Tag Archives: Kids Fiction

Kids Corner: The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly

An Atrocious ARC = An Impossible-to-Review-Fairly Book

The Lost Twin
by Sophie Cleverly

Series: Scarlet and Ivy (Book 1)
Original Publication Date: February 26, 2015
This Edition Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Length: 304pp
ISBN-13: 978-1492633396

Related Links:
Sophie Cleverly’s Website
Sophie Cleverly on Facebook

Buy the Book




Publisher Synopsis

Ivy, I pray that it’s you reading this. And if you are, well, I suppose you’re the new me…

When shy Ivy’s troublemaking twin Scarlet vanishes from Rookwood boarding school, Ivy is invited to “take her place.” But when Ivy arrives, she discovers the school’s true intention; she has to pretend to be Scarlet. She must think like Scarlet, act like Scarlet, become Scarlet. What on earth happened to the real Scarlet, and why is the school trying to keep it a secret?

Luckily for Ivy, Scarlet isn’t about to disappear without a fight. She’s left pieces of her journal carefully hidden all over the school for Ivy to find. Ivy’s going to figure out what happened to Scarlet. She’s got to.

But the staff of Rookwood is always watching, and they’ll do anything to keep their secrets buried…

My Review

This was an extremely difficult book to review, primarily because the advance reading copy provided was an absolute mess. Formatting was more terrible than usual in such copies: paragraph indentation did not exist, causing sentences in different paragraphs to run together; dialogue was often printed without breaks between speakers; and justification was inconsistent, each new page’s differently jumbled look distracting from its content. All of this made for a labored reading experience which produced an unpleasant aftertaste when I finished the book. Because of these problems, I could never get into the plot for long, or focus on the characters as much as I wished. This was not my first encounter with a garbled ARC, but it was surely one of the worst presentations of a text I have come across. What made the whole thing strange is that this is a re-publication of a novel first released in 2015, and a cleaner copy ought to have been readily available to give to reviewers.

In addition to the formatting, there was also the occasional error in plot. For instance, in the first three pages of the book we learn: the year is 1935, Ivy is 13 (meaning she was born in 1922), and her Aunt Phoebe’s husband died during the Great War (which ended in 1918). A page or so later we read that Aunt Phoebe’s husband once told Ivy something. But he was dead at least 4 years before she was born! I initially passed this off as another ARC problem, but I checked the sample at Amazon of the 2015 published copy and found the same passages. It’s astonishing that this was not corrected. (Another example is the “hard wooden floor” that, a few pages later, is suddenly covered with a threadbare carpet.)

To judge from the ARC, the author’s prose could use some trimming. She has a tendency to write “my own” and “her own” where “my” and “her” would suffice, and is overly enamored with “sat down”. There are sections where she repeats a word or phrase multiple times, as if she didn’t proof her work with a sufficiently critical eye. How much of this is due to author oversight and how much to the ARC, I can’t say.

The plot was original and interesting, and it was frustrating to not be able to immerse myself in it. Despite the chaos, a few characters stood out, particularly the evil ones. All in all, the finished novel might well-deserve the 4.42 Goodreads rating it has at present. But even making the usual allowances for an ARC, what I read did not.

                                                                                                — Jennifer Michelle


3 of 5 Hearts. An Atrocious ARC = An Impossible-to-Review-Fairly Book.

Judging from reviews at Goodreads, and from those moments when I could connect to the main character and sympathize with her plight, The Lost Twin is not a bad Kids book. But reading this ARC was a chore and so prejudiced me against the novel that I don’t feel I can write an unbiased review. Should I ever have the opportunity to read a final copy, I will update this post.

One thing is certain: It is never a good sign when a publisher cares so little about a book (and, by extension, its author) that it releases such an abysmal copy of the text to reviewers. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky rarely disappoints, but they did so this time.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a copy of The Lost Twin in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The Lost Twin

The cover as published in 2015.


The Week in Reviews: ReadLove Recap For the Week Beginning February 22, 2016


Another week has come and gone at ReadLove ! Here’s what you may have missed:


Christian Chapters: The Imposter by Suzanne Woods Fisher

5 of 5 Hearts. An Inspiring and Lyrical Look at an Amish Community Facing Modern Issues.

