Thursday, April 20, 2017

MG Fantasy Review & Excerpt: Jorie and the Magic Stones by A.H. Richardson

25468984Jorie and The Magical Stones by A.H. Richardson
Publisher: Serano Press
Format:  Paperback
Number of Pages: 268
Published:  December 26th, 2014
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the author.
Why I wanted to read this:   Dragons and travel to a magical land.  

Jorie has recently moved to Mortimer Manor with her great Aunt Letty.  An Aunt who isn't fond of her big imagination and propensity for exploring, but plans to have her meet Rufus, the grandson of neighboring Colonel Hercules to keep her occupied.  On her first day at the manor, Jorie finds a book under a floorboard with mysterious writing, drawings, and hieroglyphics inside.  Curious about the drawings, Jorie ventures to the "Tarn", a small lake that is close to the manor and is convinced by a talking cat to step into the water.  Jorie is whisked away to Cabrynthian, a world with dragons, shape-shifting draniks and The Great One, a Wizard who gives her a quest to unite the three stones of Maalog so that an evil sorcerer can't steal their power for himself.  With the help of Rufus and a baby dragon, they travel across Cabrynthia on an adventure to locate the stones. 

Jorie and The Magic Stones is a really sweet story that has a classic feel to it, which I particularly enjoyed.  The beginning really had the feel of Emily of New Moon, where a young girl is exploring her new home after moving in with her stern, but loving Aunt and then quickly moved on to the quest.   Both Jorie and Rufus are eight, "almost nine" which initially struck me as a tad young, but their ages quickly took the back burner as their adventure began to unfold.   The only place the pacing slowed down a bit was toward the middle after the children found the first stone and were making plans to locate the next.  To add some tension to the story, Richardson gives Rufus this horrible history tutor who has plans to acquire the stones for himself, and an evil sorcerer to contend with.  I really enjoyed the addition of Chook, the baby dragon who is sort of like a puppy and follows Rufus around, they're really funny together, but the highlight is these two lovely children and the friendship that they share.  The fantasy elements are written well with just the right amount of detail and the short chapters would make this a wonderful book for parents to read aloud with their children.  There is a hint to a future book, but everything wrapped up rather nicely.     



Excerpt from Jorie and the Magic Stones

Once in the quiet of her room, Jorie closed the door and retrieved the book carefully hidden under the floorboard. She didn’t know why she felt it so important to hide the book, but her instincts told her that this was a very special book that needed to be carefully guarded. Before settling down to study it, she went to open the window in order to hear the sound of the horses when her aunt returned from her errands. In that way, she would have time to put the book back in its hiding place.

Perhaps because of the rain and damp, the window was stuck and refused to open. Although Jorie pushed, it appeared that it was well and truly stuck shut. Jorie returned to her book and opened the pages oh-so-gently. She didn’t understand the words in front of her, even though she was an excellent reader. They were faded and seemed to be written in another language. Jorie spoke quite good French, but this was certainly not French. She thought it might have been Celtic, because there were c’s, and w’s and y’s, and they all seemed to run together.

She found one phrase that caught her attention, and carefully pronounced it under her breath. “Cwythr ogan mosdrath kiranog. I wonder if that is how it is pronounced.” Then in her most dramatic voice she called out, “Cwythr ogan mosdrath kiranog,” and felt a shiver run through her. No sooner had she said this than the window flew open. Jorie’s hand flew to her mouth. She inhaled, staring hard at the window. “That window was stuck and wouldn’t budge an inch, even under my tugging.”

As she regained her composure, Jorie decided she needed to memorize these words. She had always been good at history and could easily remember dates of battles, when kings were crowned, and where, and all the things they make you remember at school. She turned the four words over in her mind, a bit afraid to say them aloud again. What if something else happened? Could it be a spell? Could it be a curse? Was it someone’s name? Although it would be a really long name. Of course, it could just as easily be a recipe for a jar of marmalade! Jorie giggled. They probably didn’t have marmalade back in those days, and why would they put it under a picture of a flying dragon? No — that didn’t make sense.

Jorie studied her new wonderful find for most of the afternoon. After that, she lay back on her bed, her hands clasped under her head, and turned things over in her mind. She thought about the window; now that had been very, very strange! She was sure that Aunt Letty had no idea that the book existed, for had she known, she might have given it to a museum or a library for old stuff. If she had known about it, she wouldn’t have put it under old floorboards, covered with dust and cobwebs.

Jorie didn’t care much for spiders, but she had plucked up her courage and plunged her hands into that space, perhaps sensing that there was a treasure there.

