Monday, October 2, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Coyote Queen by Jessica Vitalis

Coyote Queen by Jessica Vitalis
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books
Format:  E-ARC 
Number of pages: 272 pages
Publishing:   October 10th, 2023
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley

Opening Lines:  "Before the coyote stuff happened, I would have told you that magic didn't exist."

Twelve-year-old Fud (Felicity Ulysses Dahlers) lives with her mom and her alcoholic ex-boxer boyfriend Larry in a small trailer in Wyoming.  Prior to meeting Larry, they were homeless, as Fud's dad left shortly after finding out her mom was pregnant.  Fud's clothes come from yard sales or a thrift store and every t-shirt she owns has mostly faded.  She gets teased at school because of what she wears.  Larry has lots of anger issues, which for now means mostly holes in the wall, but he can be verbally demeaning, volatile and tries to control Fud and her mom's every move.  Which is made even more difficult because to get around they rely on his beat-up truck, which is always having problems.  Larry has grand plans of getting back into the ring once his back problems stop acting up.  Fud tries to stay out of his way as much as possible, but what she really wishes is for him to treat her mom better.

Then a new girl, Leigh moves into the empty trailer next door.  This girl reminds Fud too much of Ava, who bullies her at school, and initially she is very hesitant when she approaches her about being friends.  Leigh has all the things that Fud wants, a stable home, she even has nice clothes to wear and a full pantry of food to eat.  But Leigh is so friendly and talkative, and Fud starts to overcome some of her initial hesitation in getting to know her better.  Soon Leigh is convincing Fud to enter the Miss Tween Black Gold beauty pageant.  The grand prize is two thousand dollars and would surely be enough for Fud and her mom to escape from Larry's control.  When the pageant starts to come with some unforeseen costs, tensions increase in the trailer, and Larry begins to start physically taking it out on her mom.  When Fud learns that her mom is also pregnant and that Larry wants them to move into a houseboat as soon as he's fixed it up, Fud triples her effort into winning the pageant at all costs, even hiding the fact from Leigh that she might be moving away.  Soon things spiral out of control when Larry accelerates his plans for moving on to the boat on the eve of the pageant, leading Fud to courageously ask for help from Leigh's mom.  Part of the story that I haven't touched on too much is how Fud morphed into a coyote, which occurred when her mom and Larry were arguing.  The moments that Fud experiences these coyote thoughts and actions sort of take on a dream or imaginative quality, fantastical for sure.  Yet, I'm not sure whether they just provided her a means of escape to howl at the world or whether there was an actual transformation.  Either way, I think it does speak to how frustrating the situation was for her and provided a much-needed means of escape.  

Fud and her mom are in a bad situation.  Fud knows it's bad, but her mom makes lots of excuses for Larry's behavior and ultimately chooses to leave with him.  Partially to protect Fud but also to avoid financial instability.  I'd say Fud is very defensive, leery of Leigh but also really wanting her friendship.  Given how the rest of the kids at school treated her, it's understandable that would be her first reaction.  She doesn't want to be too optimistic and be hurt.  Even though Leigh and Fud argued a few times, I'm happy that each time they were able to resolve things too.  Fud really needs her in her life.  Coyote Queen really sheds light on poverty, domestic abusive relationships and gives children hope that by sharing their story with a trusted adult than things can get better.  I was personally touched by the authors note which describes how the story was inspired by her own childhood.  It makes this story so powerful to have this first-person account and to show children that although they may be facing struggles now, that there is hope in relying on a trusted adult.  I also especially appreciated all the resources that were provided for getting help.  Other books that I've read and enjoyed from the author include The Wolf's Curse and The Rabbit's Gift.  

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Princess Betony and the Unicorn by Pamela Freeman illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

Princess Betony and the Unicorn by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing
Format:  Print Paperback
Number of pages:  107 pages
Published:   January 1st, 2023.  First published 10/1/12 in Australia
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Princess Betony curled up tight underneath the desk in the Royal Library of Floramonde and held the book she had been reading close, her finger crammed between the pages to keep her place."

Princess Betony's mother, Queen Salixia is a willow tree dryad, but left her home to live in the Castle and to raise a family.  Everyone within the castle has hoped that Betony would turn out to be a plain old simple human, and to certainly not follow in her mother's footsteps or to have any magical powers.  When an argument occurs between the Queen and the Lord Chancellor, the Queen threatens to return to the forest which distresses Betony.  The people of the kingdom have been forbidden from entering The Dark Forest of Nevermore because it is said that it houses Wild Magic, but after the princess sees her mother running toward it, she decides to follow and try to find her mother.  Once Betony steps into the forest she is tasked with a quest to prove she has Wild Magic or perish in the forest.  A test that is further complicated by her needing to catch a unicorn.  

