Monday, March 1, 2021

MG review of The Dreaded Cliff by Terry Nichols, illustrated by Odessa Sawyer

The Dreaded Cliff by Terry Nichols, illustrated by Odessa Sawyer
Format:  Paperback ARC 
Publisher:  Kinkajou Press
Number of pages:  260
Publishing:  March 2nd, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher after request sent by author 

Opening Lines: "I'm a goddess.  Flora loved saying those words."

Flora is a packrat who enjoys venturing out each day for a quick sampling of her favorite prickly pear cactus pads.  Like most packrats, Flora mostly keeps to herself, only stopping when she receives "the warning" from her cousin Gertrude.  Every packrat receives the warning to "remember and beware of the dreaded cliff."  Yet, no one can recall what exactly they're to be careful of.  Just thinking about the dreaded cliff causes Flora's stomach to do backflips.  All that changes following a chance encounter with Grandma Mimi, who imparts that the dreaded cliff was once the packrats ancestral home, a special place,  until an invader took it over.  Confused by this new information, Flora returns to her home, tucked below the jangly crate and proceeds to fall asleep.  Shortly thereafter, she awakens to find that she is in a new place, separated from the rest of the packrats.  

Timid and slightly afraid of her new surroundings, she is encouraged when she meets Cyrus the kangaroo rat king, a stuttering porcupine named Paco and Dayana the ventriloquist rabbit.  Each of the animals changes Flora's outlook on her previous life near the cliffs and instills her with hope that she can brave it out in her new surroundings.   Flora also develops the confidence to deal with the harsh realities and dangers of living in the wild, even outsmarting a badger and owl.  The Dreaded Cliff exposes children to the wildlife of the southwest, including pinon pines, prickly pear cactuses and even the harsher elements, for example when Flora witnesses the death of a dear friend following a predator attack on their small community.  Flora however is not easily dissuaded and is instead even more resolved to follow her destiny to return to her ancestral home and rid it of the dangers lurking inside. 

Terry Nichols is a retired National Park Service ranger with thirty years of experience writing trail guides, brochures and articles about wildlife.  Currently she lives in Aztec, New Mexico and The Dreaded Cliff is her debut novel, inspired by her own experiences with a packrat who stowed away in her 1979 Volkswagen as she was travelling across country on a camping trip.  Her knowledge of the southwest is evident in her writing, making it easy to visualize the setting.   I quite enjoyed reading The Dreaded Cliff and was reminded of Colorado and the time that rats built their nest in the electronics of my parents hot tub.  Not only did they pose a problem to the electronics but you had to be really careful in protecting yourself when getting rid of their nests to avoid possible exposure to Hantavirus.   Despite the real life hassles with these rodents, Flora is certainly an endearing character and the reader is sympathetic with her yearning to return to her home.  I enjoyed how she changed throughout the story, overcoming ever obstacle and danger that came her way. Given Flora's propensity for using a large vocabulary of words,  like "lavish and sublime," the story would be best for a more advanced reader and one that can understand the connection between the death of an animal and its relationship to the food chain of nature.  

**A special thank you to Terry Nichols and Kinkajou Press for the review copy.**  

Monday, February 15, 2021

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi
Format:  Paperback ARC 
Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  288
Publishing:  February 16th, 2021
Source: Publisher via MB Communications

Opening Lines:  "My father was famous.  He was the greatest magician in Echo City.  And he made himself disappear." 

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found was coauthored by Theo Gangi and Harold Hayes, Jr. and Craig S. Phillips, under the pen name Rucker Moses, a name they selected in tribute to Benjamin Rucker aka Black Herman, a famous Black magician from the early 20th century.  

Kingston and his mother have moved back to Echo City, Brooklyn, after having left when Kingston's fathers disappeared some four years ago.  Despite what everyone else thinks, Kingston firmly believes his father is still alive.  Kingston's mom had wanted to leave all the past and especially any mention of magic behind, but being in the old neighborhood has brought all those old memories flooding backEspecially seeing the marquee for the Mercury Theater, a strong reminder of the last time that Kingston's father performed his magical act and vanished through a mirror that shattered after a mishap during one of his illusions.  But now they've returned to take over his father's magic shop before it's foreclosed, his mother wants to turn it into a cafĂ©, her life long dream.  Kingston however hopes to gather information about his father from his uncles, and with the help of his cousin Veronica and his childhood friend, Too Tall, he's determined to find out what happened to his father and bring him home.  