She wondered what her new friend Rufus might think of it. Should she tell him? Could she trust him? Might he not tell grownups, who she believed would take it away immediately, never to be returned? She couldn’t take that chance.


She needed to give her new friend a chance; perhaps Rufus would keep it their secret, and maybe the two of them could put their heads together and find out a little more about this book. Jorie felt that this discovery of hers had more to do with the history of Dunham and its mysterious past than it had as a mere fairy story.



About the Author:

A. H. Richardson was born in London England and is the daughter of famous pianist and composer Clive Richardson. She studied drama and acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She was an actress, a musician, a painter and sculptor, and now an Author.

She published her debut novel Jorie and the Magic Stones in December 2014. At the request of those who loved the first ‘Jorie’ story, Richardson has written a sequel titled Jorie and the Gold Key, and she is currently working on the third book in the series.

She is also the author of Murder in Little Shendon, a thriller murder mystery which takes place in a quaint little village in England after World War Two, and introduces two sleuths, Sir Victor Hazlitt and his sidekick,  Beresford Brandon, a noted Shakespearian actor. She has more ‘who-dun-its’ planned for this clever and interesting duo… watch for them!

A. H. Richardson lives happily in East Tennessee, her adopted state, and has three sons, three grandchildren, and two pugs. She speaks four languages and loves to do voiceovers. She plans on writing many more books and hopes to delight her readers further with her British twist, which all her books have.

Readers can connect with Angela on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

To learn more, go to https://ahrichardson.com/

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Simple Plans (Evolution Revolution #2) by Charlotte Bennardo

34299951Simple Plans (Evolution Revolution #2) by Charlotte Bennardo and illustrated by Cathleen Thole-Daniels
Publisher: Poolside Press
Number of Pages: 105
Published:  January 17th, 2017
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the author.
Why I wanted to read this:   The first book, Simple Machines was nominated in my category for the Cybils MG Speculative Fiction award last year.  Simple Plans is a continuation of the series and I enjoy reading animal stories.  

In Simple Machines, the animals of the forest stopped humans from advancing on their homes by destroying their machines.  In the sequel, Simple Plans, Jack continued to meet with his human friend Collin, who teaches him how about wagons.  Thinking a wagon would make gathering food for the animals quicker, Jack enlists Bird to help communicate to Collin.  Then Jack tries to teach the other animals how a wagon will help them, but they fear humans and their tools.  When Jack's friend, Rat is captured due to his continual teasing of the humans,  Jack once again gathers the woodland creatures around him to save his friend.  

 I enjoy reading animal stories, think Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,  or even Brian Jacques Redwall series of books, although Jacques' are more fantasy.  One important feature for me when reading animal stories that also feature humans is that the animals aren't able to talk to the humans.  Strange as it sounds, animals talking to each other is great, but when animals go speaking to humans as if they speak the same language, nope not my thing.  Don't get me wrong, my cat sure does tell me what he wants, but we can't have drawn out conversations.   In Simple Plans, Bennardo overcomes this factor in a unique way,  by having Jack communicating with Collin through a minah Bird who by mimicking Collin's words develops the vocabulary they need to communicate with one another.   Jack is one smart squirrel and a natural born leader, he sees both the dangers of humans encroaching on their homes and the advantages of working with Collin because humans have the machines that the woodland creatures need.  I think both of these stories lend themselves to a classroom read aloud because of the length and the gorgeous illustrations by Cathleen Thole-Daniels, like this one of Bird and Jack learning the word for string.  The length is just about right and you can tell the care the author took in her research to get the animals habits just right.  I'm looking forward to donating these to the elementary school.   




Squirrel and Myna Bird
Source:  Illustrator's website at CathleenDaniels.com 

About the Author:

Charlotte Bennardo is the co-author of the Sirenz series (Flux) and Blonde OPS (Thomas Dunne Books), hailed as “funny and entertaining” by Booklist. She resides in New Jersey with her family and is currently hard at work fighting for chair space with her cat as she works on her next project. 

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

MG Fantasy: Motley Education by S.A. Larsen

28234849Motley Education by S.A. Larsen
Publisher: Leap Books, LLC. 
Number of Pages: 325
Published:  September 15th, 2016
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the author.
Why I wanted to read this:  MG Fantasy with Norse Mythology, and a School for the Psychically & Celestially Gifted.    

