Monday, June 27, 2022

J.R. Silver Writes Her World by Melissa Dassori, illustrations by Chelen Ecija

J.R. Silver Writes Her World by Melissa Dassori and illustrations by Chelen Ecija
Format:  E- ARC
Publisher:  Christy Ottaviano Books/Little Brown BYR
Number of pages:  272
Publishing:  July 19th, 2022
Source:  Edelweiss+ 

Opening Line: "That one, said Violet as she stepped so close to the railing that a blue-suited guard waved her back."

It's the summer before sixth grade and Josephine Rose Silver, J.R. for short, is visiting the MET or Metropolitain Museum of Art with her best friend, Violet.  Violet and J.R. are kindred spirits for the classics, sharing a love for Little Women and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, they've even acted out scenes from the book while visiting the museum.   They know each other's likes and dislikes, and both their moms are even best friends who work together at the museum.  However, ever since Violet returned from summer camp things have been strained.  Violet has been constantly distracted by her phone, texting, social media, and Ava Arls, the most popular girl in their grade, who also happened to be at the same summer camp as Violet.   J.R.'s parents are stricter than Violet's, they haven't even agreed to let her walk home without parental supervision and said no to her getting a phone.  J.R. feels like her and Violet don't have as much in common anymore.  Then J.R.'s teacher, Ms. Kline takes out her collection of Gothamite magazines and assigns them a creative writing assignment utilizing the iconic covers as a writing prompt.  J.R. pours her heart and dreams into her short stories, and when one of them actually comes true, she's overjoyed but plays it off as just a coincidence, but the more she writes things into reality, the more she believes that she can use her writing assignments as a tool to fix her and Violet's relationship.  But like all magic it's important to remember to be careful what you wish for.          

J.R. Silver Writes Her World poses the question, what if you could write your dreams into reality with the stroke of a pen?  Man was this such a wonderful read, I just devoured it, and it's one of my favorite reads so far this year.  It included so many of my favorite things, a main character who wants to be a writer, bookstores, shout outs to other authors and books (Rick Riordan, Linda Sue Park and Jacqueline Woodson) and is also set in New York and parts of it take place at the Metropolitain Museum of Art (MET).  I so would've loved this book as a kid, not only for the creative writing assignments using magazine covers but also for the getting words out and onto the page.  I love that the author drew inspiration for the story from her own fourth grade teacher who used the New Yorker magazines for their creative writing assignments.  It was an especially special read for me because I also used magazine covers, Norman Rockwell's in my own speech therapy practice and it brought back some happy memories.

While reading, I so related to J.R.'s feelings and felt the story wonderfully captures the awkwardness of a friend having moved on, and the feeling of being left behind.  Which happened to me quite a few times as a kid.   The pains of watching Violet making new friends and not including you in her plans.  I so felt for J.R. and was happy that she eventually was able to convey her feelings to Violet.  Having those tough conversations are never easy, especially when it involves your friend, but the message here shows the importance of being honest and having that tough talk.  

 Anyone who knows me also knows that I love stories with wonderful teachers.  Teachers who inspire, find all the great qualities in their students, or ones that just support them achieve their dreams.  J.R.'s teacher, Ms. Kline was absolutely wonderful.  I'd agree she felt similar to Mary Poppin's, and I just adored her.  She never provides J.R. all the answers about her stories coming to reality, but gently guides her to improve her stories to get a better outcome.  I've always had a soft spot for teachers, and I'd put Ms. Kline up there with Ms. Bixby from John David Anderson's Ms. Bixby's Last Day.  Overall, this was a fabulous debut that focuses on language arts and captures the ebbs and flows of friendships.  I'd highly recommend this to an aspiring writer, and this would make a wonderful read aloud.            

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras

 Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Dial Books
Number of pages:  336
Publishing:  June 14th, 2022
Source:  Books Forward and publisher in exchange for an honest review  

Opening Line:  "When the light is gone, the dark things come:  creeping from shadows, their cruel minds afire." 

