Monday, October 31, 2022

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and a Duo review of Leo's Map of Monsters: The Frightmare and The Shrieking Serpent by Kris Humphrey, illustrations by Pete Williamson

Leo's Map of Monsters: The Frightmare 
by Kris Humphrey, illustrations by Pete Williamson
Format:  E-book
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing 
Number of pages:  160
Published:  In the US via Kane Miller 2022
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review  

Opening Line: "It was early evening and the walls of my bedroom were striped with shadows." 

In the third book of Leo's Map of Monsters series, Leo's village is set to celebrate their yearly Spring festival, a night of festivities filled with food, games, dancing and singing.  Leo is especially excited because Henrik gave him the night off so he could attend with his best friend Jacob.  That is until the village chief, Gilda arrives and tells him he is desperately needed once again to save their village from an encroaching monster.  Swiftly Leo tells a little white lie to Jacob and heads out for the Guardians cabin in the woods, unbeknown to him he is being followed.  Leo is given his next assignment to capture the Grass Gulper, who is making its way toward their village.  Unfortunately, he will only have one chance to capture it, as he only has one Shrinking Stone left, so he will need to make sure that his shot counts.  Assisting Leo once again is Starla, a leatherwing who has the unique ability of communicating her thoughts directly into Leo's head.  And as a new surprise, Leo discovers that he was followed by none other than Jacob, who is injured when the Grass Gulper attacks.   Seeing this as an opportunity to work with his friend hunting monsters, Leo hopes that Henrik will train Jacob too, but can they trust him with this secret?  Or must he resort to taking a hair from the legendary Frightmare's tail in order to take away Jacob's memories of being in the forest for good?  

Seeing this as his only option, Leo agrees to hunt down the Frightmare, but getting a hair from the Frightmare's tail is more difficult than you would think.  They can disappear at will, making it challenging to get a shot off in time.  They're also enveloped in blue flames and fog which makes it difficult to approach them.  They're aggressive and vehemently protective of their territory.  Plus, their mighty hoofbeats are frightening, especially when they come charging at you during an attack.  Hoping to escape just those attacks, Leo ventures into the ruins surrounding the Frightmare's domain only to find himself in a very dark space, which truthfully was unnerving.  Leo certainly had his hands full in this story.  I'd say this was his most dangerous mission yet and exemplifies just how brave Leo is.        

Leo's Map of Monsters: The Shrieking Serpent by Kris Humphrey, illustrations by Pete Williamson
Format:  E-book
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing 
Number of pages:  176
Published:  In the US via Kane Miller February 10th, 2022
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review  

Opening Line: "I lay in bed, staring at the wedge of daylight that had forced its way into my room."

Leo is up early to help out his mom, who injured her knee from a fall.  While making her tea, Leo finds out that she needs him to take the Grimwood family's account papers to their home, which Leo had hoped to avoid because their son, Carl has been such a bully to him.  But first, Leo needs to meet up with Henrik to get filled in on his next monster fighting assignment.  Sadly, Leo learns that he used up all of their magical stones, his only protection against the monster's attacks, and now will need to enter the Endless Mines in order to stock up and increase their reserve of magical stones.  This new task appears to be a daunting one, for the mines are housed within Mammoth Peak, in a pitch-dark labyrinth, filled with miles of tunnels crossed by underground rivers and lurking somewhere deep within the Peak is the legendary Shrieking Serpent.   Armed only with his map of monsters, one rusty lantern, a plan of the mines highlighting a route around the serpent, his skills from training, and one vile of Henrik's silvery flash powder Leo heads out through the forest.  Assisting him along the way is his trusty companion, Starla the leatherwing.  

At first everything seems to be going as planned, but then one moment of distraction lands Leo face to face with a Goretusk and in an attempt to avoid being gorged, he steps further into the sinking mud of the swamp.  Luckily, Leo has a history with this monster and is partially pulled out by his great tusks, where he faces a new danger when he encounters forest people, who after helping him get unstuck, take him to their camp.  The forest people do not trust Leo and defiantly don't believe that he is capable of surviving the Endless Mines.  Hoping to convince them of his ability, Leo describes how he is on a quest to retrieve the magical stones found within the mines of Mammoth Peak, despite Willow and Eve vouching for him, the forest people will not agree to allow him to pass.  After a daring rescue, Leo is set free and with Eve's help he begins on his task once again.  Eventually, Leo and Eve make it into the mines and do encounter the Shrieking Serpent, with a little trust and help from his friends, Leo is able to retrieve his magical stones and make his way back home. 

