Thursday, April 19, 2018

MG Historical Fiction Review: The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

36441547The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Kathy Dawson Books
Number of pages:  288
Published:  March 6th, 2018
Source: Library

Opening Line:  "The fog drew back upon the dark sea and revealed a gleaming point like a ship's bow, which seemed to nod at the girl brooding by the glowing bonfire."  

Drest, her father, The Mad Wolf of the North and brothers Gobin, Nutkin, Uwen and the twins Wulfric and Thornskill were gathered around a fire only to be ambushed when Drest's family doesn't heed her warning about what appears to her to be an approaching ship.  While the invaders are battling her siblings, Drest's father orders her to run and hide.  At first, she listens but Drest finds it too difficult not to do anything when she witnesses them being captured.  She then races along the shore trying in vain to catch up with the ship they're being held on, only to have it set sail carrying her family away.  While clambering across the rocks, Drest spots a young knight (Emerick) being pushed over a ravine, he appears to be badly injured and trapped at the bottom.  Drest rescues the knight and hopes to exchange him for her families release or at least interrogate him for where they were taken.  It takes some time, but Emerick agrees to lead Drest to Faintree Castle, where they're being held and due to be hanged in five days.  Armed with her hostage, Drest and Emerick begin their adventure across the Scottish countryside but each new village and person they encounter leads to more obstacles to overcome and Drest is learning more about her family than she ever knew before.   

The Mad Wolf's Daughter was a book I found out about through The MG Book Village, a group of authors and teachers sharing their enthusiasm for all things middle-grade online.  The Mad Wolf's Daughter was selected for June's MG at Heart Book Club discussion and seeing as it was in the library I decided to get an early start.  So far I've read and loved some of their other selections, LOVE SUGAR MAGIC by Anna Meriano and THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser, and am still trying to get a copy of  THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson in time for April's discussion.  I really enjoy how they strive to pick "diverse protagonists, authors, and formats, with a focus on recent books, usually from debut authors." 

The Mad Wolf's Daughter reminds me a bit of Disney's Brave, maybe it's that they both take place in medieval Scotland, or that the main characters have a tomboyish quality that I would've identified with back in middle school.  And I know I would've loved Drest's short hair and that she is a member of her families Warband rather than a princess like Merida.  She's also so wonderfully smart, resourceful and very determined.  There's a feistiness to her that I appreciate.  Family is really important to Drest and why she doesn't hesitate to embark on their rescue when they're captured.  Drest's family has a strong code that they live by, with the protection of matrons and maidens being one of their most important ones.  Drest takes this to heart when she jumps into a battle to save a young boy being bullied by six boys or intervenes when a witch is about to be burned by a mob of villagers.  At first, her actions may seem a bit rash and impulsive, but she leaps into action because it means her actions are living up to the responsibilities of the family code, and she believes it would make her family proud.  

 Later in the story, Drest faces a personal challenge of having to reconcile her father and brothers actions with what she learns from the villagers that she encounters along her adventure, and how their actions may have been contrary to what she's been taught.    It's difficult to not feel welcomed into the village and hard to distinguish which side of the story is correct.  She wants to believe in her family first, but when a bandit begins to stalk them and leads them to the town of Birrensgate, everything she thought she knew is shattered.  A tough choice between believing in your family and looking at all of the facts.  Over the course of the story, Drest grows and develops into this fearless heroine with responsibilities and duties that she doesn't shirk or run away from, she becomes a friend to Emerick and a legend around the countryside.  

I adored Emerick and Tig, the two characters aiding Drest on her adventure.  This was one of my favorite parts of the story, the transition of Emerick being Drest's prisoner to becoming her friend.  They're such a fun pair.  I particularly enjoyed this dialogue between them.   

"He glanced at her face and stared "God's bones, you're a lass."  "You say that as if I'm a three-headed goose.  Have you never seen a lass before?"  "I've seen many, but never one like you.  What was your mother?  A banshee?"  Drest scowled.  "I don't know who my mother was.  But if you insult her again I'll drop you."    

There is an author note at the back of the book which provides detailed information about medieval Scotland including Feudalism, Village Life, War-bands, Women, Healing, Castles, Swords, the Landscape, and even an explanation of the origins of the characters names.  It was fascinating to read about the role of matrons and maidens in Scotland, and the way in which Magras tied all the information back to the story, like how Drest's using a sword wouldn't have been typical but that many other young girls might have used a longbow during this time period.   The Mad Wolf's Daughter has it all, historical time period, action, fantasy adventure and lovely moments of reflection, family, and friendship.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Realistic Fiction Review of Sophie Washington: Hurricane by Tonya Ellis

Sophie Washington: Hurricane by [Ellis, Tonya Duncan]Sophie Washington:  Hurricane by Tonya Ellis
Format: eBook 
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Number of Pages: 100
Date Published: January 13th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review, an ebook was provided by the author for free. 

