Monday, December 18, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Looking Up by Stephan Pastis

Looking Up by Stephan Pastis
Publisher:  Aladdin
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   240 pages
Published:   October 10th, 2023
Source:  Publisher

Opening Line:  "You know you're a square peg in a round world when you find you're the only person at the birthday party defending the piñata."  

Saint and her mother live in the poorer part of town.  Saint spends her time taking care of Dr. Rutherford B. Hayes, her pet turtle, collecting kneeling medieval knights and protecting anything that has a face, which includes birthday piñatas, gnomes and tailless donkeys.  Lately, Saint has been upset by all of the changes happening in her neighborhood.  Places that she's loved to visit are slowly closing or are being torn down and replaced by condos and coffee shops.  When her favorite toy store, Punch's Toy Farm is demolished, Saint knows it's time to act.  So, she enlists the help of Daniel Mc Gibbons.  The quiet round-faced boy from across the street and together they plan to save what's left of their little town.

Stephan Pastis is the author of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip and the Timmy Failure series which has been adapted into the Disney+ movie Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.  Looking Up is a very sweet story about a very lonely little girl.  Saint has complex feelings, and I quite enjoyed her use of big words.  She is very bright and cares very deeply about her neighborhood.  She's experienced a lot of changes over the last few years, and you get the sense that she's trying to work through everything going on around her.  It's really interesting seeing her perspective on the changes.  Saint also feels deeply hurt by her mother constantly breaking her promises.  For example, when she promises to take Saint to her favorite toy store and then backs out of it.  There's a part of this situation that Saint hasn't quite grasped yet, but I bet there are quite a few kids who would feel the same way as Saint does.  Overall, the story really surprised me, the plot built slowly but wow that climax packed a punch, especially with the twist at the end that I never saw coming.  What a bittersweet moment.  Have a tissue handy.  Saint is such a gem; she is so sweet to Daniel, and I just loved that she wanted to be his protector/knight.  The black and white illustrations were adorable and added so much to the story.  Yep, this is a keeper that I want to revisit again.     
 I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE      

**A huge thank you to Aladdin and Simon and Schuster for the review copy**

Friday, December 15, 2023

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy by J. Scott Savage, illustrations by Brandon Dorman

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy: Volume 2 (Graysen Foxx School Treasure Hunter) by J. Scott Savage, illustrations by Brandon Dorman
Publisher:  Shadow Mountain 
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   256 pages
Publishing:   January 2nd, 2024
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line:  "Disguises come in all shapes and sizes."

The Curse of the Illuminerdy is the second book in the Graysen Foxx School Treasure Hunter series.  In the current book, Graysen attends Ordinary Elementary, which on the outside is just well ordinary.  Inside the school, however, is a very different story.  There are secret passages, hidden chambers and treasures, which Graysen the resident fifth grade archaeologist/ explorer hopes to find.  Assisting him are his two third grade treasure hunters in training and best friends, the twins Maya and Jack Delgado.  Currently they are in search of a creepy old painting that they hope to use to win the school's Halloween room decorating contest.  Along the way they come across an old spelling bee medal with mysterious writing on the back, but just as they are going to search further into the message an acrobatic clown steals their prize.  Just who is behind the theft?  Is it the Doodler and his sixth-grade gang?  Graysen's archnemesis, Raven Ransom? Or is it the second-grade spy network?  While following the clues, Graysen and his friend's cross paths with a secret society of super smart nerds called the Illuminerdy who put them to the ultimate test.  Will they be able to meet the challenge, or will they suffer The Curse of the Illuminerdy?    

I've had the pleasure of reading J. Scott Savage's The Lost Wonderland Diaries and Mysterious of Cove series and was instantly intrigued by his latest series about a school filled with treasure hunters.  It has a sort of Indiana Jones vibe that instantly appealed to me.  The Curse of the Illuminerdy was a really fun book, full of excitement and action.  Having this set inside a school lends itself to some interesting and fun adventures.  Who knew that they'd be riding on projector carts while using an abacus to navigate the turns?