Princess Betony and the Unicorn is a standalone and at a little over one hundred pages it is also a very quick read.  The artwork and cover remind me a little of The Secret Garden.  I really love all the illustrations with trees, flowers, leaves and vines going across the page.  It has a very fairytale like quality to it.  Princess Betony is a fun main character, she's smart, feisty, brave and adventurous.  I also enjoyed that she was into gardening, as it's the only time that she can take off her dresses and change into overalls and gum boots (rubber boots) to truly run free outside.  There currently are four books in the series, which include Betony finding a Thunder Egg, discovering the Rule of Wishing and dealing with an unhappy hobgoblin.  I can see this appealing to children who enjoy stories with magic, unicorns, princesses and adventure.

**A huge thank you to Kane Miller Publishing for the paperback book in exchange for an honest review.   My copy will be donated to a local little free library **                   

Monday, September 25, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday with a review of The Worry Knot by Mary Bleckwehl


The Worry Knot by Mary Bleckwehl
Publisher:  Immortal Works Press
Format:  E-book
Number of pages:  256
Published:   January 18th, 2022
Source:  Review request from the author

Opening Line: "On the day of the simple question, Dad was in the basement with a blanket wrapped tight around Carson in an attempt to calm him after mom accidentally mentioned the S word:  storm."

Tomorrow is Rourke's first day at Hazard Middle School and he's doing what Rourke does best, staying up late worrying.   Rourke tries to use his usual calming techniques, but nothing seems to be working, until Sam reappears.  Sam has always been Rourke's voice of calm reasoning, but he is only an imaginary friend.  For a number of years, Rourke got along fine without him, but Sam's sudden reappearance during moments when he's stressed out has him a little unnerved.   With Carson now attending his school, there are plenty of things for Rourke to be stressed about.  Rourke's worries consume his thoughts and tie him up into knots.  He worries that Carson might have a difficult time fitting in and that people might try and bully him.  Ever since Carson was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Rourke has worried about him.  He really loves his older brother, but this constant worrying has really taken a toll on him.  Carson has difficulty connecting with anyone except his younger brother, he doesn't follow social cues well, and he hates any physical contact, if he gets overstimulated by his environment, he will occasionally flap his arms.  Carson also has the potential to have a seizure if there are strobe lights or loud confusing sounds.    Rourke has always been concerned about Carson because he knows that his parents want him to protect his brother.  But how can he defend his brother when he is also concerned about making friends of his own?  

Rourke and Carson live with their twin younger sisters, their parents and two dogs. Their parents aren't overly concerned about Carson fitting in because they figure if Carson doesn't seem to mind what other people say, everything is fine.  Rourke is best friends with Phinney, who always has his back.  The beginning of school for Rourke is further complicated by his strange next-door neighbors, and Bart who has made rude comments about his brother in the past but has now landed himself in with the popular crowd.  And now that they're on the same football team, Rourke finds that he has to try and get along with Bart if he wants to succeed in middle school.  And then there's the new girl in his class that has caught his attention, Grace.  Rourke can't help noticing that she has bruises on her arm, and suddenly he begins to worry about her home life too.  

Overall, I really enjoyed The Worry Knot and felt that many kids could relate to the struggles of middle school that were being expressed in the story.  Oh Rourke, you so captured my heart.  Well Carson too, he's such a sweet boy who is obsessed with collecting stickers and wearing his Superman shirts, oh how much he loves his younger brother.  Their sibling bond is really the highlight of the book.  At the same time, you can't help but to relate to Rourke being so consumed by worries.  You just have to love how much he cares for his older brother and how he feels so responsible for ensuring that he is happy.  Rourke almost seems to take on all the worries in the world on his shoulders.  The whole story just drew me in with the way that the author developed each of her characters, they felt so real, and I was really vested in seeing how things progressed.  I loved how the author included a different character quote at the beginning of each chapter, it really put you into the mind of the different people in the story.   I found that I became so immersed in these two brothers and felt like the story truly highlights the difficulties that children can experience in middle school.  It's a story that builds empathy and highlights both the joy and challenges of autism.  I also really enjoyed the friendship that began to develop between Rourke and Grace, and how much energy he put into making sure she was safe.  The story also shows how a little kindness can go a long way and how family support is an important piece of growing up.  Included at the end of the book is an author's note highlighting the inspiration for the story and a series of discussion questions.   It's a story that I would highly recommend. 

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Monday, September 18, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of White House Clubhouse by Sean O'Brien

White House Clubhouse by Sean O'Brien
Publisher:  Norton Young Readers
Format:  Paperback ARC
Number of pages: 288 pages
Publishing:   October 3rd, 2023
Source:  MB Communications

Opening Lines: "Marissa felt a tap on her elbow.  She tried to ignore it."  

