Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Review of The Lost Lands (The Pelagius Chronicles #2) by Gareth Griffith

The Lost Lands (The Pelagius Chronicles #2) by Gareth Griffith
Format:  Ebook
Publisher:  Independently published
Number of pages:  325
Published:  March 4th, 2021
Source:  Cathryn Wynn-Jones via
Lodestar Author Services

Opening Lines: "Long ago, when the world was young, a thief came into the house of the gods and stole something that was theirs and theirs alone." 

 The Voting Tree is the first book in the Pelagius Chronicles and introduced the main character, Sam and his new found friends, Hamish, Sylvia, Athena and Oscar.  It's a fantasy adventure involving a fig tree and an ancient prophecy. A prophecy that foretold of the true heir to the throne of the Land of Pelas being restored and bringing about an end to the constant winters plaguing the land.

The Lost Lands begins approximately six months after the first book.  Sam has reunited with his friends in Sydney to watch the Olympics, but upon arriving discovers his friend Hamish is missing.  In order to find Hamish, they return once again to the fig tree for guidance.  At first nothing happens, but then Lulu appears and with her help they're transported to a black rock in the middle of the ocean.  Meanwhile, Pelagius is told the story of how the Dark Council of the Underworld used a thief to trick the Gatekeeper of the Land of Tethra into wagering the lands of the Gods over a game of chance.  Having lost the lands to the thief, the Gods have now formed the Council of Light  and tasked Pelagius with reclaiming the lands.  Pelagius then rescues the four friends stranded in the ocean, and they sail to confront the thief.  Once they come face to face, the thief challenges them to a contest or battle of wit.  Each one of the friends will be tested, tasked with a game that they must win.  The one tested last must not fail or all will die and Pelagius will become the thief's prisoner.  Do Sam and his friends have what it takes to outwit the thief and save Hamish, as well as return the Land of Tethra to the Gods?

 I loved all of the details about the setting in The Lost Lands, things like the descriptions of the waterfalls and how the islands were "growing out of the water in shapes of caps and hats."  According to the author, he used Tongariro National Park in the North Island of New Zealand for the inspiration for the landscape in the book.  I also enjoyed how the author provided sort of mini stories between the main plot to explain some of the history of the Lost Lands, for example the history of the fire gods, Mwg, Llydw and Tan and how they formed the islands.   I thought the thief's tasks were pretty challenging, although he really didn't seem to be playing fair.  He seemed to have a knack for choosing tasks  that got at the characters insecurities or played into one of their weaknesses.  And poor Sam, having to wait through each task, beginning to stress and worry that he might fail his challenge.  It's nice to see a group of friends who were supportive and encouraging Sam, which helped him to overcome his anxiety and fears.  Lastly,  I enjoyed the messaging of the story, that sometimes it takes someone ordinary to do something extraordinary.    *A huge thank you to the author and Cathryn Wynn-Jones at Lodestar Author Services for my review copy. *        

Monday, April 26, 2021

Realistic Fiction review of Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly
Format:  E-ARC via Netgalley
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books
Number of pages:  160
Publishing:  May 4th, 2021
Source:  Sparkpress 

Opening Lines:  "There is a magnolia tree in Marisol Rainey's backyard."

has a big imagination and likes to name animate and inanimate objects around her, her refrigerator is named after Buster Keaton and the magnolia tree in her backyard is named Peppina.  Marisol doesn't think Peppina is all that great, it's defiantly not the best tree ever like her brother Oz has proclaimed, but everyone else seems to like the tree but her.  Maybe if everyone knew that Marisol gets all shaky and nervous inside whenever she thinks about climbing the tree, maybe then they'd understand how she feels.  Instead, they think she's being too sensitive, even her dad who's in the Gulf of Mexico working on an oil rig thinks she worries too much.  Only Marisol's best friend, Jada seems to get how she feels.  Yet, maybe, just maybe Marisol can be as brave as she wants to be and finally climb that tree.  

Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is an adorable illustrated chapter book about a young girl who despite being riddled with fears and anxieties, also has a strong desire to overcome them.   Marisol is really a sweet little girl.  She loves her stuffed animals, cat and her best friend, Jada.  Her nickname is "Scraps" after a Charlie Chaplin movie and her favorite food is nachos.  She's kind, sensitive and despite being considered quiet, she also seems to feel things deeply.  She reminds me a lot of  Matilda and Harriet maybe a little bit of Ivy and Bean too.  Although the artwork in my ARC was only partially completed, it really complemented the gentle nature of the story.  This will resonate with children who've been told that they're overly sensitive, or quiet and inspire other kids to be as supportive as Jada is to Rainey.  As Jada so aptly put, "friends don't think of all the things you can't do."  With its positive messaging and themes, this is a sweet story not to be missed.   *Thank you to SparkPress and Netgalley for the E-ARC**   

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

MG review of Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  208 pages
Publishing:  April 27th, 2021
Source:  Netgalley via BlueSlip media and publisher

Opening Lines: "I hear it again.  Urgent chattering reaches us from the mound of sticks and mud just off the bow of our boat."

