Thursday, May 25, 2017

MG Review: The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell

29940524The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format:  ARC Paperback

Number of Pages: 246
Publishing:  August 22nd, 2017
Source: Publisher
Why I wanted to read this:   Love the cover with Kiri and the panther.  I suspected this would deal with endangered animals and curious about the story.  


Opening lines:  "The netters were pulling something to shore.  Kiri couldn't see what they'd caught from where she stood on the beach with Paulo, but six or seven netters had waded into the surf to haul on the lines, so whatever the nets held, it must have been big." 

Eleven-year-old Kiri lives near the ghost forest along the edge of a swamp with her father.  Nearby are the fugee's, or refugees who either haul in salvage from the ocean to sell to the boat people or are catchers of whatever fish are remaining.  Kiri's father is a waller,  someone who comes from the walled city and works as a conservationist, collecting plant and animal specimens.  Kiri's mother was a fugee prior to her death from an illness that affects only fugee's.  Kiri, however, doesn't seem to fit into either of these two groups, which unsettles her because she really wants to be accepted by her mother's people.  The beginning of the story surrounds a fugee, Charro, claiming salvage rights to an animal he's hauling into shore.  Some of the villagers claim it's a "catch" because the animal is alive, while Charro still refuses to give up his "salvage"  claiming he can sell the creature and make lots of money.   However, the village Witch Woman claims that it is a Devi or spirit that should be left alone.   Kiri tries to help by getting her father to use his books to identify the creature but is too late to save what they determine was a female leatherback turtle.   Kiri's father is devasted by the loss of the turtle, and even though the villagers offer to share the meal they've prepared with him, he can't bring himself to take it causing a greater rift between the villagers and Kiri's father.  Kiri attempts to mend things by sneaking back to the village and trying the soup, but unfortunately, crosses paths with a panther (The Shadow Who Hunts) receiving a mark on her shoulder.  The whole village gets spun up into hunting for the panther, while Kiri's father wants to collect it for his patrons, leaving only Kiri and a village boy left trying to protect it.

 The Last Panther seemed to be part real world Florida with a slightly dystopian quality of what our world could become.  While there are nice descriptions of the surrounding village and plant life giving that feel of Florida, I would've liked to know more about the refugees themselves.   Although, they did appear to come from some "far-off ruined place," it would've been nice to know more about say their beliefs, especially when discussing Devi and ghosts.  However, Kiri's world is an important reminder about preserving the environment so that we don't end up with "were-creatures", or a place where animals have either gone extinct or are severely endangered, animals like the turtle and panther that Kiri only saw or heard about from reading her father's books.  I really did like Kiribati, she's both mesmerized by the leatherback turtle and fiercely protective of the panther, having some sort of connection to them both.   Her desire to be included as one of her mother's people and to stay on the island and protect the panther is admirable.  Kiri receiving a mark from the turtle and panther leads the village witch to call the animals Devi (which I'm guessing pertains to a God) and Kiri their messenger.  Kiribati or Kiri also has these visions of her mother's ghost guiding her, which she partially realizes only seem to occur when she is ill or injured, but ghosts and the villager's beliefs about them take on a special significance in how the story gets resolved.   Gen Tech is the company that Kiri's father works for and they collect animal specimens in the hopes of reintroducing them back into the wild.   Despite their good intentions, Kiri feels they shouldn't be caged up but left to roam free.  The conflict between these two sides illustrates the differing views of hunting animals for survival versus protecting and studying them.  There is this passion for animal conservation in Kiri's quest to save the panther, while also showing how the world's ecosystems are changing and the impact that it has on the animals. How it is important to protect animals and their habitats.  Living in Montana,  I especially enjoyed when Sonia, one of the researchers at Gen Tech was explaining to Kiri the positive changes to the environment that occurred when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone.  It's a huge battle here about whether or not ranchers should be allowed to hunt them, so it was interesting to me to read about how wolves destruction can have a ripple effect on everything around it.  Overall, a delightful main heroine and relevant topic. 

There's also a nice teacher's kit available at Todd Mitchel's website.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

MG Realistic Fiction: Posted by John David Anderson

31371695
Posted by John David Anderson
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Format:  Hardcover
Number of Pages: 384
Published:  May 2nd, 2017
Source: Purchased
Why I wanted to read this:   From the author of two of my favorite books, Ms. Bixby's Last Day & The Dungeoneers.