Both of these stories are super quick reads and would make for a nice Halloween read along.  The Frightmare and Shrieking Serpent are formidable foes and challenged Leo in new ways.  This also felt like a switch up from the repetitive theme of the first two books which had Leo going out on a mission to save his village and I'm happy that he had new obstacles to overcome.  Like Jacob following him and Leo needing to be saved from being tied up by the forest people.  Before I would've said that Leo used trial and error to get out of trouble, but this time around I believe the stories highlighted his training with the slingshot and his knowledge for using the right magical stone against the correct monster.  Overall, this is a fun series of books for elementary age kid, 7+ who likes stories involving fighting monsters.   I really enjoyed the black and white illustrations by Pete Williamson and how they showed the menacing side of these two new monsters.  Included at the back of each book are details about each of the monster's strength, size, intelligence etc. which I could see appealing to a Pokémon trading card enthusiast.           

**A huge thank you to Lynn Kelley from Kane Miller Publishing for the E-books of the first four books in the series. **    

Friday, October 28, 2022

BLOG TOUR for Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required) by David Aguilar & Ferran Aguilar, translated by Lawrence Schimel

Piece by Piece:  How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required) by David Aguilar & Ferran Aguilar, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Amazon Crossing Kids
Number of pages:  304
Published:  October 25th, 2022
Source:  E-ARC via Blue Slip Media  

Opening Line:  "I've often been asked what it feels like when you're missing half an arm."

David and Ferran Aguilar are from Andorra, a microstate on the Iberian Peninsula, in the eastern Pyrenees, bordered by France to the north and Spain to the South.  David was born with Poland syndrome, a rare disease that left him without a forearm.  Piece by Piece is a memoir that details David's life from the moment he is born, to around the age of eighteen or nineteen.  The story is written in conjunction with David's father and includes both their fears, anxieties and hopes for his future as well as reflections on the authors own experiences, and feelings growing up.

The story is told with a lot of humor and is a very engrossing read.  There is a wonderful balance between explaining David's struggles growing up, the ignorance of adults, stares, and insults at school, with the publicity he received from having designed a prosthesis from LEGO bricks at the age of nine.  Sharing both the highs and lows in his life.   I found the chronology of events to be occasionally hard to follow, as David would start to tell a story, only to say he was getting ahead of himself, and then jump back to a different event, making it hard to interpret his age for when certain things happened.  But overall, it's an amazing story, an inspiring story of resilience and perseverance.  

David's family was so loving and supportive, especially his grandmother who refused to think of David's loss of a limb as a tragedy.  Both David and his father have a wonderful relationship, they constantly redefined and adjusted to changes in David's life and the things he needed to accomplish on a daily basis.  His father even learned to adapt both his initial thoughts of the things that David wouldn't be able to do, into modifying a bicycle to allow him to live "without limits." His father's adaptive devices were remarkably inventive.  Included within the book are color photographs of David with his family, images of the numerous awards and recognitions that he received for his LEGO prothesis constructions.  His trip to NASA, feature in National Geographic and the movie Mr. Hand Solo that also details his life were nicely depicted.   David is a remarkable individual and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his story, it's a compelling story with the message of not being limited by other people's thinking, to strive toward accomplishing your dreams and overcoming any obstacles in your way.  **A huge thank you to Barbara Finch at Blue Slip Media for the E-ARC.**               

David Aguilar and his father, Ferran Aguilar, are from Andorra, in Europe. David was born missing part of one arm. At the age of nine, he designed his first prosthesis with LEGO bricks, and in high school he built the next generation, which he named the MK-1. David’s father encouraged him to make a video about his prosthesis and the huge role that LEGOs played in his life, and posted it on social media, where it went viral and changed both of their lives. In addition to telling his story in this book, David is also the protagonist of the Spanish documentary Mr. Hand Solo, which won the award for best documentary at the Boston Science Fiction Film festival. David is currently developing his own brand, Hand Solo, which will aim to benefit various organizations for the disabled and fight against the stigma of “diff-ability,” as he calls it. Follow David and Ferran on Twitter @Handsolooficial and @AguilarFerran.

Instagram: @handsoloofficial

Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual author who writes in both Spanish and English, with more than one hundred books to his credit. He is also a prolific literary translator, into English and into Spanish. His translated books include Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats; George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy; and Some Days, written and illustrated by María Wernicke; among many others. He lives in Madrid, Spain. Follow him on Twitter @lawrenceschimel.

David in his own words describing How he built his Prosthetic Arm with Lego Bricks 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review of Undercover Latina by Aya de León

Undercover Latina by Aya de León 
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  208
Published:  October 11th, 2022
Source:   Edelweiss+

Opening Line:  "A grown man is no match for a teenage girl on a skateboard."

