Bergers Book Reviews

Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions: Gorilla Tactics

Gorilla Tactics
Author: Sheila Grau
Illustrator: Joe Sutphin
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Fantasy / Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1371-2
Pages: 304
Price: $14.95

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Runt Higgins needs to know where he came from when he was dropped at Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions. He’s been cursed to die on his sixteenth birthday and needs to find out how to break the curse. One of his professors has been searching for the Great Library, and now Runt knows where he may find some answers. But Runt isn’t the only one who wants access to this mysterious place.

Dr. Critchlore is being threatened with a minion school takeover, so he devises a scheme to foil this dastardly plan. He decides to hold a fashion show, throwing the school into chaos for two weeks. At every attempt to do the right thing, Runt finds himself in trouble in his classes, with his classmates, and with his headmaster, as the clock continues to tick on the curse. Will Runt save the school and himself before time runs out?

Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions is similar to Hogwarts, but with monsters training to serve Evil Overlords instead of wizards learning to manage their powers. Ogres, giants, imps, and zombies, as well as other living and undead beings populate this unique university, where being evil is not only good – it’s expected. Runt and his friends are really cool characters with lots of personality, and kids will relate well to them. I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

June 7, 2016 Posted by | fantasy, tween | Leave a comment

Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker

Cici Reno
Author: Kristina Springer
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Genre: Middle grade / Girls
ISBN: 978-1-4549-1751-9
Pages: 192
Price: $14.95

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Cici Reno is everyone’s go-to girl for advice. So when her best friend, Aggie, wants her crush, Drew, to notice her, Cici is right there to help. Since Aggie is shy in person, Cici suggests they attempt to chat with Drew, and Cici sets up an account.

Drew likes the girl he meets online, and soon Cici and Drew are chatting away. The plan is a huge success when Cici scores a date for Aggie. Only trouble is, Cici is starting to fall for Drew. Two best friends can’t go after the same guy, and besides, Drew doesn’t know he’s chatting with Cici. Is there any way this complicated triangle can sort itself out without someone getting hurt?

Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker is a humorous middle-grade retelling of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac, minus the big nose. Modern girls will love the chat sessions between Cici and Drew, and how Cici remains true to Aggie even when her feelings get too involved. I highly recommend this unique and enjoyable story.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

May 8, 2016 Posted by | girls, tween | Leave a comment

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way

Mrs. Ravenbach's Way
Author: William M. Akers
Publisher: Regan Arts
Genre: Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-194139358-1
Pages: 240
Price: $18.99

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Mrs. Ravenbach teaches 4th grade at the KcKegway School for Clever and Gifted Children and she’s keen on receiving her fifth Golden Apple Award this year. But her newest pupil, Tobias Wilcox, is making this extremely difficult. In fact, his rebellious nature has her convinced that he will follow the path of one of her former students, Fast Eddie LeJeune, who she believes has been spending time in the penitentiary.

As the school year progresses, Mrs. Ravenbach is determined to fully control Tobias, eliminating any of the independent thinking he so fiercely clings to. Reading his private journal and bribing his best friend for information are considered necessary evils in order to accomplish her mission. But Tobias is onto her, and he has a plan to expose her evil teaching methods.

While Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way appears to be a subversive middle-grade novel, it reads more like an adult novel. Tobias plays only a small part in this classroom drama, and what little we do see of his thoughts is confined to his journal entries. We have only a few subtle hints that he is planning his revenge. Especially clever and gifted kids will find this story amusing, but I don’t know if the average middle-grade reader will be able to see past the adult main character to follow the plot to its satisfying conclusion.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

April 18, 2016 Posted by | tween | Leave a comment

The Girl in the Well Is Me

The Girl in the Well Is Me
Author: Karen Rivers
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-1-61620-569-0
Pages: 224
Price: $16.95

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Kammie should have never gotten involved with Mandy, Kandy and Sandy. But when you’re new in town and trying to fit in, you sometimes take risks. Like when you sing the Star Spangled Banner on a dare and suddenly find yourself stuck inside a well.

