Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review of The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Format:  E- ARC
Publisher:  Henry Holt & Co.
Number of pages:  416
Publishing:  May 3rd, 2022
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line: "Salutations & Greetings of the Most Magnificent Kind, we are thrilled to inform you that you've been accepted into the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors."

Ella Durand has been invited to attend the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute (ATI), a magical school floating in the sky that is never in the same place twice and can only be reached by a sky ferry.  Ella is the first Conjuror to attend, having gained her spot after her father won his case at the Marvellian court and the three-hundred-year-old ban on Conjurors attending was lifted.  Before that the Institiute admitted Marvellers from all around the world, but never a Fewel, or non-magical student.   Ella is apprehensive about attending the institute, not only is she feeling the pressure of representing all Conjurors, but she really wants to belong and make some friends.   At the same time, she's fully aware that most Marvellian's don't seem to trust Conjuror magic.   After meeting her mentor,  Masterju Thakur and fellow student Jason, Ella feels a little more optimistic about her year.  But when her new roommates reject her, and she's placed with Brigit, a girl who hates magic, being at the institute, and is homesick for her Fewel community, Ella is once again discouraged.

Then news of the notorious Ace of Anarchy, Gia Trevilino's escape from the Cards of Deadly Fate, a high security prison reaches the ATI.  The Marvellian community suspects a Conjuror helped her and Ella's fellow students once again turn on her.  To make matters worse, her mentor is missing, and it seems that Gia Trevilino has found her way to ATI and may be the one pulling all the strings.  Can Ella, Brigit and Jason track down and save Masterju Thakur before the institute is brought down in runes? 

I really enjoyed the immersive and diverse magical world and school that Dhonielle Clayton created.  So many different cultures are represented and each student has their own unique form of magic, or Marvel.  Everyone starts out the year on an even playing field, not knowing what their specific Marvel will be until the end of the years Marvel Exam.  I loved the magic of the Conjuror's and Marvellian's,  both sounded very cool.  How Marvel's are performed with light and come from one of the five Paragon's (Touch, Sound, Taste, etc.)  which provides for many different combinations to include brewing Indian spice elixirs, marvels that make predictions or even control the weather.  And how Conjurors, sing spells and have intricate tattoo's of roots and flowers on their bodies because of the magical spells they cast.  I'm sure there are many other subtitle differences I missed while  reading, but that only means a re-read is in order.  

I do love my magical schools, think The Hound of Rowan, The Magicians Guild or Wundersmith.  I relish all the lovely details about foods and classes and there were certainly enough here to satisfy.  The only thing I was saddened by was all the prejudices that were directed toward Ella and Conjurors, and especially the unfair treatment she received when it was perceived that she broke a rule.  However, Ella admirably stands up for herself and challenges the Marvellers thinking.   Overall, I enjoyed the characters and varied magic systems, I can really see this expanding into a longer series of books.  I especially can't wait to explore more in the Underworld.  Did I mention that multiple children book authors appear as characters in the book?  Such fun.   

**Happy to see this tweet from Dhonielle Clayton  announcing this will be a four book series and check out this book trailer**   

Sunday, April 17, 2022

ARU SHAH AND THE NECTAR OF IMMORTALITY by Roshani Chokshi Blog Tour + Review and Giveaway

I'm super excited to introduce you to the Aru Shah series and to be hosting a spot for Chokshi's latest book ARU SHAH AND THE NECTAR OF IMMORTALITY by Roshani Chokshi.  The Blog Tour is hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Please check out my review and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the Book:

Author: Roshani Chokshi
Pub. Date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Pages: 400

Findit:   GoodreadsAmazonKindle,

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the breathtaking conclusion to Roshani Chokshi's New York Times best-selling Pandava quintet. Will the Sleeper gain immortality or be stopped once and for all?