Upon their arrival in town,  Kingston sees a dark figure while peeking through the windows of the boarded up Mercury Theater.  Later he takes Veronica and Too Tall to search the building and finds a few clues his father left behind, including a box and secret codes.  It's as if his father wanted to send him on a scavenger hunt to unravel how he disappeared.  Kingston learns of a rival magician, Maestro who participated with him in a few dueling magic shows and who was present with his assistant, Urma Tan, when his dad disappeared.  

I think the charm of Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found is not only the fictionalized setting of Echo City, but how the magic within the story is based on a form of parallel worlds or realms.  People are able to move from the real world into an alternate realm but this shifting contributes to the threat of shattering all of reality.  The magic gets kind of tricky but it's fascinating as well.  I especially enjoyed the analogy of the magical realm being similar to the glass of an aquarium, protecting the release of gallons of water.  And especially all of the coded messages that Kingston deciphered.  Overall this was a very enjoyable read, I can see this appealing to kids who enjoy solving coded word puzzles, magical illusions, alternate realms and just the right amount of magic and mystery.  

**  Thank you to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers and MB Communications for kindly sending me my review copy.**          

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti, illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe + Excerpt and Giveaway

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Andrews McMeel Publishing
Number of pages:  224
Publishing:  February 9th, 2021
Source:  Netgalley

Sam's mother is a traveling musician and her latest tour will take her to Europe. Sam, however won't be going with, instead she is being sent to live with her Uncle Mitch in Foggy Harbor, South Carolina.  Sam is reluctant to move to Foggy Harbor, thinking it can't compare to where she lives now with her mom.  Plus, Sam hardly even knows her Uncle Mitch and he certainly can't know much about her either.  Upon arriving in Foggy Harbor, Sam is surprised by her Uncle Mitch's grumpiness, it's almost like it he didn't even know that his niece was coming to stay with him.  Sam tries hard to stay out of his way, entertaining herself by investigating the small town.  Sam soon meets a boy named Tuck, Tuck's mom is the local veterinarian, and the two quickly hit it off.  Sam invites Tuck over to her uncle's house and while exploring, they discover a trap door and a hidden storage unit filled with her Uncle Mitch's mementos, including a picture of Sam's aunt, white tufts of hair and a mysterious clock.  When Sam's uncle catches them rifling through his things, he vows to send Sam back to her mom.  Then late at night, Sam observes him taking the row boat out into the fog.  When he doesn't return by the next morning, Sam convinces Tuck to help her try and find her uncle.

Unicorn Island is the first book in a new series by Donna Galanti.  The story is fairly straight forward, a girl discovers a mysterious island filled with unicorns that have been shrouded behind a mist of fog.  The mystery of the story is how Sam's uncle became the fog keeper, responsible for tending to and protecting the unicorns.  There's also a little tension when one of the newborn's falls ill and Sam's uncle doesn't know how to heal him.  The full color illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, are bright and provide just the right atmospheric qualities to the story, capturing the misty fog, stormy waters, and quiet beach town.  I especially like the darker ones of the fog, then the contrast with the bright town.  The ending alludes to new dangers awaiting Sam and Tuck in the next book and overall this is a nice transition for a reader wanting to move up to more advanced books.  It kind of reminded me of The Creature of the Pines from Adam Gidwitz's The Unicorn Rescue Society.  Included at the end of the book are details about the history of unicorns, pirates in the Carolina's, even details about island's that house wild horses.  With plenty of kid appeal, I'd happily gift this to a younger reader interested in unicorns.        

                                                Excerpt from Unicorn Island

In New York City, lights twinkled across Sam’s ceiling all night long. She had never felt lonely there,

knowing the city was awake with her. She could already tell Foggy Harbor was different. It looked like

the loneliest place ever. Why would anyone live here on purpose? she wondered.


The driver pulled into the bus station. A neon sign that should have flashed Foggy Harbor Parking

was missing most of its letters. BOR . . . ING. Some sign, she thought. I’m already bored here.


“You got someone picking you up, Miss?” the driver asked as he pulled her suitcase from the luggage compartment.


Her t-shirt clung to her in the heavy, muggy air. Sam checked her phone for the address Mom had given her: 1 Foggy Way. 