The Imposter is impossible to categorize. Calling it a romance ignores the mystery. Calling it a mystery doesn’t fit either. There are many elements to this tale — romance, mystery, drama, humor, and faith to name a few. Just as our lives can’t be summed up with one label, neither can this story, and that’s what makes it so appealing. The Imposter incorporates everything readers of Amish fiction love about the genre, while steeping its setting and characters in modern realism, to a richly satisfying result.

[Read the full review]


Kids Corner: Nightborn by Lou Anders

5 of 5 Hearts. A Smash-Hit Fantasy Sequel Bursting With Action, Adventure, Worldbuilding, Humor, Gaming, and (Most of All) Heart.

The perfect fantasy series follow-up, Nightborn pushes all the right buttons while breaking the walls of its own world wide open! As the maps of the Thrones & Bones world expand, interest in the series is guaranteed to grow. If you’re hunting for a quality middle-grade adventure series, your search ends here!

[Read the full review]





Kids Corner – American Girl: Kit Story Collection by Valerie Tripp

4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Illuminating, Kid’s-Eye Look at the Great Depression.

Kit Kittredge is everything you want from a heroine — intelligent, spunky, indomitable. As her story progresses, it’s easy to root for her and share her happiness, as well as her anxieties when hard times threaten. And those truly depressing times are rendered vividly by author Tripp, who never forgets that she is teaching as well as entertaining.

[Read the full review]



That’s everything that happened on ReadLove this week. See you next week!

Until then, I’d love it if you shared a bit about your week in the comments!

Kids Corner: Nightborn by Lou Anders

A Smash-Hit Fantasy Sequel Bursting With Action, Adventure, Worldbuilding, Humor, Gaming, and (Most of All) Heart

by Lou Anders

Series: Thrones & Bones (Book 2)
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Crown Books For Young Readers
Length: 368pp
ISBN-13: 978-0385390361

Related Links:
Chapter Sampler
Lou Anders’ Website
Thrones & Bones Website
Thrones & Bones on Facebook

 Buy the Book







Click here to read my review of Frostborn, the first book in the Thrones & Bones series.

Publisher Synopsis

Karn Korlundsson is a gamer. Not a riddle solver. But in order to rescue his best friend, Thianna Frostborn, he will need to travel to the faraway city of Castlebriar (by wyvern), learn how to play a new board game called Charioteers (not a problem), decipher the Riddle of the Horn, and tangle with mysterious elves.

Meet Desstra. She’s in training to join the Underhand—the elite agents of the dark elves. When she crosses paths with Karn, she is not all that she appears to be.

Everyone is chasing after the horn of Osius, an ancient artifact with the power to change the world. The lengths to which Karn will go in the name of friendship will be sorely tested. Who knew that solving a riddle could be so deadly?

The novel includes instructions for playing the board game Charioteers. Visit ThronesandBones.com for additional games, maps, character profiles, and more!

My Review

With Nightborn, the follow-up to his Thrones & Bones series starter Frostborn, Lou Anders wastes no time bringing new characters and new lands into the mix. Even before revisiting Karn or Thianna, our gaming hero and half frost giantess heroine from book one, Anders presents Desstra, a dark elf from the caverns of Deep Shadow. For her final exam she’s competing as part of a team in a ‘dangerous game’ against a rival team of classmates. The outcome of this contest, which ends two years of training, will determine her future. Only the victorious team will graduate and join an elite secret order called the Underhand. Though the dark elves will succeed or fail as a collective, individual performance will also be evaluated. Trouble is, one of her teammates, Tanthal – much like Thianna’s frost giant bully nemesis Thrudgelmir – puts winning above all else, at any cost – even betrayal. What’s more, like Karn and Thianna, Desstra doesn’t quite fit in with her peers.

