Tuesday, September 15, 2020

MG Action/Adventure review of The Endangereds by Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan

The EndangeredsThe Endangereds by Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of Pages:  352
Publishing:  September 29th, 2020
Source:  Sparkpress in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "The shore was too far away."

Endangereds is the first book in a new adventure series by world-renowned environmentalist Phillippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan, author of Turbo Racers.  It's being described as "The A-Team meets the animal kingdom," and I kind of like that pairing.  The cover certainly drew my attention. 
So what exactly are the Endangereds you may ask?  They're a group of wildlife animal defenders consisting of Arief the orangutan, their semi leader, Wangari, a pangolin adept with engineering all of their high tech gadgets, Murdock, a narwhal or their sarcastic communications expert, and the newest muscle recruit, Nuk the polar bear.  Currently they live in the Galapagos at the Ark, a safe zone designed by human researchers and scientists to keep away all outside threats.  Unbeknown to the scientists, the Endangereds have been going out on secret missions around the world to protect and defend endangered species.

Endangereds is an interesting story that I see appealing to children who are interested in environmental activism and animal science.   While Endangereds is designed as an action/adventure story, it does encourage children to think about climate change, the impact that humans are having on animals, and the ever changing ecosystems of animals today.  Part of the storyline even explains the benefits and difficulties faced with trying to reintroduce a species back into their natural habitat.  As your reading the story, the authors introduce the various habitats of each of the characters, from the climate to the vegetation.   I liked having the point of views shift between the various animals, although Nuk is probably still my favorite.  There's even some pretty cool gadgets, special headsets, computers, programming/coding and even an airplane rescue mission to keep things interesting.  Plus one surprise villainous character that I don't think we've seen the last of in this series.  

At the back of the book the authors include facts on each of the endangered animals from the story, what you can do to help, and even information on organizations like the World Wildlife Federation and Earthecho International.  The story never gets bogged down in the details of the various animals, but does encourage further thought and exploration on the topics of environmental activism.  I was especially struck with just how difficult a task animal conservation is and while there are valiant efforts being made to keep animals safe from predators, the animals are still being kept in a form of captivity which can lead to the animals loosing their natural hunt and survival instincts.  The story has the impactful message that even one small change can influence the balance of nature.   
   ** Thank you Sparkpress for the review copy**

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

MG review of Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrations by Jon Klassen

49151010. sx318 Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrations by Jon Klassen
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Algonquin Young Readers

Number of Pages:  136
Publishing:  September 15th, 2020
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line: "The first time Badger saw Skunk, he thought, puny, and shut the door."

Badger is very appreciative that his Aunt Lula offered her brownstone for him to live and work in.  It's his place of solitude and routine.  Then one day Skunk comes knocking on the door.  At first, Badger mistakes him for a salesman but then learns that Aunt Lula invited Skunk to live at the brownstone too.  Needless to say, Badger is very surprised by the news as he never expected to have a roommate, nor has he ever wanted one.   

Skunk is a jovial fella and immediately starts to make himself at home, while Badger starts to feel like his space is being invaded.  Skunk doesn't even confer with him before moving from the guest quarter closet to the second-floor space, he doesn't even discuss breaking down the boxes in Badger's box room before changing it into a bedroom.  Skunk is even kinda loud and bouncy, while Badger is trying to do his important rock work.    And he can't believe it when Skunk invites over the neighborhood chickens for a party and they take over his rock room.  Hoping to get rid of his loud, interfering roommate, Badger writes a letter to his Aunt to tell her that this arrangement just won't do.  

But then Skunk makes him the most glorious breakfasts, with hot chocolate and he does tell the most wonderful stories.  Skunk even apologizes for his past actions and they're finally reaching some common ground.  That is until an unfortunate spraying incident leads them to have a huge argument and Badger says a few words that he instantly regrets.  Now it's Badger's turn to find the right words to convey to Skunk just how wrong he was, to apologize and to ask his roommate to come back home.  