There were many clues for Graysen and his friends to follow and puzzles to solve that took them all around the school, from the girl's bathroom to the bell tower and even face to face with alligators in a swimming pool.  I really enjoyed the math word problems and learning about Napier's Bones, an ancient way of multiplying numbers.  The story has a strong emphasis on teamwork, cooperation, and the valuable lesson that we all make mistakes from time to time, but the key is what we can learn from our mistake.  I also enjoyed how the story highlighted each kids' unique ability be it music, math, science, engineering, chemistry, computer programming or history.  And that by working together they were able to complete the puzzles.  I would recommend this to any adventure seeker who is interested in treasure hunting or for someone who just wants a good laugh.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the illustrations by Brandon Dorman, which were fabulous in capturing the action and main characters.  

**A huge thank you to Shadow Mountain for approving my request on Edelweiss+**    

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Spotlight on Easy Reader series Tow on the Go!

Typically, I don't review easy readers, so instead of a review I'm choosing to spotlight this new series.  The main character, Mo sounds adorable, and I like how each book features "the long O" sound.      


            About the Books:



The Mambo Rescue!: Ready-to-Read Level 1 (Tow on the Go!) 

A helpful tow truck rescues cars from a snowstorm in this adorable Level 1 Ready-to-Read.

Mo the lovable tow truck likes to mambo while he works. When ten cars get stuck in a snowstorm, Mo has to mambo faster than ever before to get them out!

Publisher:   Simon and Schuster

Format: Paperback, hardcover and Kindle

Published August 29th, 2023

Find It: GoodreadsAmazon

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1665920063

Reading age ‏ : ‎ 4 - 6 years

Grade level ‏ : ‎ Preschool – 1



The Splish-Splash Puddle Dance!: Ready to Read Level 1 (Tow on the Go!) 

Tow Truck Mo comes to the rescue when a fancy sports car gets stuck in a muddy puddle in this second book in the adorable Level 1 Ready-to-Read series

Mo the lovable tow truck always mambos while he works, but to rescue a sports car from a squelchy mud puddle, Mo’s solo routine may have to become a duet!

Publisher:   Simon and Schuster

Format: Paperback, hardcover and Kindle

Published:  December 12th, 2023

Find It: GoodreadsAmazon

ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1665920094

Reading age ‏ : ‎ 4 - 6 years

Grade level ‏ : ‎ Preschool – 1


About the Author:  

Patricia Lakin:

Patricia Lakin, a former elementary school teacher and an award-winning author, has written more than fifty published works. Her books, both fiction and nonfiction, span multiple age groups—from toddlers to middle graders. Patricia lives in New York City with her husband, Lee Koenigsberg. They have two grown sons, Aaron and Benjahmin. When not reading, writing, or researching, she can be found traveling with Lee to far-off places in the world.                       

Website | Goodreads | Amazon | 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

YA review of How to Find a Missing Girl by Victoria Wlosok

How to Find a Missing Girl by Victoria Wlosok
Publisher:  Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   400 pages
Published:   September 19th, 2023
Source:  Giveaway hosted by Literary Rambles

Opening Line: "Everyone knows you wear black to a stakeout."

A year ago, Iris's older sister, Stella vanished without a trace.  The police have deemed that she's a runaway and closed the case, but Iris can't believe that her sister would ever just leave her without a word.  Since then, Iris has been running a detective agency, under the radar to continue to gather information about Stella's case.  While also picking up odd jobs staking out cheaters and locating catfish with her best friends Sammy and Imani.  When Iris's ex-girlfriend Heather also goes missing, Iris begins to intensify her investigation as Heather was recording a true crime podcast about Stella's disappearance and might even have uncovered some clues that the police missed.  Can Iris find the culprit responsible for all of these disappearances and piece together where Stella and Heather are?  

How to Find a Missing Girl is a YA mystery thriller which I quite enjoyed reading, although it took me a little bit to get into.  Although, I also think that the slow build is a way to get all the backstory about Iris and Stella and why she began the detective agency.  Iris is very determined and resilient.  She strives to find answers and I appreciate that about her.  She's not willing to accept what the police are telling her, even if her amateur sleuthing might get her into trouble.  I believe Iris has felt like she's living in her sister's shadow and the detective agency is her way of carving out a place for herself.  