“My uncle lives a block from here,” she said, pointing at the street sign.


The driver nodded and pulled out of the station, leaving her under the broken sign. Sam texted Mom one word out of duty: ARRIVED. With no choice but to find her new home, she adjusted her backpack and popped up her suitcase handle, dragging it along. It clickety-clacked all the way down the quiet street.


Uncle Mitch’s stone house sat at the end, alone and secluded, hugging the ocean. Its sloped roof pierced the murky sky. One light glowed in a back window. Crickets trilled around the house, creating an eerie buzz as waves lapped the shore.


Sam crunched over the walking path made of shells, then thumped up the front porch steps and rang the doorbell, eager to escape the empty night.


After a few minutes, the door was yanked open. A tall man with curly black hair and a bushy mustache loomed over Sam, the porch light deepening his frown. “Yes?”


Sam swallowed hard. “Uncle Mitch?”


His eyes grew wide and he pulled her inside, slamming the door. “Samantha? What are you doing here?”


Cool air washed over her from a ceiling fan that whirred above, and she shivered, shrinking under his glare. Then she remembered what Mom had said: He’s the only family we’ve got.


Giveaway Details:
Giveaway runs February 9th at 12a.m. through
February 15th at 11:45p.m. USA and Canada only.

The Unicorn Island Prize Package includes:
$25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card
Unicorn LED night light and key chain
Unicorn stickers, 2 pencils, 2 erasers
Bookmarks and autographed bookplate


One winner will be chosen at random within 48 hours after the contest ends. The winner’s first name and last initial will be posted on the contest page automatically and the author will email the winner to get their address to ship the prizes.

                                                           

a Rafflecopter giveaway



                                                                           About the Author: 

Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under. Donna is a writing contest judge at nycmidnight.com, a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, and regularly presents as a guest author at schools. She also loves teaching at writing conferences on marketing and craft and through her Udemy online courses. Donna has lived in England as a child, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.





Thursday, February 4, 2021

Blog Tour for SOL INVICTUS (The Eye of Ra #2) by Ben Gartner with Guest Post + Giveaway

Today I'm excited to be hosting a spot on the SOL INVICTUS by Ben Gartner Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my guest post, the links to other interviews and guest posts and make sure to enter the giveaway while you're here!

              About Sol Invictus:

Title: SOL INVICTUS (The Eye of Ra #2)

Author: Ben Gartner

Pub. Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher: Crescent Vista Press

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 300

Find it:  Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org 

Siblings John and Sarah barely made it home last time, but in their next time traveling adventure the challenge really heats up. Surrounded by clashing cultures on the ancient Roman frontier, they must fulfill their quest to unite the emperor with his enemy, an Alemanni barbarian, or risk being stuck in time forever.

An action-packed fantasy full of sword fights, chariot chases, fearsome wild animals, and high mountain survival. For graduates of the Magic Tree House looking for a thrilling middle grade page-turner, read Sol Invictus, book two of The Eye of Ra series!

 

Reviews:

️Gold Recipient, Mom's Choice Awards Honoring Excellence

"Once again, Gartner deftly weaves real-life history into a compelling adventure, offering high-stakes, realistic danger and vivid scene-setting."-Kirkus Reviews

"Gartner has a knack for action and creating compelling historical personalities . . . Middle [grade] readers who treasure ancient history with a side of adventure will welcome this fantasy story."-BookLife Reviews by Publishers Weekly

 


Grab book 1 THE EYE OF RA now!

️ Gold Recipient, Mom's Choice Awards; ️ Silver Medal in Children's Adventure, 2020 International Readers' Favorite Awards; ️ Finalist, Next Generation Book Awards; ️ 1st Place in both Children's Adventure AND Grades 4th-6th, 2020 TopShelf Awards

 

Why Action Adventure for Middle Grade?

Action adventure is exciting. I think we can all agree on that. And kids love exciting books. Yes. But that would be too easy an answer for a whole blog post! So, the top-secret reason I like to write action adventure for middle graders? Well, I have ulterior motives…

I think the nooks and crannies of history (which is really just the story of people) are where the important details lie, the real meat of who we are as a species—our shared desires, motivations, hopes, and dreams. We all know the shared, massaged, refined stories taught in textbooks. But what an ancient Egyptian ate for dinner and what they might have discussed with their family while they ate can tell you just as much about them as people as studying the pyramids. Perhaps even more so!