Before we learn how Desstra’s exam is scored, Anders sends us straight over to Karn, happily occupied playing his beloved board game Thrones and Bones. Time has passed and Karn has matured – it seems he’s left adventure behind in favor of responsibility. With no time to indulge himself in further matches, he’s off to work on a trade deal. Only someone else, or rather something else, has others plans. A wyvern snatches him up and carries him off to the great dragon Orm. Boy and dragon have a lengthy conversation. Ultimately, Karn, persuaded that Thianna is in danger, sets off on a quest.

Just like Frostborn, Nightborn drops the reader straight into the action. One of the challenges of a series is reminding readers what has already taken place outside the current timeline. Anders handily inserts succinct reminders so naturally into the text that this never becomes a problem. Readers can instead focus on what the author does well – characters, world-building, adventure, humor, action scenes, games, and much more!

Sometimes in a series, a sequel doesn’t hold up to its predecessor. Book two may be a weaker book that serves as a space-holder and bridge for bigger things to come in future series’ installments. Not so with Frostborn. As Karn travels to find Thianna, the fantastic world of the Thrones & Bones series explodes, and, thanks to the gifts of illustrator Justin Gerard and map artist Robert Lazzaretti, becomes even more tangibly real. We are treated to another board game called Charioteers, inspired by the real-life action in the book. Plus, as in all good adventure fiction, this quest involves riddles, cultures at war, and more mythical creatures – this time a manticore! Furthermore, though character development continues for Karn and Thianna, we are treated to some of the same hilarious banter and antics that made us love the pair. The insertion of Desstra into the story serves to keep things all the more interesting, while advancing the existing themes of friendship, teamwork, and trust. In the end, we learn that kindness and compassion are not weaknesses, but strengths.

— Dawn Teresa


5 of 5 Hearts. A Smash-Hit Fantasy Sequel Bursting With Action, Adventure, Worldbuilding, Humor, Gaming, and (Most of All) Heart.

The perfect fantasy series follow-up, Nightborn pushes all the right buttons while breaking the walls of its own world wide open! As the maps of the Thrones & Bones world expand, interest in the series is guaranteed to grow. If you’re hunting for a quality middle-grade adventure series, your search ends here!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Random House Children’s Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Kids Corner – Spotlight and Giveaway: Sweet Victory (The Cupcake Club) by Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk

Sweet Victory
by Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk

Series: The Cupcake Club (Book 8)
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Length: 128pp
ISBN-13: 978-1492620822

Related Links:
Carrie’s Cupcake Critique
Publisher’s Website


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About the Authors

Sheryl Berk, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Soul Surfer, and her daughter Carrie, a cupcake connoisseur who has reviewed confection from around the world in her Carrie’s Cupcake Critiques newsletter, have cooked up a delightful series sure to be a treat.

Sheryl & Carrie Berk_Sugar and Spice_no photo cred - small

Buy the Book

Amazon          Barnes & Noble         BooksAMillion          !ndigo          Indiebound

Publisher Synopsis

The eighth book in a delicious series by New York Times bestselling author Sheryl Berk and her cupcake-obsessed daughter, Carrie.

MVP Sadie knows what it takes to win – both on the court and in the kitchen.

But when Coach Walsh gets sick and has to temporarily leave school, Sadie’s suddenly at a loss. What will she do without Coach’s spot-on advice and uplifting encouragement? Luckily, Sadie’s got Peace, Love, and Cupcakes on her side. Her friends know that the power of friendship – and cupcakes – might be just what Sadie needs! Together, they rally to whip up the largest batch of sweet treats they’ve ever made, all to help support Coach Walsh. When the going gets tough, a little PLC goes a long way. But this record-breaking order might just be too much for the club…

Can the girls put it all together in time to score a win for Sadie – and Coach Walsh?


For a few minutes, the room was silent as the girls thought hard.

“Feet!” Lexi suddenly tossed out. “Or maybe socks? Isn’t that what you wear to jump on a trampoline?”

“Flies,” Sadie added. “They’re always in the air. And little boys love bugs, right?”

“Falling,” Jenna grumped. “As in splat on your face or butt. Which is what I would do on a trampoline.”

