Monday, May 24, 2021

Unlocked (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8.5) by Shannon Messenger

Unlocked (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8.5) by Shannon Messenger
Format:  Ebook
Publisher:  Aladdin
Number of pages:  764
Published: November 17th, 2020
Source:  Library

Opening Lines:  "One of the first things Sophie's given after Fitz brings her to the Lost Cities is a registry pendant-a simple choker-style necklace containing a special crystal that allows the Council to monitor her whereabouts."

Keeper of the Lost Cities book 8.5 is kind of a book geared toward the hard core Keeper of the Lost Cities fans.  It's chalked full of information about the main characters, has a full color map that pinpoints various locations from the story, Havenfield (Sophie's House), Wandering Woods, to name a few and even has some of the main characters registry files.  The registry files were ok, but I could have skipped the healing records.    There's artwork created by Keefe with his running commentary and as a bonus there is a 236 page novella of events that take place between book 8 and the yet untitled book 9.  There's even coloring pages, quizzes and so much more.  It's an impressive wealth of information on the characters.  Unfortunately,  the longer that I'm away from the series, the more the details begin to escape me.  While I appreciate all the information in Unlocked, I personally wanted more of Keefe and Sophie.  Things were starting to get very interesting while reading the novella, what with all the revelations about Keefe's new abilities, but alas I'll still have to wait for book 9 now to find out more.  Which makes me wonder what will happen if you decide skip this book thinking it's more of an encyclopedia of the world, or you don't realize that there is a novella at the end of it.  Things you'd be disappointed if you missed out on, new details, plot changes, not to mention some surprising Sophie moments.  I kind of feel like the people who know all of this information will be clambering for the last 200+ pages and waiting on bated breath for book 9.  At any rate, I did enjoy the recap of some of the important details and Keefe's lovely artwork.  I've seen mixed reviews of Unlocked on Goodreads, some are getting tired of the lengths of Messenger's books and the way she's had Sophie wavering between Keefe and Fitz.  I guess that's why I waited for this one to hit the library before reading it.  Some feel that the series should be coming to a finale.  I'm of the mind that Messenger has a plan for her story and why not let her ride it out to the conclusion.  I'm certainly happy to have read Keefe's POV and am curious about what the future will hold for their friendship.  It looks like the expected publication for book 9 is November, so not to far off I guess.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Review of The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne  by Jonathan Stroud
Publisher:  Walker Books
Number of pages:  400
Published: April 1st, 2021 in the United Kingdom
Source:  purchased 

Opening Lines: "That morning, with the dawn hanging wet and pale over the marshes, Scarlett McCain woke up beside four dead men.  Four!  She hadn't realized it had been so many.  No wonder she felt stiff."

Description from Goodreads:  
Scarlett McCain is an outlaw, a bank robber and a sharp shooter--a girl of formidable skills. Fueled by a tragic injustice in her past, she travels the broken kingdoms of England alone, carrying out daring heists in the surviving towns and fending off monstrous beasts in the wilds outside their fortified walls. Her life is dangerous, free, and simple--until she finds a wrecked bus on a lonely road. Albert Browne, the sole survivor of the accident, is a seemingly innocent and harmless youth. Against her better judgement, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety.

This is a mistake. They are soon pursued by men with dogs and guns and explosives. Scarlett is used to running from the law, but these trackers are the most skilled she's ever encountered--and they don't seem to be after her. Just who is this Albert Browne Scarlett must uncover his shocking secrets if either of them are going to survive.

Before starting this review there's a few things you should know.  Number one, I adore Jonathan's Stroud's books, Lockwood & Company, Bartimaeus, I've read both of the series,  eagerly devouring each new release.  Stroud is on my auto buy list of authors.  Number two, I've never purchased a book from the U.K.  usually I end up waiting for the U.S. release, but this time, I just couldn't wait until October before getting my hands on The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne.

Scarlett is a complicated character, a contradiction of personality traits.  On the one hand she has no problem shooting anyone who stands in her way, beaming a person in the back of the head, or stealing your last dollar.  While at the same time Scarlett also has a gentler, introspective side, where she drops a coin into her cuss box for the occasional curse words that escapes her lips, and the moments of quiet reflection she demands to pray on her mat and contemplate life.  She's snarky, loyal, somewhat of a loner, fast with a gun and adept at evading capture.  Complicated.   So when she first meets Albert, you'd think she'll just rob him, and take off.  But Albert appears docile, na├»ve and she can't help but feel sorry for the kid who's been stuck in the toilet.  He's intriguing to her and she knows there's more to him than meets the eye.  He's like a deer stuck in the headlights, not sure where to move or if he should move at all.  Together they appear to be an unlikely duo.  But Albert has such a pleasant demeanor, he's optimistic and excited about all the new things he see's.  Sure he's skinny, clumsy, defenseless, and likely to get himself into trouble pretty quick.  He's defiantly not the kind of travel companion that Scarlett had ever envisioned or ever really wanted.  Yet, Scarlett seems to respect Albert's desire for freedom, and she did promise to help him.  