Madi, Jack and Aaron live in Willow Grove and are avid environmentalists.  Jack wants to become a game warden, Aaron has a wealth of facts about animals, and Madi wants to follow in her Nana's footsteps and be a wildlife rehabilitator.  One day while out exploring on the lake, they come across two dead beavers floating along the river.  Concerned that there may be starving orphaned kits nearby the trio attempt a daring rescue into the beavers underwater lodge.  Inside Madi finds two small kits, which she names Phrag and Cooler.  At first Madi tries to get the local vet to take in the kits, but once she realizes that she's the only one that they have left, she reluctantly takes them to her house.  Madi is used to caring for inured animals, her Nana taught her everything she knows, having also passed on her notes about rehabilitation before she died.  The only problem is that her parents have forbidden her from bringing home one more rescue animal, if they find out she has the kits she'll risk loosing out on her parents taking to meet her idol, Jane Goodall.  Yet, there doesn't seem to be anyone else to take them in.  So, Madi hides them away in her clubhouse, hoping her sister and parents won't notice.  After the kits are fed and given a safe place to sleep for the night, Madi and her friends set out to investigate the circumstances surrounding the adult beavers death.  Madi and her friends soon learn that the beavers dam created problems around town, flooding the roads and fields of a nearby farm.  Someone has even been killing the beavers in an attempt to mitigate their damage.  Hoping to get support from the townspeople, Madi tries to talk to the town hall, but no one seems to want to listen, the landowners seem to only want the animals eliminated.  Can Madi and her friends find the person responsible for killing the kits parents and get the town to help the beavers find a better place to put their dams?  
Terry Lynn Johnson's books are always a treat to read.  So informative, exciting and packed with lovely details about animals, in this case beavers.  Taking care of a kit sounds like a daunting task.  While they may be cute, they sure seem to be able to make a mess.  I appreciate that Johnson included a Do's and Don'ts with wild animals.  Montana has a wild wings recreational center and I really appreciate that places like this exist to rehabilitate and release animals back into the wild.  The story really makes you think about the fragility of the environment and indirectly about being a good environmental steward.  How it was important to have a balance between the beavers making their dam and minimizing their plugging up drain outlets and culverts.  Madi is quite an ingenious problem solver, when her first solution doesn't work she tries another.  Never one to give up.  She deeply cares for animals and wants nothing more than to follow in her Nana's footsteps, I respect her dedication to animal rescue.  I love how the story wove together facts about beavers, their familial traits, and how Johnson explains the risks of taking care of a wild animal, how it's important they be fed the right food, the right amount across the right space of time.   This is truly a valuable story that highlights the importance of appreciating one's environment while also keeping it safe and clean.  A must read for kids interested in animal rescuers, outdoor adventures or the environment.  

**Thank you to BlueSlip media for the E-ARC access via Netgalley and the hard cover copy**        

Monday, April 12, 2021

MG review of The Medusa Quest (Legends of Olympus: Book #2) by Alane Adams

The Medusa Quest (Legends of Olympus: Book #2) by Alane Adams
Format:  E-ARC 
Publisher:  SparkPress
Number of pages:  256
Publishing:  April 13th, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher

Opening Lines: "If you think finding out my dad was Zeus made my life a bed of roses, think again."

I quite enjoyed reading Alane Adams Witches of Orkney series and was excited to learn that she is now delving into Norse mythology with her Legends of Olympus series.  SparkPress was kind enough to offer me the first and second book of her newest series for the upcoming release of The Medusa Quest.

In book one, The Eye of Zeus, we're introduced to twelve-year-old Phoebe Katz, a girl who has been in foster care since her parents left her at a bus stop in Manhattan.  Phoebe has been bouncing from foster home to foster home, because trouble always seems to find her.  Her only support is her social worker, Carl.  Then one day at school following an incident that almost gets her expelled, Phoebe is startled when the bronze statue of Atlas in Rockefeller Plaza begins to speak to her telling her a doorway between worlds has been opened.  Phoebe also learns that she's the daughter of Zeus, and was banished because of a prophecy that states she will destroy Olympus.  Phoebe also learns that she has a twin brother, Perseus who is need of her help.  Phoebe then travels back to ancient Greece with her friends Angie and Damian to try and protect Perseus.  Once in Greece, Phoebe learns that she and her friends must collect talismans from six legendary Greek monsters before time runs out and Olympus is destroyed.  The first book is a fun fantasy adventure similar to Percy Jackson in some ways, there's lots of action and the characters are interesting.  The illustrations by Robin Thompson really add to the story.  