Nora and her mother live in Brannland, a city besieged by terrifying beasts called Umbrae, who only appear during gloaming or at dusk.  The Umbrae can take on many forms, but mostly they appear as these shadowy spiders, wolves and worms.    One single bite from an Umbrae can kill an adult, but some children have developed an immunity to their venom.  Usually, children are tested at seven and those who are immune go to Noye's Hill, a castle made over into a training facility for the knights.  Despite being immune, Nora's father refused to allow her to be trained, but now he's gone.  At twelve years of age, after having narrowly escaped with her mother from an Umbrae attack, Nora decides it's time to be tested and see if she has the skills to join.  Once at the castle, Nora participates in a battle simulation and surprises everyone, including herself with her skills.  She not only has extraordinary talent, but has quick reflexes, can gauge her opponents next moves and with her quick speed, she can easily destroy almost any Umbrae she encounters.   Nora quickly settles in with her new team but is still homesick for her mother and best friend, Wilfred.  When their first two-week mission approaches, the tension among the group begins to mount and everyone will need to stay on high alert and protect each other's back.  While their mission is successful, other teams begin to have difficulties and when one of their outings exposes a potential source for the Umbrae, Nora and her team are sent out to not only fight but to hopefully destroy the cause of the problem.

I quite enjoyed the Secret of the Shadow Beasts.  Nora is a fun main character and I liked how the story emphasized some positives about her playing videogames, namely her quick reflexes and how playing the games developed her into this natural fighter.  She's quite agile and despite being so skilled, she's also quite humble.  She cares about her fellow team, as they too grow to care about her.  The teamwork is one of my favorite aspects of the story.  How they each cared and supported each other, there was a sense of vulnerability and love amongst the group, a family bond and deep sense of trust.  How they would hug and encourage each other, such a wonderful caring group.  The pacing of the story was also so spot on, there's plenty of battles against the Umbrae and quiet moments in-between to reflect and train.  And the monsters of the story, well with them coming out at dusk, it really added a creepy vibe that I especially liked.  Overall, this was a fun adventure and had a good resolution, although I'm hoping there will be more stories featuring Nora in the future.  This will certainly appeal to fans of Magras' The Mad Wolf's Daughter and the sequel, The Hunt For The Mad Wolf's Daughter.  Or perhaps even as a companion read to Lockwood and Company.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

WE ARE THE SONG by Catherine Bakewell Blog Tour +Review and Giveaway

Today I'm excited to be hosting a spot on the WE ARE THE SONG by Catherine Bakewell Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About The Book:

Author: Catherine Bakewell
Pub. Date: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Holiday House
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 304

Find it:
 GoodreadsAmazon, Kindle, Audible, B&NiBooks, KoboTBD,

A lush and beautiful fantasy set in a world where music is magic and the fate of many thrones lies with one girl...

Twelve-year-old Elissa has been raised in seclusion as a devotee of the Mother Goddess. She is a special child, a blessed child, a child who can sing miracles into being. Her voice can heal wounds, halt landslides, cure hunger--and even end wars.

But there are those who would use her gift for darker things. And when Elissa finds herself the farthest from home she's ever been--along with her vain and jealous music tutor, Lucio--she will have to develop the judgment to decide who wants to use her song to heal... and who wants to use her song to hurt.


"Elissa’s desire to follow her divinely inspired abilities and overcome the barriers to her musical ambitions echo women’s historical experiences in classical music. . . . And constellations of race, sexuality, and gender expression lend richness to an already unique world."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"This fast-paced fantasy is full of action and intrigue, taking place in a war-torn world that still holds much beauty and magic. Readers will come to love Elissa, who struggles with doubts as she faces heartbreak, tragedy, and loneliness and tries to fight for what is right. An excellent addition to middle-grade fantasy collections."—Booklist

"Fantasy fans will queue up for this delightful novel with its strong female characters and carefully drawn fantasy world. . . . Fast packed action will keep readers totally engaged. This captivating novel promises a good future for this first-time author."—School Library Connection

"An exploration of devotion and finding one’s voice."—Kirkus Reviews

My thoughts:  

One of the first things that struck me about We Are the Song was how it reflects the authors love for music, nature, the arts and language.  There's a very lyrical quality to her writing and I especially enjoyed the imagery it creates.  Like this passage, "my voice hopped like a stone skipping across water..."  Music is central to the story, we see it in the names of the cities (Acuto, Basso and Cadenza), the way the story was written into four movements, how musical terminology is infused into the story (trill, crescendo and vibrato) and how music is what creates the magic that allows Elissa to sing blessings that heal, stave off hunger, and even give comfort.