Opening line:  "I push my way through the buzzing mob and freeze.  Heart-struck, dizzy.  It takes me a minute to really get what I'm looking at.  Notes.  At least a hundred of them.  Pressed all over the freshly painted locker. " 
  
Frost in the main storyteller of Posted, acquiring his nickname from winning a poetry contest, his love of Robert Frost and the poems he writes and hides under his bed.   Frost and Wolf have the most in common, both their parents are having difficulties, Frost's being newly divorced and Wolf's arguing all the time.  Wolf is also the musician of the group, winning several piano competitions.  Bench's nickname comes from sitting on the bench during school sporting events and DeeDee is the dungeon master for their Dungeon and Dragons games. Together they make a "tribe" or "perfect square" during lunch.  Until a new girl, Rose comes along and disrupts their seamlessly happy little group.   Rose just happens to be there at the beginning of all of their problems, but she isn't the cause of them.  She was just the new girl looking for a friendly place to sit during lunch one day.  The schoolwide ban on cell phones and the resulting post-it war probably had a lot to do with the events that unfolded, but things between the four boys probably would've changed anyways, with or without Rose.  It's these boys interactions that wonderfully illustrate one of the books main themes, that friendships ebb, grow and change during middle school.  That being liked, accepted and making your way through middle school can be tough.  Anderson also tackles the topic of bullying through the post-it war.  Initially, starting it off as a way to get around the cell phone ban and then snowballing into the targeting of one of their own.   There are the nudgings in the hall, verbal teasing, escalating to threats.  Frost, Wolf, DeeDee and Rose each deal with the situation in different ways.  I personally really liked the way that Rose handled herself, she embraced the hurtful name "Moose" that other students were trying to tease her with and used it as her character name during a D&D game.  She's also an extremely loyal friend, and I would've loved spending my lunches with her growing up.   Posted also questioned why we give people labels and how damaging that words can be.  Important, relevant topics that can lead to some wonderful class discussions.  I adored this almost as much as Ms. Bixby's Last Day.  

 My favorite quote from the book:  "Words are ghosts that can haunt us forever."  

and 

"Words can be beautiful. They can make you feel things you've never felt before. Gather enough of them and they can stick those same pieces back together, provided they're the right words said at the right time."




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist



Top Ten Tuesday is a Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish  This week's Top Ten is a Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist.   In my case, things that I would love to read more of with a few books that I have yet to read.   There are certainly some themes that I would love to read more of. 






1.  Magic is taught here, schools and boarding school settings.  Probably not a popular choice but I enjoy reading about magical schools, all the classes in learning to create and perform spells.  Hogwarts is the ultimate, but these are a few I've enjoyed.  I'll even take kids going to middle school dealing with day to day issues.   

 16248113      27064348  85990

2. Dragons  There's just something about these fire-spewing reptiles that I enjoy.  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart sounds like a winning combination (Thanks to Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile for the recommendation). 

 113436     13228487  26869762


3.  Diversity Books with diverse characters or written by diverse authors.   

   19547856    22859559  22926534

4.  MG Historical fiction Maybe just a bit of historical facts but stories with realistic characters.    

    22024488   24846343  23208632

5.  Old Houses or Castles  Old mansions with hidden doorways, castles with libraries.  Makes me want to do some exploring.  

     7249522  23309600

    23208665  10508431

6.  Books set in Germany or amongst the swiss alps  Basically I would like more books set in Germany that aren't necessarily about the Nazi's or the war.   Rewatching The Sound of Music many a time growing up is probably why.    


20893529

7.  Fairytale retellings or mythology This is probably much easier to find than some other books. 

            23399287   15724396


8.  More Puzzles, Mystery, and Spooky books  Lots more spooky books, please. 

      22718727 16054808  22546619 

    14059024    10893214  18405537

9.  Steampunk   Think tin spiders, Nanites, clockwork birds, and flying mechanical dragons.    

7877065The Lost Compass (The Fog Diver, #2)    The Peculiar (The Peculiar, #1)    34525573


10.  Realistic Fiction Funny stories, books in verse, contemporary or compelling reads.  


22402972    31371228  26892065  18263725    18782850  18405502  18405519  18289482


Did I hit on any of the things on your reading wishlist?   Feel free to leave a comment or link to your Top Ten Tuesday.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Andy Smithson Battle for the Land's Soul by L.R.W. Lee

34512471Andy Smithson Battle for the Land's Soul
by L.R.W. Lee
Published: May 8th, 2017 by Woodgate Publishing

Genres: MG Fantasy 
Pages: 210 pages
Format: Ebook
Source:  In exchange for an honest review, an ebook was provided by the author for free. 

Opening Line:  "Andy flattened a royal-blue-uniformed soldier as he touched down in Castle Ferrin's courtyard, "Sorry!" he yelled."  