Being trapped in one place, unable to move, and left completely alone, allows Kammie to dwell on those incidents from her past that brought her to this unusual predicament. Fear, lack of oxygen, and an overactive imagination play tricks on her, and she begins to suffer hallucinations. After a while, it looks like she may not make it out alive. Will someone ever come to rescue her?

Kammie is not your typical middle-grade girl. Family issues have forced her mother to make some drastic decisions, and Kammie’s life is anything but wonderful. But as she faces the real possibility of dying, she suddenly discovers she very much wants to live. The Girl in the Well Is Me will keep middle-graders wondering what new revelation will come next, and if Kammie will ever make it out of the well alive. I highly recommend it.

CAUTION: Not recommended for those who suffer from claustrophobia.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

April 11, 2016 Posted by | tween | Leave a comment

The Crystal Navigator

>The Crystal Navigator
Author: Nancy Kunhardt Lodge
Publisher: Wilwahren Press
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0-9960885-3-4
Pages: 200
Price: $21.99

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Lucy Nightingale has had an awful experience giving an oral report, and now she’s facing an even more difficult assignment. She needs to study five paintings and discover something unique about the personalities of the artists. After consulting with her best friend, Sam, she decides to contact her Wise One for help. She’s surprised to find out his name is Wilbur, and he’s a Corgi dog.

Wilbur has a magical adventure in store for Lucy, and they set out for a trip back in time. Wilbur wants Lucy to meet the artists themselves and talk with them about their paintings. Soon they’re visiting Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Jacopo Pontormo, and Vincent van Gogh. But their trip through time is fraught with danger when the crystal navigator develops a virus, and they end up in some unexpected places. As Wilbur’s strength fades along with the navigator, Lucy has to rely on her own wits and resourcefulness to get home safely.

The Crystal Navigator is a sweet fantasy about a girl who calls on her own imagination to take her to new places. Lucy doesn’t know that she has the power to control her own destiny until she returns and realizes what she’s been able to accomplish. Kids will cheer for her efforts and wish her well on her journey.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

February 17, 2016 Posted by | fantasy, tween | Leave a comment

A Blind Guide to Stinkville

A Blind Guide to Stinkville
Author: Beth Vrabel
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-1-63450-157-6
Pages: 264
Price: $16.99

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Alice was used to living in Seattle, where her near-blindness didn’t seem to be a real disability. Everyone knew her, and her best friend, Eliza, helped her get around. But now she’s living in Sinkville – or Stinkville, as she calls it, due to the odor the paper mill generates. Without Eliza to help, she needs to rely on her reluctant older brother to escort her around town. She can’t depend on her parents, since her father is too busy at his new job and her mother is suffering from severe depression.

When the Sinkville Success Stories contest is announced, Alice doesn’t think she has much to contribute. She’s only been living in Sinkville for a little while. But as she begins to talk to the residents of the town, she discovers a history she didn’t expect to encounter. Soon, she begins to see Sinkville as home. Winning the contest suddenly becomes important, but can she really find something unique and interesting to write about?

Alice is an endearing character who refuses to see herself defined by her disability. Yet she hasn’t had the opportunity to try to be self-sufficient, since she’s always had someone around to care for her needs. Now she’s forced to look at the direction her life is taking and do things differently. And as she chooses to change, she positively impacts those around her.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville is an uplifting story of personal growth at the middle-grade level. Alice is an inspiring role-model for kids, as she shows compassion for her mother’s suffering, and comes to an acceptance of her father’s decision to uproot the family for a better opportunity. I highly recommend it.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

December 22, 2015 Posted by | tween | Leave a comment

Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions

Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions
Author: Sheila Grau
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Fantasy / Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1370-5
Pages: 288
Price: $15.95

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Runt Higgins is a third-year student at Dr. Critchlore’s school for minions, and the runt of the litter – of werewolves. Trouble is, he hasn’t morphed since he was seven, and he has no memory of the event. Dr. Critchlore’s school is in desperate trouble, and Runt believes someone is attempting sabotage against it. Unfortunately, there are several likely suspects, since quite a few people at the school have a reason to dislike Dr. Critchlore.

Runt is a nice guy who absolutely loves the school, and he will do anything he can to save it. Putting aside his own Junior Henchman aspirations, he risks everything to try to prevent destructive attempts on the school, along with his loyal friends. But Runt’s attempts end up causing him grief, as he gets into trouble over and over again, causing him to believe he must be cursed.

Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions is similar to Hogwarts, but with monsters training to serve Evil Overlords instead of wizards learning to manage their powers. Ogres, giants, imps, and zombies, as well as other living and undead beings populate this unique university, where being evil is not only good – it’s expected. Runt and his friends are really cool characters with lots of personality, and kids will relate well to them. I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

November 10, 2015 Posted by | fantasy, tween | 1 Comment

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB
Author: Adam Shaughnessy
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Middle-grade / Fantasy
ISBN: 978-1-61620-498-3
Pages: 272
Price: $16.95

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Prudence Potts finds a mysterious note in her room one morning. The daughter of a deceased police detective, Prudence loves mysteries, and is curious about the message it contains. That same day, she meets a mysterious man named Mister Fox in the Winterhaven House Norse museum. And as punishment for various misdeeds against her dour teacher, she is assigned to read a Norse legend with her new classmate, ABE.

What could any of these events have to do with each other? Well, as it turns out, plenty! There are strange things happening in town, and Prudence, ABE, and Mister Fox find themselves right in the middle of them. Although Prudence and ABE don’t quite know what they’re dealing with, they will need to save everyone from an outside force that threatens them. But is Mister Fox friend or foe?

It’s impossible to say very much about this fantastical weaving of Norse mythology with the real world, without giving too much away. The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB is reminiscent of classics I enjoyed by Roald Dahl when I was a child. I highly recommend it, and look forward to reading more of this new series.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

October 29, 2015 Posted by | fantasy, tween | Leave a comment

Mom Made Us Write This in the Summer

Mom Made Us Write This in the Summer
Author: Ali Maier
Publisher: Erie Island Media
Genre: Middle-grade
ISBN: 978-0-9893755-0-4
Pages: 208
Price: $9.95

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Max and Maggie can’t seem to get along. Their mom finally has enough of the constant squabbling, and tells them they need to keep a shared journal during the summer so they can develop better communication. They will alternate picking the topics to write about, but each has to share on the same topic.

Over the course of the summer, they discuss doctor visits, babies, ice cream, sports, and other topics common to ten year olds. They will receive extra points for good spelling, and they aren’t allowed to be be mean to each other. And if all goes according to plan, their mom hopes that they will be getting along better by the end of the summer.

The format of this book is lined notebook paper with “hand-written” font and numerous drawings and side notes. This kid-friendly style is sure to appeal to the younger reader. But I couldn’t really see these discussions happening between two normal middle-grade kids, especially twin siblings. The language was too perfect, they were too well-behaved, and the conversation felt repetitive as each child shared on the same topic. There just wasn’t enough humorous give and take in the dialogue. However adults will like the fact that Max and Maggie are mostly respectful of each other and their parents.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

July 1, 2015 Posted by | tween | Leave a comment

Catie Conrad: How to Become the Most UNPopular Girl in Middle School (Desperate Diva Diaries Series #2)

Catie Conrad - How to Become the Most UNPopular Girl in Middle School
Author: Angie Spady
Publisher: B&H Kids
Genre: Middle grade girls / Christian
ISBN: 978-1-4336-8461-6
Pages: 304
Price: $8.99

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Catie Conrad’s diary continues where Faith, Friendship and Fashion Disasters left off. As she vents to her diary, she gets better perspective on her problems and relieves some of her frustrations.

Catie’s least favorite holiday – Valentine’s Day – is fast approaching. Her little brother, Jeremy, offers to watch his friend’s bearded dragon while he’s away for a few weeks. Her best friend Sophie is competing as part of the academic team, and has new friends and less time for Catie. And her worst enemy – Maranda Maroni – is determined to make Catie’s life miserable. How can she possibly cope?

Middle school is one of the most stressful times in a young girl’s life, and Catie Conrad’s reactions to the turmoil around her are very realistic. But Catie turns to God when things get tough, and that makes all the difference in how she handles things. The Desperate Diva Series sends very positive messages to girls, reminding them that God is in charge, and to just hang on for the ride.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Christian, tween | Leave a comment