*"A deeply satisfying conclusion to a superb, groundbreaking series."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Pandavas only have until the next full moon to stop the Sleeper from gaining access to the nectar of immortality, which will grant him infinite power. But how can Aru, Mini, and Brynne hope to defeat him without their celestial weapons? The Sleeper and his army are already plundering the labyrinth, and the sisters can't even enter. Their quest to get in will have them calling on old friends, meeting new allies, and facing fearsome trials, like...performing in a rock concert? When the moment of confrontation finally arrives, it's up to Aru to decide who deserves immortality, the devas or the asuras. The most unexpected answer will come from a most unexpected place.

More surprises and delights, gods and demons, and laughs and tears await in this immensely satisfying conclusion to the wild ride that began with the lighting of a lamp.

Collect the whole series:

 My Review:

Opening Line:  "Kara's first reaction when she entered the labyrinth that hid the nectar of immortality was, well, disappointment."

Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality picks up moments after Kara joined forces with the Sleeper to enter the labyrinth and acquire the nectar of immortality.  Kara is musing over her choices and can't shake the thought niggling at the back of her mind and the voice that keeps telling her that the Sleeper might be lying to her.  Although she's conflicted about his motives, and that he hasn't been as forthcoming as she'd like, Kara stills wants to believe that his true desire is to bring her family back together again.  Meanwhile, Aru and her Pandava sisters are reeling from Kara's betrayal, that their mentor is now a flammable chick, and that their celestial weapons have been incinerated.  They also learn that they only have ten days remaining to enter the labyrinth and stop The Sleeper before he ends the world, but it seems time is not on their side, and every attempt they've made to enter the barrier near the gate has proven to be futile.  Without their celestial weapons, they can't see a path forward.  

Then the Pandava's learn that if they can prove themselves worthy by winning back the gods favor, their weapons may come back to them, so Aru, Mini, Brynne, Aiden and Rudy set out on a series of challenges starting with reuniting the three pieces of the Sun Jewel.  Reading the last book in the series is always such a struggle, especially one where you've become so vested in the characters, the luxurious world building, the pop culture movie references, the banter and humor.  It's bittersweet, because you've come to enjoy the plot, and characters so much, and now things are coming to an end.  I must say though, I really enjoyed the way that everything was tied up.  

I also really enjoyed the themes in the Nectar of Immortality.  The way the author incorporated the idea of who gets to be remembered and how.  The premise that through tackling one's insecurities and fears, new strength can be found.  That being thought of as small and weak, might lead others to underestimate you, and can be used as a form of strength.  There's also a huge sacrifice that brought a tear to my eye, no spoilers here, but everything happily works out in the end.  Most of all I enjoyed the characters arcs, how they learned from the hardship of not having their celestial weapons to lean on, how they looked inward and grew closer together to overcome the obstacles they faced.  Most of all I especially loved Aiden's song of truth!  Like I said, I'm sorry this is the final book in the series, but I so enjoyed the adventure.  I truly hope to read more books by Roshani Chokshi in the future.                      

 *Thank you to Rockstar Book Tours and Disney Hyperion for an ARC in exchange for my honest review*  


About Roshani:

Roshani Chokshi ( is the author of the instant New York Times best-selling books in the Pandava series, Aru Shah and the End of Time, and its sequel, Aru Shah and the Song of Death. She also wrote the New York Times best-selling YA books The Star-Touched Queen and The Gilded Wolves. She studied fairy tales in college, and she has a pet luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. The Pandava novels were inspired by the stories her grandmother told her as well as Roshani's all-consuming love for Sailor Moon. She lives in the south and says "y'all," but she doesn't really have a Southern accent. Her Twitter handle is @roshani_chokshi.


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1 winner will receive a finished copy of ARU SHAH AND THE NECTAR OF IMMORTALITY, US Only.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Review of The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson

The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson
Format:  Paperback ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  320
Publishing:  April 12th, 2022
Source:  Publisher 

Opening Line: "Thank you, Mr. Foster!"  Ellis Earl Brown waved goodbye to his teacher, then trekked with his sister Carrie Ann along the dusty path toward home."