 Synopsis- Good vs Evil. Destiny Demands the Battle be Fought. But at What Cost?   It's clear Abaddon, the evil shape-shifting ruler of Hadession, Oomaldee's northern neighbor, must be dealt with if Oomaldee’s citizens are to ever live in peace. But how? What lengths will Andy have to go to in order to wage war against a being whose power stems from evil itself? Will Abaddon plunge the land into darkness or will light triumph?


For those of you who may not be familiar with the Andy Smithson series, L.R.W. started this series in 2013 with Blast of the Dragon's Fury.  The story centers on an ancient curse that was enacted by one of Andy's relatives which he becomes tasked with trying to break. Andy goes on many quests to locate the items needed to break the curse across the first few books in the series, all the while knowing that once he breaks the curse, he will lose the people he cares about the most.  There is also an evil shape-shifting ruler who transforms the citizens into these flying creatures, with lots of sword fights and adventures.  Not to mention dragons, beasts, and other dangers.      

Battle for the Land's Soul begins approximately two weeks since the curse keeping the three closest people to Andy immortal was broken.  Andy is dealing with the void following the loss of his parents and Mermin.  As the new ruler,  Andy is more determined than ever to defeat Abaddon and restore peace to his kingdom.  Yet, before he is able to go into battle with Abaddon, he must first restore the troika's power in Carta.   Abaddon will however not go peacefully and Andy will face one of his most difficult challenges yet.  Pretty much everything that you would expect to have in an epic conclusion to a series.  

 I've had the pleasure of reading all seven of L.R.W. Lee's books in the Andy Smithson series and am always inspired by her creativity.  Each story has included valuable "life lessons" (from diligence to taking responsibility for one's actions)  and there are also these wonderful layers of symbolism. With the main emphasis of Battle for the Land's Soul being perseverance and the restoration of happiness and peace.  When I first started the series, I would've put the age range around middle-grade, but now the series would be more geared toward young adults.  Much in the way that the J.K. Rowling aged her characters in Harry Potter series, Andy's story has also taken on some darker tones.  I've thoroughly enjoyed watching Andy grow across the series.   There's definitely been battle scenes and peril for our main characters, but it's also been presented in a very age appropriate way.   It's these gripping and tense moments when Andy is in danger that really have made me appreciate his character that much more. He's grown up a lot across each book in the series and is put through so many trials to become the leader that his people needed.  He's experienced so much loss, but he never seems to give up.  Andy Smithson will appeal to those who love fantasy, adventure, plenty of action and in many ways reminds me of the things that I've enjoyed about Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series.  While I'm still sad that this was the last book in the series, I'm excited to read the young adult book that Lee is working on next.  

  
Favorite lines:  

"We're all starting again, Andy reminded himself despite the subdued mood of the group.  I guess that's what life is...a bunch of new starts.  
"You're waxing rather philosophical, but  I believe you're right."  MiniMe interrupted Andy's musings.  "New starts are a gift."

Interview with author L.R.W. Lee



Today I’m very excited to be participating in an interview of the author of the Andy Smithson series,  L.R.W. Lee.  Her newest book in the series, Battle for the Land's Soul releases today!  

34512471 


Andy Smithson Battle for the Land's Soul
 by L.R.W. Lee
Published: May 8th, 2017 by Woodgate Publishing

Genres: MG Fantasy 
Pages: 210 pages
Format: Ebook
Source:  In exchange for an honest review, an ebook was provided by the author for free. 


Synopsis- Good vs Evil. Destiny Demands the Battle be Fought. But at What Cost? 

It's clear Abaddon, the evil shape-shifting ruler of Hadession, Oomaldee's northern neighbor, must be dealt with if Oomaldee’s citizens are to ever live in peace. But how? What lengths will Andy have to go to in order to wage war against a being whose power stems from evil itself? Will Abaddon plunge the land into darkness or will light triumph? 

Battle for the Land's Soul is the seventh and final novel in the Andy Smithson coming-of-age, epic fantasy adventure featuring page-turning action and terrifying villains. This truly is the age-old struggle of good vs. evil, and the stakes couldn't be higher for the outcome will determine the Land's very future. Don't miss this epic conclusion!



What first got you interested in writing? What was the initial spark for Andy Smithson?

Since age 8 when I read C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe I have wanted to write a series like Andy Smithson. The worlds Lewis created (London, Narnia, and a meaning layer) piqued my fascination and I wanted to write something with multiple layers, as well. I guess I saw it as a personal challenge. 