“Um, I’m not seeing any of those things on a cupcake,” Kylie tried her hardest to envision their suggestions, but all she could see was Jenna flopping on a trampoline face-first. As cupcake club president, Kylie had the power to veto an idea — and smelly feet and flies didn’t sound particularly appetizing.

“What about balloons — balloons go up, up, and away if you accidentally let them go,” Delaney suggested. “And they’re pretty and colorful — and every birthday party has them.”

“That’s just it,” Sadie jumped in. “Cupcakes with balloons on them are so ordinary. We’re PLC. We can do better than that.”

Lexi took out her sketchbook. Designing cupcake decorations was her job. “Sadie’s right. What if we did something like this …” She drew a cupcake with blue piping around the edges and a black fondant top to represent the trampoline. In the middle of the cupcake was a small figure of a boy bending his knees with his arms in the air.

“Ooh, that is amazing,” Kylie said, watching as Lexi used her colored pencils to bring the cupcake to life on the page. “We could use fondant to mold the little jumping guys.”

“And no boring vanilla or chocolate flavors either,” Jenna insisted. As the official taste tester, it was her job to make each cupcake delectable. “I’m thinking chocolate-chocolate chip cake filled with marshmallow and churro cupcakes with a hint of cinnamon to give the vanilla a kick.”

“Nice.” Sadie high-fived her. “Do you suppose we’ll get to try out those trampolines when we make the delivery?”

“Tu mejor que yo — better you than me!” Jenna said. “I get motion sickness if my little brothers bounce on the couch.”

“Then I’d say we have a plan,” Kylie said, taking notes in her binder. “Let’s get jumpin’ on those cupcake recipes.”


“9-year-old author has recipe for success.” – The Washington Post, KidsPost

“Kids and cupcakes are the perfect recipe!” – Sophie and Katerine, stars of TLC’s DC Cupcakes

“Sheryl Berk and her nine-year-old daughter, Carrie, have cooked up a delightful new series sure to be a treat.” – New York Family


Click on the cover below for a chance to win the

Complete Cupcake Club Collection, Books 1 – 8!!

(Rafflecopter giveaway open from 9/17/15 – 11/1/15, US and Canada only.)

Sweet Victory excerpt provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Prize fulfillment by Sourcebooks.

Kids Corner – Spotlight and Giveaway: I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheaney

I Don’t Know How the Story Ends
by J.B. Cheaney

Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Length: 288pp
ISBN-13: 978-1492609445

Starred Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews

Related Links:
J.B. Cheaney’s Website
Publisher’s Website


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Buy the Book

Amazon          Barnes & Noble          BooksAMillion          !ndigo          Indiebound

Publisher Synopsis

Our story begins in a dusty little town in California, a bustling place called Hollywood…

Isobel Ransom is anxious. Her father is away treating wounded soldiers in France, leaving Izzy to be the responsible one at home. But it’s hard to be responsible when your little sister is chasing a fast-talking, movie-obsessed boy all over Hollywood! Ranger is directing his very own moving picture… and wants Izzy and Sylvie to be his stars.

Izzy is sure Mother wouldn’t approve, but scouting locations, scrounging film, and “borrowing” a camera turn out to be the perfect distractions from Izzy’s worries. There’s just one problem: their movie has no ending. And it has to be perfect – the kind of ending where the hero saves the day and returns home to his family. Safe and sound.

It just has to.

My Review

Never before has a first-person narrative has grabbed my attention and secured my sympathy as quickly as that of Isobel Ransom. In the opening paragraph, she sets the scene, lending a palpable immediacy to her story:

The first I heard of Mother’s big idea was May 20, 1918, at 4:35 p.m. in the entrance hall of our house on Fifth Street. That was where my little sister ended up after I pushed her down the stairs.

With her wry wit and passion for reading (immediately established by a mention of Jane Eyre as her “new most-favorite”), I quickly fell in love with Isobel. And not far behind came an appreciation for her cute, funny, and often bumbling, little sister Sylvie.