The Lucky Ones takes place in rural Mississippi in 1967.  11-year-old Ellis Earl lives with his mother and ten siblings in a small leaky three-bedroom home.  Times have been difficult with such a large family under one roof and so many mouths to feed.  Adding to the burden is their oldest brother and his four small children, who have come to stay until their mom delivers.  What little work the family can find comes from either their mother cleaning houses, or any odd jobs that their older brothers can find.  Meals consist mostly of beans and cornbread, when they can find it, and most of the kids have learned to go without.  Everyone in the Brown family pitches in with the chores and their eldest sister, Jeannette ensures the younger children, and house are kept in order while their mother is away at work.  Ellis Earl and his younger sister, Carrie Ann are the only two Brown children who currently go to school, Oscar, who is close in age to Ellis Earl hasn't been able to attend because he's been too ill.

Ellis Earl generally enjoys going to school.  Mr. Foster is a very kind teacher, he even drives nine of the neighbor children to and from school each day, because there is no school bus that comes out their way.  Mr. Foster gives the children snacks, shares his lunches and even lets Ellis Earl borrow books from his personal library so he can read to his younger siblings at home.  His latest book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  In school, Mr. Foster discusses news articles from Jet Magazine and currently they're learning about Thurgood Marshall.  Ellis Earl is even dreaming of becoming a teacher or lawyer someday.  However, Ellis Earl learns that he may soon have to give up his dream and leave school to find work to help out the family.  

With Easter approaching, Mr. Foster invites Ellis Earl to his church to recite a speech to the congregation.  At first, Ellis Earl's mom is hesitant about the idea, on account of the church not being Baptist, and worrying that Ellis Earl has nothing to wear.  However, Mr. Foster isn't easily put off and brings some clothes for him to wear and Mrs. Brown agrees to let him come.  Ellis Earl has such a fun time at church that he even encourages his siblings who are musicians to participate in an upcoming talent contest, although he falsely says that there will be a cash price if they win to get them to come.  Mr. Foster sees great potential in Ellis Earl, and along with a few of his classmates, he invites them on a field trip to the Jackson Airport to greet Senator Robert Kennedy and Marian Wright, who are touring the area and exploring options to help their state.  When Senator Kennedy later shows up at their home, Ellis Earl is initially surprised, but takes the opportunity to discuss the Fair Housing Act with Senator Kennedy and even asks for help in enrolling their family into the food stamp program.  The end of the story brings improvements to the family's living situation and a brighter future for the Brown family.  

The Lucky Ones is a beautiful historical fiction story that explores the topics of poverty, racism and the power of education and reading with a sensitivity and empathy that children will be able to easily relate to.  It's a story that will evoke an emotional response but is uplifting too.  Ellis Earl is such a wonderful main character, he is selfless, even splitting up his treasured Moon Pie into equal shares so that all his brothers and sisters can have a small piece.  He goes without eating when it would prevent one of his siblings from getting dinner.  The lengths he will go to and the sacrifices he makes for his family while being heartbreaking just made me love him so much more.  I so loved the inclusion of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a vehicle to compare Ellis Earl's life to Charlie's, pairing something children might have read to a historical time period they may be unfamiliar with really brought the story home for me.  I also loved how his siblings and he were captivated by the book and how it stimulated his younger sister to want to read as well.  And Mr. Foster, what a wonderful teacher, seeing the potential in Ellis Earl and the way he encourages him to challenge himself and gives him opportunities to shine.   Overall, this was a beautiful story about family, sacrifices, education, and the power of having the right book in the right hands.       

** A huge thank you to Candlewick Press for the Paperback ARC**   


Monday, April 11, 2022

Review of The Midnight Unicorn by Alice Hemming

The Midnight Unicorn by Alice Hemming
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing
Number of pages:  384
Published:  September 5th, 2019
Source: Publisher

Opening Line:  "The city of Essendor stood on a hill, a stone castle at its summit."  

