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Category Archives: Middle Grade

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle Audiobook Review

Better Nate Than Ever is a charming and laugh out loud funny debut from Tim Federle. I bought a copy of this book for my nephew recently and thought it looked so good I had to pick up a copy for myself too. Federle draws from his own Broadway experience to tell the story of a thirteen-year-old boy who runs away to New York to pursue his acting dreams.

better nate than ever audio

Book: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Audio, May 2013

Book Info: Audiobook borrowed from Overdrive’s eMedia Library. Running time: 5 hrs, 54 mins. Read by: Tim Federle. Also available in e-book or paperback, 304 pages from Simon & Schuster.

The Playbook:  Thirteen-year-old Nate lives in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, and dreams of starring on Broadway. He gets his chance to sneak away and audition for E.T. the Musical on Broadway, with a little help from his friend Libby.  The author talks about the inspiration for the book here:

Nate the Great – I loved how Nate is so brave to go after what he wants! The parent in me was scared to death of him traveling to NYC all by himself, but the kids got guts. One of the scenes that had me laughing out loud is when Nate read all the parts in E.T. the Musical for his Elliot audition.

Empire State of Mind  – Nate feels right at home in New York, and is taken in by the cheap pizza and clothing stores, and the multitude of cupcake shops. And Broadway of course! Federle really makes you feel that love at first sight emotion Nate feels about New York.

Supporting Characters - Nate goes to his first acting audition ever and meets all types of child actors, stage moms and snooty casting professionals.

We are Family - Nate’s family includes his parents, older brother, and estranged aunt. Nate’s family aren’t really supportive of his acting bug, hence the running away to New York. Their story evolves throughout the book though, and I’m interested to see how the family supports Nate going forward.

Questioning - Nate is bullied at school by kids calling him homophobic names. I like what Nate has to say about his sexuality, and that he’s still figuring things out:

(My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated. I am undecided. I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major, and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than “Hey, jerks, I’m thirteen, leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is my favorite food – how would I know who I want to hook up with?”)

Screenplay – Tim Federle writes such a fun story and makes Nate so endearing. There are recurring jokes, highs and lows in the audition process, travel, money, clothing and cell phone woes, and heartwarming surprises. The book is consistently entertaining, and Federle has a witty and strong voice.

Voice Acting– Author Tim Federle also performs this audiobook and does a bang-up job.  It makes sense that he’s such a natural considering his theater background, and he really brings the story to life. Federle uses different voices for all the many characters and makes the story even more hilarious. Federle brings a great energy to the story with his performance. This would be a fun book to listen to on a family road trip too. Listen to a sample:

Encore! - The Better Nate Than Ever series continues with Five, Six, Seven, Nate, available now. I can’t wait to read it!

Curtain Call: Read Better Nate Than Ever if you like: musical theater, New York, middle grade books, and you love to laugh.

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Roald Dahl Audiobook Giveaway Part Deux

Last month was Roald Dahl month, and to celebrate Penguin Audio released a slew of Dahl audio titles! Now you can revisit an old favorite, listen for the first time or share them with your kids.

The lovely folks at Penguin Audio were kind enough to send me two sets of Roald Dahl audiobooks, so I have one set to giveaway to one of you!

Roald Dahl audiobook giveaway

Included in the prize are the following audiobooks:

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts – Read by Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, Miriam Margolyes

The Twits, The Minpins & The Magic Finger – Read by Richard Ayoade, Bill Bailey, Kate Winslet

George’s Marvelous Medicine – Read by Derek Jacobi

Going Solo – Read by Dan Stevens

Boy – Read by Dan Stevens

The Witches – Read by Miranda Richardson

Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Animal Stories – Read by Quentin Blake, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Chris O’Dowd

Danny the Champion of the World – Read by Peter Serafinowicz

Congrats to Stephanie who won the audiobook collection!

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell Audiobook Review

Rooftoppers audiobook Book: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Terry Fan. Simon & Schuster Audio, September 24, 2013

Book Info: MG Audiobook received for review from Simon & Schuster Audio. Running time: 5 hrs, 50mins. Read by: Nicola Barber. Also available in hardcover, 288 pages from Simon & Schuster.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars

More Info: Goodreads | Audible | Amazon

Rooftoppers is a charming middle grade book about Sophie, a plucky, determined girl in search of her mother. Rooftoppers shows readers a bird’s eye view of Paris, as Sophie travels the city of light from rooftop to rooftop on her quest.

Sophie washed up in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck when she was a baby. A fellow passenger on the Queen Mary, scholar Charles Maxim, picked her up and decided to be her guardian. Together they live a life full of books, music, and delicious treats. Charles raises Sophie to be bold, brave, and inquisitive, encouraging her to forge her own path and that “you should never ignore a possible.”

The National Child Care Agency have kept a close eye on Sophie and Charles, and disapprove of her unconventional upbringing, habit of wearing trousers, writing on walls, and eating peculiarly. And now that Sophie is a young lady of 12, they feel a more “appropriate” guardian should take over. Sophie thinks her only way out is to find her long-lost mother.