Both Scarlett and Albert are instantly likeable characters, they'll make you laugh, fret and most of all have you eager for more stories about their adventures.  And what a story this was.  I loved watching their friendship broaden and develop into a strong bond.  The way that they depended on each other, and the balance that existed between Scarlett's quick wit and gun skills with Albert's special ability.  The post-apocalyptic England was also interesting, albeit slightly creepy with its Tainted, kind of reminiscent of something from The Walking Dead.  And who could forget Doctor Calloway?  The maniacal doctor intent on hunting down Albert.  Ah, but I'm still left with so many questions about how all this came to be and certainly  would love to know more about Scarlett's past.  What led her to become an outlaw?  She appears to be religious and what is her connection to the Faith House? Yeah, can't wait to learn more in the next book.  For now, Lockwood & Company will still be my favorite Jonathan Stroud series, but Scarlett is defiantly right up there with the Skull and Bartimaeus in terms of my favorite Stroud characters. 

Side note:  Which cover appeals to you more?   I like that we can see Scarlett's red hair in the US cover but I really like the YA western vibes of the UK one.       

Monday, May 3, 2021

MG review of The Antidote by Susan McCormick

The Antidote by Susan McCormick
Format:  paperback
Publisher:  Wild Rose Press
Number of pages:  300
Publishing:  May 5th, 2021
Source:  Jennifer Vance via Books Forward

Opening Lines: "No one in this village is safe."

The Antidote begins in England in 1348 with the black plague and then moves to present day Seattle.  Twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke has always thought of himself as a little different, but today, things really are more different than usual for him.  Sure he can sense people's illness, disease or injury, pretty much know what's wrong with someone else just by looking at them, but this is the first time that he's actually experienced someone's body just melting away to reveal what their ailment is to him.  Did he imagine it?  But how else can he explain knowing about the hotdog that Sam was choking on if he didn't see it lodged in Sam's windpipe?  At first, Alex tries to rationalize his new found ability as heightened senses, but  when it keeps happening to him over and over, and then he even starts to feel the person's ailments, he knows it's time to get some answers from his dad.  Alex's father and grandfather then explain the history of the Revelstoke's and how the family has been battling against an ancient evil for centuries, an evil being who has created diseases, plagues and infections and who has now set his sights on destroying the last Revelstoke, Alex.  

The first thing that caught my eye about The Antidote was that premise, a boy battles an ancient disease creating being.  It had this sort of good versus evil vibe going for it.  Plus as a bonus the author is a physician, who better than a doctor to give those hard core medicine and science facts?  And I couldn't help wondering how she was going to blend medicine with fantasy.  It just sounded like a book that was right up my alley.  Alex is an interesting character, he's conflicted about his abilities.  On the one hand he's really knowledgeable about medicine and science, probably because both of his parents are also doctors, but he's also concerned about his new found ability.  It would be kind of unsettling being able to diagnosis someone just by looking at them, or seeing them as if their body was a transparent manikin where all the skin is gone and you're seeing the blood vessels and bones inside.  At the same time it's pretty cool how he can quickly assess a medical problem and be able to react in time to save someone.  I liked how the story was so factually based, but didn't become bogged down in the details.  Alex seems like a pretty level headed kid, he took the news about his family history of fighting evil in stride.  It's not a fight that he really wanted to fight, but one that he's forced to fight in order to protect those around him.  I was actually surprised that I also enjoyed the evil being/man's story line in between Alex's.  He created many of the diseases across time and was especially adept at avoiding being detected for sometime.  Given the story involves diseases, and illnesses, I should caution that there are some tense moments where various people are put into life and death situations, i.e., one person has a heart attack and someone suffers an allergic reaction to name a few.  While they both are caught in time, it still could be a little scary for a younger reader.  Now if you're into medicine, science, infectious diseases or a STEM book that highlights the human body this certainly will capture your attention.  As an extra bonus there's a short description of all the infectious diseases listed in the story at the back of the book.   **A huge thank you to Jennifer Vance at Books Forward for the review copy**     

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Blog Tour for WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW by Robert Beatty with Excerpt + Giveaway

I'm really excited to be hosting a spot for the Blog Tour of Robert Beatty's latest release, WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. I hope you'll check out the excerpt and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About the Book:

Author: Robert Beatty
Pub. Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, KindleAudibleB&NiBooks, KoboTBD,

Young nightspirit Willa discovers an ancient, powerful magic deep in the forest in the enchanting companion to Robert Beatty's instant #1 New York Times best-seller, Willa of the Wood.

