Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MG review of Rise of ZomBert by Kara LaReau, illustrations by Ryan Andrews

Rise of ZomBert by Kara LaReau, illustrations by Ryan Andrews 
Format:  ARC paperback

Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of Pages:  144
Publishing:  July 14th, 2020
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "It was a cold fall night in the town of Lambert and the moon was full." 

Strange, peculiar things are happening in Lambert.  On one very cold fall night, a cat escapes from his cage, slinks through a fence, and falls into a dumpster.  Cold, tired, and very hungry the cat waits.  Much later he is found by a young girl named Mellie.  Mellie was out helping her best friend Danny, a horror film aficionado with his latest horror film project when she heard noises coming from the dumpster.  Mellie is instantly taken with this scraggly stray cat, but Danny is a bit more skeptical.  Unswayed, Mellie picks the cat up and names him Bert.  Then she sneaks him into her house, despite knowing there is no way her parents would ever approve of letting her keep him.  Because Mellie's parents have been so distracted with her younger brothers and their blog, she figures they probably won't notice anyway.  

Mellie tries desperately to care for Bert, but he's sort of standoffish to her affection, preferring to roam at night and bring her small gifts of decapitated animals in the morning.  Bert seems to have plans of his own but first, he is focused on regaining his strength.  Danny is still very wary of Bert, especially after the cat appears to eat the heads of his victims so Danny starts to refer to him as ZomBert.  However, Mellie isn't convinced that her new friend is as evil as Danny makes him out to be.  Meanwhile, there are also mysterious happenings at the nearby YummCo food factory, several researchers and a hazmat team have been spotted in town.  What or whom are they searching for?

Rise of ZomBert is the first book in a new middle-grade series by Kara LaReau.  It kinda reminds me of a mixture of Bunnicula and maybe Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Probably because Bunnicula gets accused of being like Dracula and I guess I'm recalling animal testing from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Rise of ZomBert is on the shorter side but would be wonderful as an introductory book into more scary stories.  That is if the idea of decapitated animals and the crunching and munching of Bert chomping on his prey doesn't bother you. This is a solid first book and is also a highly entertaining read.  A little macabre but not too scary, and who couldn't love a cat with a questionable past? 

**Thank you to Candlewick Press for the ARC.**

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Guest Post from Keira Gillett, author and illustrator of the Zaria Fierce series

Today I'm pleased to have Keira Gillett, author, and illustrator of the Zaria Fierce Trilogy.  Her latest book, Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim released on May 1st and she's here today with a guest post on how her trilogy expanded into a multibook series.  Thank you so much for dropping by Keira!  

Hi everyone! My name is Keira Gillett and I am the author-illustrator behind the Zaria Fierce Series. I’ve been here to Brenda’s Log Cabin Library before so you may recognize me from another post. If so, nice to see you again! It’s always a lot of fun to hang out with you all to discuss books and writing. Thank you as always Brenda for having me over to visit and talk with your readers.

For those who don’t recognize me, my elevator pitch for the Zaria Fierce Series is this: Join a motley group of loveable characters as they traipse all over Norway to stop dragons from taking over the world. You’ll fall in love with the gang and they will become some of your favorite literary friends. Don’t just take my word for it - check out the reviews :)

25091986When I began writing the Zaria Fierce Series, I expected it to end at three books. I planned for a trilogy, but I had a feeling by book two, — and this feeling was solidified when writing book three — that it wouldn’t stay that way. As the story was written out the plot expanded like rising dough and the world grew beyond the bounds of three books. The trilogy simply couldn’t contain it all.

When a story expands beyond its original premise — as Zaria Fierce most certainly did — an author has a choice to try to force the story into its original box or let it grow.  The trilogy (or box) was known and yet I knew there was so much more to discover in Zaria’s world and in the lives of her friends. I wanted to know more!

I decided to let the story grow, but then faced an immediate conundrum — Zaria’s story was complete. What to do next? It wasn’t a difficult choice at all. If there’s more story to tell and yet it’s complete for the main character the obvious conclusion was to hop into another character’s head. With the setup in place from Zaria’s trilogy I now knew that the series is would be nine books long and broken down into three sets of trilogies. 

But whose would be next?  

