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Book Review: The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris

Inventor's secretTitle: The Inventor’s Secret

Author: Chad Morris

Series: Cragbridge Hall #1

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Imagine a school in the year 2074 where students don’t read history, but watch it happen around them; where running in gym class isn’t around a track, but up a virtual mountain; and where learning about animals means becoming one through an avatar. Welcome to Cragbridge Hall, the most advanced and prestigious school in the world. Twin siblings Abby and Derick Cragbridge are excited as new students to use their famed grandfather’s inventions that make Cragbridge Hall so incredible. But when their grandfather and parents go missing, the twins begin following a trail of clues left by their grandfather. They must find out where their family is, learn who they can trust, and discover what secrets are hidden within Cragbridge Hall. Abby and Derick soon realize they are caught in a race with a fierce adversary to discover their grandfather’s greatest secret–a dangerous discovery that could alter both history and reality.

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The Review:

There came a point in my life where I realized I just wasn’t enjoying middle grade books as much as I used to. It was a horrifying discovery because, after all, these were the titles I grew up on – the very genre that nurtured my love of reading. Nowadays, it takes a remarkable-sounding novel to even get me interested. The Inventor’s Secret was among those exceptions.

It had all of the adventure I was hoping for, but also had some other cool, unexpected elements. For one, there was an overall mystery that held some appeal for my adult tastes: Abby and Derick had to solve a series of clues left by their grandfather to figure out what happened to both him and their parents. Combine the puzzle-solving tasks with some really neat classroom challenges, and I was sold. Those challenges even reminded me of the obstacles Harry Potter faced while going after the Sorcerer’s Stone… Resonance.

The Inventor’s Secret also introduced something that gives my inner child a major geek-out: ANIMAL AVATARS!!! How cool is that? I always love books that incorporate wildlife, and the unique presentation of this concept is what initially drew me to the book. Essentially, these kids are hooked up to a computer that transfers their minds over to mechanical animals (oh, how I wish I was a student at this school). This element reminded me of the Animorphs series by Applegate, which gets extra credit for sparking my love of reading when I was ten… More resonance.

As much as I love mystery, adventure, and animal avatars, I also love when I feel like I’ve learned something from a book (be it potion-making, science, basket weaving, whatever!). I liked this one, especially because it took an ordinary school subject, history, and made it fun! The classrooms were equipped with virtual projectors that surrounded the students with scenes from the past, essentially making them part of the action. Morris made history come alive while simultaneously making me want to learn more about each event (I don’t know exactly how accurate the references were, but I imagine they were well researched). Add all of that awesomeness to some good old time-travel, and the possibilities are endless.

You can see how many great elements this book brought to the table. There was honestly nothing I didn’t like about it. The writing was geared more towards younger readers than Fablehaven or Harry Potter, but not by much. All in all, I highly recommend this title and am excited for the sequel.

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull

sky raidersTitle: Sky Raiders

Author: Brandon Mull

Series: Five Kingdoms #1

Genre: Middle Grade

Release Date: March 11, 2013

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The OverviewCole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level. After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them and ends up in The Outskirts.

The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. Its an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. And once you come to the Outskirts, its very hard to leave. With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, its up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home before his existence is forgotten.

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The Review:

What a fun new series from Brandon Mull! Sky Raiders had everything I’ve come to expect from this author: truckloads of imagination, epic adventures, and characters who are so relatable they take you back to your childhood. Aside from JK Rowling, Mull is definitely my favorite middle grade author and I’m excited to see every new book from him get stronger and stronger.

As an adult, I definitely enjoyed Sky Raiders because the kids were quick-witted and the overall plot was complex enough to keep me engaged. It’s one of those books that gets interesting right away and really doesn’t let up until the end – perfect for kids who have a difficult time focusing long enough to read. While Fablehaven will always be my all time favorite from Mull, I’m thrilled that I now have another solid story to hand to kids looking for next great read.

As I’ve mentioned, Mull always has a great deal of imagination in the books he writes. I have found that, especially in children’s books, too much imagination can make the story a little too far-fetched and silly for my tastes. In this case, however, Mull created a new world where wacky, random things can be made real through a particular magic called “shaping.” Because this world had a solid set of rules, all the fantastical creations became feasible even if they were sometimes a bit random. Was it still a bit too much? For me, maybe a little; for a  ten-year-old (i.e. the target audience) it was perfect.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sky Raiders – it had many neat elements that I’m sure we’ve only scratched the surface of at this point. It’s one of the main reasons I’m eager to read on in this series – I can’t wait to find out more about the Five Kingdoms!

Recommended Reading: I would be eager hand this book to any kid who enjoys books with magic – especially ones who loved the Beyonders series by the same author. It’s definitely geared towards a younger audience, so I would probably only hand it to an adult if they mention they like middle grade titles.

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Thank you Edelweiss for the chance to read and review this title!

by Niki Hawkes