Reviews From the Pros

  • My Heart Vine: The Last Akaway

    A review by: Kimberly Pratt

    Bookshelves: Middle School, Fantasy, Adventure, Early Chapter Books

    Rating: 4 of 5 stars (It was good)

    Recommended Age: 8 and up

    I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

    This is a really good fantasy book for probably 8 and up. Our protagonist is Brody Boondoggle a typical 11yo boy and the only thing special about him in the beginning is his belief in magic. Because of this belief, his grammy shows him a world full of magic which all starts with a rare bird called an akaway. Once he's bitten by the akaway. Brody begins to realize he is very special indeed. The akaway helps connect kids to their spirit animals and after being tricked by Uncle Skeeta, Brody must set out to open the portal between the two worlds and save the special powers of kids everywhere. The magic can't be seen by nonbelievers so Brody's older brother Jake doesn't believe his brother in the beginning but with grammy's encouragement Jake helps Brody and in turn opens up his eyes to the magic. This book is a short and easy read. A lot of it is summarized and filled with goofy jokes and conversations. There isn't much detail but a lot of action so it appeals to a younger set. There's never an actual description of the Akaway other than it's a rare creature like no other, and it's an albino. Every time someone asks, 'what's an akaway?' someone always responds with, "Oh, about fifty pounds." These are the kinds of kooky jokes filling this book. In this book video games are the anti-magic and playing outside and having fun helps magic grow stronger. There is some jealousy and betrayal by a friend in the midst of the adventure. It was a quick easy read and I think my boys will enjoy it.

    Thank you Brattle Publishing Group!

    Happy Reading!

  • The Fairview Review : Winter Reading 2014 The Last Akaway

    A review by: The Fairview Review

    There's been a renewed interest in spirit animals recently. Scholastic has their Spirit Animals series with the online game component and several different authors (similar to the way 39 Clues and Infinity Ring are organized). And now there is the first in a series featuring the character of Brody Boondoggle, along with his Grammy and big brother Jake. Brody and Jake are spending time with their grandmother and during a walk in the woods, Grammy and Brody find an akaway. What's an akaway? "Oh, about 50 pounds," said Grammy. "Maybe a little more after a big meal." (There are silly moments like that all through the book, many of them based on Grammy mishearing something the boys have said.) Actually, an akaway is a magical creature with the ability to connect kids to their spirit animals. Brody can see it, but Jake can't - which makes it hard to convince his brother that they need to help the creature. What follows is a quest to find a portal to another dimension, with the necessary villains to try and stop our heroes.
    There is action, humor, typical brotherly teasing and arguing, a really cool grandmother (even if she can't hear very well), a jealous friend, bad guys to dislike, and magical possibilities. I think one of my favorite things about the book is the explanation that children don't connect with their spirit animals any more because they are so busy with video games and electronic devices. It makes sense that if you are not connected to nature and really aware of it, then you can't connect to your spirit animal. If you enjoy adventures and stories of kids trying to save the world or endangered species, then you'll have fun with Brody.
    I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published on February 25, 2014.

  • Journey of a Bookseller: The Last Akaway, A Spirit Animal Adventure by Gary Karton

    A review by: Jo Ann Hakola

    I'm Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie, and I have been selling books since January of 2000. It's a homebased business and I sell online only. Here is my website: I offer free shipping stateside. It's a one woman endeavor, and I love working for myself. I have over 6,000 books online now. I do book reviews from a reader's point-of-view and try to spread the magic of reading.


    Brody and his Grammy always got along well and he looks forward to his time with her. She's always been a bit different and she's getting old, but their time is still precious. It gets even more special when he sees this strange animal and she tells him it's an Akaway.

    Brattle Publishing Group and Net Galley gave me the opportunity to read this ebook story (thank you). It will be published February 25th, so you can grab a copy then.

    Brody sees this spirit animal because he believes in magic. He and Grammy do; it's his older brother who doesn't. When he takes his big brother Jake, to see it, they are followed. The hunter wants the Akaway, too, but not for any good reason. It's the last Akaway and helps maintain order and balance in the world. The evil Uncle Skeeta wants chaos so he can control the world.

    My favorite part of the story is the fact that Grammy is pretty deaf. Brody keeps asking or answering question and what she says next is hilarious. The author must have been around someone older with poor hearing to get this part of the story so accurate. It might be life or death for the Akaway, but you'll be laughing at the conversations with Grammy.