Skunk and Badger has been described as "Wallace and Gromit meets Winnie-the-Pooh in a fresh take on a classic odd-couple friendship."  While I see the Winnie-the-Pooh and odd-couple friendship, I'm not quite sure about the Wallace and Gromit, unless it has something to do with the chickens.   This really is a cute story.  Badger is kinda curmudgeonly at first and definitely set in his ways.  He eats the same cereal, does his rock work, and has little interactions with others.  I think part of the message that Timberlake was trying to convey is that communication is important, had Skunk initially discussed his ideas with Badger and Badger been open to new ideas, they would have reached common ground much sooner.  Once they started to talk to one another their relationship started to improve.  Saying sorry and meaning it was also a valuable take away from the story.  Through forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance of each other's differences they were finally able to build a better friendship.   I think the most valuable message for me was that sometimes change can be a good thing.    

        **  Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Algonquin Young Readers for the E-ARC.  **     

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

MG review of Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt, illustrations by Taryn Knight

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt, illustrations by Taryn Knight
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Walker Books U.S. 

Number of Pages:  272
Publishing:  September 8th, 2020 
 (first published June 14th,2018)
Source:  Netgalley

Opening Line:  "There are some things in life and death that are certain.  One of those things is that a man digging a hole in the dead of night is definitely up to no good."

Jake Green is getting ready for a school trip to study rock formations with his best friend, Sab, a welcome break from his parents who are splitting up.  Hurrying to get home, Jake takes a short cut through a dark alley where he runs into Stiffkey, a man resembling an undertaker.  Stiffkey hands him a package and gives him an ominous message to protect the box before he fades away.  Like any curious twelve-year-old, Jake wants to know what's inside the box, and upon opening it discovers a severed human finger.  Meanwhile, at the Embassy of the Dead news of Jake's opening the container has spread leading the Embassy to summon one of their best Reapers, Mawkins from the Afterworld to drag Jake into the Eternal Void for his crimes.  At the same moment, Stiffkey comes to the realization that Jake wasn't the intended recipient of the box and his mistake will now cause them both to be banished to the Eternal Void unless they can set things right with the Embassy.

Will Mabbitt is the author of the Mabel Jones series, a sweet little series about a young pirate girl who goes on many adventures.  When I saw the cover of his latest book on Netgalley, I was instantly intrigued by the title, and details like the one on this cover always seem to grab my attention.  For starters, there are the dark silhouettes of the two men, one with a top hat holding a shovel and the other with a bunny rabbit.  Then there's the skull in the title, alluding to something spooky and really what is up with that rabbit?  So many questions.

The Embassy of the Dead is an interesting organization whose primary purpose is to keep the living of the Earthly Plane and the dead from the Afterworld protected from one another.  Jake is an unwilling bystander who gets drawn into their business when he accepts the box from Stiffkey.  Stiffkey is a kind-hearted ghost who didn't realize he had the wrong person.  To him, Jake was one of the sensitive ones or gifted when it comes to seeing ghosts.  Stiffkey for his part was just waiting out his retirement from the Embassy until he could be Undone,  or til he came to terms with his death so that he could finally move on to the Afterworld.  He feels bad about getting Jake into this situation and tries to help him find a way to appease the Embassy.   Partway to save his own skin so he can still be Undone and partly because Jake just seems like a nice kid.  Although he does try to rectify the situation, Stiffkey's already too late because Mawkins begins to hunt them down with his gruesome sounding BoneWulf's forged from decaying bits of flesh.  Yep, I'll admit they're kinda creepy.  Plus there's some evil forces at work that makes things interesting.  I like how Jake and Stiffkey's adventures take them on a highspeed chase across the country in Jake's dad's camper van and especially like all the other characters they meet along the way.  Personally, I would have liked to see more of Bad Penny, Stiffkey's former associate, the summoners, poltergeists, even the ghost fox that Jake meets.  There is lots to love in this brief introduction to Mabbitt's new series, it's fast-paced, filled with plenty of action and the black and white illustrations by Taryn Knight add to the creepiness of the story.  A sure delight for fans of stories with ghosts.                     

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

MG Fantasy review of The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
Format:  E-ARC
Walker Books Us
Number of Pages:  208
September 8th, 2020 
Source:  Netgalley 

Opening Line:  "A clock ticks, frost is white, stars travel through the night."

Seren has been living at the St. Mary's Orphanage, ever since her parents died while they were living abroad in India.  When Seren turned twelve, she had her first glimpse of life with family after a distant aunt took her in.  But that too was short-lived when the aunt suddenly died.  Then news arrived that Seren's godfather had been located, Captain Arthur Jones, and she would be moving to Wales to live with him, his wife and their son Tomos at their mansion, Plas-y-Fran.  While traveling by train to her new home, Seren encounters an odd man also waiting for the train who's fidgety and seems to be afraid, but of what Seren has no idea.  Then the mysterious stranger decides to leave, handing Seren his parcel to guard.  Unable to find him when the train arrives, Seren takes the parcel with her.