Elissa is such a wonderful character, she begins the story as this quiet girl, following the plan that was set to her by the Goddess Caé, realizing that her gift is to be a singer, not a scholar or composer.  Then Elissa becomes like this flower gradually exploding into bloom as she gains her voice.  She begins to question the people who are in power and asking her to perform for their own purposes, wanting to use the power of her songs to defeat their enemies.  Even trying to tell her that it isn't her place to decide whether to sing or stay silent, that they know Goddess Caé's wishes better than she does.  I so enjoyed that Elissa learns that the only voice she really needed to listen to was her own. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this story.  How it touches on religion, spirituality, how if something doesn't set right with you, it's ok to question it.  Although this wasn't a high stakes adventure as I expected it to be at first, the musical/lyrical writing made this a delight.     

About Catherine Bakewell:

Catherine Bakewell is a writer, artist, and opera enthusiast. She has lived in Spain and in France, where she romped through gardens, ate pastries, and worked on her novels. We Are the Song is her debut.

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Website | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon


Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a finished copy of WE ARE THE SONG, US Only.

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Tour Schedule:

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Monsters in the Mist by Juliana Brandt

Monster's in the Mist by Juliana Brandt
Format:  E- ARC
Publisher:  Sourcebooks for Young Readers
Number of pages:  320
Published:  May 3rd, 2021
Source:  publisher via Netgalley. 

Opening Line:  "The windows of the third keeper's home at Graving Lighthouse quivered, restless in their frames as the wind outside crept against their edges and tried to sneak in."

While their father is away for work, thirteen-year-old Glennon McCue, his mother and older sister, Lee have moved in with their Uncle Job on the Isle Philippeaux, which is situated in the middle of Lake Superior.  The Isle has this ominous, creepy vibe, which immediately the siblings find unsettling, but neither of them can put their finger on what specifically is wrong with it.  Then a series of events occur, making Glennon suspicious of whether it's safe to remain on the Isle.  For starters he has a mysterious encounter with a boy hunched in the road while out riding his bike and then a major storm hits the island, resulting in a shipwreck and several crew members wash up near the lighthouse.  The ship's crew also are frightened about being on the Isle and their bizarre behavior begins to convince Glennon that he has to find a way to get them off the island before it's too late.  

I was in a mood for something creepy when I received a review request for Monster's in the Mist, and this certainly hit the spot.  The story is one that slowly burns, we get to know Glennon, Lee and what brought them to Isle Philippeaux, but from there it grows in intensity.  Glennon begins to unravel the mystery of the island and what he finds, well he has every reason to be scared of.  Even I was scared for him and Lee.  And the monsters of this story, well let's just say that the phantom ghosts and the real-life monster that is present in Glennon's life was equally frightening.  This story really does build in the horror department and has a lot of depth, delving into some pretty deep subjects, like PTSD, panic attacks and the overall pain of abuse.  For Glennon and Lee it is the verbal abuse and raging anger that their dad displays toward them that is also present toward their mom. Glennon, Lee and their mom have each found their own ways to exist amongst this terrible emotional and verbally abusive situation.    I really appreciated the author's letter to the reader at the end of the book explaining how not all abuse is physical, that the words Glennon's father used in the story were forms of verbal and emotionally abuse.  I also especially liked the encouragement that Brandt offers for children who may recognize any of these actions to seek a trusted adults help, whether a trusted teacher or counselor.  Finally, I felt the love that exists between these siblings, the way that they support each other and understand each other's needs.  I'd recommend this to the readers who enjoyed A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, it had that same sort of feeling of confusion and sadness with the greater theme of finding the truth of what haunts them.  Overall, the story left me optimistic about Glennon and Lee's future and I really wanted them to be free from the pain that was being inflicted on them.