That experience, mixed with the Harry Potter series with the seven books that all build on each other, gave me some direction/refinement as to how I could build the series.
When I first started writing the Andy Smithson series, the basic idea was boy comes from another world to rescue it in some way. The whole story arc was not clear in my mind so as I wrote, I gave myself lots of room/artifacts to build off of, like the trunk in Andy's attic or all of Andy's sword's capabilities that manifest throughout the series.

What is it about writing for a middle-grade audience that you enjoy the most? 

I focused on writing for middle grade based upon the lessons I wanted to teach my target audience, namely, responsibility, diligence, and dignity are the keys to true success in life. Along with that I wanted to help them understand how to overcome fear, frustration, impatience and more. These themes are woven throughout the series in a practical, non-preachy way and readers have mentioned that they appreciated my books with these positive values in the sea of books written purely for entertainment. I believe if kids this age can be exposed to these principles and get a small taste of how they can positively impact situations, perhaps they can incorporate them into their lives and make their lives better as a result.


Has your writing process changed as you wrote the sequels?

I think the biggest change has been the time needed to write a book. The first book took me a year to write. I was figuring out how to write, understanding the indie publishing space and so much. I refined my writing process and the last book I wrote in 3 months. It got easier and faster the more I got to know my characters and how they thought and what they cared about. Just like meeting someone new, it took me time to develop a relationship with each of them.

What has been your favorite part of writing the Andy Smithson series? Do you have a favorite scene or line from your novels that you would like to share?

My favorite part of writing the series is when the characters take the plot line in a direction I could never have anticipated.

There is a scene in book 2 that illustrates this very well and is one of my favorites because of it. Andy and Alden visit the library of Oomaldee. As they're looking around, they see a portrait of the king when he was 15 and it's nearly a mirror image of Andy, so immediately a whole host of questions arise. When I started writing that scene, I didn't have any notion what that scene would evolve to become in the story line, and if you remember it, you know how pivotal it is. That scene shifted how I had planned to develop the characters and their roles - namely, Andy was not originally going to be king. But from that scene, he told me he wanted to...so I put him through his paces and developed him to be a good sovereign.

I also love the scenes that send goose bumps up my spine even as I reread them today. One scene, in particular, is when Andy and Father are discussing that the king might be related, although we don't yet know how at that point. The vulnerability between the two in that scene is priceless.

And there are others...the scene when Andy is about to cut off the unicorn's horn and he understands the nearly sacred nature of what he is about to do.
There are so many...



The Battle for the Land's Soul has some wonderful action sequences and I was curious how you prepared to write those battle scenes?  Did you act them out as you were writing them? 

My objective for the epic conclusion was to allow readers to see what was happening both at the castle as well as with Andy and the company in the cave. Knowing this was coming, I'd taken care in previous books to develop Andy's inneru to be able to see into someone's thoughts/vision as well as Abaddon's ability to hijack it. With these tools available then, I had all sorts of fun flipping back and forth between the two scenes. 

The battle scenes themselves needed to put Andy through a more rigorous test than ever before (it was to be the EPIC conclusion after all LOL). I did not act them out. I merely envisioned them as they needed to happen logistically as well as conceptually, as in what all attacked him and the company, etc.

Also, there is a fair amount of Alden needing to patch up his friends, did you need to do any special research for this?

I did a limited amount of research in terms of understanding what herbs were used in medieval times. As well, I researched the various gemstones and worked to understand what uses/strengths each is credited with. It is these details I wove into the tale. In doing my research I also discovered the word "lapidist" an actual word, Ha.



In looking back at your series, what do you feel you've learned as a writer?

Oh goodness, what haven't I learned from writing the series? LOL! When I started writing the series, I knew I didn't know anything about writing, never having done it before. I deeply appreciate my editor who taught me how to tighten up my writing, showing vs. telling, paying particular attention to the emotions of a scene and writing it to help readers identify with those emotions, and so much more from a craft perspective. 

Then I also learned the marketing side of the indie publishing business which has allowed me to have the success I have, building from nothing, and growing my fan base to where it is today. Am I satisfied with my progress? Absolutely. One can only grow so fast. DO I have more to learn? Absolutely! There will never come a time when there isn't more to learn in the publishing space. It's changing quickly in this day and age. And to sit still, is to be passed.

What are you working on now?

I am very excited to be working on a young adult epic fantasy romance series. After the serious nature of the Andy Smithson series, I decided to just have some fun, and that's exactly what I'm doing. The basic question for the new series is: What would happen if The Sandman fell madly in love with the person for which he manages sleep? It'll be a feel-good series and I'm having all sorts of fun plotting/writing it. 