Sean O'Brien is the former speechwriter for the White House, the Secretary of Defense and the Navy.  He's also performed improv and held roles as Chief of Staff for two Members of Congress.  White House Clubhouse is his debut middle grade book that centers on two fictional first daughters who travel back in time to meet Roosevelt's children.  Together they learn of the president's plans for the construction of a series of dams which could lead to devasting environmental changes, so they try and intercede.

Marissa and Clara's mom has just been elected as president of the United States and so lots of changes have happened since the election.  For one, they've moved from the comfort of their home in California to the White House, where there are rules and regulations about keeping them safe.  Like the new addition of secret service agents who take them to and from school every day.  Clara can't even climb trees outside anymore.  Their life has been overrun by events of state and because of living in the White House they have to be extra careful, cause everything around them is an antique.  It's during one of these events that the girls have a mishap and find themselves entering a secret passage that leads them to a room filled with toys, books and clothing.  In the room is a weathered piece of parchment with the words White House Clubhouse and an invitation for them to sign on as a White House Kid who will promise to help the president and make a difference.  Upon signing the document, the girls are whisked back in time to 1903 where they are met by Teddy Roosevelt's children.  Soon they're getting involved with family business at the White House and learning about the president's upcoming train trip to California.  They are then swept up into plans to save the California redwoods from being chopped down by a greedy land developer.  Can the girls complete their mission to make it back to their own time?

I enjoyed that there was a secret clubhouse that connected two different time periods.  It was an interesting way to present information about the White House and events that have occurred.  Centering it on the children was also fun because you got to see how the two time periods differed in their eyes.  I also learned a lot about Roosevelt and his train trip across the U.S.  I've always known him to be an outdoorsman but hadn't realized that it was this trip that inspired a lot of his ideas about conservation and the protection of lands.  The train ride itself was filled with lots of action, and lots of dangerous moments as one can imagine.  Trying to convince Teddy Roosevelt to get involved with saving the redwoods, while holding off the land developers and Roosevelt's corrupt aide made for some entertainment as well.  Most of all I enjoyed reading about the environmental issues of that time.  It's unfortunate that we are still faced with the same kinds of environmental devastation now with the expansion of roads, dams, deforestation, and uncontrolled fires.  This idea of build, build, build has me very sad.  Included in the story are black and white sketch work, although my copies artwork wasn't final, I really liked having the pictures of the president and his children and Marissa and Clara.  The one's on the train also added to the excitement.  At the end of the book there are also the authors research notes, stating which events were factual and a list of resources to encourage further reading.  Overall, this was a fun story, and I enjoyed the link between the past White House kids and the present, really worth a read.    

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Friday, September 15, 2023

Robots of Mars - The Robot Factory: Part 1 by Don Fox

Robots of Mars-The Robot Factory by Don Fox
  Apple Books
Format:  E-book
Number of pages:  185
Published:   August 5th, 2023
Source:  Kindle and Apple Books

Opening Line:  "A billion years after the destruction of Mars, Mars had become a red, desert planet, inhabited only by robots."

Sparky was created by the Mad Doctor in his laboratory in Robot City.  Soon after he is sent on a mission with Blasto, and Melody to robot factory to test out his newfound abilities.  It's here that Sparky and his new friends encounter the Supervisior's henchmen, Lurker and Gor and get surrounded by various bots that guard the factory.  Will they be able to escape capture?  

I was first contacted by Author Marketing Experts about reviewing this new middle grade science fiction series coming to Apple Books.  I've got to admit I was a little hesitant as I haven't really used this format before, but it was pretty simple to download.  The author was also so generous, providing both the Kindle and enhanced Apple Books version of Robots of Mars. What first intrigued me about the series was the authors background in designing 3D films for theme park rides and theaters.  Robots of Mars apparently took five years and entailed over 1,000 illustrations and his hard work really shows.  The graphic illustrations in this book are gorgeous, filled with all these vibrant colors and very detailed.  The enhanced Apple Books version has a read aloud feature narrated by Edoardo Baller which I especially enjoyed as the Kindle version's writing was difficult for me to read on my iPad.  I loved all the various character voices that the narrator used, and it really added to the enjoyment of the story.  I honestly can't say enough about the graphics.  They truly make the story come to life.  I can see why there is a film currently in development, this would make for an exciting children's television series.  I'd highly recommend the enhanced version to children who like exciting stories with the feel of Wizard of Oz meets Frankenstein with Robots.  

**A huge thank you to Author Marketing Experts and Don Fox for the opportunity to read/review Robots of Mars and the Ebook in exchange for an honest review**

Monday, September 11, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Fall of the House of Tatterly by Shanna Miles

The Fall of the House of Tatterly by
Shanna Miles 
  Union Square Kids
Format:  E-book
Number of pages:  280
Publishing:   October 10th, 2023
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line:  "Theo was alone again."