On the train, Seren begins to dream of her new life at the mansion.  With Christmas approaching, she makes plans for all the fun things she and Tomos can do together.  She gets excited about how she envisions the mansion being decorated, the presents she hopes to find under the tree, and spending time with her new family.   However, when she arrives at the mansion she learns that the family is away in London and she's been left in the care of the house staff, Mrs. Villiers and Denzil, who are none too happy with their new charges arrival.  Seren is given strict instructions to never go into the attic, not to wander around the grounds, and the topic of Tomos instantly garners angry reprimands about never bringing him up again.  

Seren's hopes are quickly dashed and she becomes very lonely at Plas-y-Fran.  But being a very inquisitive girl it isn't long before she begins to explore and investigate the mansion like her favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes.   First, she opens the parcel from the train and inside finds cogs, springs, and a note warning her not to put the clockwork crow together. Unable to resist the pull of the mechanical parts, she reassembles the pieces and discovers she's in possession of an enchanted crow who desperately wants her help in being unspelled.  Exploring further, Seren also uncovers what the house staff has been hiding from her, that Tomos went missing last year on Christmas Eve after going for a walk, and it's rumored that he was taken by the fairies.  Seren is convinced she can find Tomos, and with a little help from the clockwork crow, she hopes to bring him home in time to celebrate Christmas.

I was instantly enchanted by the cover of The Clockwork Crow.  The snowy feel of the mansion at Christmas time, a little curious about the snowglobe in the boy's hand, and the blue snowglobe shape in the bottom half of the cover.  I also adore stories set in old mansions, envisioning exploring all the nooks and crannies.  The premise of a boy stolen by fairies was also very intriguing and reminded me of The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.  Both stories take the main character underground on a rescue mission, with the current story having Seren descend a golden staircase to travel to the palace of ice.   

I was looking for some wintery magic when  I picked up this book and couldn't pass up the steampunk aspects of the clockwork crow.  He's quite something, a little full of himself, surly, demanding, you know the crotchety type who thinks you're at their whim.  Still, he's also quite humorous so I'll let his neediness slide.  Now the interesting, unexpected and slightly creepy part of this book was the fey.  I'm kinda used to the tiny creatures flitting about with gossamer wings spreading their magic.  Seren's fairies are of the darker variety, meant to entrap you with their lulling voice and who's frail snowy like hands grasp at your hair refusing to let you leave.  Despite not expecting the creepiness, I did quite enjoy the story. There's a nice blend of mystery and spookiness and I like the classic fairytale-like quality of this book, with the added bonus of a sarcastic clockwork crow for comedic relief.  And the rhyming lines at the beginning of each chapter were really lovely.  There are two more planned books in the series with The  Velvet Fox being released in October 2020.  
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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Blog Tour for BROTHER'S KEEPER by Julie Lee with Excerpt + Giveaway

Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BROTHER'S KEEPER by Julie Lee Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. This looks to be a wonderful historical fiction survival story, I hope you'll check out the excerpt and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the Book:

Author: Julie Lee
Pub. Date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Holiday House
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 304
Find it:  GoodreadsAmazonKindle  AudibleB&N / iBooksKoboTBDBookshop.org /
Can two children escape North Korea on their own?

North Korea. December, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don't trust your neighbors. Don't speak your mind. You are being watched.

But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos--and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.

But they can't. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?

Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.