 Author Bio:


L. R. W. Lee credits her love of fantasy with her introduction to C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Later on, she enjoyed the complex world of Middle Earth brought to life by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The multiple dimensions of the worlds mixed with a layer of meaning captivated her and made her desire to invent Young Adult Fantasy and Epic Fantasy worlds others could get lost in, but also take meaning away from. More recently, L. R. W. Lee has found inspiration from J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series as well as Brandon Mull and his best-selling Fablehaven, Beyonders and Five Kingdoms series. L. R. W. Lee writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence, and dignity are the keys to true success in life. She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their daughter is a Computer Engineer for Microsoft and their son serves in the Air Force.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

MG Fantasy: Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

30653902Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format:  Hardcover
Number of Pages: 368
Published:  March 21st, 2017
Source: Library
Why I wanted to read this:   From the author of the Jinx series which I've read and enjoyed.


Opening line:  "A secret nearly cost Chantel her life, on a dark summer morning when the rains ran down the stairs stepped stone streets of Lightning Pass."  

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded sits within the walled-off city of Lightning Pass and is where young maidens learn to cast spells and to be "shamefast and biddable".   Chantel is one of its best students, having summoned a familiar, a snake affectionately called Japheth at a really young age and being particularly good at casting spells.  Some could even say better than the enchantresses who use magical wards to "button" or protect the walled city from the Marauders beyond its gates.  Although Miss Ellicott would probably say that Chantel doesn't display the proper amount of deportment for a young maiden at the School for the Magically Minded,  Chantel does try very hard to set an example for its younger maidens. When the school's head sorceress, Miss Ellicott goes missing following a mysterious visitor and the students are left to fend for themselves, Chantel tries to seek help from the Patriarchs, only to be told that they've received word from the Marauders that in exchange for tearing down the wall,  they will release the sorceresses.  As events unfold, Chantel begins to recognize that the Patriarchs, along with their King might not be trustworthy and to protect against the imminent dangers facing their beloved school and city, she may need all the help she can get.


One of the interesting facets of Miss Ellicott's School fo the Magically Minded is that its students be "steadfast and biddable," something that is taught above all is that they have the proper manners and deportment befitting of a young maiden.  However, Chantel struggles with holding her tongue, curtseying and not asking questions of the adults around her.  She has her own ideas of what is right and wrong, and I really appreciated this about her. Part way through the story, Chantel even gets assistance with telling the men of the city exactly what she needs from them from her familiar, Japheth, in a most interesting way and I was rooting for her the entire time.  Japheth, who secretly is a dragon doesn't solve all of Chantel's difficulties but does bring about changes within her that ultimately make her a force to be reckoned with and leads to her turning Lightning Pass on its head.  Chantel also leans on the support of her friends Bowser, a boy who scrubs pots in the kitchen, her best friend Anna, and Franklin, a boy the trio meet outside the city wall.  Franklin is a Marauder and is instrumental in showing them how Lightning Pass, with the Patriarchs and King, have been controlling everything within the Harbor and surrounding mountains through the tolls and port fees they've been collecting.  Chantel also receives help from a long dead Queen when she casts an Ago spell and is able to ask her for advice on how to save the city.   I loved how Queen Haywith advises her that her thinking is too small and Chantel begins to see the bigger picture of what she, her city and school need.  My favorite part of the story is at the very end when Chantel brings up the point that the reason boys may never have performed magic before is because they've never been taught, and she changes the way the school is going to teach magic in the future.  A very timely story with wonderful world building, entertaining to read while being thought provoking.           

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

TTT: Covers Freebie


 


Top Ten Tuesday is a Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish  This week's Top Ten is a cover themed freebie, so anything to do with covers.  You may or may not know that covers are one of my favorite things about books, I could really just surround myself with the artwork of book covers on my walls.  For this week I've selected some covers by two of my favorite illustrators, Iacapo Bruno and Kazu Kibuishi (with links to their websites).  



1.  Kazu Kibuishi illustrated the covers for The box set of Harry Potter and is the author of the graphic novel Amulet.  I love how the spines form an image and  The Sorcerer's Stone is my favorite of his covers.     

Normal kkhp-box-back-lgImage result for kazu kibuishi harry potter back covers






2.  Iacapo Bruno illustrated some of my favorite books.  The illustrations and sketches on his blog are so beautiful, especially the full book jacket covers.  This is only a small sample of some of his covers.  

13438677182732851284921016248113

15818254106455261890625523309529


18885674
1345548527237703   


I love this book jacket cover for Pierdomenico Baccalario's Suitcase of Stars (Enchanted Emporium) 

Battibaleno 1
Image from:  http://iacopobruno.blogspot.com/


Do you have a favorite cover or illustrator?  Feel free to leave a comment or link to your top ten Tuesday and I'll check it out.