The Midnight Unicorn has the feel of reading a glorious fairytale, maybe Sleeping Beauty?  It begins like most fairytales in a faraway kingdom, a new queen has been crowned and the women of the village are chatting while their children are playing nearby.  One young boy breaks away from the others, climbs a tree and falls into a fast-moving river.  Remarkably he shows up on shore, unharmed, professing to having been saved from drowning by a unicorn.  From that day forward he was known as the Boy River.

The story then skips ahead five years to Queen Bia having given birth to twin girls.  Concerned that her brother, Zelos might have plans to take the throne and harm the princesses, the Queen separates the two girls, sending one to grow up in the west as Alette, the daughter of a sorcerer, and the other to the east, Audrey to grow up as the daughter of a baker.   Each daughter is given half of an identical pendant that will become one when they can be reunited.  

So, the two girls grow up not knowing about each other.  Their circumstances couldn't be any different.  One long and strong, given the name meaning Truth, while the other smaller but given the name meaning Strength.  All the while, both girls feeling as if a part of themselves is missing.  The story then jumps ahead thirteen years, alternating between Alette and Audrey, each beginning to sense that the something missing from their lives is a person.  Someone who resembles them, which leads Alette to question her father, Maneo, the sorcerer and eventually leads them on a journey to find Audrey.  From there the two sisters learn the whole story of why they were separated at birth and the dangers that lie within the city of Essendor.  As I said before, this has a very magical fairytale like feel to it.  The unicorns were also a nice touch and I appreciated that this could be read as a standalone, but why would you want to?  Come on, it's unicorns and a quest to reclaim a kingdom from their tyrannical uncle.  Plus, there's River, the boy who sleeps under the stars, and can speak to animals.  Such a sweet, free-spirited boy.  Overall, this was a very satisfying story, it ticked off all the things I enjoy in a good fairytale, the two sisters reuniting and learning about each other was super fun and I liked how the story resolved.

**A huge thank you to Kane Miller Publishing for the paperback review copy**      

Friday, April 8, 2022

Review of The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
Format:  Paperback-ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  368
Publishing: April 12th, 2022
Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "I must have looked like all the other assistants standing in line for breakfast that morning at the Three Onion Cafe."

Sai lives in Fens with her father, Mud and his friend Catfish where she is forced to assist them in their schemes to earn money.  Sai dreams of the day that she can leave Fens and has secretly been hiding a portion of the wages she earns at her job.  Mud thinks she works at the fishing dock and is none the wiser.  To acquire her position, Sai needed to lie about her age and where she lives, so the esteemed mapmaker, Master Paiyoon would hire her as his assistant.   However, her ruse might be coming to an end as when she turns thirteen, she should receive her lineal, a bracelet with links ticking off each generation in her family and there is no way that Mud could afford to buy her one.  Plus, Master Paiyoon has been asked to join an expedition for the Queen of Mangkon to explore the outer regions for lands to expand her empire.  When Sai is offered an opportunity to help Master Paiyoon on the ship, she jumps at the chance.  Given his new onset of tremors, and her ability to mimic his skills, he agrees that she would be an invaluable asset to him on the voyage by drawing the map of their route.  The expedition initially goes well, but then Sai discovers a stowaway onboard, Bo.  She also recognizes one of the sailors, Grebe as the boy she ran into in Fens, and risks being outed by him because he is aware of the secrets she's been hiding from Master Paiyoon.  When the Captain suddenly falls ill, the voyage takes a dramatic turn when the captain's friend, Rian takes command of the ship and convinces the crew to chart a course for the fabled Sunderlands, a place thought to be beseeched by dragons.

I quite enjoy Soontornvat's Thai-inspired stories, A Wish in the Dark was a lovely twist on Les Misérables and her latest book, The Last Mapmaker is an exciting historical fantasy adventure.  Both stories explore a caste system, and The Last Mapmaker also delves into colonialism.  Sai is such a wonderful character, I instantly felt myself rooting for her.  She is determined, kind, and resourceful.  I love how she was driven to improve her living situation and get out from under her father's control, not wanting to lie or cheat for him anymore.  The lineal system or links on a bracelet representing generations was interesting and I especially enjoyed life on the ship with its daily chores and exciting moments when they encountered weather hazards.  My favorite parts were the mentions of the old drawings on silk or fisherman's maps and Sai's relationship with Bo.  Bo's colorful language was hilarious.   Master Paiyoon struck me as a grumpy, set in his ways grandpa to Sai, it was nice that he recognized her mapmaking abilities and supported her even when they had a difference in opinion about heading to the Sunderlands.  Overall, this was a very exciting seafaring adventure. 