  • Sophie Washington lives in Houston, Texas with her younger brother, Cole, her dog Bertram, and parents.  Sophie's father is a dentist and the children attend Xavier Academy, a local private school.  The story starts off slowly with a bit of lightning, rain, and thunder.  Then the family learns that a Category 4 hurricane is headed toward Corpus Cristi, where Sophie's grandmother lives, and they become concerned for her safety.  When they are unable to reach her by phone, Sophie's father sets out to make sure that she is alright.  Upon Sophie's father's return, the weather conditions and reports of flooding in the Houston area have also worsened, so everyone heads to the safety of her father's office. Unfortunately, Bertram gets separated in the process and despite an initial search for him, the family must leave him behind.  Once at the dentist's office, Sophie and her family get an unexpected visitor, Valentina, a girl from Sophie's school, her younger brother and abuela who's home and car were flooded leaving them nowhere else to turn.   As the two families weather out the storm at Sophie's father's office they develop a closer bond.   

  • Sophie Washington: Hurricane is an early chapter book aimed at children eight to eleven years old.  This is the fifth book in the series and the only one that I've read so far.  Other books in the Sophie Washington series include Sophie Washington: The Gamer, The Snitch, and Queen of the Bee.   While each book seems to be able to be read on its own, I'd probably recommend starting with an earlier book.  At the beginning of the story, Ellis introduces Sophie's friends who attend the private school with her, and Valentina, the girl who perhaps Sophie is a bit jealous of because her friends seem to "follow her around like zombies."  Initially, Sophie isn't a very likable character, internally she fumes that Valentina is being "fake" and "a phony," and can't understand why her friends don't see it.   She's surly and moans about her younger brother, her friends who're suddenly interested in cheerleading and the healthy food choices her parents force on her as snacks.  However, Sophie's attitude softens considerably when Valentina and her family show up at her father's office after losing everything in the flood.  Sophie then realizes that she misjudged Valentina, that she knows nothing about her home environment or money situation.  When Sophie also learns from Valentina's grandmother that her parents were deported by immigration and it's been two years since she's seen them, she not only see's Valentina in a new light but develops a plan to help Sophie recover some of the things she's lost in the flood.  

  • Hurricane briefly touches on the complications that follow a natural disaster,  the fear, and struggles for children of immigrant families who face deportation and how it's important to not judge a person because you never know what is going on in their life.  The story is just the right length for an early chapter book, with language that matches the target audience.  Sophie and Valentina's families were portrayed as caring and very involved in their lives.  I also thought the sibling's relationships were realistic, they had their moments of bickering in the car demanding each other to "scoot over,"  but in the end, they still care for one another.   Included in the story are full-page black and white illustrations similar in design to the cover.  While the illustrations do portray the characters and events of the story, even matching some of the tension of the impending storm, I would've enjoyed them more if they were in color like the cover.  Overall, this was an enjoyable story with positive messaging and a realistic portrayal of what can happen following a hurricane.      

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

MG Fantasy/Adventure Review: Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan

38129874Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven by Keira Gillett, illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan
Format: eBook 
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Number of Pages: 286
Date Published: April 6th, 2018

Source:  In exchange for an honest review, an ebook was provided by the author for free. 

 Aleks Mickelsen is a changeling or fairy who's been happily living as a human boy.  With less than two weeks left until his sixteenth birthday, Aleks faces the decision of whether or not to leave his fey abilities behind and become a human forever.   At the end of the previous book in the series, Aleks and his friends had just found out from his sister Nori that Fritjof (a very mean dragon who's been hiding his tracks by erasing the fey's memories of his return) is trying to escape from the Under Realm.  Since then Aleks and his friends have been searching for the Lost Well or entrance to Niffleheim,  but Aleks' navigational skills have been failing and once again they're hopelessly lost.   

The story picks up with Aleks being woken up by Airi, the white raven who formed a special bond with him in the previous book.  Airi snatches the stargazer (the instrument that has frozen time back home) out of Filip's hand and then takes off leading everyone on a wild aerobatic race across the skies to recover it.  Miraculously, Airi ends up leading them to the Lost Well.   It's long been held that whoever finds the Lost Well and puts their claim to it will rule over the four fey courts.  If her wish is granted,  Nori hopes to be the one to reunite the courts.  Yet, the Lost Well might have plans of its own as to who the next ruler of the fey should be.  

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven has plenty of action and adventure, and I love the way in which these characters and their relationships have developed across the series.  The story really starts to take off as Aleks and his friends make their way toward the Autumn Court.  First, they are attacked by Saskia of the Winter Court and then walk into the middle of a coup attempt to overtake the Autumn thrown by Nori and Aleks aunt and uncle, Cornelia and Ytorm.  To avoid being seen they try to sneak into the Great Fox Hall, only to be captured by Aleks cousins Isak and Eskil,  who plan to force them to reveal the location of the Lost Well or face having their friends killed.    As a part of bargaining for their release, Aleks agrees to compete in "The Trials," a competition in which he is placed in an Oubliette or underground dungeon, with the only exit being through the ceiling.  He only has twenty-four hours to free himself, rescue his three friends and return to the Great Fox Hall, with a riddle as his only clue to his friend's whereabouts. 