**A huge thank you to Sourcebooks for the E-ARC**                 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Captain's Daughters by Doreen D. Berger

The Captain's Daughters by Doreen D. Berger
Format:  E- book
Publisher:  Polaris Print, LLC
Number of pages:  254
Published:  April 16th, 2021
Source:  author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Polaris can be found almost directly above the North Pole and is, therefore, nicknamed the North Star or Pole Star."

The Captain's Daughter begins in March of 2297, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  12-year-old Diane and Robin are visiting their grandparents ranch with their father, Captain March of the Starship Polaris for a short shore leave while repairs are being completed on his ship.  While on an outing horseback riding, the girls are abducted by aliens and whisked away as a part of a huge ransom and revenge plot.  The March girls, however, prove to be more capable than the aliens anticipated and so they overpower their guard, beam to a space station and stowaway aboard a shuttle heading back to Earth.  Elated to have escaped their captures and soon to reunite with their father, the girls believe they're in the clear only to find upon their return to New Mexico that they've not only entered an alternative universe, but also an alternative timeline, one in which their family doesn't recognize them.  How will they ever set their timeline back and get back to the home that they know?  

The Captain's Daughters was such a fun science fiction story, defiantly feeling some Star Trek vibes in this one, think firing phasers, aliens, Nebula's, beaming down to space stations.  The premise of identical/parallel worlds and "counterparts" was interesting, and I liked how creative and resourceful Diane and Robin were in getting off of the alien ship.  I especially enjoyed how the story was divided fairly equally between the girls exploits in the parallel universe New Mexico and Captain March's efforts to recover the girls from the aliens in his time.  Both sides were working toward reuniting with one another.    The story also contained flashbacks or memories of the girls with Captain March, how he moved from being their uncle to their father, and even some of the pranks they played aboard the Starship Polaris.  It was quite entertaining and kept me intrigued with wanting to read more.  Plus, you could feel the love that the girls and their father shared and how much being apart was so difficult for both of them.   Overall, this was a wonderful story, highlighting two sisters and the fun escapades they share in space and time.  

**A huge thank you to Doreen Berger for the E-book for my review. **  

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  488
Publishing:  May 17th, 2022
Source:  publisher

Opening Line: "All the gargoyles on the unfinished cathedral in the dusty market district of Odierne face east except one."  

For ninety years, the five east side gargoyles have gathered for their daily gossip, while the one westside is left facing the Sarluire river flowing below.  Each of the gargoyles has one sole purpose, to protect the cathedral.  Then one stormy night, a woman is chased with a baby up onto their rooftop by the constable, seeing no means of escape, she jumps into the river below.  The story then jumps ahead eight years to a group of orphans who call themselves the Crowns.  Gnat is the leader and divvy's out their daily pinch.  Duck is the baby girl of the bunch, she's also the baby from the beginning of the story who was found floating in the river by Ash.  The names of this ragtag group of orphans (Frog Eyes, Spinner, Fingers, Drippy, and Le Chou) had me chuckling, as I couldn't help thinking of the seven dwarves.

The Crowns don't usually stay in one town for too long, but Gnat has hatched a new plan to send Duck to the bakery to pose as her new apprentice.  Not only will she be providing the group with bread, but she'll have to swap out their fake coins for real ones.  Master Griselde easily accepts Duck's foraged documents and takes her under her wing showing her how to prepare the bread, she even gives her a roof over her head and an abundance of food to eat.  It's the first time Duck has received any form of tenderness and she relishes in being listened to.  The more that Duck settles into her new life, the closer it feels like a home to her.  But Duck is grows concerned when she hears that the last apprentice Master Griselde had was a thief and worries constantly about being found out.  As the season's pass from chapter to chapter beginning with Summer, things appear to be going well.   Duck secretly gives bread and coins to the Crowns and Master Griselde continues to provide for Duck.    But then a rival gang, the Red Swords show up and try to force the Crowns out of their territory. Gnat tries to align with the Red Swords in a new scheme, which ends up posing a dangerous threat to them all.  