Undercover Latina is the debut middle-grade novel from Aya de León, an established author of adult heist and espionage novels.  The story centers on fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín who only recently learned that her family works for the Factory, an international organization of spies dedicated to protecting people of color.   Andréa has been selected to go on her first solo mission to infiltrate a local high school and befriend the estranged son of a dangerous white supremacist.  She's hoping she will be able to gather information on Kyle's father's whereabouts and stop him from launching a national terrorist attack.    The only thing is Andréa will not be entering the school as herself, instead she will be undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, as both Andréa and her mother are light-skinned and can pass as being white.  To get closer to Kyle, Andréa learns to play Tríangulo, a card game based on anticolonialism (similar to Magic the Gathering in play style) and meets Kyle's best friend, Ramón who she unexpectedly develops a crush on.  Giving up every part of her Latino heritage and identity proves to be more challenging than Andréa expected, especially when faced with hearing xenophobic comments and not being able to respond to them because she might blow her cover.  Can she hold on in order to stop the attack or will her hidden identity be revealed to all?  

Undercover Latina explores the topics of racism, privilege, culture, and passing as white, by adapting the xenophobic comments the authors own mother received into Andrea's story to illustrate how she too was overlooked as being Latina because of her lighter skin color.  I appreciated the way the story also combats these harmful ideals. Overall, this was a very interesting read and super action packed.  From the very first pages where Andréa grabs a suitcase and jumps onto her skateboard while navigating her escape route, the reader's attention is instantly captured.  It's evident that Aya de León put a lot of effort into developing her story with the middle grade reader in mind.   She even developed the game of Tríangulo, with all its specific rules for how to play, what each character card does and strategies for winning.  Some of which I was entirely lost on, but I don't play Magic the Gathering either, however I'm sure kids would thoroughly enjoy reading about.  Readers will also enjoy reading about Comic Con and the cosplaying competition while following along with its fast-paced action sequences.  Undercover Latina will appeal to readers of action and spy stories, as well as for fans of card games.  **Thank you to Laura Rivas at Candlewick Press for drawing attention to this title to me and Edelweiss+ for the E-ARC** 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday Halloween Freebie

 Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.  Each week there is a new prompt, and everyone is encouraged to share their list. 

This week's prompt is a Halloween Freebie, with the temperatures here getting cooler and the leaves changing colors it's a perfect time to reflect on the books that remind me of Halloween and reading something delightfully creepy.  

With an opening line of "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." I was riveted by the illustrations and the story.  

Eight stories that follow Hansel and Gretel across Grimm's fairy tales.  Not for the squeamish but also very entertaining.  

A double murder, a family that comes from a long line of psychic's and a creepy/sinister killer.  

Lindsay Currie always does creepy, spooky books so well.  I could've included The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, Scritch Scratch and What Lives in the Woods.   All have wonderful settings and a story that sends little chills up your spine.  

 A very atmospheric kind of spooky, with the dark woods, mysterious enveloping fog, the cemetery and of course the dark stormy night. Not to mention the scary dogs and ghosts that appear to Zee. Yep, all the elements for spooky. 

A scary but not too scary story that hit all the right notes for me.  

I love everything that Jacqueline West writes and I'm especially fond of The Books of Elsewhere series.  The Strangers is the fourth book in the series and takes place during Halloween.  

She has such a beautiful poetic way in which she writes. "Above them, the purple sky was deepening to black. The moon, like a sliver of sharpened bone slit the trails of passing clouds..." and my favorite line "Twists of black crepe paper threaded the warm air, where the smells of popcorn and caramel mingled in a sugary fog..." Can't you just smell the popcorn in the air? If that wasn't enough, the illustrations by Poly Bernatene are gorgeous and capture the mood of the season with one of my favorites being Olive and her friends dressed up in costumes for a Halloween carnival. 

Anyone who knows my taste in books, knows I love the Lockwood and Company series.  These are the books that I savored, reading them slowly and only when the next book came out in the series.  I'd read these over days, enjoying every single word.  They're just the perfect book if you love creepy stories for Halloween.  


Ghosts, zombies, sorcery, necromancy and a girl who lives in a shadow world, destined to wield dark magic.  

This is a wonderful creepy book and I love love Fernie. With her red hair pulled up wearing green Werewolf pajamas and Frankenstein monster slippers, she is just so adorable. I even love Gustav who is sad, wears a black suit with a black tie and looks like he should be at a funeral. Overall, a wonderful story with beautiful black and white illustrations by Kristen Margiotta.