*Thank you to Candlewick Press for the Paperback ARC in exchange for an honest review**   

Thursday, April 7, 2022

SHINJI TAKAHASHI AND THE MARK OF THE COATL by Julie Kagawa Blog Tour + Review and Giveaway

Today I'm thrilled to be hosting a spot on the SHINJI TAKAHASHI AND THE MARK OF THE COATL by Julie Kagawa Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. I hope you'll check out my review and of course enter the giveaway!


About The Book:

Title: SHINJI TAKAHASHI AND THE MARK OF THE COATL (Society of Explorers and Adventurers #1)
Author: Julie Kagawa
Pub. Date: April 5, 2022
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 320

Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, Kindle, Audible, B&NiBooks, KoboTBD,

Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl is the first book in a globe-trotting adventure that combines high-tech wizardry, old-world legends and a little bit of magic.

Shinji Takahashi is just an ordinary kid. An ordinary homeschooled smart-alecky orphan kid being raised by his aunt Yui. But when a magical guardian decides to use him as a conduit to awaken its power, Shinji’s life takes a turn for the extraordinary. Captured by the menacing Hightower Corporation, which is bent on using the guardian’s magic for its own nefarious purposes, Shinji must team up with a brilliant young tech whiz named Lucy and her robot mouse, Tinker, to escape the Corporation’s evil clutches.

Together Shinji and Lucy turn to the venerable Society of Explorers and Adventurers and its ragtag cast of spelunkers, hackers, mapmakers, pilots, and mythology experts (among other things) to return the guardian to its rightful home and release Shinji from its magic—which seems to be draining his life force. Time is ticking, the Hightower Corporation is hot on their tail, and success or failure might depend on one small thing—Shinji finally coming around to the belief that he is anything but ordinary.

Based on the Society of Explorers and Adventurers lore that exist across the Walt Disney Parks, Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl is the first book in an all-new action-adventure series that brings S.E.A. into the twenty-first century through a blend of science and magic, and a focus on two young characters on an epic journey through time and place.


My Review:

I love the way that Disney is expanding its lore to include books featuring one of their many rides or park attractions.  Which reminds me, I still need to read Tales from the Haunted Mansion.   I'm also a huge fan of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint and the way that it has published books written by own voices authors, introducing various cultures, their traditions and mythology.  So, I was pretty excited to hear Julie Kagawa was writing a book about the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A).  I had the pleasure once of visiting one of the offshoots of the S.E.A. or The Adventures Club when in was housed in the former Pleasure Island (now referred to as Downtown Disney).  It lasted from 1989-2005 and was a pretty cool place, part library/museum filled with books, artifacts and animatronics.   Each room had a different theme and the cast put on a show each night, it was certainly entertaining.  Reading this book really reminded me about my visit there, and also made me wonder how many people know about the Society of Explorers and Adventurers?  There's so much that can be explored in a book about an organization that encompasses so many attractions across so many different park locations.  It's like searching for Hidden Mickey's in Disney World and just as exciting when you find a reference to something that you've visited in one of the parks or watched in a movie. 