The Trials reminded of the second task that Harry faced in The Goblet of Fire when his friends were being held underwater by the Merpeople.  In Aleks case, he needed to find the places that his friends are being held using the clues he was given by Isak and Eskil, which is no easy feat.  In one case he also needed to decipher the runes outside of a door in order to open it.  This was my favorite scene in the story, mostly because my kiddo and I have been exploring Norse runes lately, including the Helm of Awe or Ægishjálmr, so it was fun to see them mentioned here.  Gillett's books always include lots of action and strong themes of friendship which I really adore.  While this book is focused on Aleks conflicting feelings about whether he wants to be fey or human and how his return to Neiffleheim has raised many problems for him, not least of which that all changelings are to be killed on sight, there are still many lovely scenes including all of the other characters from earlier novels.  There are even budding romantic interests developing between Aleks and Saskia, Filip and Zaria, maybe even with Christoffer and Nori that was sweet and reminiscent of middle school crushes.  

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven is also filled with these beautifully detailed black and white illustrations by Eoghan Kerrigan at the beginning of each chapter heading.  I love the combination of the text and art and how it not only develops the new characters added to the story but also highlights specific events coming up in the chapter.  Each one is so intricately detailed, with the illustration of Airi the white raven being my favorite.  Be aware that this ends on a gripping moment that will have you clambering for more, I know I can't wait for the release of Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War coming toward the end of this year.  

Monday, April 9, 2018

MG Fantasy/Time Travel Review: Clemmie's War by Rosie Boyes

37777748Clemmie's War by Rosie Boyes
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Number of pages:  470
Published:  December 1st, 2017
In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from the author. 

Opening Line: "H-h-how did I die?' the girl asked as a cold tremor wracked her body."  

Clemmie's War centers on ten-year-old Clementine Beaumont, a young girl who awakens in a cold stark white room with a man gently stitching up a gash on her head.  The only thing she can remember is that her name is Clemmie.  Dr. Nicholas Rose, the man doing the stitching, explains that she's in Heartsease, a transitional place between life and death and that the amnesia she is experiencing is only temporary.  In the meantime, he suggests Clemmie stay at Chalk House, a home Dr. Rose runs for dead children.  In return, he plans to try and piece together the circumstances surrounding her death.  

The premise of Clemmie's War is what sparked my interest in reading this, "a girl with amnesia living in an enchanted home for dead children.  Who when her memory returns plans to wage war on those who killed her."  Intriguing right?  I'm thinking paranormal, maybe a little murder mystery, brings to mind questions like how did Clemmie die?  Who killed her and why?  In the first few pages, Boyes quickly sets the scene with the details of Clemmie waking up in what appears to be an operating room or doctors office to find that she has died.  It kinda makes you pause for a moment, especially when Clemmie is looking down at her own dead body on the table.  It's creepy, but not scary.  And very sad when you learn that Clemmie died of unnatural causes with injuries inflicted by another person.  Which is how Clemmie now finds herself in the care of Dr. Rose.  Naturally, Clemmie's frightened, confused and struggling to understand what has happened to her.  As is the reader.  Because of her amnesia, the important details about her past take some time to uncover, but one thing is clear someone killed her.  Most of the stories I've been reading lately involve strong, fierce kids who solve their own problems.  Adults aren't even in the picture or at least not usually a central character, helping or guiding the story along in the way that Dr. Rose does.  However, in Clemmie's War, it's necessary that he help her piece together her past and I actually grew quite fond of Dr. Rose and his love of toffee's.  Seriously this man loves his toffee's.  He was kind, very eager to help Clemmie, and most importantly to keep her safe while her memory returned.  He's Clemmie's first introduction to the world of Heartsease and Chalk House and it was really sweet how Clemmie became a part of this extended family of dead kids.  

The story incorporates many different themes including the afterlife, time travel, and an alternate, but parallel time period.  When Clemmie died she stepped into a future with computers and refrigerators, leaving the Great Seaboard War 0f 1943 behind.  Slowly, she begins to have glimpses of her memories from the past and the vague details of witnessing a spy planning to aid an invading army.   It isn't until Dr. Rose takes her to the present day town of Meonwara that Clemmie is able to piece together her story and the link of her arrival in Heartsease to the reason for many of the strange occurrences that have been happening.  The sudden tremors that have been wracking Chalk House, the spontaneous appearance of Sprigs or little fairies and flowers that magically appear in the hallway. Clemmie's arrival in Heartsease resulted in a time-rift altering the past requiring great effort and ingenuity to repair.  

Harry Jewel, Clemmie's grandfather is the villain of the story and an evil man.  He follows  Clemmie to Heartsease on a mission to question anyone who's come in contact with her about her whereabouts all while plotting to retrieve something she stole from him.  There are lots of twists and turns surrounding his arrival, leading Dr. Rose and the inhabitants of Chalk House to develop their own plans to keep Harry Jewel from capturing Clemmie.  They play this game of cat and mouse stalking each other, developing battle plans for going to war, with elaborate traps, rigging Harry's car with tracking devices and they have him arrested to thwart his plans.  However, nothing compares to when Clemmie fully regains her memory and she makes her own plans to exact revenge on those who killed her.   

Overall, this was on the longer side, 470 pages, but the chapters were fairly short making it a fairly quick read and the characters and premise were interesting and unique.  Aside from the very beginning of the story, it's easy to forget that all the characters are dead and instead you get wrapped in all the plotting and scheming against Harry Jewel.  Clemmie is one determined little girl and I was very happy with the way that the story resolved.  I also really liked the positive message of how the people we love leave a lasting impression on us.  Not to be missed is the authors note where she shares that each of the characters was named after a flower. 