Twelve-year-old Theo Tatterly is a medium, able to communicate with the dead and perform exorcisms.  He lives with his dead Great-Aunt Trudy Anne and his Aunt Torie, who is "very much alive."  Theo and his extended family of cousins, aunts and his great-grandmother have lived in their 100-year-old family mansion in Charleston for many years, although the original deed to Tatterly House has gone missing.  Theo's family possess many different skills, some relatives can read aura's, make premonitions, perform telekinesis, are psychic or see visions.  Having the ability to see ghosts sets Theo apart from the other kids at Robert Smalls School for Excellence, but he doesn't seem to mind being a loner at school so much.  His primary friend is his cousin Issa, who can be possessed by ghosts.  Theo acts as her shadow and protector because she can't see the ghosts and he can, so Theo's job is to makes sure that their possession doesn't do Issa any harm.  Then one day, while at the Aquarium, Theo has a run in with a malevolent spirit, Kiyoberu (the crying woman) whose grief over some great injustice Theo finds must be rectified so that she can pass on.  But Kiyoberu might be under the control of another, and soon Theo finds he could be up against a demon or demigod.  As the last male of the Tatterly line, it's up to Theo to save their family home and community.  

The threads of The Fall of the House of Tatterly aren't all tied together at first and the story starts off with different plots and an unclear direction.  Is this about the hag that Theo encounters, the missing deed, or Patrick, a boy who is also missing?  Is Theo going to bring down the Tatterly House?  Or will he save everyone from the spirit that is stealing the souls of children?   After about the halfway point, things begin to be pieced together and the conclusion draws everything back together.  The magic system of Hoodoo is interesting to read about, Theo learns how to make a gris-gris bag and is given a pet snake for protection.  Being pestered by ghosts, who end up being your relatives is amusing and I quite enjoyed Theo's relationship with his Great Aunt Trudy Anne, there's a lot of mutual respect and encouragement from her.  I really enjoyed the multigenerational family and setting.  I also found the story to be educational, covering the Massacre Riot of 1919 (or The Red Summer) and delving into slavery, the DNA of black people and how their names were changed or stolen.  There's mention of the Paddy Rollers, who in the story eat the souls of ghosts and is a demon created from the cursed slave catchers.  I see that the release date has been changed from August to October, perhaps the publisher and author are making some edits to refine the story.  Overall, this is a story stepped in history, culture, folklore and one boy who is fighting for his ancestorial home.    

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Unsupervised: A Crabgrass Comics Adventure Tauhid Bondia

Unsupervised: A Crabgrass: Comic Adventures by Tauhid Bondia 
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Andrews McMeel Publishing
Number of pages:  192
Publishing:  September 19th, 2023
Source:  Edelweiss +

Unsupervised is the second book in the Crabgrass Comic Adventures series, a comic strip that is set in the fictional town of Crabgrass Drive.  In the first book Miles and his family had just moved into Kevin's neighborhood and the two boys quickly became close friends.  The stories exemplify all the fun and excitement of growing up, the antics of having too much time on your hands during summer vacation and the ability to explore unfettered and cause mischief.  The first book was filled with moments like the blow-up swimming pools, Saturday morning cartoons, ice-cream trucks and even the iconic atomic ball challenge.  Reading it was like taking a trip down memory lane with your best friend and recalling all the fond times you shared.  Needless to say, I was super excited to see the newest book was available on Edelweiss+ and jumped at the chance to read it.

Unsupervised introduces a girl into the mix, Carla, who is supposed to just be Mile's project partner.  Kevin becomes slightly jealous, until he realizes that he can come between their relationship by revealing all of Miles most embarrassing moments.  The story covers everything from first crushes, arguments, to even drinking your first cup of coffee.  There are squabbles between sibling's and even a few daring bike stunts.  The boys try to sneak their way into seeing Chainsaw Cabin #3 and even have a visit to the principal's office after Miles gives Kevin a tattoo.  There's one heavier moment, when Kevin's dad flakes on taking him to Pro Wrestling Frenzy, but turns happier when Miles dad offers to fill in.    Lots of questionable decisions and mischief without mayhem, but plenty of heart and humor.  Laugh out loud moments like Kevin referring to Miles wearing pajamas as "fancy pants."  And even Mile's mom telling him to apologize and to "be sincere like we practiced."  My favorite panels were the ones that have the punchline, so to speak at the end.  For example, the one with Kevin's mom first sensing smoke, then using the fire extinguisher, then pushing the boys out the front door, with the boys then sitting on the stoop and Kevin saying, "if canned corn doesn't pop, it should really say so on the label."  Just laugh out loud fun and events that you can easily relate to.    I love the imagination of these two boys and the expressions and dialogue are so spot on.  The art style is reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes and is so engaging.  The characters are relatable to both, and adults and children and the story begs to be re-read over and over.  There aren't nearly enough books that include boy friendships, and this is a fabulous addition.  Defiantly entertaining and I highly recommend it for fans of Big Nate and Calvin and Hobbes.                