How did this post on action adventure turn to the mundane topic of eating dinner? Well, the collision of those two things is my ulterior motive. I want to spur kids to imagine themselves in a different time, a different family, a different skin—this builds empathy, for which middle graders are primed. And what better way to encourage that imagination than to suck them in with a good, exciting, action adventure plot! If they truly feel the excitement of time travel and wandering around lost in an ancient Egyptian village, or trapped in a gladiator ring with only a spear against wild animals, they’ll become viscerally involved in the story and care for the characters. They’ll want to hang out with them.

Action adventure is great for teaching facts without it feeling like teaching facts. For example, in Sol Invictus, Crocus has a tattoo on his face along his jawline of the letters “LIV.” John and Sarah, the main characters, assume it’s a girl’s name. But it turns out it’s not. It’s… well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But there’s action and teaching involved. ;)  

 

About Ben Gartner: 

Ben Gartner is the award-winning author of The Eye of Ra adventure series for middle graders (ages 8-12). His books take readers for a thrilling ride, maybe even teaching them something in the meantime. Ben can be found living and writing near the mountains with his wife and two boys.

 

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |Goodreads | Amazon

 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card, International.

1 winner will win a finished copy of SOL INVICTUS, US Only.

1 winner will win an eBook of SOL INVICTUS, International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

2/1/2021

Two Chicks on Books

Interview

2/2/2021

Westveil Publishing

Guest Post

2/3/2021

BookHounds YA

Interview

2/4/2021

Log Cabin Library

Guest Post

2/5/2021

A Dream Within A Dream

Guest Post

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

YA Contemporary/Romance review of Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

Love in English by Maria E. Andreu 
Format:  ARC-paperback 
Publisher:  Balzer & Bray
Number of pages:  336
Published:  February 2nd, 2021
Source: Publisher via BookSparks 

Opening Lines: "I smooth the front of my skirt, then run a finger on the checked gray felt of the front seat of the car."

Sixteen-year-old Ana immigrated from Argentina to New Jersey with her mother, finally reuniting with her father, who had been living alone for the past few years before bringing them to the United States.  Despite having studied English in Argentina, Ana doesn't feel confident enough with the language to be starting her junior year at her new American high school.  She does know enough English to comprehend a word or sentence here and there, but speaking conversationally still makes her feel like she's grasping for just the right words to convey her thoughts.  At first all Ana can think about is trying to convince her parents to let her return to Argentina, but then she meets Harrison, a cute American boy in her math class and is instantly infatuated.  Ana is also partnered with Neo, a Greek boy, in ESL and begins to see that they have a lot in common.  Especially when it comes to understanding the idiosyncrasies of the English language, and 80's movies.  Finally there's Altagracia, or Gracie as everyone calls her because they don't know how to pronounce her name.  Gracie is fluent in Spanish, has a huge Instagram following, and has taken Ana under her wing to help her acclimate to her new high school.  The story follows Ana through her junior year as she juggles learning English, falls in love and tries to fit in at her new school, while also struggling to live up to her parents expectations.    

 Love in English is the kind of story that instantly spoke to me, one I could relate to and had an instant personal connection to.   Coming from a background in speech language pathology, I've always been interested in words, languages and how we combine those words to communicate our thoughts and ideas.  Words have always been very important to me and I love the way that language and culture was expressed in the story.  English is often considered to be a challenging language to learn, when compared to other languages.  The way two words are spelled differently, have different meanings, yet sound phonetically the same, like knight and night.  English contains many slang words and is filled with expressions that are more figurative versus literal in their translation.  While my experiences didn't include ESL, I've spent a large part of my career on communication, written expression and improving social communication.  After reading Andreu's introduction, I was very touched by her inspiration for the story and knew this would be a special kind of read.  The author met and exceeded my expectations.  Andreu prefaces the story by explaining that she was born in Spain, lived in Argentina and later came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant across the US-Mexican border at the age of eight.  She drew from her own personal experiences and difficulties in understanding the English language to write Love in English.  