35531687The first character to grow from his status as a side character into a main character in his own right was Aleks Mickelsen.  From the beginning, he just wanted to be normal and from the very beginning, he was not.  His friends’ knew he was fey and had heard his grandmother’s stories about the magical realm of Norway, but it’s one thing to notice your human-looking friend having pointier ears and insanely good navigational skills, and it’s another to truly understand it. Until you see it for yourself it’s still more story than reality — which is frankly how certain aspects of Zaria’s story were able to play out in book one and why Christoffer couldn’t imagine a river-troll was, in fact, real, despite having some intimate knowledge of some pretty cool secrets.

Of course, once Christoffer truly understood how the magical and normal aspects of Norway collided he wanted nothing more than to be a hero himself. However, he is 100% human and lacks the magical talents required to be the hero. But are heroes born or are they made? With that thought in mind, it was an easy decision to jump to Christoffer when Aleks’ trilogy was finished. I love uncovering what makes a character tick and how they perceive the events around them. Head-hopping really allows me as an author to explore that.

I also love playing with expectations. It’s not just the main character facing down challenges in my books. Everyone has a role in the fight against evil and combined their abilities to help save the day. They can’t do it alone. So even though there are more friends than trilogies planned, each one has an integral part to play.  It’s important to my series and world-building that everyone plays a part in fighting evil.

Speaking of world-building, having a sandbox already built by the Zaria Fierce trilogy meant that I could lean on the existing structure for the following trilogies. I could even leave plot holes — or as I like to think of them — things left unfinished —  to come back to later and answer in new and unexpected ways. I could create new components or expand even more on previously known things.  Also, getting into Aleks’ and Christoffer’s headspace was relatively easy, as I’ve known both characters for several books. I already had a solid feeling for their mental spaces and didn’t have to start from scratch. A blank page can go anywhere (and it can also sit and go nowhere.) I like editing things and mixing them up and basically playing with how things go together.

The challenges with writing a series like this are to keep it consistent with the previous trilogies, to bring readers back into the fold of a wonderful group of friends to learn how the dynamics work from another perspective, and yet give the trilogy its own unique flavor so that it feels like the character whose name is on the cover. It can sometimes take a lot of time to navigate properly and also quite a bit of rewriting, especially in the first book of each trilogy.

Did you know that Aleks’ story was meant to go to Jotunheim? He never quite got there though, did he? Some might see that as bad planning. That’s okay. For me, I see it as an opportunity.   I let the characters speak and by listening better stories emerge. Those aspects form the original plot for book four were placed aside for the next (and current) trilogy. When mountain-trolls hijacked the forest scenes in book four and pulled me into a whole new and unexpected direction I certainly wasn’t going to say no. I might have become their lunch if I did that! Which meant I spent a lot of time remapping the dynamics of the magical realms and shifting timelines. But it was also a lot of fun opening up my computer to explore how everything changed from what I thought was going on to what really was going on. It felt new. I was discovering with Aleks like I had with Zaria.

Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim by Keira Gillett 
Series:  Zaria Fierce #7
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Keira Gillett

Number of Pages:  296
Published:  May 1st, 2020

For the first book in Christoffer’s trilogy, he spoke to me in first person and I found myself writing that way a lot and having to go back and change it over to third person to match the other two trilogies. I also had to age the group of friends up again and peek into the group dynamics. Some things stayed and some things went by the wayside as I wrote. By the end of the book, Christoffer was playing nice and keeping to the third person, which certainly made it easier and faster to write. His cooperation came when I agreed to add more jokes to the story. 😅 

So there you have it — Readers/Writers - Do you like head-hopping? When do you think it’s acceptable to do? Or is it never acceptable?

About Keira 

Every chance she can, Keira Gillett loves to take ballet lessons, where she calls fondus nasty one-legged squats, and grande battements the reason you happily suffer barre routines featuring said fondus. At home, she loves to play with her doggie and train him to learn new tricks. Spin is the closest he gets to a pirouette. Wherever he goes, even without a tutu Oskar steals all the attention, not unlike Christoffer. You can follow Keira and Oskar’s antics on Instagram with the #oskarpie hashtag.
Find Keira at https://keiragillett.com/

Twitter *    GoodReads *    Facebook  * Pinterest    *      Available on Amazon

Monday, June 15, 2020

Excerpt of a new MG Fantasy by Dorothy A. Winsor: The Wysman

The Wysman by Dorothy A. Winsor
Publisher:  Inspired Quill
Format:  Paperback & ebook
Publishing:  June 2020

"The Grabber is just a fright tale."

