I'm pleased to post my review of Things are Not What They Seem, by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks as part of a Blog Tour sponsored by Mother Daughter Book Reviews.
Read on to find my review and learn how you can take part in the tour and a Rafflecopter drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card. It's easy-peasy to enter, but don't delay: this tour ends 19 March.
About the BookTitle: Things Are Not What They Seem | Authors: Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks | Publication Date: April 9, 2014 | Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing | Pages: 268 | Recommended Ages: 10+ Summary: What would you do if you were sitting on a park bench, minding your own business, and one of those annoying pigeons suddenly started to talk to you? And what if the pigeon didn’t just talk to you – in a meticulous British accent, no less – but pleaded with you to help untangle a piece of string that had accidentally attached his leg to a wrought iron fence surrounding the playground? And what if, while you are still convinced that this is all a big nasty trick, a hawk swoops down out of the sky and starts cursing at you, also in the King’s English, for getting in his way when he wanted to execute the pigeon? That is the quandary in which Jennifer (almost 13 years old and probably a bit too smart for her own good) finds herself one sweltering July morning while babysitting her 11-year-old (very precocious) brother James and his mopey, allergy-prone friend Sleepy. She soon learns that the bird is actually a man named Arthur Whitehair, a 19th-century Englishman who had been turned into an eternally-lived pigeon by misreading an ancient spell that was supposed to give him eternal life as a human. Likewise, an unscrupulous colleague of his, named Malman, had been turned into a hawk by Whitehair’s blunder. After years of searching, Whitehair claims (half-truthfully) that Malman has found him hiding in Central Park and is now out for revenge. On top of all this strange business, Jennifer has recently begun having weird dreams in which a crazy-looking man with curly red hair speaks cryptic phrases in Latin. Are they random phrases, or messages? And why would some sketchy guy be sending her messages in her dreams?
Cat's Kid Lit review
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks have penned a page-turner for middle-grade readers who enjoy a touch of fantasy with their fiction. Things are Not What They Seem follows the escapades of four New York City children who bring new meaning to feeding pigeons in Central Park.
The authors’ created a quartet of characters that pop off the page. Their protagonist, almost-twelve-years-old Jennifer Tindal, is a city-savvy girl who’s bothered by weird dreams. Her brother, James, sticks up for her and pals around with wimpy, sheltered Sleepy because James’ “real” friends are away at summer camp. Fashionista/Valley-Girl-talking Kaytlyn enjoys her wealthy family’s clout but learns to help her friends by being clever and courageous.
The secondary characters in this story are portrayed with humor and understanding. Jennifer’s parents are loving but set firm tween boundaries. The authors write with great empathy about the homeless Mr. Bags, who speaks in rhymes and aids the children despite great risk to his personal safety. Several bad guys populate this tale, too, and give kids that extra frisson of danger to keep them interested in the plot.
And well, there’s that talking pigeon, Arthur Whitehair, who literally and figuratively is a hoot and has a wicked-wry backstory.
The City of New York is almost a character unto itself, and the authors write with the loving insider knowledge of natives. You’ll feel as if you’re in Central Park with Jennifer or chasing Arthur along Big Apple streets.
Narrative and Dialogue
The story reads seamlessly, and its plot moves briskly, with plenty of kid-pleasing banter:
“Hello, fat-boy,” the pigeon said.
“Whitehair,” James yelled. “You lard-butt! ”
I appreciate how the story dips into history to bring Arthur Whitehair to life. It also has an amusing plot point about James pretending to be a ventriloquist in order to disguise Arthur’s identify. The climax, which I won’t spoil for you, was spot on and an ingenious way to conclude the book while leaving room for a sequel.
What sets this story apart for me is its gentle, unobtrusive life lessons that Jennifer and James discover, such as this advice from Mom when the siblings feel discouraged after failed attempts to help Arthur:
“Lots of things in life are hard. Raising children is hard. Being married is hard. I don’t think you should quit something just because it’s hard.”
These gems aren’t preachy, and they’re not always delivered by adults:
“But I wasn’t brave, Jenny,” Sleepy said in a very small voice. “I was scared the whole time.”
“That’s what courage is,” Jennifer said. “When you do something even if you are very frightened.”
I highly recommend Things are Not What They Seem for children in grades 3-6. It’s an action/fantasy tinged with humor, and it delivers subtle messages about courage and friendship that young readers need to hear.