Favorite Line:  "Everyone we loved, and lost, have left a footprint in our hearts.  And when they call out to remind us of their love, each ripple, each chord, will pull on our heart-strings.  It can be a feather-light tickle, or a tug so hard it can make us cry.  But either way, you are not alone."    

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Guest Post & Excerpt from Keira Gillett: Top Ten Reasons Why Being a Self-Published Author is Better than Being a Fairy Overlord

Today I have the wonderful pleasure of having Keira Gillett, author of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy visit my blog with her guest post and an excerpt from her latest book.  Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!    I can't wait to read The Call of the White Raven and a huge congratulations on its release!  

Greetings Log Cabin Library fans! Thank you Brenda for having me back. I can’t wait to share with you all about Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven, the fifth book in my Zaria Fierce Series. It comes out April 6, 2018, and I thought I’d celebrate by opining (as monologing is for evil fairy overlords, and I’m universally loved, so opining it is) on all the ways being a self-published author is the best. 

Top Ten Reasons Why Being a Self-Published Author is Better than Being a Fairy Overlord
  1. I can be an absolute monster and all my readers will love me for it. A fairy overlord can't say the same about their subjects. So that in and of itself is why being me is best.
  2. My position as supreme author overlord can't be usurped. Bwuahahahahaha! Unlike rulers in Niffleheim, who have to constantly watch their backs or risk being assassinated, when my characters revolt I get to keep my head, if not my plot. So the real question is who will be the last fox left standing? I know I’ll still be around.
  3. I have magical writing powers that can turn the world of my creating into reality. Grimkell, Cornelia, and Ytorm can only dream about turning the world around them to their deliciously wicked reality. My powers can’t be defeated!
  4. My days – when not writing or working – are spent back and forth with Eoghan Kerrigan over the ridiculously amazing and utterly gorgeous artwork in the book, or chatting with Michele Carpenter about what the voices should sound like for new characters. A fairy overlord only gets to lord over fairies and brownies and that eventually gets pretty gnarly. So again, I win!
  5. I might not get to turn into a fox, but my doggie looks like one. He might not be able to talk, but he’s super cuddly and sweet. He’s the best writing companion. I don’t know of a single overlord fairy with a pet, let alone one that loves them.
  6. While I send my characters on dangerous quests all around Niffleheim, I get to cackle like a madman from the safety my couch, wearing thick, comfy socks with my little foxy baby by my side giving me all the cuddles an author can ask for.
  7. Along the same lines, I can take breaks, get up and stretch, read a book, take my doggie on a walk, watch a Kdrama (Goblin is pretty great!), but Aleks and the others can't. They have to go straight through the story to the end and hope they don't run into a dragon.
  8. I will never have to wonder what my dessert is made out of because it's always going to have chocolate in it (chocolate covered peanut clusters, brownies with homemade chocolate frosting, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter pie with Oreo crust. Yum!)
  9. Aleks might get grumpy with me, but he's happier with me at the helm than his family! Even if he has to face unimaginable and unbeatable trials. Will he overcome and rise above the challenges thrown at him by me and his aunt and uncle? Or will he fail miserably and cause his friends to be trapped in a life of servitude? *evil grin*
  10. I get to interact with all my lovely readers and geek out with them. They’ll join my Fierceling Tribe and we will rule the world. That’s much bigger than Niffleheim. So it’s clear I have bigger, bolder, better plans at domination – another point for me!
Score: Self-Published Author 10; Fairy Overlord 0
I’m the clear winner, don’t you agree? Plus I have an Oskar Pie. :D

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven

Book Five in the Zaria Fierce Series “Whose white raven is this?” Aleks Mickelsen is a changeling with diminishing magical powers and a complete nuisance for a new a pet. For the first time in his life, he’s lost. He led his friends to the wrong place. They might joke about there being worse things to face than disorientation, but comparing what Aleks did to the Wild Hunt breathing down their necks (even if the comparison is somewhat favorable) isn’t all that comforting. Hopefully, Aleks can get his head on straight and get them all back on track to fighting Fritjof, otherwise, chaos is going to win.


