS a new middle grade series, readers will see Genovia, this time through the illustrated diaries of a spunky new heroine, 12 year old Olivia Grace, who happens to be the long lost half-sister of Princess Mia Thermopolis.

The original Princess Diaries series sold over 5 million copies in the US (15 million worldwide), spent 82 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, and inspired two beloved films.


About the Author

Meg Cabot is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Princess Diaries series. Born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, Meg also lived in Grenoble, France, and Carmel, California, before moving to New York City after graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Indiana University. She is the author of numerous books for adults and children, including five #1 New York Times bestsellers. Over 25 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Meg Cabot currently lives in Key West with her husband and cat. megcabot.com


Mini Review: Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen

Shipwreck Island
SA Bodeen

Feiwel & Friends
I received a copy of this book from the publishers.
Released July 29, 2014
192 pages
Middle Grade / Fantasy / Adventure

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Sarah Robinson is deeply troubled in the wake of her dad’s second marriage. She now has to deal with a new stepmom and two stepbrothers, Marco, who is her age, and Nacho, who’s younger. Even though they’ve all moved from Texas to California to start life as a new, blended family, none of the kids seem remotely happy about it.

Sarah’s dad and stepmom then decide to take the whole family on a special vacation in order to break the ice and have everyone get to know one another. They’ll fly to Tahiti, charter a boat, and go sailing for a few days. It’ll be an adventure, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. 

Shipwreck Island is the first installment in a series from S.A. Bodeen.

Shipwreck Island is one of the better middle grade titles I’ve read in a long while. It was written at a lower grade level (of course), but it didn’t talk down to the readers or dumb down subject matter at all. It’s rare that I genuinely enjoy reading a middle grade title simply because there usually isn’t as much to dive into, but Shipwreck Island was a great adventure title no matter its targeted age group.

Sarah finds herself going from living with her dad in California to suddenly having two step brothers and a step mother she’s never met before after her father gets married after a short whirlwind internet romance. Now her dad wants to take the new blended family on a trip so everyone can get to know each other and bond into one happy joint family. It’s too bad that the luxury vacation with a private cruise turns out to be a sketchy little boat with a sketchier captain that takes them right into the heart of a storm.

As you can tell by the title, the little boat crashes and Sarah finds herself on an abandoned island with creepy hybrid monsters and possibly even some ghosts. It doesn’t help that she now has to rely on the very people she swore to hate just to survive the night. Suddenly her father is relying on her new step brother more than he is her and everything starts going from bad to worse.

Bodeen swaps between the voices of Sarah and Marco, and captures them both very well. She balances the difficulties of two pre-teens trying to reconcile such a huge change in their life with the Lost-like mysteries of the island where they crashed. When the pre-teen drama started to fill a little thick, here comes in a monster or some other bad thing to refocus the plot. This is a very quick read with a captivating setting and a lot of set up for a really mysterious and potentially mad sequel.

Happy 40th Anniversary to Tuck Everlasting! #Tuck40th

One of my favorite books from when I was a child is celebrating its 40th anniversary, so when the lovely people over at Macmillan asked if I wanted to participate in the celebratory blog tour, I was all for it. Tuck Everlasting is a book that became dog-eared and ragged in my hand as I read it over and over again. I’m so excited that it has had such a lasting presence for 40 years, and can’t wait to share it with the kids in my life when they get a bit older.

A special 40th Anniversary edition with a foreword by Gregory Maguire (the mastermind behind the Wicked series) is coming out on January 20. You can preorder it here and I highly suggest that you do. I just received my copy in the mail and it’s beautiful. It made my nostalgic heart grow a little.

As part of the anniversary celebration, Macmillan is asking book bloggers are the interwebs one simple question:

What if you could live forever?

Oh man, that’s the ultimate dream, right? Then I would have all the time to read all the books and see all the television shows and consume all the stories that I could possibly ever want. Living forever without the fear of sudden death and illness would lift a weight that likes to follow me around during day-to-day life, so I absolutely would dream from Winnie Foster’s spring.

Except.

Because there has to be an except. Would immortality be worth it without being able to bring your loved ones along? Can I have that caveat? That I would absolutely live forever, but only if my significant other and my family could come along with me? I would love to have all the time in the world to explore careers without fearing that I was stuck wasting my time doing one thing for the rest of my life. I could be more adventurous knowing that some of the worst consequences couldn’t apply for me. But it would only be worth it if I wasn’t alone, that I didn’t have to face the rest of eternity without someone with me.