I was provided with a free pdf version of this book in exchange for an honest review.
"I LOVED "Things Are Not What They Seem"!! It is funny, exciting, and touching, and very fun to read. The characters are relatable and interesting, so I really cared about all of their adventures while I was reading. "~ 5 Stars, Hermione, Amazon
"The story line is original and makes for an incredibly fun read. This is a book which is VERY hard to put down, all of their adventures will definitely have you on the edge of your seats and you read from page to page. All of the characters in this book (both large and small) are well developed and their personalities definitely come off the page." ~ 5 Stars, Alex, Goodreads
"The characters are well-developed and fun. The story moves along at a brisk pace. Lessons on love, friendship, kindness, and finding your inner strength shine through. And the humor is plentiful! Great for tween readers, as well as a quick, fun read for adults. " ~ 5 Stars, HFBrainerd, Amazon
"Things Are Not What They Seem is a well written story and a joy to read. I was hooked from the start." ~ 5 Stars, Granny's Hill, Amazon
"What a sweet, interesting, and overall wonderful book! I love the interesting, multi-layered, realistic characters, the numerous, unexpected but extremely interesting plot twists, and the use of Latin phrases to enhance the magic. I love the simple, yet powerful message that was woven throughout- that things are not what they seem- even in the rough, harsh world of New York City. That message strongly resonates for kids, teenagers, adults, and anyone in between. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who reads this review!! " ~ 5 Stars, Pat D., Amazon
About the Authors: Anne Rothman-Hicks & Kenneth HicksWhen Anne Rothman was a student at Bryn Mawr College and Kenneth Hicks was a student at Haverford College, they began writing together in an independent-study course with one of Ken’s professors. A brief interlude ensued while Anne wrote wonderful poetry and Ken wrote a book about hitchhiking (The Complete Hitchhiker Tobey Publishing, Dell Distribution), but they soon got back together as writers when Ken was in law school at Columbia University and Anne was paying the rent by working in publishing. They have continued to write together for about forty years and in that time have published four adult novels, eleven non-fiction books for children, two fiction books for middle readers, and two photography books. They also produced three children whom they love even more than writing. Their most recent middle reader book is Things Are Not What they Seem, published by the MuseItYoung division of MuseItUp Publishing, and available in all formats. Their three latest adult novels are Kate and the Kid, a mainstream novel, Mind me, Milady, a mystery thriller, and Praise Her, Praise Diana, a thriller. Between projects, they started a web site www.randh71productions.com. In case you were wondering about the address, “R” is for Rothman, “H” is for Hicks, and “71” is the year of their marriage. No secret codes or numerology anywhere.
"Things Are Not What They Seem" Blog Tour Schedule (2015)February 20
* Blog Tour Giveaway *Prize: One winner will receive a $50 Amazon gift card or $50 PayPal cash prize, winner's choice Contest closes: March 19, 11:59 pm, 2015 Open to: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com. a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Driving Down to Dillon: A Very-Short Story of Love and New Beginnings
by Richard Levine
Publisher: Firedrake Books LLC
Author Richard Levine introduces us to tween angst, camaraderie, and loss in his tale of friendship between tall, gawky DC Blau and shy Rob Cameron, who meet and become pals at a birthday party one summer in a Long Island town.
Levine’s book follows their blossoming friendship during a yearlong period and introduces us to their families, neighborhood, and school. The narrative ping-pongs between the two protagonists in their first-person voices, so readers understand both views of the same situation. This technique allows readers to truly get into the minds of this tween boy and girl. The back-and-forth arc flows through most chapters and is generally effective. I was confused initially when the author added first-person views from other characters, but I understood as the book progressed (no spoiler given!).
The author’s narrative is strongest during internal monologues. Rob’s recounting of a family vacation to North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a moving, sweet tribute to his father. Likewise, his projection of a what-if future speaks volumes to adults and young readers about optimism and perseverance. One of my favorite vignettes involves Rob’s unique way of helping a cash-strapped family remember their trip to Disney World as he also uncovers the depth of his father’s commitment to their town.
Levine brings a rich sense of place to his Long Island Sound setting, inserting kid-friendly escapades on the water and snippets of life in this close-knit community. He also supplies enough action to keep tweens interested: baseball games, fishing trips, first dates and kisses, and family tragedies.