Aleks awoke to the sensation of something digging painfully into his side. At least it wasn’t a knock to the head by the bird. He shifted, trying to get comfortable and disturbed whatever was lodged beneath him. It skittered away with a faint tinkling sound. He kept his eyes closed in the effort to not wake up, but now that he was aware, he was cold. He shivered and half-sat, trying to find where he’d kicked his sleeping bag. Groping blindly, he found nothing on top of his legs. With a mental sigh, he shifted his focus to the side and touched something cold, solid, and damp. Jerking his hand back, Aleks reluctantly pried one eyelid open and looked around. Darkness pressed in on him. He couldn’t see anything – not even his hand, which he waved in front of his face. He rubbed his arms and lay back down, determined to ignore the cool dampness seeping into his bones. Curling into a ball, he closed his eyes to sleep, but the digging sensation which had woken him had returned, and he couldn’t get comfortable. With a sigh of disgust, he rolled over and sent a bunch of things skittering. The sound was like a cascade of beans in a rainstick – loud and swift. Unnatural. He bolted upright and searched the dark. “Geirr? Henrik? Did you hear that?” he asked. They had to be awake after that racket. Even Filip’s snores had stopped from within the other tent. He strained in the dark to hear if anything else was moving. The quiet that followed was unbroken, and utterly unsettling. “Something’s wrong,” he said, trying to warn his friends without making any sudden movements. Nobody answered, worrying him. He swung his hands along the ground and knocked into something. It toppled over with a dull metallic thunk. The stargazer? He checked his pocket. Still there. “Guys, wake up,” he said. “Hello?” “Hello?” a new voice echoed. It was vaguely familiar. He felt like he should recognize it, but couldn’t draw upon a face. He squinted in the direction of the voice, trying to make out who it was. A fairy, most likely. They’d been found. He knew it would happen. Filip wasn’t exactly a subtle sleeper. Maybe they had his friends already. That would explain the silence. Perhaps Zaria’s wish from the first trip down here was still in effect. If so, he’d only be caught if he initiated contact. What to do? Should he say something? Something pitter-pattered on the floor, scuttling closer. The sound drew to mind horrible images of a critter somewhere between a snake and a spider. A shudder of revulsion swept through him. The pitter-patter came again, and he tensed. “Who’s there?” he demanded. Knowing was better than this awful waiting.

About the Author: Keira Gillett

When she’s not working or writing, Keira Gillett loves to play tabletop games. Nearly every week Keira gets together with her friends to play. It’s no wonder she invented a game of her own for her Zaria Fierce Series. You can find the rules to this game within the second book and make your own version of it through a tutorial on her website. She’d loved to hear from you! Why not send her a picture of you and a friend playing the game?

 Find Keira at:   

 Website *     Twitter *    GoodReads *    Facebook  * Pinterest

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

MG Historical Fiction Review: The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

35879383The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet
Format:  ARC paperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  448  (hardcover)
Publishing:  April 10th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review an ARC was received from the publisher.  

Opening Line:  "Gusta Neubronner hadn't expected to be on a bus in Maine when she lost her father."

11-year-old Gusta and her father have just boarded a bus traveling from Portland to Maine when her father suddenly disappears.  A few seconds later, two men board the bus looking for him, Gusta's father is a well known foreign-born labor organizer and "fugitive."  Gusta stays silent and sticks with the original plan to make the trip to Maine her father had arranged, but now all on her own.   

When Gusta arrives in Maine, she finds a note inside her mittens from her mother to Mrs. Hooper, her estranged grandmother,  telling her to sell Gusta's French horn to pay for her room and board.    Gusta hastily discards the note because her French horn is her most prized possession, something she could never part with.  With nowhere else to go, she heads toward Mrs. Hooper's Home for State Children, the orphanage her grandmother runs.  Here she meets Grandma Gladys, Aunt Marion, Josie and a rambunctious group of boys.  Being family initially sets Gusta apart from the other kids at the home, but Gusta works very hard to be brave and not let her sadness over her father's disappearance overwhelm her, to put on a happy face to fit in.  

Gusta soon meets her shy cousin Bess and Uncle who's been homebound since his hand was mangled during an accident at the Mill.  Without a union to intervene, he's been unable to get the operation he needs to repair the damage.  Starting school brings numerous new challenges for Gusta, mainly in the way of Molly, a fellow student.  Molly's been orchestrating the formation of a "Real American's Club," and is a real stickler that everyone follows the classes Seven-Points for a Healthy Living project.  Lately, her two main targets have been Gusta and George Thibodeau,  whose father runs the rival dairy farm of Molly's father.  Gusta wants to show she's a good student, but when an unexpected vision test reveals she needs eyeglasses, which she can't pay for, she takes a job working for the local German optometrist tending to his homing pigeons to pay off what she owes.  Gusta has also been keeping two secrets.  The first is the real reason she can't provide a U.S. birth certificate for her school project.  And the second involves a story told to her by her mother of an ancestor who was a sea captain and how he hid a magical wish inside a box on a shelf which Gusta is determined to find if it's inside her grandmother's house.  The only highlight of Gusta's time in Maine is when the local high school band teacher, Mrs. Kendall recognizes her musical talent playing the French Horn and asks her to join the band, but Gusta quickly realizes that if she sold her horn it might be enough money to pay for her Uncle's operation and how could she refuse to help out her cousin Bess?   

Although I'm not typically a historical fiction reader, The Orphan Band of Springdale had so many of the elements that typically pique my interest, a girl who plays a musical instrument, set during the early parts of WWII and hints of a secret magical wish.  What I was surprised with was the messaging that included wealth inequality, foreigner's being seen as "other," and how some German's during this time period were the subject of suspicion and discrimination.  Other subjects included the importance of unions in the US to protect people like Gusta's Uncle and mention of how the rising tensions and the War in Europe led to the enactment of the Smith Act or Alien Registration Act.  Nesbet wonderfully utilizes her character of  Molly as a springboard to show how Molly's claims of patriotism, nationalism, and trying to protect the people of Springdale by calling out Gusta and George as being "unamerican" are misguided, judgemental and wrong.  How past events such as the ones in the story correlate to events sadly occurring even today.   It's an interesting look at this time period from a child's perspective and captures the feeling and emotions of wanting to fit in, the loneliness of being without your family, fear for your father's safety in a place where you're seen as "foreign,"  while at the same time being hopeful and filled with lots of heart.  Highly recommend, I can just imagine all the classroom discussions that could be had, please have a teachers guide.   But not to be missed is the author's note where Nesbet explains the inspiration for the story and the research she performed to get the local and historical details of Gusta's town just right.       