The inclusion of Heather's podcast transcripts, the text messages between friends and newspaper articles, brought some interesting elements to the story.  With the podcast sort of feeling like the tapes in Thirteen Reason's Why.  I've seen reviews on Goodreads comparing this to A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, but I haven't read that, so it was a fresh new read for me.  The story includes a diverse cast of characters with lots of LGBTIQ+ representation with characters that identify as pansexual, queer and nonbinary.  There's a strong bond between Iris, Imani and Sammy, and although they have a major difference in opinion in how the case should be approached, somehow, they make amends and overcome their obstacles to work together and solve the case.  I found the mystery of who was behind the disappearances to be intriguing and although I saw some of the twists coming, I'd say that the major reveal at the end was a surprise.  Just enough tension and risky behavior to make for an entertaining and satisfying read. 

**A huge thank you to Literary Rambles for the copy for my review and hosting so many giveaways on your blog**   

Monday, December 4, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold

Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold
  Walden Pond Press
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:   208 pages
Published:   February 1st, 2022
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "My name is Harriet Wermer."

It's the last day of third grade and Harriet is a little frustrated.  Her dad made them rush to her mom's doctor's appointment and she almost missed out on her annual tradition of a final day of school smoothie.  Dad promised that nothing would change with her mom now expecting Harriet's baby brother, but everywhere she turns everything seems to be different.   To further complicate things, her mom needs two months of bedrest and Harriet will be staying with her Nanu on Marble Island, a small island off the coast of California.  Nanu runs Bric-a-Brac, a cozy bed and breakfast, and despite truly loving her Nanu and the island, Harriet is upset because she had big summer plans.  She wanted to go to the city pool, read lots of books from the library and maybe even learn how to ride a unicycle.   Dad tries to get her interested in going to the island by telling her about their pool and library and even mentions that the island has a Gingerbread House for her to find.  But nothing seems to work, she's miserable and sad.   Well at least Harriet was able to bring her cat, Matzo Ball along, even if her and Moneypenny (Nanu's basset hound) don't seem to be hitting it off.  Marble Island appears to hold many surprises and soon Harriet gets wrapped up in a mystery when she finds an old key.  But what does it unlock?  Could it be treasure?  And how does this key relate to her dad growing up on the island?  

 Just Harriet is from the same author that wrote A Boy Called Bat, which is a really sweet story about a boy and his special pet skunk.  When I saw the cover for Just Harriet, I instantly fell in love with it.  All the elements of Harriet are right there.  Her special old suitcase with all the travel stickers, Matzo Ball, Moneypenny and even the charming B&B in the background.  Flipping through the pages, I saw all the lovely illustrations and wanted a copy for my own library.  

Harriet reminds me a lot of Ramona Quimby she's got sass, she's moody, spunky, craves adventure and isn't afraid to tell you what she thinks.  Even if sometimes it's a lie.  Harriet will be the first to admit that she lies, even though sometimes she's uncertain as to why she lies.  The adults in the story seem to pass over her lies.  Maybe it's because she's so young, and she has so little control over everything going on, but it would've been nice if at least once she was called on one of her little white lies.  Instead, there was a lot of ignoring what she said.  And quite a few "later Harriet."  Even when she gave her dad a little sass by slamming the door on him and saying it was caused by the wind, she's never corrected.  Maybe it's that they know she has all of these big feelings and can't really contain them all.  Or perhaps it's because they know that she's stressed about the baby coming and how she was promised that nothing was going to change.  There's still a little part of me that can't help wishing that she would've apologized at least once for her lies or behavior.  Or maybe if someone had taken the time to help her to put words together with what she was feeling.   At the same time, I think many kids could total relate to Harriet and especially her feelings of not wanting to give up her summer plans to stay with her Nanu.  These feelings of helplessness and changes that you have no control over I'm sure kids will also find relatable.  How she's conflicted about lying and wants to do better.     

 I quite enjoyed the setting of the island, and the B&B really draws you in to the story and the small community feel where her Nanu rides around in her golfcart, what fun.  It feels exactly like the place that you'd find some adventure and mystery.  Most of all I enjoyed the mystery itself and how it connected to Harriet's father.  How the summer was a few months of exploring his past and gathering a better understanding of what kind of person he is.  What his hobbies were growing up and how they're similar in more ways than she knew before.  I'm interested in exploring the sequel, Harriet Spies, where she makes a new friend, Clarence.  I'd love to see how Harriet reacts to the new baby and time with her friend.         