Opening Lines:  "A glow pulsated from beneath the stone doors of the tiny crypt.  Dark mist seeped from the hinges in a long hiss.  Rumbling vibrated the ground, and the wrought iron fence caging in the cemetery chattered. "

That opening scene happens about three months before the current events with Ebony and Fleishman,  I really liked the image and suspense that it creates.  


The two groups of students who go to Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted are Sensories who can channel spirits and bend metals, versus Luminaries who read the stars or use charms, and potions.  Ebony really wants to be a Sensory, but she has been having difficulty in communicating with and seeing spirits. When Ebony is called upon to demonstrate her spirit tracking abilities to her class at Motley Junior High, she becomes increasingly nervous because of some mishaps she's had in the past.  She has all the right tools (her apprentice medallion, and celestial box), but things still go horribly wrong and Ebony is sent to meet with the headmistress where she is declared a "Seeker" or someone who is "undeveloped" in their skills.  Basically, Ebony is seen as a misfit.  She is given another opportunity to show her abilities by completing a special project for her Deadly Creatures & Relics class, transforming an object into something else.  But when her object, a stick goes missing, Ebony calls on her "go to guy" Fleishman for help.   As Ebony and Fleishman begin to work toward recovering her object, they learn that what she thought was just a stick is really an ancient relic needed to replenish the Well of Urd that nourishes the Tree of Life. 

Motley Education includes lots of Norse mythology and a main character which I really got into. There's a map, list of terms and mythical characters at the beginning, as well as some important facts and terms at the end of the book.   You can take a quiz to find out if you're a Sensory or Luminary and I even found a really neat Educational Guide that aligns with the Common Core.    Ebony is constantly being told that she needs to take her skills seriously and apply herself, despite her attempts to do just that.  Lots of her talents were hidden even from her and over the course of the story, she begins to grow into her craft.   I loved the Norse mythology and how it was incorporated into the story, all the talk of the Tree of Existence and these doorways that Ebony opened.  Hela even communicates with Ebony during a dream and the main villain, a dark elf named Daenir tries to manipulate Ebony into giving him the ancient relic.  There's a really interesting mix of the spirit world and Norse mythology which I particularly enjoyed.  Many of the characters from Norse Mythology make an appearance and the world building is wonderful including lovely details about the setting of Peru, Maine, and places like The Hall of Souls.  With plenty of humor and adventure, I would recommend this for someone who likes friendship stories, Norse mythology and a bit of a mystery.  

Favorite line:  " Growth comes through acceptance of one's self and situation, giving the ability to see into the bigger picture.  Don't long for what you think you should be. Concentrate on what you are now."        

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

MG Fantasy Dream Magic (Shadow Magic #2) by Joshua Khan

28810204Dream Magic (Shadow Magic #2) by Joshua Khan
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Number of Pages: 352
Publishing:  April 11th, 2017 
Source:  E-ARC from NetGalley

Why I wanted to read this:  Shadow Magic was one of the books that I read while judging for the Cybils this year that I absolutely adored.  This was my blurb for it when it went on to the final round,  13-year-old Thorn was just sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehenna, a kingdom famous for its dark magic. Lillith Shadow has just become Gehenna’s queen when her parents and brother were mysteriously killed and must learn to rule the land of the undead. When Thorn and Lily’s path cross in Gehenna, the two join forces to find the killer of Lily’s parents, while also trying to stop an assassin targeting Lily. Shadow Magic is an action-packed fantasy filled with all manner of creepy characters (dead and alive), including an enormous, and rather helpful, bat. It’s a captivating mystery full of magic, with touches of humor and characters to cheer for. It’s perfect for those who like fantasy with a delightfully Gothic twist.  (it even won for best Elementary/Middle-Grade Fiction). 

I was really excited to see that the sequel was coming out, and as soon as it was on NetGalley requested it.  With spring break quickly approaching,  I treated myself to a re-read of Shadow Magic and Dream Magic as well.   

Dream Magic takes place shortly after the events of Shadow Magic.  The would-be assassin has been caught and Lily and Thorn are acclimating to their roles in Gehenna.  In Shadow Magic, Lily tore open the Veil separating the land of the living from the dead and now has to deal with the consequences, zombies and spirits are roaming throughout Gehenna.   She has been meeting with her father's ghost who can only appear in the library and attempts to learn how to control her shadow magic.  While Lily is the ruler of Gehenna, she also has restrictions placed on her that keep her from using magic, including an ancient curse that forbids women from performing magic under the penalty of death. Yet, Lily is strong willed and uses her magic to save Thorn, even if it causes her people to fear her and leads to some unwelcome side effects.  Thorn meanwhile is searching the countryside with Hades for the source for the recent mysterious disappearances of people and attacks in the nearby villages, which is suspected to be due to trolls advancing on Gehenna.   Lily is then attacked and her precious skeleton key (which allows her to enter the library) is stolen by a mysterious man called the Dreamweaver, she and Thorn learn that he has an army of jewel spiders and plans to use them to gain control over Gehenna and exact revenge on Lily's family.     