    Happy reading.

  • LemurKat's Library: Exceptional Fun for the Young (and Young at Heart)

    A review by: LemurKat

    A cute adventure story aimed at young boys - 7-10 at a guess, and designed to encourage them to play outside instead of spending their time in the computer-game world.

    This book was a LOT of fun - the characters of Jake and Brody were immediately likeable and immediately realistic. I did find the jumping viewpoint a little confusing at first: the chapters are so short that one minute you're in Jake's head, the next in Brody's, but once I slowed down my reading speed a little it became rather easier. The random conversation topics spattered throughout the text were highly entertaining, and I am wondering if the author garnered them from his own two boys, whom I imagine are a lot like Jake and Brody.

    Some of the plot seemed a little forced - the fact that Jake stayed up all night basically reading every single book about the spirit animals that he could find seemed rather a convenient excuse to give him instant knowledge on everything important, but I would very much doubt a teenage boy would read that fast and retain that much. Still, this is not exactly a logical book - it is a tale to entertain and amuse the young fellows, who will not be analysing everything: like how a fish could walk and whether the Crab skittered sideways.

    Overall, this was a great romp and would be exceptionally fun to read to a young audience. If I ever find myself in the situation where I have my tablet and are required to amuse a young boy (aged 6-9) then I shall certainly be reading this one! Heck, maybe it might inspire them to put down the game console and go outside, climb a tree or throw a snowball (but not a rock) and get in touch with their own spirit animal.

  • Our Kids: The Last Akaway

    A review by: Madeline Miller

    Slam! The book snaps to a close, and I sigh, settling back in my chair to contemplate the story. The Last Akaway, is a fairly new novel written by local author Gary Karton and is well-worth taking the time to read.

    In the tale, Brody Boondoggle discovers a magical animal (the Akaway) that keeps children connected to their 'spirit animals'. What is a spirit animal you ask? I'd say you should read the book to find out, but I'll fill you in anyway. Spirit animals are animals that give kids special powers - determination, creativity and loyalty. However, when the Akaway is fatally injured, Brody and his older brother Jake (with the help of witty old Grammy) must embark on a mission to track down a rogue fish doctor, find the Sequestered Spring and defeat the evil Uncle Skeeta to save the Akaway.

    Gary Karton spins a marvelous tale filled with magic, adventure, and plot twists and turns to keep the reader hooked. I would recommend this book for children ages seven and up.

    The Parents Perspective

    When we received a copy of the book (signed by Gary), my oldest daughter, an avid reader, snatched up the book and devoured it in a day. She was enraptured by the magical elements of the book and after finishing went immediately to the website to find out what her spirit animal was (a red-tailed hawk). Days later we began to read the book as a family before bedtime and have to agree, the book transports readers to another place and time. There are elements of adventure and it allows children to think outside the box. It also gives kids a sense that they have more abilities and powers than they might think. We're looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

    Get your kids to find out what their spirit animal is and purchase The Last Akaway as a gift for that special young reader. Not only will you fill their minds with tales of magic; but you'll also be supporting a local author.

    About the Author

    Gary Karton began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has since worked at numerous non-profits. He came up with the idea for this book series because of a birthday party he created for his youngest son. Karton lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and two children.

    Want More?

    You can purchase the book online (print, e-book or audio book). You can also get 20% off The Last Akaway plus a spirit animal necklace when you purchase it at If you're local to Arlington, Virginia and the surrounding areas and want your book signed with a personalized note by Gary (and save on shipping), email Alissa Karton at

    • Go online, take a quiz and see what your spirit animal might be.
    • Follow Gary Karton and The Last Akaway on Facebook.
    • The Last Akaway was also reviewed by The Washington Post.
    • Great news! The Last Akaway won the bronze medal in the 2013 Moonbeam Children's Book Award for Pre-Teen Fiction-Fantasy!
  • Washington Post: ‘The Last Akaway’ explores kids’ special powers

    A review by: Moira E. McLaughlin

    What is your spirit animal? Is it a rhinoceros beetle, a bug that can lift 850 times its weight? Is it a determined and catlike spotted ocelot that will fight to the death? Or maybe a rainbow trout, with its keen sense of direction? According to the legend in Gary Karton’s kids book “The Last Akaway,” all kids have spirit animals that give them magical animal-like powers.

