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Midwest Book Review

The Silver Strand is Book 1 of the ‘Mastermind Academy’ series and is a pick for young adult readers who enjoy stories of magic and fantasy.

At the heart of the saga is twelve-year-old Isabelle, who holds no magical powers until a mysterious silver strand of hair sprouts, generating embarrassing pink dust and fireworks. All it takes is a wish from her that it never grew, to suppress its magical implications and make it vanish – or so it appears.

Readers ages 9-12 will find The Silver Strand an absorbing account of magic and renewal, and also an unexpectedly fun read with humor sprinkled not only within the story line but in chapter headings (such as ‘Basketball, Worms & Pink Dust’.)

The character of Isabelle reads like a typical twelve-year-old, which lends a satisfyingly realistic feel to her story. Equally realistic is Isabelle’s struggle with teasing and fear as the other children target her for being different: “Catching the bus was a very bad idea. Isabelle prayed again for that black hole to open up and suck her in. Better yet, she wished it would gobble up the bigmouth.”

What would you do if you discovered you have magical powers that set you apart from others? Would you use them, or would you wish them away?

The Silver Strand moves from one girl’s dilemma to her experiences of a much wider universe, including a talking cat (Boldrick) who is much more than a cat, new friend Esme (who holds her own special powers), and a journey that will change them all.

Humor links all encounters and is a lovely, satisfying feature: “Let me finish, Lady Isabelle,” said stinky cat breath. “The Councilors and their buffoons are on their way to Shonshe to arrest you. Shame they won’t find you there. Please hurry and get the crystal to Shambala. We pray this message finds you before the Councilors do. Regards, Boldrick Cavendar. P.S. Any tips to escape would be appreciated.” Boldrick read the letter and mouthed the words to himself. “Thank you, Lady Isabelle. Now hurry and fold the letter into a paper plane.”

From teleportation to a magic city, a talking cat to a super-computer storing records of a magical land and a school that teaches how to use magic of the mind, The Silver Strand features fine characters, tensions and subplots – all neatly woven into the experiences of a preteen struggling with her own inherent powers and bigger picture of the world.

Adult fans of fantasy who seek lighter reading will also find The Silver Strand an easy, inviting read.

Reader’s Favourite

5 Stars

The Silver Strand, by L. J. Clarkson, introduces readers to Isabelle Tresdon—an artist and scientist—not an athlete—who, while suffering through gym class with a headache, ends up on the floor with pink dust that sparkles around her, then fades away. Minutes later, Isabelle sprouts a “granny hair.” This silver streak worries Isabelle. Will the others kids now give her grandma nicknames, like Ethyl, Beryl, or Shirley? With the assistance of her best friend, Bianca, Isabelle attempts to cut off the silver streak. Only later does she learn that it was to be her ticket into the Mastermind Academy, a school of magic.

Presented with a series of tests she must pass in order to earn back her silver streak, Isabelle begins a journey full of chaos, worry and fun! She discovers how to use her imagination to envision the solution to a problem, how to appreciate her own unique beauty and that of others, and how to believe in herself.

In The Silver Strand, Clarkson has provided Isabelle support via a cast of characters rich in quirky personality traits. Meet Bianca, the tough best friend who uses her shirt to wipe off “a year’s worth of smudges” from her eyeglasses. Meet “Mom,” who has kept her own silver streak hidden all these years! One after the other, from Mr. Higgins, the science teacher who conducts dangerous in-class experiments, to Jemima, who accuses Isabelle of being an alien, to Boldrick, destined to live in the form of a cat for years, to Esme the daredevil, to Max the toad, to Ramala the dragon—who initially intends to season, roast and then eat Isabelle—The Silver Strand delivers! With charm, wit and laugh-out-loud dialogue and prose, Clarkson has created a story that is destined to become a favorite for middle grade and pre-teen readers!

Eric This Kid Reviews Books

5 out of 5 Stars

Isabelle is shocked when a silver strand of hair pokes through her scalp and grows into a large streak. Isabelle feels very embarrassed by the hair and thinks it looks weird and it makes her self-conscious at school. That day at home, she wishes that the strand never appeared. Then, the strand shrivels up and gets discolored. Isabelle is even more shocked when 2 people (well 1 person and one talking cat who used to be a person) from a magical world called Agartha (a strange world of magic) show up and tell her she’s going to die in five days unless she can heal her strand. Isabelle learns that the strand is a source of magical powers, HER magical powers and she must pass some “tests” in order to heal it. But is it too late?

This was one of those “I-got-in-trouble-because-my-parents-caught-me-reading-this-book-under-my-covers-with-a-flashlight-at-ten-o’clock-at-night-on-a-school-night” books. I really liked the plot to this story and I couldn’t put it down (hence the “under the covers” part :) ). The book was a fun read for me because of the magic part of it and there was the right amount of humor mixed into it. Isabelle is a great main character. I enjoyed getting to know her and I cared about what was happening to her. Esme and Boldrick (the two from Agartha) were good characters too. Ms. Clarkson did a good job writing an exciting story that is good for younger kids. By the end of the book, I was wanting more (but in a good way). I am glad to see that this is book 1 so I am guessing a book 2 is being written! YAY! The only thing I would change is that the cover was a bit too dark on the ebook version I read, but it still looks cool.

Sher A Hart

4 out of 5 Stars

I really liked the book! I thought it was a great story with a lot of personality. I loved the main character. She was believable and not stereotypical. She was just a girl. I get sick of stereotypical characters cause I don’t feel like many real people fit into stereotypes anyway. So, I loved that about the main character. I also thought the personalities of the supporting characters were all so very different from each other it kept things interesting. Names were fun, but some were difficult to pronounce in my head. I sort of wished there had been a pronunciation guide at times.