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

YA review of Goddess Crown by Shade Lapite

Goddess Crown by Shade Lapite
Publisher:  Walker Books US
Format:  ARC Paperback
Number of pages: 288 pages
Publishing:   September 12th, 2023
Source:  Publisher

Opening Lines: "The sun wouldn't set for another few hours, but evening came quickly in the forest, and Aunty had made Kolothia promise to be back at a decent time so they could enjoy her age-day meal." 

The kingdom of Galla consists of four territories that share a balance of power but are ruled by King Osura.   When Kalothia was very young, the King executed his pregnant wife, after he suspected she was unfaithful to him. Kalothia's parents tried to speak up for the Queen, professing her innocence, but the king refused to listen, declaring them his enemies and even threatened to have them killed.  Hoping to save themselves, they fled the city and Kalothia was placed in the care of Nahir's father, Lord Godmayne of the Northern territory, who sent her away from Galla to live in a secluded forest with two primary caretakers, Aunty and Teacher.  She was also given a bodyguard, Clarit to ensure her safety.  Kalothia has spent her entire life quietly within the forest, until the day that assassins show up at her home, killing the people most important to her.  Devastated by their loss, Kalothia flees the only home she has ever known and ventures toward the capital of Galla to seek answers to who is trying to kill her and where her parents are.  Answers within the capital prove to be more difficult than she expected when she learns that the king has died, and she gets wrapped up in the turmoil of picking a new successor to the throne.  

Goddess Crown is the kind of story that grabs your attention and won't let it go until you reach that final page.  There is so much action that your riveted to see what happens next, so your flipping pages and waiting on pins and needles to see how Kalothia can escape capture and even navigate her way through the palace to avoid danger.  Such a wonderful escapism read, and I was certainly in the mood for the palace intrigue.  At 288 pages, Lapite really pacts in the action, and even leaves some room for a little romance, yep looking at you Nahir.  Overall, I quite enjoyed the world building of the story, but I kept wanting to know more about this fantasy inspired country.   Also wanting to know more about Padma, Galla's enemies whose territory borders them, and more about King Osura.  There are also quite a few lords and occasionally I had difficulty keeping them straight.  Going in I was expecting something along the lines of Children of Blood and Bone, part fantasy and mythology.  And this isn't quite that, although there is a Goddess who comes to help Kalothia from time to time.   But oh, how I did love Kalothia.  Her determination, strength, willingness to break through any barrier placed in front of her.  Also, her desire to help her country to begin to recognize women for their potential and all the skills that they bring.  To finally allow them to have a voice.  Such a wonderful story that has me eagerly awaiting a sequel. 

** A huge thank you to Walker Books US for the paperback ARC in exchange for an honest review.**

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Unsuper Adventures of Norma by Mark Svartz

The Unsuper Adventures of Norma by Mark Svartz
Publisher:  Carpathian Press
Format:  Ebook via Netgalley
Number of pages:  188
Publishing:   August 29th, 2023
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Norma lives in Superton, a town where everyone has superpowers.  Everyone, well except for Norma.  For some unknown reason she's the only one who was born "normal."  Norma has never come in first in any contest, she can't fly or win at a spelling bee.  Plus living in a town full of people with superpowers makes it really difficult to stand out.  So, Norma spends a lot of time in her bedroom with her goldfish Sushi, inventing awesome things like Smellivision Scented Glasses and The Universole Shoe.  But then on one Tuesday afternoon, everything changed.  Cam found this weird flashing red button and after he pushed it this huge swirly whirlpool appeared, and it vacuumed up all of people of Superton's superpowers.  Claire Voyant could no longer see the future, and even Pogo wasn't able to jump very high.  And then the worst thing happened, an evil alien from outer space appeared named Lord Fartron and told everyone he was going to detonate a massive stinkbomb called the Megapoot and destroy the entire universe.  Well, let's just say that the news was devastating to the people of Superton.  But you see, Norma was the only one who was kind of excited about the whole situation.  Because well, everyone was normal just like her for once.  So, while the town went through the seven stages of grief, Norma took the opportunity to finally get to know the other kids at school and they got to know her.  Norma even got an invitation to join the Order of the Secret Bones and she got involved in their plan to bring down Lord Fartron and return everyone's superpowers.  In the end Norma was instrumental in saving the town, illustrating that you don't have to have superpowers to make a difference.  