Feel free to leave me any suggestions on books that I should check out to add to my Halloween reading list.  


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Morning Sun in Wuhan by Ying Chang Compestine

Morning Sun in Wuhan by Ying Chang Compestine
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Clarion Books
Number of pages:  208
Publishing:  November 8th, 2022
Source:   Spark Press via 

Opening Line:  "It feels as though hours have passed since the waitress took my order."  

Mei lives with her father, the director of the respiratory care center in Wuhan, China.  She has been grieving her mother since she died a year earlier, her nearest companions are a neighbor who checks on her from time to time, playing an online computer game and cooking.  Her father has been pretty busy with his work, which makes Mei's aunt very angry with him.  The story begins just as Covid hits the town of Wuhan and follows Mei as she navigates life in her city after the virus emerges.  It takes place across a year's time span (From January 2020 to February 2021) and then jumps ahead a year to February 2021 with the celebration of the Chinese New Year. 

There are moments in time when events happen that are so clear, vivid recollections of where you were and what was happening around you.  Often, we hope for the happy memories, but too often it's the sadder moments that come to mind.  I think most people will forever recall the early onset of Covid and what the country was living through at the time.   Morning Sun in Wuhan is the authors way of reflecting on events that occurred at the onset of the pandemic in Wuhan, taken from conversations with friends, family and photos and videos made in the city, which were then pieced together to the tell the story of a young girl who provides comfort for her neighbors by preparing meals in a volunteer cooking shelter (which was an actual news story that the author also drew inspiration from).  It's a story of community and a testament to all the front-line workers who worked tirelessly to help feed, heal and provide aid during moments of distress.  Included within the chapters are recipes for the meals that Mei prepares and an author's note explaining her reasons for writing the book.  Overall, this is a very interesting story that accurately depicts the events as they unfolded at the epicenter for Covid and brings the perspective of the individuals present when the virus broke.  Hopefully the story will help combat some of the negative perceptions that were being made about Wuhan at the time and will also help develop empathy for what the city and its people had to endure.  Written by an author originally from Wuhan this is an especially valuable first-hand account.      **A huge thank you to Spark Press for the E-ARC via NetGalley**

Monday, October 10, 2022

New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan

New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  288
Publishing:  October 25th, 2022
Source:  Edelweiss +  

Opening Line:  "Robyn Kellen stepped out of the car and stared at her new home."

Robyn is the perpetual new kid, having moved every few years for her mom's work as a biology professor.  She really wants to fit in and not stand out in a bad way at her new school in San Luis Opisbo.  She's even developed a list of rules to help her get by, but a dog agility class and desire to train her two dogs throws a wrench in her plan.  On her first day of school, Robyn does meet two girls, Marshan and Lulu who seem welcoming, but who also warn her about purple loving Alejandara, aka "the grape."  Associating with her would make Robyn stand out, and that just won't do.  Then she meets Nestor, who's grandma runs the agility class she hopes to join, but when his grandma informs her that Robyn's dogs aren't suitable for training because Fudge can't hear or see, and Sundae has anxiety if not near Fudge, she's forced to try and make an agreement with Nestor for training.  In exchange for her help with fractions, he agrees to teach her dogs.  The only problem, she's not very good at math either.   Can she throw out all her rules and agree to Alejandara joining their group to make the ability training work?

New Kids and Underdogs is from the same author who wrote We Could Be Heroes, another beautiful story featuring a young boy with Autism who gets pulled into helping a girl save the dog next door.  One thing that I've enjoyed about reading both of these books is the dynamics between the main characters.  How they're developing their relationships and having to resolve conflicts and collaborate, sharing their own strengths.  Robyn and her new friends put in a lot of effort to train Sundae and Fudge.  Things don't always go smoothly, but they seem to come up with alternative plans.  At times I could identify with Robyn's feelings of wanting to fit in.  How she chooses Lulu and Marshan as a means of not standing out despite them being gossipy and their strange obsession with how sad people are.  I get why she's leery of them.  I could also identify with the feeling of jealousy when Alejandra, Jonathen and Nestor start to get closer while training Fudge.  That feeling of being left out and missing out on the closeness that they shared.  The story makes you think about the way that some kids navigate school looking for their pack.  Their core group of friends that seemingly have your back.  I also really liked how the agility training was adapted into one of ability and the ways in which Robyn changed to be a more supportive and better friend. 

Margaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down, both Junior Library Guild Selections. Her other works have appeared in FamilyFun Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

Just like the kids in New Kids & Underdogs, you can ability train your dog! Check out the fun tips here!