Fittingly, I began reading I Don’t Know How the Story Ends on an airplane. While sitting in that small cabin in the sky, I was transported to a by-gone era as the text allowed me to witness the Ransom girls traveling by train with their mother from rainy Seattle to sunny California. You see, Isobel’s life changes when her father joins the World War I effort overseas. And since the dreary autumn Seattle weather does little to make their waiting for his return more tolerable, their mother scoops them up and heads to her native California to visit her sister.

When the family reaches Hollywood, it’s like they’ve entered another dimension. Everything is much different from home. In fact, the still young movie town feels a bit like the wild west — full of mystery, adventure, and even danger. And, thanks to her Aunt’s unpredictable stepson Ranger, Isobel is in for more escapades than she could even have imagined. The two, often with Sylvie in tow, go traipsing about town, and it’s not long before Ranger sweeps Isobel into the magical world of film. As they make their own silent movie, she learns much about film techniques and even more about herself and the world around her.

The seriousness of the World War I backdrop is offset by the energy of early Hollywood. Cheaney’s writing is descriptive enough to bring things to life, while lean enough to keep the tale moving right along. Not only are the characters well-drawn (each is given his or her own back story), they are likable. The novel adeptly explores many sensitive topics: war, family dynamics, pain, loss, grief, and healing. Most importantly, it is told with honesty and nothing is trivialized. And within the story, just as with a good film, there are scenes that will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve reached the end.

Ranger says of film that “stories have to have a balance, you know — a yin and a yang.” With both pathos and humor, I Don’t Know How the Story Ends achieves just the right balance.

 — Dawn Teresa


4 of 5 Hearts. A Historical Coming-of-Age Tale of Family, War, Destruction, and Healing.

I Don’t Know How the Story Ends succeeds on several levels. Cheaney’s prose is both descriptive and economical. With likable, well-drawn characters, the novel explores sensitive topics with honesty and realism while providing enough comic relief to keep the tone from becoming too heavy. Middle-Grade historical fiction at its best.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Sourcebooks and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



While we waited to cross the street, Ranger swerved his head and gave me another of his piercing stares.

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”

I looked but could not tell what I was looking at. Like a gigantic top hat, it stood about twenty feet high, as big around as a house, with a wooden platform circling it like a brim. The cylinder was painted with low rolling hills, trees, and blue sky. A couple of workmen near the back of the platform were fixing a tree in place. They took no notice of us as we walked up to the edge.

“It’s called the panorama—­they just finished it a couple months ago,” Ranger explained. “The platform here stays in the same place, but the background moves. Just the opposite of a carousel.”

I couldn’t see the point. “What’s it for?”

“Shooting road scenes and chases. If you put an auto right here”—­landing on the platform with a hop—­“and a camera there”—­pointing to the ground beside us—­“you can shoot the car in place while the background rolls along behind it. So it looks like the car’s moving. Sennett used to shoot all his car chases on the real street, but he kept getting in trouble with the natives.”

“It’s delicious,” Sylvie said breathlessly, quite overwhelmed.

I was skeptical. “It’s too big to move.”

“Oh yeah? I’ve made it move by myself—­that is, me and a bunch of the neighborhood kids. One night we snuck under the platform and lined up along one of the struts inside and started pushing. It takes a little muscle, but once you get it started… I’d show you now if I could, but I’ve got something important to do.”

He jumped off the platform. “Wait here.” With no more instruction than that, he ran around the curve of the panorama and disappeared.

“Well!” I exclaimed. “How do you like that?”

Sylvie seemed to like it fine. “He’s the wonderfulest boy I’ve ever met.”

We found a pair of orange crates to sit on and were debating that point a few minutes later when the wonderful boy reappeared in the company of an older fellow. The stranger appeared to be about fifteen or so, with a bony face and straight brown hair that might have been cut with a pair of garden shears. He carried a broom over one shoulder.

The two of them stopped about ten feet away from us. Dragging on a cigarette, the older boy looked me up and down with gray eyes as pale as dimes. It was the height of rudeness, which I was just about to mention when Ranger asked him, “Well?”

“Yep,” the other boy said. “Good eyes, good hair. Can she act?”

“Haven’t asked her yet.”