So I suppose my answer is yes, but with a caveat. The rest of time is a lonely place to be on your own.

What about you? Would you dream from the well of immortality? What would you do with all that time? And do you have fond memories of reading Tuck Everlasting as a child like I do?

 

Tuck Everlasting
Natalie Babbitt

Farrar Straus Giroux
40th Anniversary Edition Comes out January 20

Preorder it Here

Doomed to - or blessed with - eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.

Mini Review: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

The Riverman
Aaron Starmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.
Released March 18, 2014
320 pages
Middle Grade / Fantasy

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

“To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here's mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger."

Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here's the difference: She is real.

Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary is her neighbor in a town where everyone knows each other. One afternoon, Fiona shows up at Alistair's doorstep with a strange proposition. She wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into a clearly troubled mind. For Fiona tells Alistair a secret. In her basement there's a gateway and it leads to the magical world of Aquavania, the place where stories are born. In Aquavania, there's a creature called the Riverman and he's stealing the souls of children. Fiona's soul could be next.

Alistair has a choice. He can believe her, or he can believe something else...something even more terrifying.

Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman is an unusual book that hit me just right to fulfill a need that I didn’t realize I had. It’s a charming middle grade novel that explores the meaning of stories and how they can affect everyday life. It’s told in retrospect by 12-year-old Alistair from the mid-80s and it has a very 80s feel while still having a timeless feel to it. He reunites with his odd childhood friend Fiona, who begins telling him a giant fantastical tale about a water world where anything you can imagine comes true.

Starmer not only wrote a multi-layered story with various side plots that all fit perfectly within the main story, but he also created a smart batch of younger characters, who felt authentic without being too overly precocious. Fiona is considered an oddball, but she’s really just hiding a giant secret life where her radiator talks to her. Alistair is just a normal guy, coasting beneath the radar at school and staying mostly out of trouble. He takes Fiona’s story as a very creative confession of real life wrongs that she can’t truly confess, allowing his own imagination to take her story and run with it by putting it into a real life context he understands. And for a time I truly thought this was going to become a Lifetime movie as my own imagination followed Alistair.

The Riverman was an unexpected treat with a wide open ending that I now see is because it’s the first in a trilogy. I was perfectly fine with the wide open ending even when I thought this was a standalone because the story felt complete even with the fate of some characters hanging in the balance. I’m curious to know if Starmer can keep up the whimsical nature of The Riverman for an entire trilogy, but I look forward to finding out.

 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Review: The 13th Sign by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

The 13th Zodiac
Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Feiwel & Friends
I received an advanced copy of this book for review.
Released January 8, 2013
272 pages
Middle Grade / Fantasy / Supernatural

Find it on Goodreads

Order it from Amazon

What if there was a 13th zodiac sign?

You’re no longer Sagittarius, but Ophiuchus, the healer, the 13th sign.

Your personality has changed. So has your mom’s and your best friend’s.

What about the rest of the world?

What if you were the one who accidentally unlocked the 13th sign, causing this world-altering change—and infuriating the other 12 signs?

Jalen did it, and now she must use every ounce of her strength and cunning to send the signs back where they belong. Lives, including her own, depend on it.

Dear self,

Please stop requesting middle grade titles. You probably won’t get into them that much and then no one will be happy.

Yours in literary indulgence,

Me

 

So yeah, The 13th Sign is a middle grade book and it’s one that I probably would have really enjoyed at 10 or 12, but just couldn’t get into at an age much older than the target audience. Instead I found myself marathon reading this super fast book wishing for a little more development in all fronts.

Jalen is a 13-year-old with a shock lock, a past dealing with a near-fatal illness, a father who disappeared years before, and a grandmother dying of cancer. It opens on her birthday where she and her best friends are visiting a New Orleans voodoo shop run by a friend of Jalen’s grandmother. After finding a creepy locked book that the voodoo shop owner won’t let them purchase, the girls grab the book when her back is turned, toss some money on the counter and run home. The book is suitably creepy and upon finding the key, Jalen recreates the world by introducing a thirteenth zodiac sign that basically changes the zodiac sign of just about everyone in the world and therefore change their entire personalities.

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