Rooftoppers Katherine Rundell UK cover

Pretty UK cover of Rooftoppers

Once the action shifts from London to Paris and the mother hunt kicks into high gear, Sophie comes into her own. She goes out on the rooftop and meets Matteo, who only travels by rooftop. Matteo shows Sophie how he gets by eating cooked rat and keeps warm with bird feathers. Matteo is Sophie’s secret weapon to find her mother, and he grudgingly shows her the ropes as they travel all hours of the night. And oh yes, they travel on tight ropes, and my fear of heights reached epic proportions listening to the audiobook.

Sophie is an irresistible and tenacious heroine. She’s used to being under-estimated by those around her, but now in Paris she gets to show what she’s really made of. She has no fear and is steadfast in her goal. Charles and Sophie’s relationship was just perfect, and though I loved getting to know the Rooftoppers, a little more time spent with Sophie and her guardian would have been nice too.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Nicola Barber. Barber gives the voice of Sophie a lot of spunk and personality, and Charles sounds dignified and pleasantly peculiar. With a lot of the book set in Paris, Barber reads Matteo and the Rooftopper gang with a French accent. Her voice for Matteo was spot-on and humorous- he’s kind of a know-it-all type but shows some vulnerability too. The only thing missing from the audiobook experience is that you don’t get to look at Terry Fan’s lovely illustrations.

Katherine Rundell writes a captivating and imaginative story that should appeal to middle grade readers, and their parents as well. And Rundell’s descriptions of food will make your mouth water. I think kids will love the rooftop adventures, and the message to hold on to your dreams, think outside the box, and believe.

Roald Dahl Month Audiobook Giveaway

September is Roald Dahl month, and to celebrate this splendiforous occasion I’m giving away some brand new Roald Dahl audiobooks!

Roald Dahl is one of my favorite childhood authors, and books like the Charlie Bucket series helped kick off my love of reading. We’ve enjoyed introducing our daughter to his books and the movies based on the books. We liked listening to books on tape in the car when she was younger so I think it’s great that this new audiobook series is out for a new generation to discover Dahl’s work. I’m eager to listen to them myself!

Roald Dahl audiobook giveaway

The lovely folks at Penguin Audio were kind enough to send me two sets of Roald Dahl audiobooks, so I have one set to giveaway to one of you!

Included in the prize are the following audiobooks:

The BFG – Read by David Walliams

Matilda – Read by Kate Winslet

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Read by Andrew Scott

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Read by Douglas Hodge

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – Read by Douglas Hodge

Happy Roald Dahl Day! And congrats to Jenna who won the audiobook giveaway! Hurray!

Roald Dahl Day

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman Audiobook Review

the wells bequest audiobookBook: The Wells Bequest (Companion to The Grimm Legacy) by Polly Shulman, Penguin Audio, on sale now. Also available in hardcover from Nancy Paulsen.

Audiobook Info:  Middle Grade, Received for review,  Audio length: 6 hours 46 minutes, read by Johnny Heller.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

More Info: Audible | Goodreads

I listened to The Grimm Legacy audiobook last year (review) and thought it was so fun and enchanting, and now a companion book is out. There are some familiar characters from The Grimm Legacy as well as new adventures in the creative world of The Wells Bequest. I wish there really was a cool magical library like the New-York Circulating Material Repository! I would love to visit.

In this middle grade series, the kids always save the day. The Repository’s teen pages are super smart and creative problem solvers. One of the newest employees is Leo, a bright student who finds the Repository when he’s doing research for a science project. He’s also investigating time machines, since he saw a miniaturized version of himself and a girl appear to him. There’s no better place than this library to solve that mystery!

I was happy to read more about the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a library where patrons can check out cool magical objects. There are special collection rooms devoted to different types of items. For example, in the Grimm Collection, you can check out famous artifacts from Grimm’s fairy tales like the Queen’s mirror from Snow White. In this book, the focus is science fiction with The Wells Bequest room that has H.G. Wells-type toys like time machines and shrink rays. Anything is possible in this magical library. Looking forward to discovering the other special collections in future books.

The head page Jaya is a girl who also had a part in The Grimm Legacy, as the younger sister of one of the teen pages, Anjali. Now Jaya is the focus and she’s quite the heroine herself. Leo has a big crush on Jaya, motivated by seeing his future self and her together. They work well at the library- Leo is more cautious and Jaya is bold and brave so they balance each other out.

Since the items available for loan are so special and rare, you can’t check them out with only a library card. You have to offer up something unique to you like your sense of direction, patience, or sense of humor. And if you lose the item, you won’t get your “deposit” back. It would really make me think before I borrowed an object!

I think readers that love adventure and the feeling that anything can happen will eat up this series. The time travel is fascinating stuff and the characters discuss the ramifications and ethics of altering the past. Some of that hurt my brain to think about but it helped if I just went along for the ride. There are some familiar names that pop up in the past that also serves as a fun and educational history lesson.

I listened to the audiobook read by Johnny Heller. Heller is a veteran narrator but I think this is my first experience listening to any of his books. Heller is a great storyteller and makes the story come alive. There are many different characters in the book and Heller gives them all different voices and personalities. He especially gets Leo’s inquisitive voice right. This is a fun audiobook to listen with the family, and the nature of the story lends itself well to audio.