Shinji is kind of bored hanging out with his aunt, so she sends him off to the market to get himself a present or at least to find something that speaks to him.  He ends up finding a small Coatl statue that attaches itself to him in the form of a tattoo on his arm.  At the same time a group of men show up demanding that he give them the statue and after a struggle, he wakes up at the Hightower Corporation.  Shinji learns that he has been cursed by the statue and that the only way to remove the curse is to return the Coatl to the place it was stolen from.  The story explores the S.E.A and how the organization has changed their bylaws, focusing on exploring the wonders or relics of the world, and to preserve and protect the artifacts.  This is a huge breaking away from past explorers or colonialists who only took things for themselves.  Overall, this is a very fast-moving story that takes the reader from the Zambezi River to California and then to Mexico.  It's filled with snakes, fire traps, a lake with a scary monster and a hidden pyramid in the jungle.  I'd recommend this to a reader whose enjoyed the Rick Riordan presents imprint and someone who's looking for a little adventure, along the lines of an Indiana Jones movie, very exciting.        

About Julie Kagawa:

Julie Kagawa is the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series. She was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel. She worked as a professional dog trainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold, and she stopped training to write full time. Julie now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two obnoxious cats, and a pair of Australian Shepherds that have more Instagram followers than she does. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @JKagawa or check out her website at


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Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a finished copy of SHINJI TAKAHASHI AND THE MARK OF THE COATL, US Only.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

YA Review of Herrick's End (The Neath #1) by T.M. Blanchet

Herricks End by T.M. Blanchet
Format: Print ARC
Publisher:  Tiny Fox Press LLC
Number of pages:  312
Publishing:  May 10th, 2022
Source: Author via giveaway at YA Books Central

The very first thing that grabbed at me about this book was the cover (which Damonza designed).  Instantly I'm thinking of King Ludwig II from Bavaria and how he built a castle with an underground stalactite cave and lake as a secret hideaway so he could be rowed around on his golden swan boat and listen to Wagner.  The other thing that intrigued me about the cover was the silhouette of the city at the bottom.  

 Opening Lines:  "The horses kicked up clouds of dust as they traveled the narrow dirt road, dragging the cart behind them."

Herricks End begins with a prologue set in May of 1692 and then quickly jumps ahead to present day Boston where we're introduced to 19-year-old Ollie Delgato.  Ollie has been on his own since his mom died and while he's been trying to recover from losing her, he's been attending a weekly Lighter Tomorrow support group to help with weight loss and his loneliness.  The group is where he met his one and only friend, Nell.  Well at least he thinks they're friends, but lately Nell has been missing from the meetings and he's worried something may have happened to her.  Then Ollie receives a cryptic message asking if he's "still looking for his friend?" and that they know where she is.  Hoping for answers, Ollie goes to the park as instructed and meets Laszlo, an acrobat.  Laszlo says that he will help Ollie and gives him a series of confusing steps to follow involving finding a lock or key, a door, the docks and a driver, but most importantly to follow the Freedom Trial.  Eventually, Ollie unravels the clues and finds himself deep within a tunnel leading down to Neath, hopeful to find his friend Ollie ventures on, but what he finds is more dangerous than he ever could've imagined.

I love how the author describes this book as a "wacky, witchy, revenge-soaked fantasy story set in an underground world below the streets of Boston."   I'd add that it's dark and certainly dangerous.   I really loved the early descriptions of the North End of Boston.  The lush descriptions of city life, the Anise cookies, Pizzaria's and feel of little Italy.  You really get a sense of what life for Ollie is like, making it easy to connect with his struggles over his mom's death, feelings of inferiority, his self-image and weight insecurity issues.  It's hard not to emphasize with his internal self-deprecating talk and I found myself hoping things would look up for him.   We learn about his early upbringing and how he met Nell.  Ollie seems like a good kid, aware of some of the changes that were occurring before Nell disappeared, like her personality, clothing and the mysterious new guy in her life.  While they didn't have the kind of relationship where she confided in him about the guys she was dating, he was aware enough to know that something might be wrong.  While he suspected that she might be in an abusive relationship, he still felt guilty for never having acted on his suspicions.  Ollie's actions during the story are guided by his feelings for Nell and for not having stood up or helped her before.