That did it for me. I jumped up and folded my arms and stamped my foot like an overtired child who’s been told she can’t have the last cookie. “What is this about? Tell me right now, or I’m leaving this instant and taking Sylvie with me, no matter where we end up.”

“She can act mad,” the stranger observed.

Ranger turned to me with eyes so animated that they could have jumped out of his head. “This is about art,” he told me, “and life, and truth and beauty too, if we can pull it off.” He paused for effect. And then:

“How would you girls like to be in a picture?”


Click on the cover below for a chance to win a copy of

I Don’t Know How the Story Ends


(Rafflecopter giveaway open from 9/15/15 – 11/3/15, US and Canada only.)

Excerpt provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Prize fulfillment by Sourcebooks.

Kids Corner: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

An Inventive, Adventurous Launch to a New Steampunk Trilogy

Fires of Invention
by J. Scott Savage

Series: Mysteries of Cove (Book 1 of 3)
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Length: 320pp
ISBN-13: 978-1629720920

Starred Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly

Related Links:
J. Scott Savage’s Website
J. Scott Savage on Facebook
Publisher’s Website

Buy the Book




Publisher Synopsis

Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and “invention” is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity. Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.

My Review

Thirteen year-old Trenton Coleman lives in Cove, a city contained within a mountain. In his insular world, the citizens are confined, they are told, for their protection. But their movements aren’t the only things restricted by Cove’s leadership. The community-at-large is seen as a machine — its people gears and cogs. Each plays a part, but for the whole to function as it should, one must never question, change, or attempt to improve the status quo. Original thoughts — creative ideas and expression — are forbidden. Not only is creativity dangerous, but any word containing the root “invent” is an unspeakable curse word.

Bored and looking to impress a young girl named Simoni, Trenton builds a swing. Though he simply assembles existing and approved parts, he finds himself accused of a long list of offenses, including treason. He narrowly escapes a dreaded punishment called “retraining,” only to find himself wrapped up in a mystery that is many times more threatening than even his worst imagined retraining could ever be.

Readers will enjoy journeying alongside Trenton and his new-found sidekick Kallista as they unearth hidden secrets en route to finding the truth about the history of their home. Not only are the characters well-drawn and likeable, over the course of the story, they experience growth. Themes explored in the novel include friendship, freedom of thought, creativity, and persistence. As they read about the value of trial and error and cooperation along the road to discovery, kids will also learn about themselves.

J. Scott Savage’s steampunk world is imaginative and skillfully constructed. As successive chapters end with the characters finding one more piece of their puzzle, plotting and pacing is quick and steady, building a whale of an adventure tale with a head of steam that propels the reader to the finish.

 — Dawn Teresa


4 .5 of 5 Hearts. An Inventive, Adventurous Launch to a New Steampunk Trilogy.

With Fires of Invention, the first in a planned trilogy, J. Scott Savage has created an inspired steampunk landscape filled with gears, gadgets, gizmos — even dragons — that a reluctant reader will find hard to resist. Put this in the hands of readers who like mysterious yet hopeful dystopian tales like City of Ember.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Shadow Mountain for providing me an advance reading copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Kids Corner: School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

A Fast-Paced, Rewarding Superhero Parody

School for Sidekicks
by Kelly McCullough

Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 336pp
ISBN-13: 978-1250039262

Starred Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly

Related Links:
Author’s Website (Read chapters 1 & 2)
FREE prequel short story: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman
Publisher’s Website

Buy the Book





Publisher Synopsis

“Evan Quick, Hero’s Log, May the 25th… and darn it — I just can’t do this. I’m never going to be a Mask. Get over it Evan.”

Evan Quick has spent his whole life dreaming of becoming a hero. Every morning he wakes up and runs through a checklist of test to see if he’s developed powers over night, and every day it is the same thing — nothing. No flying, no super strength, no heat rays or cold beams. No invulnerability — that always hurt to check — no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to light a light bulb without flipping a switch. And now, he’s finally ready to give up.