The Unsuper Adventures of Norma engages the reader in its silliness, full color illustrations and creative characters superpowers.   There's Cam the Chameleon, Claire Voyant, Flrrrrp who can mimic any sound, and Pete and RePete who can create an infinite number of versions of themselves.   Believe it or not there's even a giant talking butt who humorously flaps his cheeks when he talks and strangely enough has a fartbomb that can destroy the universe.  Yep, slightly silly but doesn't contain the butt humor or jokes that say you'd find in something like The Adventures of Captain Underpants.  Despite not being the target audience for this book, I did find that I enjoyed it.  I liked the lists that the kids created and the way that they split up into teams.  One group finding out more about Lord Fartron and the bootyburp colony he was supposed to be from, another researching the giant whirlpool, trying to find links to other places that have had their superpowers stolen and finally researching the Megapoot bomb.  I also really liked Norma who despite not having any superpowers, proved to be the most beneficial in coming up with a plan to save the town.  I loved her creative inventions and ideas.  How she finally could relate to everyone on a human level, and how she even found common likes and dislikes with her classmates.  If you want to take a peek inside, the author has a few sample pages on his website HERE  .  There's also a wonderful author interview at Smack Dab in the Middle.

Monday, August 7, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass 
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:  224 pages
Publishing:  August 29th, 2023
Source:  Edelweiss+

Opening Lines:  "Mortimer waited on the cool stone basement floor in front of mouse door number four, his fluffy orange body covering as much territory as it could." 

The Martinville History House is one hundred- and fifty-years-old.  It's also home to Mortimer, a resident tabby cat, and three ghosts, Al, Ms. Scoggin and her patron Mr. Brock.  Mortimer is the guardian of the house's remaining library cart of books, protecting them from the mice who wander in looking for food.  Each night, Mortimer gently guides the mice back outside before any of his precious books can be damaged.  Then one day, to Mortimer's dismay, Al and Ms. Scoggin take his beloved books outside, and places them inside a little free library for the community to enjoy.  Mortimer can't part with the collection, so he chooses to stay outside with the little library and continue to protect the books.  

Eleven-year-old Evan also lives in Martinville and is surprised by the mysterious appearance of the little free library overnight.  Curious, he wanders over, selecting two weathered books from the shelf and takes them home.  Evan excitedly shares the book titles with his father, who quickly excuses himself and vanishes into his office.  Evan finds his dad's reaction mysterious and begins to investigate the books closer.   The first book is titled How to Write a Mystery Novel and the second is worn and covered with tape making it difficult to make out the title.  Inside the books are circulation cards indicating they came from Martinville Library, which is strange because the town doesn't have a library.  Everyone knows it burned down quite a long time ago.  Haunted by the sudden appearance of the books Evan draws in the help of his best friend Rafe to try and determine what happened to the town's library and exactly who these books belonged to.  Along the way he might also find out why his father reacted so strangely to the books he showed him.  

The Lost Library is told in the alternating point of views of Mortimer (the cat), Al (a ghost librarian), and Evan (a boy about to graduate from fifth grade and the first patron at the new little library).  It's a gentle mystery, told in short chapters and with its alternating POV's it will quickly immerse the reader in to trying to solve the mystery of what caused the fire that destroyed the towns library twenty years ago.  Evan is defiantly one determined kid, and I enjoyed his enthusiasm in wanting to solve the mystery with his best friend, Rafe.  I also really appreciated that the authors wanted to write a story about the love of reading, books and something that is so librarian positive.  Illustrating "the power of a good book (and of course the librarian who gave it to you)."  What wonderful messaging.  Mortimer is such a lovely library cat; doesn't he just look so comfortable lounging on the top of the little free library on the cover?  Such a bibliophile too.  Truly a fun read that speaks to my own reader's little heart.      Now I feel the sudden urge to go and donate some more books to my local little free libraries to share.    

I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

YA review of The Truth About Horses: A Novel Christy Cashman

The Truth About Horses by Christy Cashman 
Publisher:  SparkPress
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:  256
Publishing:   August 15th, 2023
Serena Ippolito from Wunderkind PR

Opening Line:  "It'd be a miracle if he raced again, the vet told mom."