 ** A huge thank you to Blue Slip Media for the E-ARC**

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday with Favorite Bookstores OR Bookstores I’d Love to Visit

 Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.  Each week there is a new prompt, and everyone is encouraged to share their list. 

This week's prompt was inspired by the UK's celebration of National Bookshop Day on October 1st. I'm going to make my best attempt to include one's that I've visited and of course the ultimate one's I'd love to see.  

One's I've actually been to:

1.    Old Firehouse Books this is an independent bookstore located in Fort Collins, Colorado.  It's a favorite place to visit when we're in town.  

2.  The Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado.  I'm talking the original store from the 1980's before they expanded out and sold this location.  It was my first author event and I got to see Clive Barker in person. 

3.  Poor Richards in Colorado Springs.  This one I haven't been to in years, but it was a favorite shop because of the artwork and used books.  

4& 5 Are two Used Bookstores here in town.  The Bookshelf on Main Street, Kalispell and Blacktail Mountain Books 

Bookstores I'd like to visit someday:  

6.  Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon.  

7.  The Strand in New York

8.  The Montague Bookmill in Massachusetts, well cause it's a bookstore housed in an 1842 gristmill and the images look amazing.  

9.  Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, again purely because of the images and a recommendation from a friend who visited it. 

10. Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France.  It's France!!  

Lastly, I'm going to throw in one library that I had the pleasure of visiting

The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt was thought to be one of the largest and most significant libraries.  

Have you been to any of these bookstores?  I'd love to see your list too, feel free to drop a link in the comments.  

Monday, October 3, 2022

A Duo Review for MMGM with Leo's Map of Monsters The Armored Goretusk & The Spit Fang Lizard by Kris Humphrey, illustrations by Pete Williamson

Leo's Map of Monsters: The Armoured Goretusk  

Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing 
Number of pages:  160
Publishing:  Originally published 8/6/20 by Oxford Press, and now being released in US via Kane Miller
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review  

Opening Line: "Everyone knows you don't go out into the forest."

Leo and his village are kept safe by its high walls, gates, watch towers and the knowledge that you avoid all the creatures in the forest by never venturing beyond the walls.  On Leo's nineth birthday he is set to receive his letter and assignment for the next two years, but his is different than all the rest it simply says, "top secret."  He'd hoped to join Jacob working in the Records Office, but when the Village Chief comes to his home to take him out for his assignment, Leo knows something is amiss.  She leads him through a door and out of the village, very much outside and near the forest.  Here he meets Henrik and is informed his new secret duty is to become a Guardian, a protector against the forest, river, marsh, and rock monsters that make a home near the village.  Armed with only a map, slingshot and a pouch of magical stones, Leo must keep the tradition of keeping his village safe from the monsters, while also hiding their existence from his friends and family.  

Leo's Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard  
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing 
Number of pages:  145
Publishing:  Originally published in 2021 by Oxford Press, and now being released in US via Kane Miller
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:   "A cold wind raced through the forest, shaking the trees and pelting me with dead Autumn leaves."

Leo has been practicing his slingshot skills and trying to learn everything he can about being a Guardian.  He can even tell the difference between magical stones and is improving at reading the map.  So what if his aim is still slightly off?  He's been able to protect the village pretty good so far.  Then word comes from the Village Chief and Leo is sent out on his second mission, this time to find the two Spitfang Lizards that have strayed away from their pack.  As Leo travels toward the river, he spots two forest people, Eve and Willow and is warned by Leatherwing that they are dangerous and not to be trusted.  Is Leo prepared to deal with his latest monster?  

I decided to combine The Armored Goretusk and Spit Fang Lizard into a duo review.  These are super quick reads, and the illustrations of the monsters are especially done well.  The chapter books are very similar in length and have a repetitive theme of Leo going out on a mission to save his village from the encroaching monsters, who are not always what they initially seem.   Leo is a fun protagonist who uses a lot of trial and error to accomplish his tasks and isn't as fazed by how terrifying the monsters are, or as scared as I thought he would be.  I'd say this series fits well for an elementary kid, 7+ who enjoys stories about fighting monsters.  I'd say the first two books are more adventurous than Leo facing gripping dangers, although the monsters do seem formidable.  I'm curious about the addition of the two new forest people and what direction the stories will head in the future.  Overall, this is a fun new to me series that would make for an exciting read-aloud.  Included at the back of the stories are a detail of each monster's strength, size, intelligence, etc. which has a sort of feel of a Pokémon trading card.  **A huge thank you to Lynn Kelley from Kane Miller Publishing for the E-books of the first four books in the series.  I have plans to review the next two books in the near future. **