The story was a winner too. I thought it was original and just interesting. The concept of magic was simple and easy to explain, nothing too fancy. I loved the idea of the hidden world being at the earth’s core. It seems so well hidden and why not, right? Who is going to tunnel to the center of the earth unless they have magic to assist them.

Aside from anything else I just liked the author’s writing style. She kept things light-hearted and optimistic while maintaining a sense of reality.

Christy’s Cozy Corner

4 out of 5 Stars

The Silver Strand is a very cute Middle Grade book. It is full of adventure, excitement, and magic…the stuff tweens love! The story starts out with an ordinary girl in an ordinary school doing ordinary things. But the not so ordinary happens when her hair starts bleeding pink dust! From that point on, Isabelle’s life is completely changed!

The characters in The Silver Strand are wonderful. Boldrick has to be my favorite because he’s a cat :) And we all know how I feel about cats! He’s not a cuddly kind of cat though. He’s more like the cat in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch! Then there is Esme who is full of spunk and spirit. And, of course, Isabelle! Since she has just found out about her magical powers, you can’t blame her for being a little creeped out by her circumstances. But she does just wonderfully.

The scenes are nicely described and the adventure is the type a middle-grader would really enjoy. And what would a fantasy be without a dragon? You’ll love this dragon! He’s not at all what you’d expect :) The plot moves pretty quickly and is at a pace MG readers can follow without being overwhelmed.

I recommend this book for anyone in the 8-12 age range who loves magic and fantasy.

Wondermom Wannabe

The Silver Strand is the first book in the Mastermind Series, created by L.J. Clarkson. The book is targeted to 9-12 year olds and in terms of plot, character development, and content is well suited to that age group. Though the lead character is a 12-year old girl, both boys and girls will enjoy this fantasy adventure.

Isabelle is a typical middle school student, until she sprouts an unusual silver strand that zaps people and spews pink dust. Out of frustration, she makes an impetuous wish that sets her on a path of mystical adventures. Accompanied by two chaperones who are either altruistic saviors or traitorous criminals (she struggles to decide which throughout the story), she embarks on a remarkable journey that transforms her in more ways than one. Along the way, Isabelle makes some interesting new friends that help her reveal talents she didn’t know she possessed and who also help to save her life, earning her gratitude and admiration.

The imaginative land of Agartha is enchanting and whimsical. Children will enjoy traveling to this magical place and being introduced to the colorful cast of non-human characters, especially Mozzy, Boldrick, and Ramala. Be prepared to answer some questions about unusual phrases though since the author is Australian and uses phrases and terms that American readers might not recognize. Other than using a few unfamiliar sayings, Isabelle is a typical tween and most children will relate to her thoughts, emotions, and attitude. The story introduces some serious topics that will lead thoughtful readers to ponder environmentalism and mankind’s carbon footprint if they draw a connection between the Terrans abuse of the planet in their mining of natural resources with society’s reliance on fossil fuels. The book also highlights the complexity of politics by leaving the presumed villains’ (the counsillors) fate in the hands of the populace, which is not unanimous in its ultimate decision.

The Muse Unleashed

3.5 out of 5 stars

Isabelle just wants to be normal. That proves difficult when a metallic silver strand sprouts out of her head on day after gym class and shoots off fuchsia sparkles. Isabelle already has kids picking on her because she’d rather be in science class, she doesn’t need to be given grannie nicknames as well (obviously Isabelle never watched Stacy London rock her silver streak on What Not To Wear).

Angry at the problems her new hair has caused (like the school mean queen Jemina saying she’s an alien) Isabelle wishes the hair had never grew in and then her REAL problems begin. The hair shrivels up and shortly after, two strange people arrive stating they have come to take Isabelle to Mastermind Academy, a magical school hidden inside the Earth.

Isabelle soon learns her mother has a silver strand as well and was tossed out of Mastermind Academy for plotting against the Councilors. But according to the new arrivals, a woman named Esme and a talking cat named Boldrick, her mother was wrongly accused and they need Isabelle help to save their magical world. At the same time, Esme and Boldrick will help Isabelle save her strand before it magically sucks up Isabelle’s life.

I really enjoyed the plot of this story. Isabelle is such a typical tween. She’s desperate to fit in and doesn’t always have the strongest confidence in herself. Boldrick is also a delight with his proper 18th century gentleman mannerisms. Throughout, he and Esme show Isabelle that she is special and help build up her confidence. Through completing the tests to save her strand, Isabelle learns to accept her magic and to believe in herself which comes in very handy at the end.

This is a delightful magical tale that I think will be popular with young girls ages 9-13. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

Mel’s Shelves

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Isabelle’s life starts out pretty ordinary. She’s trying to survive gym class, along with her best friend, Bianca. She’s had a headache for a few days and, suddenly, she’s bleeding pink dust and feeling something wiggle out of her head. She grew a silver strand of hair that she tries to get rid of. She’s not sure what to do and then Esme and Boldrick (a cat) show up. Her strand is dying and she has five days to revive it or she will die as well. She has to pass three tests and if she does, she will then be admitted to Mastermind Academy.

This is a cute, quick, clean read! Isabelle is likable and I found myself cheering her on. Boldrick is a cat and he was pretty funny. Esme is quirky and unpredictable. It was fast-paced with a satisfying end. I was hoping to read about her experiences in the Academy, but I guess that will be book 2! I recommend this for mid-grade readers, 9-12.