The book would be stronger if it eliminated many clichés, nicknames, and acronymns. These devices were often confusing and difficult to understand, especially beyond a certain age and outside a USA culture. I don’t believe middle-graders would understand or appreciate most of them: Wouldn’t want to meet a mamba, ’cause if an African mamba gets you, it’s as the man from Odd says, “Say good night, Gracie.”
Two Kids provides upper-elementary and middle-school readers with relatable characters and a plot into which they can sink their teeth. Be aware: since Two Kids deals with death, sensitive young readers who recently experienced a loss may be disturbed by elements of the book.
I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Kid Lit Book Review
John Bloom and the Victory Garden
by Leigh Shearin
Recommended Grades: 3-8
Author Leigh Shearin’s John Bloom and the Victory Garden, the first of her John Bloom Series, is a sure-fire win for boys in grades 3-8, history buffs, and foodies. The author stirs these incongruent ingredients into a powerful tale that comes together like a perfect three-course meal, and it leaves the reader eager for more.
[John] burst through the kitchen door and was greeted by a wave of warm, steamy air that was scented with onions and apples, bread, and some kind of meat. His mother stood with her back to him, her left arm down on the work surface, her right elbow up in the air, doing battle with a bowl of something on the counter. There was a bowl of pickled beets and a plate of bread on the kitchen table in the center of the room, waiting to be moved to the dining room. Best of all though, was a round platter piled high with fat, golden brown sausages that glistened with fat still bubbling on the surface. They were resting gloriously on a bed of steaming sauerkraut laced with thinly sliced, caramel-colored onions.
Several recipes of meals described in the book are printed at the end of the story, so children can actually make food that the ABCs ate.
On occasion, Shearin uses accented dialogue with some characters. While she is adept at doing so, I find this literary device distracting, so I’m glad she keeps it to a minimum. There is also a chapter that switches from John’s third-person voice to that of an adult character’s perspective. The change is effective, but it could confuse some young readers.
John Bloom and the Victory Garden - Part 1 is a trifecta of food, history, and boyhood. I highly recommend this story for children (especially boys) in grades 3-8. They’ll hunger for Part II of this series, Digging In, and be impatient for its debut in Fall 2015.
The plot charts the transformation of John and his playmates. Before the war, their world revolves around such activities as trading a prized rabbit skull for a freeze-dried earthworm. After December 7, they create the American Boys’ Club (the ABCs) and dedicate their time to helping their beloved Appleside support the war efforts.
Shearin serves up the right mix of energetic, kid-centric dialogue with descriptive narrative, both of which focus on the ABCs and their 1940s coming-of-age era. Readers are immersed in period details that bring history to life. Leafing through photographs in Life Magazine. Shopping at the Five and Ten. Listening to radio broadcasts of President Roosevelt or Prime Minister Churchill deliver stirring wartime messages. Waiting for letters from loved ones fighting overseas. (Imagine that: no email or Skype!)
Yet boys will be boys, and Shearin adds plenty of mischievous plot elements, like pranking the neighbors and devising secret talisman.
I dare anyone to read John Bloom and not develop a food craving. The author injects mouthwatering bites from her culinary background that are rarely encountered in middle-grade books:
The story is a time capsule of life in a small, northeastern U.S. town on the eve of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath during the winter 1942 as seen through the eyes of three fourth-grade boys.
Shearin is inventive in her character descriptions. For example, protagonist John Bloom wants a shiny, blue-and-white Schwinn DX bike for Christmas and can reach his front porch from the sidewalk in just five jumps--unless his shoelace comes untied. He and friend Charles Anderson Slovinsky (Chewie) share a secret knock when visiting each other’s home: three raps on the front door signals an urgent, parent-free visit. The third chum, Joe Riccio, comes from an Italian immigrant family, and they face possible internment due to Mussolini’s part in the war.
John Bloom also introduces readers to a host of secondary characters who add richness and dimension to the story: the town Scrooge with a secret sweet tooth and a hoard of seed packets, a kindly farmer, a wise doctor, and more.
John’s hometown of Appleside, NJ, is another pivotal character in a very real sense. Its rural backdrop underscores how the boys and townsfolk overcome adversity with optimism, humor, and resilience. An Appleside street map by artist Katie Shearin (an author/illustrator dynasty in the making) prefaces the book and provides a strong visual image of the town readers will inhabit alongside John Bloom and his friends.
I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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