Medusa Quest picks up about two months after the first book.  Phoebe has now moved in with Carl and his two cats in Brooklyn.  She still misses Olympus and learning more about her extended family.  Then Phoebe's friend Damian uncovers news that history has been altered, instead of Perseus slaying Medusa, he has instead been turned to stone.  In addition,  by completing one of Hercules labours, they have caused him to fail his first two trials.  In order to set things right, they must return to Olympus and this time collect the items they need to rewrite the history they've changed.

Greek mythology is one of my favorite type of stories to read, there's always lots of action, quests to acquire various elements, epic monsters and um a Pegasus,  who doesn't like that?  I certainly was feeling a lot of Clash of the Titans vibes, in a good way while reading this story, especially in the lead up to the battle with Medusa.  Writing your own Greek mythology story is always tricking, if it's a book for kids you'll get compared to Percy Jackson, which I don't see as a bad thing.  At least in the ones that I've read, I always find something new to enjoy.   I mean sure there are only a few ways to chop off Medusa's head that don't lead to you being turned to stone, but Alane Adams always seems to include enough differences in her stories to make them stand out, while also being very entertaining.  It still might be fun to read Medusa Quest and then watch The Clash of the Titans though.  I really liked Phoebe, despite her slight bossiness and harshness at times with her friends.  She had this propensity to call up her lightening ability as a first response in a situation, I would've liked to see a little less lightening blasts and maybe see her friends take a more active role.  Come up with an alternative strategy to handle the situation, outsmart them if you will instead of blasting things.   She also has a strong stubborn streak and really wanted her own way, sometimes forgetting to include her friends in decision making.  Yet at the same time, this felt pretty realistic given Phoebe's upbringing and having to rely on herself for making decisions.  Overall, I quite enjoyed Medusa Quest and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. 

 **A huge thank you to SparkPress for the E-ARC.**       

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

MG Fantasy/Adventure review of The Threads of Magic by Alison Croggon

The Threads of Magic by Alison Croggon
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  384
Publishing:  April 13th, 2021
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss +

Opening Lines:  "Pipistrell was deep in the Choke Alleys.  It was black night, blacker than the inside of a cash box, so black you couldn't see your hand in front of your eyes."

Twelve-year-old Pipistrel "Pip" and his older sister, El live in the city of Clarel, getting by with whatever Pip can pilfer from unsuspecting travelers in Choke Alley.  On one of Pip's most recent nighttime raids, he pickpockets a small silver box with a distinctive coat of arms on the cover, something so elaborate it must belong to one of the nobles, and hopefully will fetch him a good price.  Upon opening the box, Pip and El are surprised to discover a rough black stone that resembles a shriveled up heart.   Sure that the thing is cursed, El insists that Pip get rid of it at once, but Pip is unable to part with the black heart inside, so he instead sells the box to an antiquities dealer.  Some time later,  Pip and El learn that the owner of the shop was killed by an assassin, and the man is currently searching Choke Alley for them.  Unable to return to their apartment, El asks for help from her best friend, Oni who takes them to her mother, Amina's house.   

At the same time, Princess Georgette is set to meet her latest suitor, King Oswald, the man her father is intent on having her marry.  Their marriage is thought to bring peace to the city of Clarel, and it also bodes well that her suitor posses great power.  However, as soon as Princess Georgette looks into the eyes of her betrothed, she becomes terrified by what she sees, King Oswald's eyes are empty, devoid of all feeling.  Convinced that she must escape her impending marriage, she runs away to her former Nurse maid, Amina.  Meanwhile, the royal who's box Pip stole is canvassing the city to reclaim it's contents.  

The plot of The Threads of Magic involves a powerful magical artifact, an ancient war between Specter's and the witches of Clarel, and the royals who want to claim the artifact to further their power.  A long time ago, one of the witches created the artifact by taking the heart of a little boy, her intent was to use it to stop the Specter's.  However the artifact came with its own difficulties and was thought to be too unstable, it was meant to be imprisoned in the box as its casket.  Then Pip took possession of the heart and accidentally unleashed its powers.  The heart began to communicate with Pip, telling him his story, how he once was a young Prince named Clovis.  All the while, Clovis motives aren't clear to Pip, can Clovis be trusted or is he evil or dangerous?    Clovis had a very youthful quality, behaving just as a young child might, he gets angry easy and is very uncertain even untrusting of others.  What Clovis is eager for is a friend, which is understandable given how long he was confined in that box.  At times, Pip doesn't want to be bothered by Clovis, but eventually through the help of Georgette, Oni and El, he starts to realize that it's important to teach Clovis what being a true friend entails.  I quite enjoyed my read of The Threads of Magic.  The story shifts between the perspectives of  various characters building on their relationships to Clovis and what the Specter's hope to accomplish with him.  There's a good bit of magic, especially when it comes to the witches, which was fun and I was vested in wanting to find out how things would resolve for Clovis.  Plus it sort of had a Dicken's vibe going for it which I enjoyed.