Review / The Captive Kingdom

20220428ma_0586Book: The Captive Kingdom (2020)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Series: The Ascendance Series, The False Prince #4

Opening lines from the book …
One may ask, how is the great King Jaron described by those who know him? The answer rarely includes the word “great,” unless the word to follow is “fool,” though I have also heard “disappointment,” “frustration,” and “chance that he’ll get us all killed.”


1) Jaron has such a great voice in these books! And what’s even more fun is the knowledge that he’s also a bit of an unreliable narrator. So half the fun is trying to figure out what he’s NOT telling us.

2) So fun to be back with everybody… Roden, Tobias, Imogen, Amarinda, Mott, Fink. And of course, the pirates. Who doesn’t come into the story. (Well, there are a few who stay behind in Drylliad). But we also get introduced to some new characters like …

3) A new villain in the form Captain Strick, not a woman you’d want to mess with. And then there’s one of her lackeys, the one Jaron calls Lump is great! Not to mention the poor damsel in distress, Wilta, that’s on board the ship. (Although, she’s got a firey personality behind that red hair of hers.)

4) There’s also a character that may or may not be from Jaron’s past. Not even Jaron knows for sure. (No spoilers from me.)

5) Finally, I will say that I was totally surprised to see this book at my library. I had NO idea that there was a new book in this series! To be honest, I’m kind of glad I didn’t… until now. Because I got to read these book (and the next one – but more on that next week) back-to-back. Yes, each book is technically a stand-alone book, but this one ends with a promise that there are more adventures to come. (Stay tuned for my review of Book 5 in the series.)


High praise for this whole series from me. I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the previous books, but it did not disappoint!

NOTE: Do NOT read this series out of order. If you haven’t read THE FALSE PRINCE, you need to read that one first.



Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Long Way Down

Book: Long Way Down (2017)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Upper MG / YA, Novel in Verse
Newbery Honor Book (2018)

Opening Lines of the Book…

believe nothing
these days

which is why I haven’t
told nobody the story
I’m about to tell you.


The opening did a good job in making me feel the connection between Will and his older brother Shawn. We immediately get into the story of Shawn’s death. Very emotional. The book pretty much takes place within a 24 hour time period. And most of the book is about the elevator ride (it’s a “long way down”) that Will takes.

In the elevator, Will meets several others going down. I won’t spoil it here, but there’s a very neat connection between all of them. What I will say is that I really liked how the cigarette smoke and the cigarettes in general are connected to the L button. There is so much wonderful symbolism in this book!

I thought the blank verse and poetry worked well. The ending is quite open-ended… It really made me think about what it meant, and I liked that. (I think this book really would be an excellent discussion piece for a classroom. And I assume it is used as such.)

Regarding the cover of the book… I am more and more impressed every time I see it. At first, I didn’t notice the boy’s face in the upper right-hand corner! Love it.

NOTE: This book does contain some language that is not found in most MG works, which is probably why it’s often categorized as YA. But I still think this book is important for Upper MG readers. This isn’t a book where the characters are swearing every other line. It’s only maybe three instances that help lend to the reality of the story.


This is one of those books where I’m not sure if it’s quite YA. The protagonist seemed younger to me (he’s 15 in the book, but he seemed more like he was 12 or 13 to me). The topic and some of the language was definitely edging into YA, but I would definitely recommend this for upper middle school. What an amazing conversation starter. Definitely deserved being awarded a Newbery Honor!


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Lost in the Sun

IMG_9229Book: Lost in the Sun (2015)
Author: Lisa Graff
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Opening lines from the book …
When we were real little kids, Mom used to take Aaron and Doug and me to Sal’s Pizzeria for dinner almost every Tuesday, which is when they had their Family Night Special. I think she liked it because she didn’t have to worry about dinner for three growing boys for one night, but we liked it because there was a claw machine there…


1) I loved the interaction of the three brothers. Aaron is probably my favorite. He’s the oldest and the one who helps the younger boys navigate all their problems. Of course, we find that it does take a toll on him as well. Doug’s the youngest and is just trying to keep up with the others with all his pranks. And then there’s Trent, the narrator…

2) For most of the book, I had a hard time rooting for Trent. He wasn’t always likeable. I felt sorry for him, but I could NOT understand why he went out of his way to be rude or mean to his teachers. (Okay, so I did know. He wanted those detentions so he didn’t have to visit his dad. I just couldn’t get why you’d want to do that.) That said, by the end of the book, I liked the growth in his character!

3) Since I mentioned the teachers, let’s talk about them here. I liked both Ms. Emerson and Mr. Gorman. Especially Ms. Emerson and all her plants. Trent hates her from the get-go (calls her an old crone), but they eventually establish a truce over the plants!