Favorite Line:  "A plan was what would tell your feet where to go and your hands what to do when you got there."

Friday, March 23, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  Stories Untold Press
Number of pages:  314
Published:  July 21st, 2017
In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from Publisher. 

Opening Line: "The village, well it had a lot of secrets.  And its secrets need to be kept safe."  

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Lovely is a scaldrony maid in the kitchen of Castle Plum, tending to the fire-breathing cooking dragons.  Following a mishap in the kitchen,  she is thrown out of the castle by the head cook.  As Ivy steps across a slurry field, a magical boundary is released which set's a series of events in motion leading her to The Halls of Ivy, a castle that has been converted into a school of magic.  For the past few years, Ivy has been having the same nightly dream of the castle and a man whose identity is a mystery to her, following her dreams she is able to perfectly sketch the details from her photographic memory leaving her with more questions than answers.   

The Crowns of Croswald is a fabulous story with an enchanting magical world reminiscent of Harry Potter, Cinderella and one character in particular that made me think of the white rabbit from Alice and Wonderland.  I'm not sure if the inspiration for the story was Harry Potter, but there were many similarities that I noted while reading that seemed to capture that same feeling of being swept up into a new rich world filled with all these fantastical details.  We have a girl whose identity is hidden while she is a maid at Castle Plum, once her magical abilities begin to surface she draws the attention of the nefarious Dark Queen and her Cloaked Brood.  Ivy takes classes at the school in subjects such as Minor Magic, Art of Ink and Memory and Creatures of the Night.  She has two close friends,  Rebecca and Fyn who watch over and protect her when bully Damaris tries to get her into trouble with the headmistress of the school.  The magic of Croswald is what sets this apart, there are Scrivenists whose magic is in their blood, giving them the innate ability to record images or events from photographic memory using quills, ink, and parchment.  The Crowns are royal prince and princesses who have magical stones they wear granting them a magical skill they can call from.  For instance,  enhanced speed or the ability to transform.  Ivy is a lovely character,  she loves to sketch and has been searching for answers about her past and family.  Magic doesn't come easily to her at first. The reoccurring dream Ivy has is the mystery lingering throughout the story that she is trying to piece together and as things unfold, we learn the details of the magical world right along with her.   There are some fun references to foods such as clobber coffee, peach pecan pie and a pop of gold and dorm daze tea as well as the day to day classes one would expect from a boarding school type story.  In some ways, this slows down the pacing, but I love magical schools and enjoy immersing myself in potions classes, hunts for mysterious journals and magical bottles like the Glanagerie's which is similar to a penseive, transporting you into a teaching scenario.   Plus there are creatures such as a Shorehorse and Ivy's small fire-breathing dragon who can cook your breakfast in its mouth to keep you entertained.    D.E. Night is currently working on the next book in the series, The Girl with the Whispering Shadow and I look forward to reading it in hope that some of my lingering questions will be answered.  Overall an enjoyable, imaginative and entertaining debut.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  297
Published:  October 3rd, 2017
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting."

Mr. Beiderman is the landlord of a lovely little brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City.   He lives on the top floor and is very particular about his privacy and quiet,  a sort of recluse with his only visitor being the lady who drops off his frozen dinners once a week.  His presence, however, is felt by the rest of the residents of the brownstone.  Over the past few years, the Vanderbeeker children, twins Jessie and Isa (12), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4 3/4 ),  have all attempted to be on their best behavior so as not to anger the Beiderman, but despite their best effort, and right before Christmas no less, the family learns that he will not be renewing their lease.   Not only are they devastated to learn they'll be leaving their beloved home, but they also may need to move away from Harlem altogether.  Convinced that they can change his mind, the five siblings begin Operation Beiderman to prevent them from being evicted from their home, but "how do you make friends with a man you have never seen and who has not left his apartment in six years?" 