It’s not necessary to read The Grimm Legacy to understand The Wells Bequest; they are standalone books, though some characters do overlap. I read that the author is working on the next Repository book called The Hawthorne Annex, which is the ghostly collection. Looking forward to it!

Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1 By Charles Gilman: Book Review and Giveaway

Book: Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1 by Charles Gilman, Illustrations by Eugene Smith, Quirk Books, Middle Grade series, provided for review from Quirk, Hardcover 175 pages, On Sale Now

More Info and Reviews: Goodreads | Amazon | Lovecraft Middle School official site | FB page

Professor Gargoyle is the first book in Quirk’s (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) new middle grade series by Charles Gilman. The lenticular cover of the book is eye-catching, isn’t it? I think it should grab the attention of reluctant readers. Professor Gargoyle provides spine-tingling chills for the middle grade set, and is perfect for fans of R.L. Stine. I think this is a fast, fun read that all ages can enjoy this spooky time of year.

The book begins with 7th grader Robert Arthur starting his first day at Lovecraft Middle School. He’s really uneasy because due to redistricting he’s the only one of his friends attending this school. To make matters worse, he spots his old elementary school nemesis Glenn at Lovecraft. Glenn has no intentions to stop bullying Robert so his first day is off to a bad start. And, even though Lovecraft is a brand-new state-of-the-art school, why do things feel a little off there? Finding a rat in your locker certainly seems like a bad omen. Hey, was this school built on top of the Hellmouth? The school does get its name from H.P. Lovecraft, after all.

Robert loves to read so he is in for a treat with the massive and modern school library. But Robert finds a secret, dusty attic above the library that doesn’t fit in at all with the school’s contemporary aesthetic. He comes away with a two-headed rat hitch-hiking in his backpack that becomes his constant companion.

There are strange happenings going on at Lovecraft. Besides finding rats in the lockers, students are going missing. And Robert’s Science teacher Professor Goyle is acting quite bizarre and mysterious. He keeps all manner of strange animals in his classroom and has eccentric teaching methods. Robert just wants to fly under the radar at his new school but is getting pulled into these mysteries whether he likes it or not.

The book has a lot of creepy goings on and Gilman’s descriptive language of all the spiders and goo should appeal to the target audience. There are also illustrations of all the key moments to give you the full scary effect.

Even though I’m not the intended audience for this book I had a lot of fun reading it and it got me into the Halloween mood. The book should appeal to kids starting a new school or middle school, and addresses relevant topics to the age group such as bullying, gaining confidence and making friends. I’m interested in checking out the next book in the series, The Slither Sisters, in January.

The Giveaway has ended: Congrats to Mary who has won a copy of Professor Gargoyle!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Random House Children’s Books, published Feb. 14, 2012

Book Info: Middle Grade, Received from NetGalley, Available in HC 313 pages

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars

More Info: Goodreads | IndieBound | Amazon

I started reading Wonder on a whim over the weekend and couldn’t put it down. I’d heard good things about the book for months, and liked the book trailer, but for some reason I kept finding other books to read instead. Even though I do like middle grade books, the subject matter of this one gave me pause. Anyway, the story is so engaging and uplifting, much more so than I had expected.  Totally a worthwhile read and I’m so glad I finally read it.

10-year-old August Pullman was born with a severe facial abnormality. His parents home schooled him all of his life due to his frequent surgeries and medical appointments. Now, when others August’s age are starting middle school, his parents think the time may be right for August to attend school as well.  Auggie is a normal kid inside, smart and funny, and loves Star Wars and videogames. But will his new classmates be able to see past his outward appearance?

Auggie is so endearing- he won me over from the very first pages. I was so scared for him to start middle school. Middle school is terrifying under the best of circumstances! And even though Auggie has seen reactions of strangers around him all his life, it’s hard to prepare yourself for this age group. I, like Auggie, hoped for the best but steeled myself for the worst. His experience has highs and lows and focuses in on a handful of students and teachers and the different ways they interact with Auggie.

There are a few kids assigned to keep an eye out for Auggie at school to show him around. Auggie is very perceptive about others and is a good judge of character- he really is a brave little guy. It’s interesting to see the world through Auggie’s eyes and then later revisit the same scenes through the eyes of his friends when the book shifts to multiple POV.  I hadn’t expected the book to shift POV actually, but it does satisfy some curiosity by hearing other characters perspective. Two of Auggie’s classmates, as well as his sister, her friend, and boyfriend all take a turn at the narration. Auggie’s sister Via is a standout character, as she shares the effect her brother has had on her life.

Hearing the different reactions to Auggie made me think about who I would be in the scenario, and I’d react in middle school if I had a classmate like him. My daughter and I had a dialogue about it, and you always hope you’d be compassionate, but it’s hard to know what is the right way to respond in the moment. The book does a great job of making you think about how to treat people fairly and with compassion. The writing is accessible and has a light touch, even though there are some heavy and distressing scenes. It is just perfect for a middle grade audience, and to read aloud for class discussion or at home. But really I think this uplifting story is appealing for all ages.

Check out the book trailer:


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