But then, the class field trip to the Mask Museum is interrupted by a super villain attack, and Evan somehow manages to survive a death ray. Even better, Evan’s favorite Mask, Captain Commanding, shows up to save them all — and when things go very wrong, it’s Evan who finds the strength to come to Captain Commanding’s rescue.

Yet the hero’s reception Evan is expecting never happens. Before he even gets the chance to say hello, Evan is bundled away to The Academy, an institution derisively called The School for Sidekicks by its students. Forced to take classes like Banter Basics and Combat with Dinnerware, while being assigned as an ‘apprentice’ to Foxman — a Mask widely considered a has-been — Evan starts to worry that he’ll never be able to save the day…

My Review

This is the book that should teach middle grade readers the word parody. That is, if they can stop turning pages long enough to think about what they’re reading. It might also enlighten them as to the meaning of the old cautionary expression, “Be careful what you wish for…” Our narrator and wanna-be superhero, Evan Quick, learns that lesson the day he gets his superhero powers. After that, everything he ever wanted to be seems a far cry from what he has become. And when the plot thickens (and seldom has a plot thickened to such a degree), the consequences of Evan’s new identity deepen as our budding hero is thrust into the middle of a complicated and deadly secret.

But back to the parody: In its early chapters especially, School for Sidekicks apes to humorous effect superhero movies and comic books. The heroic (?) names alone usually bring a chuckle: Captain Commanding (and his Commanding Car), the Fluffinator, Mr. Implausible, HeartBurn, Hotflash, and so it goes, right up until we meet Evan’s mentor, Foxman, and take a ride in his Foxmobile. Actually, the parody never really stops — one can almost see KAPOW! BANG! and OOOF! splashing across the page during the fight scenes. Indeed, near the end we’re treated to an explosive “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

All this is fun, and often funny, but the problem with any parody is letting the reader know when something should be taken seriously. For instance, we are still smiling from “scabwebs” and “Dorkman” as Evan tells us about the half million people who were killed when the “Hero Bomb”, which created the Masks and Hoods, detonated. There are other moments where lives are lost or hang in the balance, but McCullough, for the most part, manages to switch between goofy and serious without jarring the reader. To be sure, I initially felt the wackiness had taken too strong a hold on the science in the book, and for many chapters was grinding my jaw about the impossibility of certain things: instant communication with a distant planet, the location and design of the Academy, the method of transport between the Academy and Evan’s home, and so forth. But when the big reveal is made, much of what bothered me no longer did. Allow your suspension of disbelief a more than usual elasticity and you should be fine.

Kelly McCullough has a long resumé as a writer, notably in the adult science fiction and fantasy fields. It’s not surprising then that he can spin a yarn and keep the reader engaged. Generally, his prose in Sidekicks is efficient, and we aren’t taken on poetic larks that, while they have a home in other types of fiction, would be uncomfortable as part of this novel. My lone complaint is the numerous unnecessary commas placed after sentence-leading ‘ands’, ‘buts’, ‘thens’, etc. But I read an uncorrected galley, and in other, similar instances, the punctuation was correct, so one hopes those errors were fixed.

It’s clear that the author is either a fan of the superhero genre or did extensive research in the field. Anyone familiar with the DC Comics/Marvel Comics movies and comic books will recognize bits and pieces of characters in McCullough’s cast (Iron Man and Batman in particular), as well as superhero tools of the trade. There are also moments that have the feel of old-time pulp sci-fi, and there’s even a nod to Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon in the giant cannon used to send personnel across vast distances of space.

For those who want more, a free short story is available: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman. (Interestingly, according to the author’s website the original subtitle for School for Sidekicks was The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman Jr. — Evan’s rejected superhero name.)

                                                                                                — Jennifer Michelle


4 of 5 Hearts. A Fast-Paced, Rewarding Superhero Parody.

School for Sidekicks is a lively ride and should be entertaining fare for any kid who dreams of being a superhero, or for those adults who grew up watching the “real” Batman, Adam West, and Burt Ward, his Boy Wonder sidekick — who, like Evan Quick, had to learn his trade on the job.

Click on the cover below to read the free short story:

The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Feiwel & Friends and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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