Former street kid Jarka was born with a crooked 
foot and uses a crutch, but that no longer matters now that he’s an apprentice Wysman, training to advise the king. When poor kids start to go missing from the city’s streets, though, Jarka suspects that whatever’s causing the disappearances comes from the castle.

Now he needs to watch his step or risk losing the
position he fought so hard to win… but when
someone close to him becomes the latest victim, Jarka knows he’s running out of time.  His search takes him from diving into ancient history, to standing up to those who want to beat or bleed the magic out of him. 

Will Jarka succeed in uncovering an evil long-hidden, or will he see friends and family vanish into the darkness."

Excerpt from Chapter 1 The Wysman

As soon as I stepped out into the empty castle courtyard, I felt it. The wind puffed through my clothes and walked a chill finger down my back. It wanted me, and it wanted me now. It had things to tell me then. My heart sped up. I hitched across the courtyard, amid signs of the castle household just beginning to stir. Smoke rose from the kitchen chimney. A boy was just vanishing into the stables carrying a bucket of whatever horses need in the morning. Other than the boy, the wind and I were the only ones around.
I hobbled through the gate from the main courtyard into the keep around the old tower. Damp shadows pooled inside the keep's mossy walls. In the dawn quiet, my crutch thudded even more loudly than usual as I crossed the flagstones toward the stairs leading to the top of the castle wall.
"Stop right there, boy."
I jumped, then caged my teeth around a curse. Absorbed in the feel of the wind, I hadn't even noticed the baby-faced guard looking down at me from the walkway. If I'd been that dozy when I lived on the streets, I'd be shivering in just my skin while some thief sold my clothes--fleas and all--on the other side of town.
"Stop? Why?"
"You're not allowed up here." The guard rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. I'd not seen him before, so he was new and nervous as a fresh gang recruit guarding his territory. His accent said he was from somewhere deep in the farm country of Longrass.
I hesitated. The castle was still new territory for me too. How hard could I push? "Horse spit. Prince Beran himself picked me to be his Wysman someday because I can read the wind. I do it up there every morning."
"When I'm on duty, you don't." A smudge of struggling moustache quivered on the guard's upper lip. "As a matter of fact, I'm banning you from the keep while I'm guarding it. That stuff you fool with is dangerous." He shuddered. "Sorcery."

                                                               About the Author:  

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle-grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland. 

Facebook  *   Twitter  *  Author's blog 

Order your copy of The Wysman at:  
 *   Amazon *   Inspired Quill *    

Thursday, June 4, 2020

MG review and Excerpt from Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim (Zaria Fierce #7) by Keira Gillett

44029031. sy475
Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim by Keira Gillett 
Series:  Zaria Fierce #7
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Keira Gillett

Number of Pages:  296
Published:  May 1st, 2020
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "Christoffer Johansen loved magic and adventure, and not just the dungeon and dragons variety."

Christoffer Johansen and the Return to Jötunheim is the first book of Christoffer's series and the seventh book in the Zaria Fierce novels.  At the end of book six,  The Drakeland sword was broken into a dozen shards after it was used in a battle to keep the second of the three dragon brothers from wreaking havoc on the Under Realm.  A fact that Zaria has yet to confess to her mother, Queen Helena. 

 In the latest book, Christoffer traveled with Olaf to the Underrealm where they witnessed goblins gathering along the riverbank, bringing a concern that the goblins might have aligned with the final dragon brother. Olaf also shared that the water level of his river has been declining, seemingly drying up.  Upon bringing the terrible news to Queen Helena, Christoffer is given a note from the Queen to pass to Zaria.  The Queen gives Zaria a quest to replace the Drakeland Sword, the only weapon that can destroy a dragon.  Hoping for answers on how to go about this difficult task, they headed to the witch of Gloomwood Forest but her answers come with a price, they must bring her the first two items that they find in the sea.  She also tells them that "what you seek can only be gained by fulfilling a promise already made."  Which reminded them of the promise they made to bring Master Brown a white raven.  Hoping to secure a raven, Christoffer and his friends then traveled to the realm of giants but were met by resistance and the white raven, Skorri refused to help unless they pass three of his tests. 

My Thoughts:

My summary is a very condensed version of the plot but the story involves replacing a broken sword, a witch, a surly white raven, a giant who has been offended by Zaria's past actions and completing various tests and trials.  The Zaria Fierce series includes Zaria and her friend's journeying across various magical kingdoms acquiring knowledge and allies to prevent the dragon brothers from destroying the Underrealm.  Throw in a few precarious situations, making for an exciting adventure.   There is a mix of modern-day Norway with various magical kingdoms.   There's lots of questing and at the heart of the novels are the relationships between all of the characters.  I really like how the stories are broken down into each character's story arc.  The first three centering on Zaria, then the next three about Aleks and now we get to learn more about Christoffer, the human among his magical friends.  Christoffer doesn't see himself as the hero of the story, not having any magical powers, but his words are probably his best weapon.  He's the peacekeeper between his friends, in tune with everyone's emotions, and first to make a joke or help to defuse tension.  I quite enjoy watching his story evolve.  There's a lot going on in these stories and quite a few books in the series overall, so they really should be read from the beginning.  As always, I love the illustrations by Keira and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.              


Gazing about at the city around him, Christoffer zeroed in on the unwelcome sight of a tall, lanky figure standing at the far end of the bridge.
“Oh, come on now,” he whined. “I don’t want to be kidnapped again. I’ve got plans this weekend. Good plans. Great plans, even.”
The river-troll cocked his head inquisitively, raising his webbed hands in supplication. “Olaf be not kidnapping you. I be asking for your help.”
Suspicious, Christoffer asked, “If you need help, why are you asking me and not Zaria?”
Olaf scowled. “I be not bothering her with me troubles just yet. I be needing another pair of eyes. You be doing the job nicely.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Christoffer dryly. “You know, I really have to get to school, and I’ve got this thing after with my baby sisters. What about Queen Helena? Is she free?”
“She still be recovering from the last dragon. She not be needing more worries.”
“Queen Helena’s still recovering? Zaria didn’t mention this,” Christoffer said, concerned. “How is she watching over the dragons?”
“She not be watching. She be with me in my river, away from the wretched things,” Olaf said. “Only way to heal.”
“But the Under Realm,” protested Christoffer. “It needs to be protected.”
Olaf waved his hands. “It be protected. King Hector be guarding it.”
“No offense, but Hector’s a tree,” scoffed Christoffer. “I get how he and the Golden Kings keep the dragons from escaping the Under Realm through the barrier of their roots, but Fritjof was able to breach them just a year ago. Who’s to say another dragon can’t do the same?”
“Look, boy,” Olaf growled, causing the hairs to rise on the back of Christoffer’s neck. “It be not for you to decide. Queen Helena be very weak, and she needing to be free of their presence for a time. Somebody need be protecting her like she always be protecting us.”
“Okay, okay, fine,” said Christoffer, giving in. “But I think you should tell this to Zaria. She should know how her mum’s doing.”
“Olaf not be asking her for help unless it be absolutely necessary. Her mother tell me she not be wanting her involved in Under Realm business until there be no other options. Come with me. I must show you this.”
He canted his head. “I’m confused. Didn’t you just say that Queen Helena didn’t know?”
“She not be, but Queen Helena still be wanting Zaria away from the dragons. She wanting her to be a normal girl for as long as possible.”
“I think that ship has sailed,” said Christoffer, wryly.
“It be not for us to decide,” said Olaf, waving his long-fingered hands vaguely.
Despite himself, Christoffer asked, “So, you think you found something related to dragons?”
Instead of answering, the troll half-turned and beckoned, “Come.”
“Oh, all right, I’m coming,” said Christoffer, shrugging his backpack high on his shoulder again. “Let’s go.”
He shook his head at his own folly as he accepted Olaf’s outstretched hand. The cool slick feeling of scales met his warm palm in a disconcerting fashion. Christoffer tried not to grimace as he clambered on top of the wrought-iron railing.
The languid water flowed by in a constant, soft burble as it lapped against the rocky embankment. Looking down at their wavering reflections, he could not imagine he’d willingly be doing something like this, not even in a million years.
“We be jumping on three,” said Olaf, twitching his long, thin fingers.
The water churned, at first sluggishly, and then faster and faster until a whirlpool frothed and foamed. The scene reminded him of another whirlpool and another time four years ago.
*  A huge thank you to Keira for the review copy and permission to post the excerpt from her book.*  

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

MG Fantasy Review of Snared: Voyage on the Eversteel Sea by Adam Jay Epstein

46223351Snared Voyage of the Eversteel Sea
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Imprint

Number of Pages:  272
Publishing:  June 2nd, 2020
Source:  Edelweiss Plus

Opening Line: "A hand grabbed Wily by the shoulder and shook him awake."

13-year-old Wily Snare awakened to billowing black smoke coming from the prisonaut, a jail holding some of the worst criminals Panthasos has ever known.  Among them is Kestrel, the ruthless Infernal King or Wily's father.   In the previous book in the series, Stalag amassed a huge stone golem army and attempted to seize the kingdom, but Wily and his friends were able to defend themselves from the attack. Kestrel was imprisoned for his role in aiding the evil cavern mage Stalag.   However, now that Kestrel and Stalag have rejoined forces, Wily senses that new dangers await.  Especially when he learns that his father and Stalag are headed to Drakesmith Island and the Eversteel Forge, a renowned place said to hold steel capable of being forged into a huge indestructible mechanical army. 

Snared is an action-packed fantasy adventure series with so many elements that I've come to love.  Add in that Voyage on the Eversteel Sea now features a seafaring expedition taking our adventures on a hot pursuit after Kestrel and Stalag and you have a high adventure indeed.   There's jousting against venomous ghost spiders, unusual creatures including screaming trees, a giant squid, a horse trap plant and boars made from salt, so corrosive that they wreak havoc on any gear made from metal.   There's an assortment of villainous sorts, including vagabonds, and criminals, backstabbing and the usual ax and sword fights I've so come to enjoy.  Wily and his friends even get themselves marooned on a deserted island and find that it isn't as uninhabited as they thought.  Yep, plenty of surprises and a few twists to make for an entertaining read.  I recommend starting from the first book in the series, so as to not miss out on any of the fun.  

I love that a huge part of the plot of Voyage on the Eversteel Sea focused on Wily's relationship with his father and whether Kestrel was really able to turn over a new leaf.  The idea of second chances and how trusting again can be the ultimate challenge.  Once again Wily was joined on his quest by his friends Odette, the acrobatic elf,  Pryvvd, the former knight with his floating arm named Righteous and Moshul, the golem.  And who couldn't love Roveeka, Wily's hobgoblet sister who was always by his side?   Overall, this was a very satisfying conclusion to the series, one that has been filled with adventure, family and friendship, plenty of laughter and touching moments.  

A favorite passage from the E-ARC:

" The dawn swallows left their nests just before the sun peeked over the horizon.  Flitting from the twisted branches of the tawny pines, they took to the sky, letting the light of the soon-to-be-rising sun paint their white feathers a soft pink."  

Friday, May 22, 2020

MG Fantasy review of Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Quartet #2) by Roshani Chokshi

36323794. sy475 Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi
Format:  Ebook
Genre:  MG Mythology/Fantasy
Publisher:  Rick Riordan Presents
Number of Pages: 304
Published: April 30th, 2019
Source:  Publisher 

Opening lines:  "Aru Shah had a gigantic lightning bolt, and she really wanted to use it."
From Goodreads:  Aru is only just getting the hang of this whole Pandava thing when the Otherworld goes into full panic mode. The god of love's bow and arrow have gone missing, and the thief isn't playing Cupid. Instead, they're turning people into heartless fighting-machine zombies. If that weren't bad enough, somehow Aru gets framed as the thief. If she doesn't find the arrow by the next full moon, she'll be kicked out of the Otherworld. For good.

But, for better or worse, she won't be going it alone.

Along with her soul-sister, Mini, Aru will team up with Brynne, an ultra-strong girl who knows more than she lets on, and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street and is also hiding plenty of secrets. Together they'll battle demons, travel through a glittering and dangerous serpent realm, and discover that their enemy isn't at all who they expected.

The final location of my Believathon II:  Journey to the Stronghold readathon was The Bookkeepers Stronghold with the reading prompt of reading the next book in a series.  I selected Aru Shah and the Song of Death as it's been about two years since I read Aru Shah and the End of Time.  At first I was concerned that I might have difficulty recalling the events from the first book, but things pick up pretty much from where they left off.  I quite enjoy reading the Aru Shah stories, there's a lovely group of diverse characters, interesting Indian mythology, they're action-packed, entertaining and the pacing is just right.  Not to mention oh so humorous.  I also like the Lightning Thief sort of vibe that I get from this series.  I do wish that I knew more about Indian mythology and the Hindu religion.  With the first couple of chapters I had to flip back and forth to the glossary to refresh my memory on who some of the characters were.  Especially the soul fathers and some of the God's abilities.  Though this got better the further that I got into the story.  I really enjoyed the new characters, Brynne and Aiden who add some nice dynamics to the plot.  And the locations they go on their quest were interesting and unique.  I'm really looking forward to reading the final book in the series.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

MG Realistic Fiction review of Finding Orion by John David Anderson

41154259Finding Orion by John David Anderson
Format:  Hardcover
Genre:  MG Realistic Fiction
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of Pages: 368
Published: May 17th, 2019
Source:  Purchased

Opening lines:  "The night we found out about Papa Kwirk, I had a jelly bean for dinner."

The fourth location I'm traveling to on the Believathon II:  Journey to the Stronghold readathon is the Black Ice Bridge, which was inspired by The Polar Bear Explorers' Club by Alex Bell.  The reading prompt for this stop was to read a book that features an expedition, adventure, or some form of travel.  I've selected Finding Orion by John David Anderson because part of the story involves a family trip. 

I've pretty much loved all of John David Anderson's books, Dungeoneers, Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Granted to name a few.  He's an auto-buy author and I'm always excited when I hear about a new book of his coming out.  He's also one of those authors where I actually hold his latest release in reserve, to read once his next book comes out.  There's something comforting about knowing that I can pick it up and have a new to me book that I know I'm going to love ready to read whenever I want.  Right now I have One Last Shot waiting for me. 

 I absolutely adored The Kwirk family, quirks and all.  There's Mrs. Kwirk who is slightly obsessive-compulsive, and their father who is the chief flavor chemist for a jelly bean company and an expert at the lyrics to children cartoons.  Cass is the eldest, and into performing arts, fencing, and her pet python.  The youngest Kwirk is Lyra, who'd be considered to be a walking dictionary of knowledge and words.  And then there's Rion, the middle Kwirk child, who considers himself to be the only normal person of the Kwirk family.  He's totally convinced it's why he has to have been adopted.  This is one of the things I love about Anderson's books, his characters.  He always seems to create these memorable characters, and their dialog is spot on.  I always find myself smiling, laughing at, or nodding my head to something that I'm reading in one of his stories.    

Finding Orion begins as the Kwirk family is taste testing one of their dad's newest flavor inventions when suddenly they're interrupted by the doorbell.  Standing on their doorstep is Chuckles the clown who starts singing the news that Papa Kwirk has died.  I don't know about you, but a singing telegram death notice that certainly made me take instant notice.  After determining from their aunt Gertie that it isn't a joke, Papa Kwirk has actually died, and yes it was his wish to have the message brought in a lighthearted manner, the family packs an overnight bag and heads out to attend Papa Kwirk's funeral.  Who else remembers the dreaded road trip with one of your siblings on either side of you in the back seat?  Oh my goodness the flashbacks.    

Once the family gets to Aunt Gertie's the learn that the singing telegram wasn't the only thing that Papa Kwirk had in mind, he left a few more wishes in his will, first that it would be a Fun-neral, with emphasis on the fun.  This wouldn't be your traditional somber occasion, instead, Papa Kwirk planned for a closed casket, a barbershop quartet, a marching band, and food trucks to serve the guests.  All this frivolity doesn't sit well with Mr. Kwirk, who had a strained relationship with his father even before his death.  So it's not surprising when he gets frustrated by what he thinks is a farce of a funeral, which leads to him discovering the final twist in Papa Kwirk's plans, a scavenger hunt to locate his ashes.                  

 I love the way that Anderson can take a sad topic like the death of a grandparent (Finding Orion) or teacher with an illness (Ms. Bixby's Last Day), and write in dialog that brings humor, and a lightness to the story.  Not to say there aren't tearful moments but he balances everything out so well.  It's just a thing of beauty to read one of his books.  Seriously, how many books involve a scavenger hunt to locate your grandfather's ashes?  Ah but the story is so much more than just the hunt, it's also about the discovery.  What the Kwirk's glean from each clue that they follow.  Finding Orion really touched me on a personal level.  A few years back a close relative passed away, we were asked to help get their house in order, to clear out their personal belongings.  The relative was an artist and made these beautiful watercolor paintings, he was also a collector and saved memento's covering seventy years.  A treasure trove of old photographs, letters, dance cards from highschool, watercolors, doodles on receipts, and even a diary from his time in the war.  It was an incredible experience going through his belongings, but also sad that we couldn't be sharing it with him.  I guess the one thing that stood out for me in Finding Orion was that our knowledge about a person includes all of the things we know about them, but it also includes gaps that when they're no longer here, no one can fill in.  It also makes you ponder what kind of legacy people leave behind, and the importance of making amends and repairing relationships when you have the chance.  The book is way more humorous than I'm making it out to be, and it does contain some of the best chapter headings like this one, "Ice Cream, Poop, Winky Face."  A must-read for fans of Anderson's other books.       

Monday, May 18, 2020

MG Fiction review of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
38649817Format:  E-book
Genre:  MG Fiction
Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 304
Publishing:  November 6th, 2018 (
 originally published in 1936)  
Source:  Library 

Opening line:  "The Fossil sisters lived in the Crowell road."   

Description from Goodreads:  "Pauline, Petrova, and Posy love their quiet life together. They are orphans who have been raised as sisters, and when their new family needs money, the girls want to help. They decide to join the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training to earn their keep. Each girl works hard following her dream. Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. And Petrova? She finds she'd rather be a pilot than perform a pirouette."  

The third location I'm traveling to on the Believathon II:  Journey to the Stronghold readathon is The Deepwoods, which was inspired by the Edge Chronicles series, specifically Beyond the Deepwoods (1998) by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.  The reading prompt for this stop was to read a book published before the year 2000.   I've selected Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, which was originally published in 1936.  It's a book that has been on my TBR list ever since I heard about it in the movie You've Got Mail.  

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy were all adopted by Professor Brown, who they've lovingly come to call G.U.M short for Great Uncle Matthew.  GUM is an avid explorer who combs the world collecting Fossils.  It isn't uncommon for him to disappear for months on end, so Sylvia and Nana tend to the girls in his absence.  However, soon after Posy's arrival GUM left on yet another trip, this time leaving them with enough money to cover their expenses for the next five years.  It isn't long before the money began to dwindle and Sylvia needed to take in boarders.  The girls vow to do their part in helping raise money to help out.  

Ballet Shoes was a fun read and I'm glad that I finally got to read it.  I love how Pauline, Petrova, and Posy became "accidental sisters," brought together because of the Professor collecting them and bringing them home.  He seemed to care about the girls in his own way, but it was odd that he never checked to see how they were doing.  Sylvia and Nana were great caretakers though.  Letting the girls pick out their own last name and Sylvia becoming their Garnie or guardian in his absence.  Seriously, how would he know that five years would be enough to cover their expenses?  I did have my beef with him.  

The girls were just lovely, talented, and unique.  Pauline being the eldest had the most responsibilities, and was the first to work as a professional.  She's strong-minded and determined.  I liked her spunk and how she didn't back down from a challenge.  Sylvia had always encouraged the girls to take a part of their wages and put that money into the bank.  Some went to pay expenses for their dance lessons and the other toward the house, but the rest was meant to be for their future.  However, Pauline would have none of it, she had a plan for what she wanted to do with her money and was determined that Sylvia would let her do what she wanted.  Pauline could be really sweet, but she could also be very bossy.  I can't tell you the number of times that I too would ask my sister if her legs were broken after she asked me to go and grab something for her.     