I enjoyed the way Andreu used ###'s for the words that Ana didn't understand, the reader is forced to fill in the gaps similar to the way Ana did during conversations.  It really drives home the importance of not speaking quickly and allowing enough time for an ESL learner to ask questions or to process what the speaker has just said so that breakdowns in communication will not occur.  Andreu also included Spanish excerpts so that readers who are not native Spanish speakers may develop empathy for what it might feel like to not comprehend what is being said, while also encouraging the reader to explore the Spanish sentences for themselves.  I also so loved Ana's poems, especially the ones with English expressions that are commonly used and don't translate very well, for example something like "the right to bear arms."  The author also interjected humor as she explored the complexities of the English language, especially when Ana and Neo analyzed Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.   Love in English was a truly delightful and creative read inspired by the author's own experiences learning to speak English, and a book that I know I will return to quite often.  

** Thank you to Balzer + Bray and BookSparks for my review copy. **


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

MG Fantasy review of Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston 

Format:  E-ARC 
Publisher:  Balazer & Bray
Number of pages:  416
Publishing:  January 19th, 2021
Source: Netgalley via Sparkpress

Opening Lines:  "I'm sitting in the principal's office.  Again."  

Amari attends a private school where she is being bullied and teased by her classmates, but today was the last straw.  After one of the girls makes a comment about her missing brother, Amari gives her a tiny shove, a decision that she instantly regrets.  Amari worries that her actions might add to her mom's burden, as if being a single mom and working twelve hour shifts at the hospital isn't enough, now she has to contend with Amari loosing her scholarship because of the school's zero tolerance policy.  Plus they're both still reeling over Amari's brother Quinton's disappearance six months ago.  

Then a mysterious sequence of events occur, an email appears in Quinton's inbox, a man shows up at their door telling her Quinton left her a briefcase and she learns that she's been nominated for the same summer leadership camp that Quinton attended.  Upon arriving at the Vanderbilt Hotel for her summer orientation, Amari learns that her brother was actually working for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an elite magical organization that is the link between the known and hidden.  She learns everything she ever thought about magical creatures is real, dwarves and mermaids do exist, just that the bureau keeps them hidden from the rest of mankind.  At first, Amari only joins because she want's to gather as much information as she can about her brother's disappearance, but then she begins to see this as an opportunity to learn more about herself.  While at school, Amari makes friends with her roommate, Elise who is one of the last weredragon's in existence, and Dylan Van Helsing, who is the brother of Maria and Lara Van Helsing.  The Van Helsing's are one of the most famous legacy families at the school.  Maria was Quinton's partner and together they made up team VanQuish, that is until they both went missing.  As a new recruit to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari undergoes two ceremonies, where she receives the highest possible badge, achieving a moonstone, and her enhancement reveals that she is a magician, something that has been deemed illegal within the bureau.  Initially, the bureau planned to lock her up but Amari proves to be more valuable for her skills and is allowed to continue with her training and studies, as well as to compete in the special agent tryouts.  Amari hopes that she will be able to get closer to the agents who knew her brother the best, and figure out a way to find her brother.  At the same time, Amari will have to contend with an evil magician bent on recovering an item of  immense destructive powers that was taken from him.  

Amari and the Night Brothers has been described as a contemporary real world fantasy, a description that seems to fit it perfectly.  Here we find technology weaved with magic, a sort of Men in Black school of agents with supernatural abilities, cool gadgets like sky sprints and stunsticks and trainees eager to pass their tryouts.  The magical system includes illusionists, technologists, weavers, even a weredragon who once her skills reveal themselves can breath fire.  There are many hints or nods toward other books.  The Peter Pan type feel when Amari was flying aboard the ship, the Harry Potter themes of a magical school,  a girl unaware of her hidden magical talents, a ceremony akin to the sorting hat but with a magical artifact, even a challenge that reminded me of one from The Goblet of Fire.   There's even the distinction being made between legacy families and those who are at the school based on merit. The sort of snide derogatory comments that Lucius Malfoy is known for.  It's really easy to see why Amari and the Night Brothers has already been optioned by Universal Pictures.  

Ah but there is so much more to the story, there's characters with questionable motives, a horrible betrayal, and a main character that is relatable and will capture your heart right away with how loyal she is to her friends.  A girl who despite being full of insecurities, desperately wants to make her brother proud.  Most of all, I really like how each chapter has an element that leaves you hanging for the next, the knock at the door, the visit from Quinton, each chapter leading into the next, which would be torture as a read aloud because it would make it so hard to find a stopping point.  Truly an exciting debut that deserves all the praise, I eagerly await the next book in the series.    ** Thank you to Netgalley and SparkPress for my review copy. **