Unfortunately for Ollie, there's a few things about Neath that Laszlo neglected to tell him.  For one, Neath houses a huge prison where the prisoners experience suffering equal to their past crimes, they're sentenced with "only what they owe."  When Ollie is mistaken as an abuser and thrown into the prison, he's no longer the hero that he wanted to be, instead he's the one that needs saving.  The prison in Neath is a pretty dark place and is meant as a revenge toward abusers.  The rest of Neath is a sanctuary for those who chose to leave their former abusers and stay in Neath rather than seek revenge.  The story does not directly detail violence toward women, but it's pretty clear that the prison was designed to house these violent abusers and there are violent fights setup by the warden depicted.  It's also a difficult story because of the topic matter, and there's even a few prisoners who are unjustly jailed, and in Ollie's case he's jailed for being a bystander.  While the world of Neath is dark, compared to the earlier parts of Boston, there's still a sense of friendship with everyone that Ollie connects with.  Ollie draws people to him and is very protective of the people he meets.  And despite his initial need for rescue, he does go on to be a hero himself.  Overall, I quite enjoyed reading Herrick's End, it's a dark fantasy with an equally dark underworld, but I found myself engaged and vested in finding out whether Ollie would escape the prison.   

Favorite quote:  "In a world full of dandelions Ollie Delgato, you're a sunflower.  Big, and bright and always looking for light."

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrations by Harshad Marathe

The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrations by Harshad Marathe
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Kar Ben Publishing
Number of pages:  152
Published:  April 1st, 2022
Source: Netgalley and Publisher via Books Forward

From Goodreads:    If a magical button and a mysterious cat could transport you to the past...would you save the future?

Opening Line: "Don't tell Granny Buena, okay?"

After being bullied, called an awful name, and losing a button off her shirt at school, Ava implores her cousin Nadeem not to tell their Granny Buena.  But Nadeem knows Granny will find out anyways because he can't keep a secret like that from his mom, who will ultimately tell Granny, so he tells Ava that she'll just end up having to confess everything to their Granny anyway.  Granny Buena calmly listens to Ava's story and upon seeing her missing button, pulls out her button box, filled with generations of buttons from their Sephardic ancestors and begins to tell them the story of Prince Abdur Rahman.  Following the story, Granny steals away to her room for a nap and the two cousins begin to explore the crystal button box further.   Then the moment comes that oh so reminded me of the Magic Tree House series, which my kiddo and I loved reading together, and Ava and Nadeem are whisked away on a time traveling adventure to ancient Morocco where they come face to face with Nadeem's ancestor, Prince Rahman.  The cousins are launched on an adventure into the past to help the prince escape to Spain.  

In this post from Smack Dab in the Middle, Hodder explains how The Button Box became a collaboration between the two authors and explains what it's like co-authoring a book.  It's really worth a read.  The Button Box was a pretty quick read and a lovely own voices story.  I enjoyed learning about Sephardic Jews and how much their culture is intertwined with Muslim culture.  Not only does the story highlight the cross cultural, interfaith friendship between Ava and Nadeem, it equally represented both cultures, focusing on the commonalities they shared.  There were references to daily life, preparing of food and customs for both.    I also really love a story where I feel like I'm learning something new and especially one that incorporates another language, in this case the various Islamic phrases.  There's even a nice glossary at the end of the book, as well as an author's note explaining Muslim faith, Judaism and specifically where Sephardic Jews descended from.  The historical significance of Prince Abdur Rahman's reign is also explained.  Overall, this was a wonderful story with positive messaging, and interesting characters.  Granny Buena sounds wonderful, and I enjoyed her sayings and expressions, my favorite was that "everything in life needs an anchor."  I hope to see more stories featuring Ava and Nadeem in the future. 

About the authors: Like Ava in "The Button Box," Bridget Hodder is Sephardic. She is also the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Her first middle grade book, “The Rat Prince,” was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and was an ILA -CBC Children's Choice List starred selection. And, like Nadeem in “The Button Box,” Fawzia Gilani-Williams is Muslim. She currently works in the UAE as a cluster librarian. Her first book, “Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam,” was awarded a silver medal by the Sydney Taylor Book Award. 

**A huge thank you to Books Forward, and the publisher for my E-ARC**