Excerpt from Brother's Keeper

North Korea
June 25, 1950

I didn’t want to step into the river, but I had to. He was floating away.
“Youngsoo!” I stomped in waist- deep, gripping my toes against the sharp- edged clams on the rocky floor. Rushing water swirled around me. I grabbed my little brother’s hand and dragged him back to shore.
“Sorry, Noona,” Youngsoo said, calling me older sister in Korean. “I leaned out too far with my net.” It wasn’t the first time he’d lost his balance and tipped over while fishing, his stomach smacking against the water. He shivered in his wet uniform.
“I told you not to go in too deep. Hold still.” I wrung the ends of his shirt and straightened the red scarf around his neck, then took a step back and frowned. What would Omahni say? I could already feel our mother’s punishment stick snapping against my calves. “How could you have fallen in right before your Sonyondan Club meeting? Your scarf is so wet, it’s almost black!”
“Don’t worry. It’s just a scarf,” he said, looking at his feet.
I stared at him. Everyone knew the red scarf was the most important part of the communist youth club uniform. Red had become sacred. It fluttered in the star of our new North Korean flag. Mothers tied and retied it cautiously around their children’s necks. And red armbands stood out on the white of the villagers’ clothes like a bloodstain.
Youngsoo hung his head low. “I almost caught a fish, Noona. It slipped out of my net.”
“I know, I know,” I said impatiently. “Every day you almost catch a big one.”
But then a pang of regret shot through me, knowing how hard he tried despite always coming home with an empty net.
“I’ll make it up to you tomorrow. What kind of fish do you want? Trout? Salmon? Catfi sh?” He puff ed up his skinny chest like a little man and extended his arm toward the river. “Just name it, and I’ll catch it for you.”
Before I had the chance to give him a stern sideways glance, the kind Omahni always gave me, he smiled earnestly, a piece of black plum skin caught in his teeth. I sighed, wondering if this was how he always kept our mother from staying mad at him too long.
A bell chimed from the schoolhouse on the hill. The teacher, Comrade Cho, stood in front waiting to close the doors, a red band cinched tightly around his upper arm. Stragglers from Youngsoo’s third- grade class sprinted past us as we headed up the slope.
“You can’t be dumber than the fish if you want to catch them!” a boy shouted at us, his red scarf knotted perfectly.
Youngsoo pushed up his sleeves. “At least I’m not dumber than you! And my sister is smarter than everyone! Right, Noona?”
I groaned. Why did he have to drag me into this?
“Your sister can’t be that smart! She doesn’t even go to school anymore!” the boy called back, laughing from the hilltop.
My shoulders stiffened. He was right. When I’d turned twelve two months ago, Omahni had pulled me out of school to look after my little brothers.
I glanced at Youngsoo—so drenched and disheveled. Did he even know how lucky he was?
“You’ll be late.” I couldn’t look at him anymore. “Just go.”
I pushed him up the hill. Omahni said that skipping even one communist youth club meeting meant Youngsoo’s name—no, our family name—would go on a government watch list.
And then terrible things would happen.
“What a beautiful day to labor in this socialist paradise!” Comrade Cho announced as the students approached. “Don’t forget to continue gathering scrap iron for weapons and bullets, or else your parents will have to pay a fi ne. Your work is important in making the Fatherland strong!”
Youngsoo joined the wave of red running up the hill, then disappeared inside the A-frame timber schoolhouse. Looking at it, I felt a twinge of loss.
Not for the Girls’ Sonyondan Club that I no longer attended, joining my parents at grown-up Party meetings instead.
Not for the new teacher, Comrade Cho, who gave candy to students for reporting anything anti- communist their parents said at home.
Not for the kids in class, who were loyal to the Party first and family second, and could never be trusted as friends.
But for all the learning I was missing. Math. Geography. Science.
When I could escape from my chores, I hid behind the willow tree by the school window and eavesdropped on the class.
Today, though, was not a day for escaping chores. I picked up my laundry basket and balanced it on top of my head. The sound of wooden paddles beckoned me back toward the river, and like a funeral marcher, I went.