There is so much to love about The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, everything from the setting to the characters and the storyline were just wonderful.  First off is the setting of Harlem with all of these fun detailed descriptions of the brownstone and surrounding shops and landmarks, the darling black and white illustrations by the author for the layout of the ground floor apartment, an illustration of where the other residents of the building live and full-page map of Harlem on the front inside cover.   And look at that cover, utterly gorgeous, the colors just pop.   The Vanderbeekers are a large family that includes two parents, five siblings, a dog, a cat and even a bunny, together they bring all the joyous sounds of a bustling household with siblings who love and care about one another.  Each of the children is delightful on their own and so individually realized and unique.  There's even an extended family made of friends, relatives, and neighbors with lovely interactions between the Vanderbeeker children and their friends that appear in natural ways, with everything from the mailman who while dropping off the mail gets homemade dog treats from Hyacinth,  Oliver and his best friend Jimmy who talk on their walkie talkie's, the upstairs neighbors Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet who visit with young Laney and even Isa's music teacher Mr. Van Hooten, who together give this book a warm, comfy feeling of both community and family.  Not to mention there is a side story between one of the twins and Benny, whose mom owns the local bakery and a bit of a mix-up over an upcoming dance.  Plus food, glorious food references making me want to try the hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon that was mentioned.  I really love how the Vanderbeeker siblings are trying to win over their curmudgeonly landlord by drawing on their individual strengths in writing poetry, drawing, crafting, music, and kindness toward animals to make gifts for the Beiderman in hopes he would see how valuable they were and renew their lease.    Their plans to smoother him with kindness don't always go as planned, but they aren't easily discouraged and they do make a lovely team.   I was really touched when the reason Mr. Beiderman hasn't left his apartment was revealed, and how the children realized that "home is more than a place" and that what they really wanted is for Mr. Beiderman to feel better.  I was also excited to see that the sequel The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is already set to be released in September.  


Favorite line: " Through her window she could see the last wrinkled leaves gripping the branches of the ancient red maple, refusing to drift down to the ground until absolutely necessary."  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

YA Realistic Fiction Review: 806 a novel by Cynthia Weil

806 a novel by Cynthia Weil
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Tanglewood Press
Number of pages:  229  (hardcover)
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Source:  In exchange for an honest review a copy was received from SoCal Public Relations.

Opening Line:   "My mom, Kim, looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon, if Reese wore a Burger Boy manager's uniform."  

KT, not Katie has always felt like something is missing in her life, besides her dad.  After her mom has yet another argument with the latest in a long line of boyfriends, KT decides she's finally had enough with her mom's failed relationships and demands to know how to get in touch with her father.  KT's mom sends her to her ex, Max who tells KT that her mother hasn't been truthful with her, he's not her biological father.  KT's mom finally admits that her father was a sperm donor and she gives her what little information that she has on him, which amounts to a notecard with 806 and the name Cryosperm Bank, KT uses it to register on a website that matches children with their donors and is pleasantly surprised when she not only gets an email from donor 806 saying he wants to meet her, but she also finds out that she has two siblings who even go to the same high school as her.  KT's new siblings are Jesse the handsome athlete and Gabe the allergy prone nerd who enjoys magic, together they "borrow" a car from Gabe's dad's and head from St. Louis to California to meet their donor father.  

806 a novel is the road trip story of three teenagers who have very little in common, other than sharing the same donor father, and come to find that families come in many different forms, including the ones that raise you.  KT initially has this very moody, pissed off,  and pretty sarcastic vibe, with most of her anger directed at her mother's past failed relationships.   KT feels like her mother is searching for a father figure to fill in some missing gap in KT's life, along the way she's made some horrible choices with the men that she dates.  I must say I was really disappointed with the way that KT's mom avoided talking to KT about who her biological father was, chooses to instead send her to Max, a complete stranger and having him break the news to her about her being conceived via a sperm donor.  It's no wonder that KT refers to her mom as "Kim" instead of "Mom."  Being a mom myself, this seemed so impersonal, rude even, but maybe it was also a way for KT to distance herself from her mom and her frustrating relationships, not just a way of getting back at her.   It took quite awhile for me to grow to like KT, she was pretty hard on her mom, her friends, even her newly found siblings, but eventually, she seemed to calm down a bit.  I can't say that she truly grew as a person through the story, she never really showed remorse for how she treated them but finding her father seemed to set her on the path toward an inner peace.  Filled in a hole.  Jesse was the popular kid, who despite this was pretty down to earth.  He sort of grows into the older brother role which I really liked.  His main concern was that his two moms were breaking up and he's faced with having to choose which one of his parents he wants to live with.  Gabe is the sweet kid of the bunch, he's allergic to a lot of things, insecure, and in search of how he fits in and struggling with how to relate to girls,  I especially enjoyed how he asked KT for advice.  It was kinda sweet watching her act all sisterly.  The interactions between the siblings were what really made the story so much fun.  Their journey ended up being not only about finding their donor dad but finding out about themselves, how they relate to one another as siblings and the importance their families waiting back home meant to them.  Sure you have to be willing to suspend belief, like how easily donor 806 contacts them, and then despite a mixup with the donor number's at the Sperm Bank they're still able to track him down.  If anything their donor dad's reaction to meeting them was a bit too over the top, but even he was highly entertaining.  Plus there are a few twists and turns, and all the things you would expect from a road trip, like getting lost, running out of gas, getting their jeep stolen, and money taken.  806 manages not to be too heavy of a story and resolved in a heartwarming way and Cynthia Weil brought her passion for music and writing songs into the story, which I also enjoyed.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: Granted by John David Anderson

35068662Granted by John David Anderson
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  336  (hardcover)
Publishing:  February 13th, 2018
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "The last time you blew out your birthday candles, what did you wish for?"