This enchanting companion to Robert Beatty's instant #1 New York Times bestseller Willa of the Wood is perfect for any reader who cares deeply about the natural world. 

Willa and her clan are the last of the Faeran, an ancient race of forest people who have lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for as long as the trees have grown there. But as crews of newly arrived humans start cutting down great swaths of the forest she loves, she is helpless to stop them. How can she fight the destroyers of the forest and their powerful machines?

When Willa discovers a mysterious dark hollow filled with strange and beautiful creatures, she comes to realize that it contains a terrifying force that seems to be hunting humans. Is unleashing these dangerous spirits the key to stopping the loggers? Willa must find a way to save the people and animals she loves and take a stand against a consuming darkness that threatens to destroy her world.

Praise for Willa of the Wood:

"Willa of the Wood will grip readers from its first page... Willa is... an admirable protagonist."—Culturess

"A moving, atmospheric journey of hope."—Kirkus Reviews

"Beatty conjures up a resourceful, compassionate heroine. Full of atmospheric details and richly described magic... this well-paced tale asks insightful questions about the relationship between nature and humans."—Publishers Weekly

"The heroine is an appealing character... and her anguish is clear as she wavers between frightened self-preservation and her desire to help her friends."—School Library Journal

"Willa is a strong and likable creature of the natural world, and seamlessly represents themes of loyalty, tradition, family, and stewardship of the Earth in this engaging story."—School Library Connection


2018 Goodreads Choice Awards: Middle Grade, finalist

2018 Cybils Award, Elementary Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Nominee

Amazon: Best Children's Books of 2018, ages 9-12

Imagination Soup: Best Middle Grade Chapter Books of 2018

BNKids: July's Best Books for Young Readers, selection (2018)

Brightly: 9 Middle Grade Books for Environmentally Conscious Kids, selection (2018)

PopSugar: The Best books for Kids in 2018, as Voted by Actual Kids and Parents Who Read Them, selection

A Mighty Girl: 2018 Books of the Year, ages 9-12




Willa of the Wood and Willa of Dark Hollow are being adapted into a multi-season, live-action television series!

Excerpt from Willa of Dark Hollow:

 The Great Smoky Mountains


The world is neither flat nor round.

It’s mountains.


Willa pivoted toward the sound. The sharp, popping cracks of fracturing wood rolled like thunder through the forest air. Then came the rain-like noise of a thousand snapping branches and tearing leaves crashing down. When the massive trunk finally struck the ground, the earth shook beneath her bare feet. A gust of wind swept through the forest and blew through Willa’s long bark-and-moss-colored hair. And as the realization of what had just happened sank into her mind, her chest filled with pain. The human loggers had cut down the great hemlock tree that lived at the bend of the river.

She stood frozen like a young deer.

It was a tree she had sat beside on sunlit mornings, watching the river flow past its roots, a tree she and her twin sister had curled up in on misty nights, gazing up through its outstretched branches toward the Great Smoky Mountain and the moon above. The trees of the forest had shrouded and sheltered her all her life. They had consoled her when her sister was killed. They were her earth and her soil, her sunlight and her song.

But now she heard the axmen chopping and sawing and shouting to each other, their harsh, barking words circling through the treetops like quarreling ravens. The quills on the back of her neck went up and a burst of heat flashed through her body. She knew she should flee this killing ground or blend her green skin into the leaves of the undergrowth and disappear from the coming human eyes. She must run from their tromping feet and escape their cutting blades.

But how could she run away when her friends were dying? How could she just leave them?

She had to stop the loggers, but she had no sharp claws or long teeth. She had no weapons or ability to fight. She didn’t hurt living creatures, she helped them.

The human loggers had jagged metal saws, axes, knives, guns, animals in chains, vast metal contraptions for dragging murdered trees from the forest, and black, steaming beasts that rolled on long gleaming tracks. She was a lone thirteen-year-old Faeran girl without a clan. How could she fight the men of iron?

The crash of another tree broke like a wave through the forest, the wind of it brushing her cheek.

Her heart pounded in her chest.

She knew she couldn’t protect the trees the way they had protected her. She couldn’t shroud them or shelter them or hide them from the world.

But she couldn’t just abandon them, either.

She took a few uncertain steps, her legs trembling. Her eyes watered with burning tears.

And then she ran toward the sound of the falling trees.

About Robert:

Robert Beatty is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Serafina series and the Willa of the Wood series published by Disney Hyperion. Loved by young readers and adults alike, the Serafina and Willa books are being taught in over a thousand classrooms nationwide and have been translated into over 22 languages. Robert lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year.  When asked about the inspiration for his books, Robert said, “The Serafina and Willa books grew out of my desire to write stories about unusual and heroic young girls for my three daughters."


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Giveaway Details:

3 winners will win a finished copy of WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week Two:


Log Cabin Library






YA Books Central












Amani’s Reviews