I really wish this series was getting more recognition, it's such a lovely fantasy and delightfully creepy while having a nice balance between the darker story elements (zombies and jewel spiders that come crawling out of dead bodies and who's bite puts you into a dream state) with these humorous and light moments.  One of my favorites is a dinner party that Lily is holding and she has the zombies serving her guest's their soup.   I love how despite Thorn finding it strange that Lily grew up with zombies for a nursemaid, and can commune and command the dead, they have a warm fondness and friendship with each other.  There's even an epic sky battle aboard a cloud ship where Thorn and Hades are put into danger, and I'm hoping we'll learn more about their bond in the next book in the series.  Lily and Thorn struggle to help their friends, to do the right thing and there's the dynamics of two people who've lived very different lives.  Shadow Magic and Dream Magic were such a fantastic enjoyable read for me and I can see myself revisiting this series again.  I loved everything from the world, action, creepiness factor, to the characters, humor and the shadow magic itself.   I also appreciated that Khan didn't end either of these books with a cliffhanger and although they could stand alone, I still wanted to re-read them both.  There's some lovely detailed prose, with the description of the Old Keep of Castle Gloom being one of my favorites, "Seeds, drifting in from beyond the walls of Castle Gloom, had found fertile soil, and grown, undisturbed by mortals.  Ivy crept over the battlements, thick, black, and shimmering with ice.  Scarlet roses bloomed despite the snow, their heads hanging from worn statues like blood drops. Oak trees rose from the broken flagstones, their branches having brought down the walls and now spread out high and wide over the keep."   Did I mention that there are also really lovely illustrations?  Hope you get the opportunity to read this and if you have, feel free to comment and let me know what you thought.      

Many thanks to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for the E-Arc of Dream Magic, which in no way affected my opinion or review of this book.     

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

MG Realistic Fiction: Slacker by Gordon Korman

26892065Slacker by Gordon Korman
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Number of Pages: 240
Published:  April 26th, 2016 
Source:  Library

Why I wanted to read this:  Slacker was a finalist for the Cybils MG Fiction award and I recall that Mrs. Yingling really enjoyed this book.  Plus when I saw that cover at the library, I just had to read this.  

Cameron Boxer isn't a hard worker unless you count working hard at not doing his homework.  He would much rather spend his time playing video games with his friends and training for the East Coast gaming championships is his top priority.  Yet, all this gaming is distracting him from everything else going on around him and it ends up having huge consequences when he practically burns the house down.  Cameron's parents then lay down the law and tell him he needs to get more involved in school social activities.  So, Cameron comes up with the idea for forming a fake school club to cover his tracks and the Postive Action Group is born.  Certainly, this will keep his parents off his back so he can keep on playing video games.  That is until word starts getting around about the club and people start really signing up.  Cameron even has the school counselor pressuring him as the club president to get the group involved in some community service projects.   Cameron's slacker days may be over unless he can come up with a way to break up the club.  But, Cameron may not have to do anything when the Positive Action Group draws the attention of a rival group and they become embattled in a huge turf war. 

 As soon as I checked out Slacker from the library, my kiddo couldn't resist picking it up and reading the first chapter to me.  That cover just says "read me."  We giggled and laughed as the "great ziti inferno" began to unfold.  Here's this kid who's mom gives him instructions while he's playing a video game mind you, there's lots of "yeah" "uh huh's" and then we know the rest, but the whole thing is just so amusing to read.  Each chapter alternates between the various characters and shows the motivations for their joining the group.  For example, Daphne wants to save Elvis, a beaver who was displaced when his home was destroyed, Mr. Fanshaw want's to use the group members to sell raffle tickets and Freeland Mcbean a.k.a String hopes the extra credit will increase his grades enough to get back on the team. There are chapters from fellow video gamers Chuck and Pavel and even Cameron's younger sister.  It maybe about video gaming initially, but Slacker also delves into the idea of not just having virtual friends, but that there are more things out there waiting to be explored.  Overall, I highly recommend this amusing read packed with kid appeal. 

Favorite lines:  "I have initiative,"  Cam defended himself.  "It takes a lot of work to do as little as I've done for the past thirteen years."