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is the youngest fairy to graduate from the academy, a certified wish granter who is about to embark on her first assignment to Kettering, Ohio to grant 13-year-old Kasarah's wish for a purple bike to replace the one that was stolen.  Ophelia is one of many fairies living hidden from the outside world in the Haven, a place infused with magic from wishes granted by the Great Tree at its center.  The Great Tree is where wishes made in the human world on a wishbone, a blown out candle, or even a four leaf clover are received and then magically become the golden leaves dropped from the tree with the name and details of the person whose wish the fairies are to grant.  The granting of wishes is what has kept the magic flowing in Haven, but lately, the number of wishes being granted has dramatically decreased.  With fewer wishes being chosen the amount of magic the fairies have to grant a wish is being depleted, so no magic can be wasted and why Ophelia is so determined to complete her task.  Ophelia has trained for this very moment, she's got all the right gear and already plotted the fastest route to get her to Ohio and back.  It should be a simple mission to retrieve the coin that Kasarah made her wish for a bicycle on,  say the magic words granting the wish and get back to Haven.  Except, the human world is unpredictable, with many unexpected hazards and obstacles standing in her way.  The first being a run-in with an airplane that causes her to get all turned around and to lose over half of her supplies, but that is nothing compared to the decision that awaits when she has to decide what makes a wish worthy of being granted.  

Every since reading Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Posted and Dungeoneers, Anderson's books have been on my auto-buy list.  His newest book, Granted is such a delight and wonderful addition.  Ophelia is the lovely blue-haired fairy who desperately tries to complete her mission and help save the magic in Haven.  And oh boy what a brutal mission it is, with odds that seem to be stacked against her, and everything that can possibly go wrong seems to happen.  Not only does she have to contend with an airplane and truck barreling at her, she encounters humans who attack her with a broom, a newspaper,  even a fire extinguisher, not to mention a flock of ill-tempered geese and a hawk that thinks she's dinner.  Despite being battered and badly injured, Ophelia is a survivalist.  She may have her moments where she doubts why she should've even bothered trying to grant Kasarah's wish or whether she should just give up and ask for reinforcements, but Ophelia's also resourceful and determined, and "a promise is a promise" after all.  Luckily for Ophelia, she comes across an abandoned dog, who she names Sam and together they follow the elusive path of Kasarah's coin as it moves from the fountain she made her wish upon to a diner, a super pets store, ending at the lemonade stand of siblings Anna and Gabe, two kids desperately missing their dad who's away serving in Iraq.  What really makes this story for me though is Sam, how he so clearly sounds like how a dog would speak.  How Sam longs for a friend and is so enamored by Ophelia, he captured my heart.  Especially when Sam starts to follow her and she asks, "Why are you following me?" and he responds, "Because you are broken and lost and I licked you, so now we are friends."  Granted is a glimpse into how some wishes can be "impossible and others might be unsustainable."  "A wish is many things.  It is hope and desire and daydreams.  It is impossibility and improbability and something in between.  It is stardust and well water and spectrums of light in the sky.  It is half-melted birthday candles and Christmas lists.  It is broken turkey bones.  It is the willing suspension of disbelief.  And sometimes it is desperation.  It is a hole in your heart that wants filling."   Such a sweet heartwarming story with all the magical charm of wishing on a star. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

MG Humor/Realistic Fiction Review: Stink: Hamlet and Cheese by Megan McDonald illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

35879388Stink:  Hamlet and Cheese by Megan McDonald Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Format:  ARCPaperback
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  144  (hardcover)
Publishing:  March 13th, 2018
Source:  ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Stink: Hamlet and Cheese is the eleventh book in the Stink series of books by Megan Mc Donald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  I believe my kiddo and I left off somewhere around book five, but we always loved Stink and even his sister Judy Moody's series of books.  In Stink: Hamlet and Cheese,  Sophie of the Elves plans to attend a Shakespeare camp over spring break and entices Stink to join her with talk of mad kings, murders, sword-fights and the hurling of insults at one another. However, on Stinks first day, he learns that Shakespeare camp is full of girls, including his “most time enemy,” Riley Rottenberger.  Riley's even threatening Stink with re-enacting her favorite scene from Romeo and Juliet, you know the one where they kiss.  Yuck, cooties!  It's no surprise when Stink tries to back out, but Sophie cleverly reminds Stink that she does all the things that he likes to do, so why shouldn't he try something she wants to do for once?  

Hamlet and Cheese sounds a lot like a Kid College course offered at our local community college over the summer where kids learn the basics of drama and put on a small play for their parents at the end.  For Stink and Sophie, Shakespeare camp included making silly faces, creating Shakespearean insults, learning lines, the art of stretching, role-playing, sword-fights and my favorite, dramatic death scenes.  Hamlet and Cheese provides a brief introduction to Shakespeare and the theater while incorporating plenty of humor.  Who knew that the earliest Knock Knock joke might have been from Macbeth? The insults are silly and amusing with ones like "maggot pie" and "toad-spotted bum bailey."  I could see children wanting to come up with their own.  There are even a few lines quoted from Macbeth and Hamlet, while the lines weren't explained fully, they might still pique a child's interest.  I wish my ARC had included the finished artwork by Peter Reynolds, but I'm sure it will be just as fun as his previous illustrations for the Stink series.  My favorite part is when Stink and Sophie are watching an outdoor performance of Macbeth and Stink's dog Pugsy tries to get in on the act.