Fourteen-year-old Reese has always dreamed of one of her families horses winning the Black Elk race.  This year they had their hopes on Trusted Treasure, but when he his bumped and falls on the last jump, their plans to turn the horse farm around are also lost.  While still reeling over Treasure's loss in the race, a second tragedy hits the family, a massive car accident that kills Reese's mom.  It's been two years since that day, and now the farm that they lease is up for sale.  Reese's dad even has to sell off their horses, including her beloved Trusted Treasure and he takes a job in town.  Heartbroken, Reese has a falling out with her dad and now they essentially live as strangers in the same house.  Reese still keeps tabs on Trusted Treasure's whereabouts and searches all the online horse sales to try and get him back.  Each day Reese takes her bike down to the big green barn, it comforts her to be so close to a place her mom was.  It's also how she finds out that Wes has taken over the barn and started to train his own horses.  At first Reese is very leery of Wes, she doesn't think he has a clue about what he's doing.  The more that she hangs around the barn the more convinced she is that he needs her help.  Wes may have a talent for teaching horses, but Reese knows all the ins and outs about where to get the best feed and how to handle the business.  At first, Wes seems to be ignoring her, brushing off her attempts to try and work for him.  Reese assumes the worst of him, but then is surprised when she finds out that Wes is actually mute, which is by his choice.  Eventually they come to an understanding and Reese starts performing some of the chores, of which she never asked permission from her dad for.  Then the exciting news that Reese has been waiting for comes, Trusted Treasure is up for sale and she just has to get him back. 

Early on in the story Reese see's and hears a heard of horses.  The horses only appear to her and I'm not sure if they're meant to be a symptom of PTSD or not, but Reese takes it as a sign that she's on the right track.  Her dad however becomes a little concerned and she ends up seeing a therapist.  Reese isn't very open with her therapist and basically tells her what she thinks she wants to hear.  But Reese is obviously in a lot of pain.  She's also a very angry girl, who curses a lot throughout the story to basically tick off her dad.   She tries to communicate a few things to him, but he doesn't seem to listen.  Or as she points out, he isn't even looking at her anymore, and senses him not seeing her.  Which is really sad.  Her dad even starts to date around, which further angers her.  At one point he even moves in his latest girlfriend and her two boys, which is like the last straw.  You really get a sense of her emotional abandonment from her dad and how she's still reeling over the loss of her mom.  She has a lot of hardships that hit her all at once.  Reese struggles throughout the book, trying to be a good daughter but also trying to regain the things that she loves, the barn and her horse.  Working for Wes is like the bright spot of her day.  It's the place that she can freely talk, where she can spill out all her thoughts and Wes just listens.  It's really a beautiful, heart wrenching story about loss, love and trying to hold onto the important things to you.  It's also about a family healing and finding their way back together.  I'd recommend this to teens who like reading about the care of horses, riding, jumping hurdles and reading about a girl who is resilient, creative and one heck of  a problem solver.   It's a feel good story and will defiantly make you laugh and cry.          

Monday, July 31, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of A Vanishing of Griffins by S.A. Patrick

A VANISHING OF GRIFFINS (Songs of Magic #2) by S.A. Patrick
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Format: E-ARC
Number of Pages: 400
Published: May 2nd, 2023
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss+ for Book Tour with Rockstar Book Tours

Opening Lines:  "Ten years ago, an evil Piper stole the children of Hamelyn.  They were never seen again.  Then the same Piper stole a hundred dragon children, and they too disappeared forever." 

A Darkening of Dragons is the first book in the Songs of Magic series.  It's a retelling of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  I recall that there were many twists and turns and lots of adventuring with moments of danger.  

A Vanishing of Griffins picks up right after the events in the first book.  S.A. Patrick does a wonderful job of reintroducing the characters and provides a lovely recap.  So far, the plot involves Patch Brightwater (a disgraced 13-year-old Piper in training), Wren (a girl who has been cursed into the shape of a rat), and Barver (a dracogriff), foiling the plans of the Pied Piper and preventing him from building his mind controlling device.  The Pied Piper is then locked up deep in the dungeons of Tiviscan Castle, only to later not only escape death, but to be alive and plotting his revenge.  From there the plot branches off into mini subplots involving investigating a murder, tracking down the Pied Piper's next moves, trying to locate the Sorcerer who cursed Wren and complete his wishes in order to lift Wren's curse, rescuing Erner from mercenary pirates, and finally understanding a prophecy that involves a betrayal of trust.  I would highly recommend starting with the first book in the series, even though I found the recap to be very helpful.

There are a lot of subplots going on at once that take the story in many different directions.  Some, like searching for a rare and unusual book seemed to slow the story down.  While others like the battles and rescues added lots of action.  I felt like Patch's character was being fleshed out a little more in this book.  He experiences a lot of guilt over the events in the first book, no spoilers from me, and tries to make amends.  I also enjoyed that there is a resolution to Wren's curse and how they are all reunited with Erner.  The friendship between these characters is what really comes through when reading.  How they will endure most any hardship in order to help one another out.  One even willing to sacrifice themselves in order to save the rest.  But that ending, why?  Why another cliffhanger?  Although, it does now have me eager for the release of A Thunder of Monsters.   