4) My favorite character probably is Fallon, the girl with the scar on her face. If you ask her about it, she’ll give you a different story each time about how she got that scar. I love how she befriends a friendless Trent. And how it all comes around to him helping her as well.  

5) I also loved the scenes (later in the book) with Annie, Doug’s young friend and the sister of the boy involved in the hockey-puck incident. I like how we get a little closure in that part of the story.

6) There’s a nice baseball theme running through the book. I’m pretty sure that’s what the title is references (when a fly ball gets lost in the glare of the sun).


1) It was hard to like Trent at times. He has a lot of demons over an incident that happened involving a hockey puck. I almost put the book down halfway through, but I’m glad I pushed through.


I would recommend this book to baseball fans but also for how the main character works out his demons. The end of the book is worth getting to!


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Summerlost

summerlostBook: Summerlost (2016)
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Cedar Lee joins the crew at the town’s summer Shakespeare Festival where she meets Leo. It’s not long before they’re running an under-the-table tour of the festival’s most famous actress. There’s a little mystery surrounding her death twenty years prior and Cedar and Leo are determined to figure it out…


1) The Shakespeare festival is such a fun setting for this book. I love books about the theatre. Where I live, we have two big summer theatre festivals (within a 2-hour driving radius), so this is familiar ground to me. I also have done work in theatre myself (all behind the scenes).

2) There are tunnels that run under the theatre for the actors to get backstage. How fun is that? (And yes, this is a huge attraction to the kids in the story.)

3) I love how the kids are hired to sell the programs and concessions at the festival. And that their boss, Gary, is so into it. “Remember, you are in England!” Of course, they’re not actually allowed to speak with a British accent… except Leo.

4) The backstory of the death of Cedar’s dad and brother in a car crash is nicely woven into the plot. I also love Cedar’s relationship with her younger brother Miles. (Although, I don’t understand their fascination with watching the soap opera; I’m with the mom on that one!)

5) Leo is awesome. I love his enthusiasm for Lisette Chamberlain and how he knows everything there is to know about her. And how the kids set up a little tour-guide business!

6) I loved that the book was divided up into “Acts.” Although, since this was a Shakespearean festival, in my opinion, it should have been divided up into five acts, instead of three. And the epilogue… They totally missed the opportunity to call it: Curtain Call!


1) Another name that didn’t feel like it needed to be sooooo unique. And I kept forgetting her name (the story is told in first person). And with her brothers named Ben and Miles, Cedar seems like she doesn’t belong to the same family.

2) The ending was a little bit meh for me. (*SPOILERS) There’s this big build-up to the tunnels that run under the theatre. And while the kids do get to explore them, it’s probably the least interesting part of the book. Nothing happens there. We already know about the ring. Basically, it felt anti-climatic. (End Spoiler)


I would recommend to theatre-lovers. Double points for anybody who loves Shakespeare. I wish the hint at mystery worked better than it does, but overall it’s not a bad read. I enjoyed it.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Gold Rush Girl


Book: Gold Rush Girl (2020)
Author: Avi
Genre: MG, Historical
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Tory is determined not to be left behind when her father and brother set off to join the gold rush in San Francisco. Of course, things aren’t quite as “golden” once they arrive. Dad leaves the kids behind while he goes to strike it rich. Tory is supposed to watch Jacob, and when Jacob goes missing… it’s up to her to find him. With the help of some new friends, she’s determined to search high and low, even if it means searching every abandoned ship on Rotten Row.


1) This book has a great opening line: “Have you ever been struck by lightning? I have.” Of course, she’s not talking about actual lightning, but more about being struck by gold rush fever. Clever way to get us into the story!

2) At first, I thought the style was a little old-fashioned, but then I realized this was done on purpose. All the literary references warmed my heart! From Mr. Poe to Mr. Benjamin Franklin! The “fine new publications such as Oliver Twist, Wuthering Heights, and Vanity Fair…” Not sure how young kids will read this, but I liked it.

3) I loved the character of Senor Rosales! I love how he believes Tory about her missing brother. And even makes them his priority. (I liked him better than the dad.)

4) An interesting historical setting is always a bonus for me! I particularly enjoyed the author’s note at the end about Rotten Row…

5) Thad and Sam make for some good friendships for Tory. The end of the book is rather open-ended which leaves room for some more adventures for these three!


1) Gold Rush Girl, I expected a little more gold in the story. All the hunting for gold is done off-page. Instead, this book has a lot of ships…

2) I did find the middle of the book to drag a bit. However, it does pick up again when the brother goes missing.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of Avi’s True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, which is another rollicking sea-adventure. I would definitely recommend for kids interested in history, especially the era of the gold rush. Note that the style of writing is a little old fashioned.

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday