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

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

MG Fantasy review of A Storm of Wishes (The Collectors #2) by Jacqueline West

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The Collectors:  A Storm of Wishes by Jacqueline West
Format:  Hardcover

Genre:  MG/Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Number of Pages: 304
Published: October 22nd, 2019
Source:  Purchased

Opening line:  "The thing at the bottom of the well was asleep."

The second location I'm traveling to on the Believathon II:  Journey to the Stronghold readathon is Wonderfalls, which was inspired by R. J. Palacio's book Wonder.  The reading prompt was to read a book featuring a disability.  On this stop, I've selected A Storm of Wishes by Jacqueline West, as the main character, Van (short for Giovanni) is hard of hearing and wears bilateral hearing aids. 

Van and his mother live in New York City where his mother is a famous opera singer.  Most days, she's busy performing and Van is left to fend for himself.  Van is a very imaginative and perceptive boy, and given his hearing loss, his other senses have been heightened.  Van tends to notice the small things that other people miss, like a marble, a stray coin even a glittering bottlecap.  Everything he finds, Van puts into one of his diorama's.  

In the first book of the series, Van's observational skills are what led him to meet Pebble, her squirrel, Barnavelt and later the mysterious group called The Collectors.  Van also met Pebble's uncle Ivor Falborg and his magical Wish Eaters.  Creatures who thrive on the wishes that people make when they blow out a candle, break a wishbone in half or when they throw a coin in a fountain.  At the end of book one, Mr. Falbory tried to kill Van and then abducted Pebble.  The two have seemingly vanished without a trace.  In the process, some of the Wish Eaters were also released, including Van's friend Lemmy.   

Several weeks have passed without any word from Pebble or the Collectors and Van is very concerned.  He was hoping to have some news about Pebble's disappearance by now.  Why hasn't she tried to contact him?  And where did she and Mr. Falborg go?  Did she go willingly or is she being held captive?  Then a set of mysterious events start to occur,  the Collection agency contacts Van questioning whether Pebble has been in contact with him, as lots of wish activity has been noticed around him.  And a dump truck nearly misses running Van over in an alley.  Concerned for Van's safety, his mother moves them to the Fox Den Opera, a mansion surrounded by forests and away from the bustle of the city.  As Van begins to explore the grounds of the mansion, he spies objects on the ground.  First, it's a mini castle, then a Jade dragon, finally he spots pennies which seem to be leading him like a path of bread crumbs through the forest.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, there is an ancient Wish Eater at the bottom of a well near the grounds of the mansion and it appears Mr. Falborg wants it for his own collection, hoping to use it to access death wishes and to unleash the Collection's Wish Eaters.  To prevent Mr. Falborg from getting his hands on this "rare and powerful being", Van enlists the help of the Collectors to find a way to stop him.

One of the things I really enjoyed about A Storm of Wishes is that Van's hearing loss and his wearing hearing aids aren't the central points of the plot.  Van is just like any other boy who is concerned about his friend.  His hearing aids are just a tool he utilizes to help him communicate with people.   I love the way that West utilizes the dialog to illustrate Van's difficulties.  Using Van's attempts to fill in the gaps in the conversation, illustrating that by him knowing the context, the speaker, and any nonverbal cues, he is able to figure out what is being said.  It's explained in a way that children will easily understand and relates to how children fill in the gaps for a word in the text that they aren't able to read.    These real-life examples will help readers to have a better understanding of what a hearing impairment might be like, and especially highlights the importance of directly looking at someones face for speech reading. 

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed is the ambiguity of who the good versus the bad people are and whether bad people are all bad, is it possible that they may have good intentions?  West also questioned whether all wishes should come true.  Whether some wishes do more harm than good?  Also, there's the grey area of what makes up the greater good.  Personally, I was questioning Pebble's motivations, some of what she said to Van in the second book seemed harsh and hurt Van's feelings.  I wasn't sure whether she was really concerned about Mr. Falborg's plans to release the Wish Eater's and wondered whether something had changed in their friendship.  Happily, this was resolved by the end of the story.   I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.       

Monday, May 11, 2020

MG Fantasy review of A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

52466340. sx318 sy475 A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
Format:  E-ARC
Genre:  MG/Fantasy
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 416
Publishing: August 4th, 2020 (first published February 7th, 2019)
Source:  Edelweiss+

Opening lines:  " The prisoner gazed out her window.  It was one of four in Crowstone Tower, the tall stone cage in which she was being held."

Crowstone is one of five islands situated among the Misty Marshes.  To the north is the prison and tower on Repent, the islands of Lament, Torment, and Marshfoot.   Betty Widdershins lives at the Poacher's Pocket Inn in the town of Crowstone with her two sisters,  Charlie and Fliss, and their Granny.  Their mother died when the girls were younger and their father has been in prison on Repent for a number of years.  Of the three Wildershins girls, Betty is the one who's always craved adventure and freedom from her Granny's chores.  Now that it's Halloween and Betty's birthday, she's developed a full proof plan to sneak past her grandmother and take her younger sister, Charlie with her on the ferry to Marshfoot so they can go to the fair.  One small problem, it would require breaking Granny's rule of "never going past the Green's."   At first, everything is going as planned, but then Granny suddenly appears on the ferry boat and immediately whisks them back to town.  Once back at the Inn, Granny finally explains why the Widdershins girls can never leave Crowstone.  Over 100 years ago a curse was placed on their family, if any of the girls were to leave, they would die before the next sunrise.  To prove the point that the magic of the curse is real and to offer them some forms of protection, Granny gives each of the girls a magical object.  Fliss receives a mirror which allows her to see anyone she wants, Betty receives the nesting dolls of invisibility, and Charlie receives her grandmother's bag of teleportation. 

Betty is the first to be unhappy with the news of the curse, it doesn't sit with her plans for adventure, so she decides that she must break the curse.  While searching through her grandmother's things for clues, Betty uncovers information that leads her to the prison as a place that might hold some answers.  With the help of her sisters, Betty makes a secret trip to the prison and meets Colton, a prisoner who offers information on how to break the curse in exchange for them breaking him out of the prison.  Betty takes him up on his offer, but in the process of breaking him out, they accidentally release Jarrod,  a very dangerous prisoner who takes Betty's sister's hostage.  Betty must now not only free her sisters but find a way to break the curse before the next sunset.

I first heard of A Pinch of Magic from Jenna at Falling Letters and then again from booktuber, Gavin Hetherington as I was preparing my list of books for the Believathon II:  Journey to the Stronghold readathon starting May 11th through the 24th.  Believathon involves following a map with each stop having a book-related reading prompt.   The first stop is Poacher's Pocket Inn from Michelle Harrison's newest book A Pinch of Magic, the prompt was to read the first book in a series.  If you want to know more about Believathon, here's a handy video that Gavin created explaining the event. 

Betty has the spirit of an adventurer, something she and her older sister Fliss used to share.  But now that Fliss has turned sixteen, she's changed.  Sometimes, it's like Betty is being mothered by both Fliss and her Grandmother.  I like how Betty tries to make sure her younger sister Charlie has some adventure and doesn't want Charlie to feel stifled by all of their Grandma's rules.  Everything seems to change when Betty finds out about the family curse.  The magical objects offer Betty and her sisters some temporary excitement as they experiment with how to use them, and they definitely come in handy when they need a way to sneak into the prison.  Betty kinda strikes me as the girl who doesn't think things through before acting.  She's a tad too eager in her quest for freedom and trusts people too quickly.  She really wanted to believe that Colton would follow through with his agreement, but the rashness of her actions also led to Jarrod taking her sister's hostage.  At first, I didn't like Colton's deceptions, but as he started to help Betty track down Jarrod, he grew on me.  

 An aspect of the narrative that I so enjoyed was the way the author incorporated Sorsha Spellthorn's past of being locked in the tower into the story.   As Betty begins to investigate the curse and learns more about the prison, she also starts to gather information about Sorsha.  Why she was imprisoned and what connection she has to Betty's family.  Fingerty, or the past prison warder with questionable intentions, was a fun character to fill in the gaps of Sorsha's story.    The bonds between sisters is also an integral piece of the plot, not only how some sisters have strong bonds, but what can happen when jealousy arises between siblings.  The ending was a nice surprise as I wasn't quite sure how the girls would be able to break the curse.  Overall, I really enjoyed the family aspects of this, how each sister stood apart from the other, and I really enjoyed the setting.  There are two more books in the series, A Sprinkle of Sorcery (released 2/6/2020) and A Tangle of Spells (releasing on 2/4/2021). 

Friday, May 1, 2020

YA Fantasy review of Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria by J. M Bergen

Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria by J.M. Bergen
Format:  E-ARC

Genre:  YA/Fantasy
Publisher:  Elandrian Press
Number of Pages:
Publishing:  May 20th, 2020
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening line:  "All right, sulkers," said Enrique.  Race you to Akhil's house.  Winner gets first pick from the loot bag."  

Synopsis from publisher: 
In Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria, three months have passed since Thomas and Enrique faced off against Arius Strong and prevented an all-out apocalypse. Three long, glorious, summer months – months filled with friends, family, magic, and Thomas’s first real kiss.

Unfortunately, the good times are coming to a rapid end. With a cryptic message from a mysterious hacker, Thomas discovers that his nemesis is pursuing an object even more powerful than the crystals. Arius will stop at nothing to find the treasure and destroy his enemies, and this time he’s not alone. Dark creatures with darker powers are flocking to Arius’s cause: shapeshifters, warlocks, even a sadistic killer in a schoolgirl outfit.

The forces of good are gathering as well, but with so much darkness at Arius’s disposal, the prospects for Thomas and his friends look increasingly grim. Will time run out before he sees through the lies and uncovers the next level of his destiny?
                                                         My thoughts: 

In the first book in the series, Thomas discovered the Book of Sorrows, an ancient text that revealed his secret family legacy and Thomas was able to unlock magical abilities he never knew he had.  Thomas also came face to face with Arius Strong, an evil and powerful magician and was instrumental in preventing Strong from achieving his plans to destroy the world by reawakening the powers hidden inside of magical crystals.  

The Wizard of Sumeria takes place three months after the events in the first book.  Thomas and his friends were looking forward to a quiet summer of honing their newfound abilities and a much-needed break with their girlfriends.  Arius Strong had been blinded as a punishment for his quest for power but continued to be a huge lingering threat.  Then a hacker infiltrates Akhil's secure server posting a cryptic message for Thomas and his friends about locating a staff.  Concerned that Strong is searching for a new ancient source of power and amassing an army around him, Thomas, Enrique, and Akhil head to a remote compound in the mountains of China where powerful magicians are pooling resources to aid in the fight.  

This part of the story had a strong Percy Jackson and Breaking Dawn part two vibe for me.  Especially as the magicians start to gather at the compound.  Each of the magicians has their own unique type of magic, there's telepathy, transformation, teleportation, and seers.  Things were defiantly building toward a massive confrontation between Thomas, his allies and Strong.   Thomas and Enrique even began private lessons with their mentor, Scott Alpheus to strengthen their magical abilities with a focus on learning to adapt to new situations and to work as a team or unit.  But when one of their own was taken, their plans change to a rescue mission.  Together they plan to enter Strong's castle, neutralize the enemy, and gather information about the staff.  

This is where Bergen throws in a huge twist to the story.  A new formidable enemy begins to take shape, one who's been quietly orchestrating an attack of their own and I absolutely loved it.  This new foe is smart, technologically superior and seems to be able to deflect all of their magical attacks.  Thomas is in for the fight of his life, a fight where he'll need to be resourceful, determined, and realize strength might not be the answer.  Instead, he will need to utilize the skills that his mentor has been teaching him, to be aware of his surroundings and use it to his advantage.  Magic would not be enough this time.  I enjoyed how Thomas learned to adapt his attacks and how in the end he successfully retrieved the staff, wielding its power.  Even how Thomas found himself aligning with an enemy in order to fight a common foe.   I don't want to give to many details about just who that person is and spoil the fun.  

Each book in the series begins to fill in loose threads of Thomas dad's disappearance and whether or not he's still alive.  I liked the direction the story is going with this.  While Thomas doesn't have all of the answers, he's getting closer.  But his ultimate task is far from over and the fight will continue to Malta, where he once again might find other magicians to help in the battle.  Overall, an exciting story filled with new enemies, and dark magical attacks for Thomas and his friends to contend with.  I look forward to reading the next book in the series.          

About J.M. Bergen: 

J.M.’s debut fantasy/magic series originally started as a bedtime story for his oldest son. The story turned into a saga, and one book turned into five.

When J.M. isn’t working on the Thomas Wildus books, you can find him playing with his kids, napping, or dreaming up new adventures.

If you ever meet him and can’t think of anything to talk about, you might ask about Herman the Shark, the Kai and Eli stories, or why Riddle-Master by Patricia McKillip is his all-time favorite book. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll have questions and stories of your own (if you do, he’ll think that’s far more interesting).

Readers can connect with J.M. on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. To learn more, go to https://jmbergen.com/

To request a review copy or an interview with J.M. Bergen, please contact Kelsey Butts at Book Publicity Services at Kelsey@BookPublicityServices.com or (805) 807-9027.