   I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE  

Friday, July 28, 2023

Blog Tour for Batu and the Search for the Golden Cup by Zira Nauryzbai, Lilya Kalaus. Translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega

Batu and the Search for the Golden Cup by Zira Nauryzbai & Lilya Kalaus.  Translation by Shelley Fairweather-Vega
Publisher:  Amazon Crossing Kids
Format:  E-ARC via Edelweiss+
Number of pages: 316 pages
Publishing:   August 1st, 2023
Source:  Blue Slip Media 

Opening Line: "Batu should have been relieved." 

A warrior’s power lies not in his weapons but in his heart. Batu is just an ordinary kid in present-day Almaty, worried about bullies, school, and his mom’s new baby…until the day he meets Aspara, the Golden Warrior. Aspara steps straight out of Batu’s notebook cover―and out of Kazakhstan’s past. Aspara has been waiting hundreds of years to be summoned to the human world and to finally get his chance to search for the Golden Cup, a magical talisman sent down from the heavens. When the Golden Cup was lost, Aspara watched as many of his friends and family were killed or disappeared. Craving adventure and a sense of purpose, Batu sets out with Aspara and his own friends to find the Golden Cup, plunging them into an adventure through a world where myths come alive. But there are others looking for the Cup, and they’ll do anything to make sure the kids fail. Will Batu and his friends make it out alive (and make it home in time for dinner)?


 “A promising series opener that journeys into a thrilling world.” Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of fantasy adventures such as the Pandava series and Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond will enjoy the easy-to-root-for characters and familiar tropes that populate this action-packed tale.” Publishers Weekly

My Review:  

Batu and the Search for the Golden Cup is the first book I've read that is based off of Kazakhstan mythology, weaving together the Asian and Russian influences of the region, Kazakh words and the historical elements of their conflicts with Russia.  This reminded me a lot of Aru Shah and the End of Time with its brightly colored cover and promise of adventure.  It also has strong themes of honor, bravery, kindness and courage.

I wish I was less conflicted with Batu's character; he was not entirely likeable and tended to behave in a similar manner to the boy that was bullying him. Batu also appeared at times to be indifferent to his friends attempts to communicate with him.  Lacking patience, he even verbally lashed out at them.  On the other hand, he does appear to sort of apologize and does seem to have a great respect for his family, elders and their traditions.  I especially liked how protective he was about his sibling.  But I also couldn't help thinking that he didn't really personify the character traits of a great warrior, despite Aspara thinking he was one.  Batu instead played along, pretending that he could do all of these wonderful feats.  Even though, Batu had never been properly trained and seriously lacked the self-confidence.  So yeah, a little conflicted about my feelings towards him. 

Despite this minor quibble, I quite enjoyed the adventure.  Especially the use of the Dombya, a musical instrument that when played while standing in a doorway, opens doors between worlds allowing Batu to freely pass into the past.  The inclusion of information about the frets on an instrument and how important they are to the stringing of the cords was interesting.  And I enjoyed how the story emphasized the importance of storytelling and passing on these cultural myths.  Overall, this was a very unique setting and a wonderful introduction into the Kazakh culture, their history and mythology.  At times I would have liked a few more details as I wasn't familiar with the folklore, but it also encouraged me to look for the details online for things I wanted to learn more about.  This is the first book in the authors series to be translated from Russian, and hopefully we'll see further books in the series in the future. 

About the authors:  

Lilya, left and Zira on the right

Zira Nauryzbai is a writer and cultural anthropologist. She is the author of multiple books and of more than three hundred articles, all written in Russian. She is also a translator from Kazakh into Russian. She is the coauthor, with Lilya Kalaus, of Batu and the Search for the Golden Cup (and its sequels), which was a bestseller in Kazakhstan. Links to her publications can be found at She is currently based in Astana, Kazakhstan. In her free time, Zira volunteers in the search for petroglyphs, rides horses, and practices shooting from a traditional Turkic bow.

Lilya Kalaus is a philologist, author, literary editor, scriptwriter, radio presenter, visual artist, and creative writing teacher from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Her stories and narratives have been published in various magazines and online periodicals in Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Germany, Ukraine, and the US. Lilya is the author of seven books, both for kids (together with Zira Nauryzbai) and for adults. Batu and the Search for the Golden Cup was a bestseller in Kazakhstan and became a series that now includes three books. Lilya is a member of the Writers’ Union of Kazakhstan and the Kazakh PEN Club, and she runs her own publishing company. Learn more at

Shelley Fairweather-Vega is a translator who works from Russian and Uzbek into English. She has translated for attorneys, academics, authors, and activists around the world. Her translated works have been published in the US and UK, and in the Critical Flame, Translation Review, Words Without Borders, the Brooklyn Rail, and more. Shelley is a past president of the Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society and a cofounder of the Northwest Literary Translators. She lives in Seattle, where she also plays the French horn and is helping raise two kids and a cat. Learn more at