Downstream, mounds of laundry littered the bank. Women squatted on flat boulders jutting from the sandbars. They scrubbed pants with thick bar soap, their shoulders pumping like pistons, then beat them with fl at paddles as if spanking their children. Without any men nearby, the women gossiped about husbands and mothers-in-law as they lifted their shirts to wipe their faces. I looked away.
Yah, Sora! What are you so embarrassed about?” asked Mrs. Lee, her cheeks ruddy from the sun.
I smiled, tight- lipped, and found an open area to set my basket. My long tan skirt was soaked from saving Youngsoo.
“Why’s your mom sending a girl to do a woman’s job, huh?” a farmer’s wife shouted.
“Who else is she supposed to send—her sons? Anyway, Sora’s not such a little girl anymore, right?” Mrs. Lee said. “Look, she’s even starting to get little breasts now.” She poked me in the ribs, and I jerked like a string puppet.
They laughed heartily. My cheeks burned, and I hunched my back to hide my chest. I gazed up at the schoolhouse as if it might somehow reach down to save me, the straw basket pressing against my shins. But it wouldn’t, and the laundry wouldn’t wash itself.
I took out my brothers’ dirty clothes—Jisoo’s cloth diapers, Youngsoo’s muddy uniform pants—and crouched in the shallows, joining the drumbeat of women. I plunged my raw knuckles into the soapy water, hiding them beneath the cloudy white.
A grandmother came running from around the hill, splashing along the river’s edge toward the rest of us, and I watched the waves ripple over my hands. At first I hardly noticed the whispers, the way the women huddled around her. But their murmurs grew, and I looked up at them—their mouths agape, their brows creased—and suddenly everything felt wrong.
The women started hastily packing unfinished laundry into their baskets. I rushed to rinse Youngsoo’s uniform pants. Something was not right. I needed to go. The last time a message had spread this urgently, the landlord’s son was found floating facedown in the river, his body bloated like a blood sausage. I lifted the basket onto my head and hurried onto the main road through the village center, stumbling past a row of thatched- roof houses, my breath coming fast and hard.
I spun around and saw Youngsoo running along the bank. He stopped short before crashing into me.
“What are you doing here? Were you sent home? Was it the wet scarf? Are they putting us on a list?” I asked, my voice rising with panic.
“No, something amazing happened!” Youngsoo’s eyes shimmered like the river, and he practically sang the words: “We don’t have to go to school anymore!”
My stomach clenched. “What do you mean, Youngsoo? That’s impossible.”
“Comrade Cho told the whole class that ‘because of the current situation, there will be no school until further notice,’ ” he said, carefully repeating his teacher’s words. “He even said that ‘today will be a day to go down in history.’ ” Youngsoo jumped high in the air, hollering and hooting at his sudden change in luck. “No more school! No more school!”
My palms turned cold and clammy.
“We need to go home,” I managed to say. “Come on.”
We walked past streams flowing into rivers, then through plains and pastures until we could see the rice- straw roof of our home. The house was square-shaped to block the bitter winds cascading down the mountains in winter, and it sat squat in the countryside, fifty miles north of Pyongyang, the capital. Although it looked like every other farmhouse in the valley, it was unmistakably home, the rounded edges of the worn, thatched roof hugging the house like a mushroom cap. Around it, fields of corn and millet stirred in the hot wind.
We hurried inside. A broadcaster’s voice and the hiss of static rushed to greet us. I set the basket down and stepped into a pair of house slippers.
Abahji sat as motionless as a rock, leaning in to the radio. Deep lines creased his forehead. I had never seen our father look so grave.
Beside him, Baby Jisoo looked up from a pile of clean clothes, yawned once, then went back to his favorite pastime: pulling socks over each of his feet.
Youngsoo and I sat on the floor beside Abahji. I quieted my breathing to hear, but I couldn’t understand the announcer’s words through the heavy static. I turned to Youngsoo and shrugged, unable to explain Abahji’s pensive face.
All at once, the signal cleared, and Youngsoo’s eyes brightened as if he had just solved a riddle.
That’s what my teacher was talking about. That’s the reason there will be no more school!” he shouted, pointing at the radio. “War! War! Starting today, we are at war!”