Told in the alternating perspectives of Duck and the unnamed gargoyle, The Patron Thief of Bread is a story of belonging, family and loyalty.  It's a story that will pull at your heartstrings, especially over the beautiful relationship that develops between Master Griselde and Duck.  So very sweet.  Duck is defiantly the star of this story.  I love how she grew under the love and attention of Master Griselde, how she begins to question Gnat's motives and how the guilt of stealing from the baker ways on her.  This is one of those slower, thoughtful books plot wise, but it will stick with you after reading it.   It reminded me of a gentler Oliver Twist mixed with Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame and all the warmth of a freshly baked loaf of grandma's banana bread.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review of The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Format:  E- ARC
Publisher:  Henry Holt & Co.
Number of pages:  416
Publishing:  May 3rd, 2022
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line: "Salutations & Greetings of the Most Magnificent Kind, we are thrilled to inform you that you've been accepted into the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors."

Ella Durand has been invited to attend the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute (ATI), a magical school floating in the sky that is never in the same place twice and can only be reached by a sky ferry.  Ella is the first Conjuror to attend, having gained her spot after her father won his case at the Marvellian court and the three-hundred-year-old ban on Conjurors attending was lifted.  Before that the Institiute admitted Marvellers from all around the world, but never a Fewel, or non-magical student.   Ella is apprehensive about attending the institute, not only is she feeling the pressure of representing all Conjurors, but she really wants to belong and make some friends.   At the same time, she's fully aware that most Marvellian's don't seem to trust Conjuror magic.   After meeting her mentor,  Masterju Thakur and fellow student Jason, Ella feels a little more optimistic about her year.  But when her new roommates reject her, and she's placed with Brigit, a girl who hates magic, being at the institute, and is homesick for her Fewel community, Ella is once again discouraged.

Then news of the notorious Ace of Anarchy, Gia Trevilino's escape from the Cards of Deadly Fate, a high security prison reaches the ATI.  The Marvellian community suspects a Conjuror helped her and Ella's fellow students once again turn on her.  To make matters worse, her mentor is missing, and it seems that Gia Trevilino has found her way to ATI and may be the one pulling all the strings.  Can Ella, Brigit and Jason track down and save Masterju Thakur before the institute is brought down in runes? 

I really enjoyed the immersive and diverse magical world and school that Dhonielle Clayton created.  So many different cultures are represented and each student has their own unique form of magic, or Marvel.  Everyone starts out the year on an even playing field, not knowing what their specific Marvel will be until the end of the years Marvel Exam.  I loved the magic of the Conjuror's and Marvellian's,  both sounded very cool.  How Marvel's are performed with light and come from one of the five Paragon's (Touch, Sound, Taste, etc.)  which provides for many different combinations to include brewing Indian spice elixirs, marvels that make predictions or even control the weather.  And how Conjurors, sing spells and have intricate tattoo's of roots and flowers on their bodies because of the magical spells they cast.  I'm sure there are many other subtitle differences I missed while  reading, but that only means a re-read is in order.  

I do love my magical schools, think The Hound of Rowan, The Magicians Guild or Wundersmith.  I relish all the lovely details about foods and classes and there were certainly enough here to satisfy.  The only thing I was saddened by was all the prejudices that were directed toward Ella and Conjurors, and especially the unfair treatment she received when it was perceived that she broke a rule.  However, Ella admirably stands up for herself and challenges the Marvellers thinking.   Overall, I enjoyed the characters and varied magic systems, I can really see this expanding into a longer series of books.  I especially can't wait to explore more in the Underworld.  Did I mention that multiple children book authors appear as characters in the book?  Such fun.   

**Happy to see this tweet from Dhonielle Clayton  announcing this will be a four book series and check out this book trailer**