Petrova was probably my favorite of the three girls.  Although she really didn't care for performing and would've been much happier working on cars or flying planes,  she still did her part in helping to earn money.  Being the middle, I felt for Petrova.   Pauline was always the one who got new clothes and Petrova and Posy had to settle for the hand me downs.  Patches and hand me downs, were something that I was really familiar with while growing up.  Yeah, I think that's what I liked most about Ballet Shoes, the sisters.  I wouldn't have been into the parts about the girls performing on stage, practicing lines, or the ballet positions.  But I would've identified with the homey feel of the book and all the interactions between the girls.  Running around playing hide-and-seek and pooling your money to buy a present.  All the things that make it a comfy sister's story. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Blog Tour for Our Friend Hedgehog by Lauren Castillo with an Excerpt, Mini Review + a Giveaway

 I've always been a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh and am really excited to feature a spot for OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG by Lauren Castillo Blog Tour today hosted by Rockstar Book Tours

Title: OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo
Published: May 5, 2020
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 122
                                 Find it:  GoodreadsAmazonKindleB&NibooksKoboTBD Bookshop.org

From a Caldecott Honor-winning artist comes a cozy classic-in-the-making about finding your friends and sticking together through thick and thin.

"Our Friend Hedgehog feels like a modern-day Winnie the Pooh . It's so warm and full of joy and love. It's got classic written all over it."  
 --Victoria Jamieson, 
 Newbery Honor-winning author of Roller Girl

Sometimes you make a friend,
and it feels like you have known that friend your entire life. . . .

Hedgehog lives on a teeny-tiny island with only her stuffed dog, Mutty, for company. When a great storm carries Mutty away, she embarks on a quest to find her friend. Following the trail of clues Mutty left behind, brave Hedgehog meets a wiggly Mole, a wordy Owl, a curmudgeonly Beaver, a scatterbrained Hen and Chicks, and a girl who's new to the neighborhood, Annika May. With bravery and teamwork, there's nothing that can stop these seven from finding Mutty, but along the way they discover something even more important: each other.

The first book in a new series from Caldecott Honor winner Lauren Castillo, Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us has the feel of a timeless classic, introducing an unforgettable cast of characters who will star in many more adventures to come.

Excerpt and my thoughts:  

Hedgehog was happily living on her small island with her dear friend Mutty.  But then one day a storm swept through the island and her dearest friend was carried away.  Missing her friend ever so much, Hedgehog left the comfort of her little island to search for him.  Along the way, Hedgehog meets other woodland animals and a young girl who just moved into their neighborhood.  Hedgehog makes some new unexpected friends who comfort and support her while she tries to find her lost friend.  The pen, pencil, and watercolor illustrations have such a warm and inviting feeling with all the browns, yellows, and reds.  Each of the characters are so kind and supportive of Hedgehog and it really did remind me of Winnie the Pooh.  Not only for how Beaver is a bit surly like Rabbit and how the chicks are like Kanga, and of course the inclusion of a wise owl.  A lovely story that empathizes friendship, kindness, being brave, and provides a nice introduction to this new series from Lauren Castillo.   

About Lauren:

Lauren studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She is the author and illustrator of the 2015 Caldecott Honor-winning book, Nana in the City, as well as The Troublemaker and Melvin and the Boy. Lauren has also illustrated several critically acclaimed picture books, including Kirkus Prize finalist, Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, and Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. She currently draws and dreams in Harrisburg, PA.

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will win a finished copy of OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG, US Only.

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
BookHounds YA Excerpt

Week Two:
La libreria di Beppe Spotlight
Reading Connects Us Review
100 Pages A Day Review
Little Red Reads Review
Daily Waffle Excerpt

Week Three:
Hurn Publications Review
Locks, Hooks and Books Review
Beagles & Books Review
Log Cabin Library Excerpt
YA Book Nerd Review

Week Four:
Adventures in Literature Review
Defining Ways Review
Two Chicks on Books Interview
Lifestyle of Me Review
Cindy's Love of Books Review

Week Five:
A Dream Within A Dream Excerpt
Do You Dog-ear? Review
Such A Novel Idea Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads Review
Twirling Book Princess Excerpt