About Julie: 

Julie Lee graduated from Cornell University with a degree in history. After working in market research in Manhattan for over ten years, she decided to pursue writing full-time. Currently, Julie lives in Georgia with her husband and three children. When she is not spending time with her family, she is working on her next book while pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Brother's Keeper is her debut novel.

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of BROTHER'S KEEPER, US Only.

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
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Sunday, August 23, 2020

MG Review of The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh

The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh
Series:  Book Two of the Witches of Orkney
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  SparkPress
Number of Pages:  216
Published:  October 15th, 2019
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "Hermodan, King of Orkney Isles, stood alone in the center of the Ring of Brogar."

I like how the Prologue touches on the Norse mythology of the series, explaining the connection between Odin and the coven of witches.  How during ancient times one of the covens was entombed to protect mankind from their magic because of a bargain that King Hermodan made with Odin.  The prologue also explains the creation of Orkney and is starting to flesh out more of the witches history.  To really appreciate the series I suggest beginning with the first book of the series,  The Blue Witch.  

The current book of the Witches of Orkney series centers on the Rubicus Prophecy or how  one witchling is destined to one day break Odin's curse.  The story begins with Abigail headed back to Tarkana Witches Academy for her second year and reuniting with Hugo and Calla, who are back from their summer break.   Just as Abigail gets to the gates of the school, she notices a red sunflower has started to grow at the site of the Viken attack she had last year and the witches are convinced that it's a sign that the prophecy is about to come true.  

Abigail starts off her term with visions of a transparent women who seems to be following her around trying to share an important  message with her. She's afraid of the dark magic that seems to be inside her and the ancient spellbook that she received last year continues to taunt her, trying to deceive and entice her to use its spells for revenge, it kind of reminds me of Tom Riddle's diary and the influence that it had over Ginny.    Abigail's anger becomes more uncontrollable and she even lashes out hurting Calla by accident.  

At the same time an Orkadian warship has arrived claiming that Melistra broke a treaty that they have to not use magic against the Orkadian's.  Hugo encounters a young Orkadian boy, Robert Barconian who asks for help in recovering a family heirloom.  And Melistra appears to be gathering elements for a dark spell maybe to harness Odin's power and take control of the coven.  Things have really started to heat up.  

The Rubicus Prophecy has the friends traveling deep into the catacombs beneath the Academy and encountering draugar's or the living dead.  I'm really liking the components of this one.  The scary catacomb, the potential of building up to a huge battle in book three, the broadening of Abagail's friends to include Robert and all the new surprises and revelations.  The black and white illustrations by Jonathan Stroh are just gorgeous, the play of dark shadows and pieces of light that appear in each illustration.  I'm really looking forward to reading Witch Wars next. 

** Thank you to SparkPress for the review copy**

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

MG Fantasy/Paranormal review of Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
Format:  E-ARC
Genre:  MG Fantasy/Paranormal
Publisher:  Sourcebooks
Number of Pages: 256
Publishing: September 1st, 2020
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening lines: "If someone had told me yesterday that I'd be spending my Saturday morning in the aisle of a stuffy bookstore searching for ghost stories, I would've told them they were nuts."

Claire is a scientist, she believes almost everything can be solved by following the science and hardcore facts.  She especially doesn't believe in ghosts, although graveyards, dark alleys, and basements do terrify her.  Claire's beliefs are sometimes at odds with her dad's business of running the local tour bus of creepy Chicago ghost haunting sites.  One night Claire is forced into helping her dad with one of his tours where she encounters a boy at the back of the bus who mysteriously disappears.  Claire can't explain what she saw, and she certainly can't explain any of the other strange occurrences that start happening to her.  Like the scritch scratch noises in her room, the number 396 that appears written on the bathroom wall and the boy who still seems to be following and frightening her.  What she has determined is that the boy wants her to find something so Claire seeks help from her older brother Sam, her friend Casley and a new girl, Emily to unravel the mystery of what the boy wants.                  

I really liked Claire, on the exterior she seems like a practical and logical thinker but she also gets scared and counts aloud as a strategy when she's in scary situations, like walking down a dark alley.  I loved how she used the scientific method as a way to help her solve the mystery of the boy's identity, setting up her experiment, analyzing the data, and drawing a conclusion.  Such fun.  I also really liked Casley.  Claire and Casley's friendship was starting to drift ever since Emily came into the picture.  She's visible hurt by their budding friendship and doesn't really know how to communicate that to Casley so she tries to avoid the situation but Casley (Cas) keeps pulling her back into the fold, which I absolutely loved.  Cas helps Claire realize that you can have more than one friend.  That she shouldn't judge Emily based on appearances.  Everyone has problems, some are not visible or maybe that they just aren't ready to share them yet.  Either way, Casley wanted Claire to give Emily a chance.  I also really liked Claire's older brother Sam.  They may fight and bicker as siblings often do, but Sam really comes through when Claire needs him the most.  The story illustrates the importance of family and sharing our fears.  People may step up and have solutions if we relay our concerns.    

I love spooky stories and Currie is very talented in writing them, giving them just the right amount of tension and scary bits.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the mystery surrounding the identity of the ghost boy that follows Claire home.  I enjoyed the setting of Chicago and the way that Currie wove a historical event like the S.S. Eastland rolling over into the Chicago River into the story.  Scritch Scratch is creepy and spooky which makes this a perfect read for Halloween.       

        **  Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Sourcebooks for the E-ARC.  **