    Inspired by his kids

    Karton’s book, the first in a trilogy, (that’s a series of three books), follows two brothers as they seek to save the Akaway, a magical animal that helps kids connect with their spirit animal. The adventure through snowy woods includes a talking crab, but Karton drew a lot of his inspiration from real-life experiences. The main characters are named after his sons, and Karton sought to make the dialogue realistic, like something he would hear his children say.

    “I never really thought about writing kids books until I was reading with my kids,” said Karton, who lives in Arlington with his wife and sons Jake, 14, and Brody, 12. His boys, he said, wanted him to write a book that was unpredictable. So he did.

    “I’m just going to write a book that I would really like,” Karton recalled thinking. “I love animals. I love special powers and I love having fun.” He wrote the first draft of “The Last Akaway” in about four months.

    “I was just trying to type as fast I could to figure out where my imagination was going,” he said.

    Reading as a challenge

    Growing up in Chicago, Illinois, with a learning disability, Karton didn’t like to read. “My memory of school was tough,” he said. “I felt stupid because I could never [read] very well.”

    What Karton lacked in natural ability, he made up for in determination and creativity. As a kid he liked to make up games with his best friend, such as a Ping Pong obstacle course.

    “I was a big daydreamer,” he said. “I dreamed all the time.”

    When Karton was in college, he hated going to the library to do research. Reading was still hard for him. Instead, he would find experts on the topic that he needed to write about and call them for an interview. (He later used those interview skills while working as a sports reporter at The Washington Post.) And when Karton was writing, rewriting and editing his book — which took two years after that first draft — he went to the experts again: this time, kids.

    “I had a group of 10 kids and . . . every time I would write something, I would talk to the kids and they would say, ‘This is funny,’ ‘This is not funny,’ ” he said. “I have been criticized for listening to kids too much, but I think kids are amazing and honest, and they have so much creativity.”

    Karton was rejected by 12 publishers, or companies that get books out to the public. But he never got discouraged.

    “I’m a big believer in perseverance,” said Karton, who is writing the second book in his series while working for Safe Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping kids safe around the world.

    Special powers

    When Karton was a kid, he used to try to get spiders to bite him in hopes that it would give him special powers, like Spider-Man’s. That trick never worked. But as an adult, he realized that everyone has special powers.

    “It’s hard to be different, but so good to be different,” Karton said. “Everyone has at least one special power that makes them extraordinary.”

    Like the characters in his book, Brody and Jake, you just have to figure out what your special power is, he said.

    — Moira E. McLaughlin

  • A funny, engaging middle grade adventure with an important lesson at its core.

    A review by: Kirkus

    A funny, engaging middle grade adventure with an important lesson at its core.

    Brody Boondoggle, an intrepid 12-year-old, is out with his hilariously verbose (and hard-of-hearing) Grammy walking in the woods when they spot a strange creature across the pond. Brody’s curiosity leads to a bite on his eyebrow, but the interaction awakens a special power inside him that Grammy heartily encourages but his older, more rational brother, Jake refuses to believe. Brody’s new fantastical, animal trait–based skill set—he need only concentrate on, say, a locust or a flying squirrel to adopt its particular physical qualities—also alienates his best friend, Rudy, which leads to a rivalry that threatens not only their friendship but an entire magical world that includes talking crabs and elusive fish. When the magical creature that bit Brody—an Akaway, whom Jake can’t see at first—begins to weaken, it’s up to Brody to confront an epidemic of indifference to magic, which has been brought about by a particularly addictive video game.

    What follows is a spirited journey of self-discovery and a celebration of childish imagination, as well as an exploration of kids’ resourcefulness and inherent goodness. Important, though far from didactic, teaching moments abound, wrapped in exciting descriptions and incorporated easily and naturally into the story. Author Karton has an ear finely tuned to the rhythms and sweet absurdities of childhood patter, and his tale has enough fabulous twists and turns to keep even the most grown-up young adults intrigued. While the writing falls in the well-plumbed tradition of adventure tales—readers will recognize a number of fondly made references—the villain and resolution are wonderfully original. Adults reading to children will also delight in the wholesomely irreverent tone and moments of linguistic fancy.

    A refreshingly imaginative, emotionally satisfying quest for all ages.