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

Monday, November 27, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Festergrimm (Legends of Eerie-On-Sea #4) by Thomas Taylor Illustrations by Tom Booth

Festergrimm (Legends of Eerie-On-Sea #4) by Thomas Taylor Illustrations by Tom Booth
  Walker Books US
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:  336 pages
Published:   April 25th, 2023
Source:  Publisher

Opening Line:  "It was a cold and blustery day at the wrong end of November when trouble returned to Eeerie-on-Sea."

As the story opens, Herbie Lemon (Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel) and his friend Violet (Vi) are accompanying Mr. M0llusc (the manager of the hotel) to the train station.  A special guest is due to arrive at any moment, and Lady Kranken (the owner of the hotel) demanded a grand welcome.  When the train finally pulls into the station, they're surprised to find none other than Sebastian Eels waiting for them on the platform.  As you may or may not recall, Sebastian Eels has caused Herbie and Vi many a problem in previous books, to the point that he's even tried to kill them a time or two.  Herbie and Vi feel that he's still up to no good, despite Sebastian Eels stating that he's changed his ways and the only thing he wants to do now is to reopen the towns long-shuttered waxworks museum.  Convinced that he has nefarious plans, Herbie and Violet begin to investigate.  Soon the duo uncovers clues to the town's past and find links to the famous toymaker and inventor Ludovic Festergrimm. What ensues is a wild chase to prevent Eeels from controlling the one thing he desires.   

Taylor's books are always slightly creepy (the elevator that reminded me of the haunted mansion), are exciting and filled with moments of danger (the Netherways).  With a few twists thrown in.  I quite enjoyed the story within the story in Festergrimm, that explained the tragic past of Pandora, Mr. Festergrimm's daughter.  There's lots of fast paced action, adventure and a mystery.  Sebastian Eels is the perfect villain, a sort of vaudeville style villain in a top hat, long cloak, with a wicked smile.  One moment sniveling about being innocent and then the next striking out at you with his cane.  Always hinting that Herbie has property of his that he wants back, and that Herbie is a crucial part in the key to Eerie's deepest secret.  Not to mention that the story includes these clockwork robots that sound equally delightful and terrifying.  And a waxwork museum, that's creepy in itself.  So yeah, lots of fun.  It's best if these books are read in order so I'd start with Malmander.  The illustrations by Tom Booth were absolutely wonderful.  I just love seeing Herbie in his Lost-and-Founder cap and Bagfoot the seagull rapping on the window was quite comical.  Poor Violet.  It's utterly delightful reading each of the books in the series.  Sad to see that the final book, Mermedusa has been released, but I am eager to read it now.  

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

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


Monday, November 20, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Impossible Girl by Ashley White

The Impossible Girl by Ashley White
Publisher:  Monarch Educational Services
Format:  Ebook
Number of pages:  324 pages
Published:   August 9th, 2022
Source:  Publisher

Opening Line:  "Anabelle shoved the bassinet into Jullian's oversized but awkward hands."  

13-year-old Ava Marie Jones can't endure another moment on the pageant stage, despite her stepmom Ulga's insistence.  Mustering her courage, she's finally decided to say, "no more!"  Jumping off the stage, Ava makes a run for her favorite spot, the Cathedral tree, a three-hundred-year-old Sitka Spruce.  It's a refuge of warmth and shelter, a place to escape.  They're kindred spirits after all, both being orphaned.  But this time when Ava enters her beloved tree, the ground gives out sending her spiraling downward, and ultimately being caught in the waiting arms of a boy, Duncan, from this mysterious and massive underground city.  It seems Ava is now in the city of Xarcadia, a place filled with all of these curious shops, tall stone buildings and city walls made from the roots of her Cathedral tree.  The people are even different than anything she's ever seen before, some glow, are blue, or have bow shaped eyebrows.  

Once Ava recovers from the initial shock of her fall, Duncan begins to explain where she's crashed landed.  At one time the people of Xarcadia lived above ground, amongst the mortals, but following a strife their leader, Ambrose brought them underground and formed the city for the Magites.  Some Magites sent their children to experience the mortal world, but on their thirteenth birthday, the children return to Xarcadia, and are referred to as "The Lost One's."  There is a huge celebration that they've been found and now returned to their true home.  There is even a ball where their parents reveal themselves.    

Ava has always felt different, out of place somehow, but this is more than she expected.  Xarcadia is home to hundreds of different magical species, fairy, merfolk, vampire's, even witches.  Each one having been registered or tagged at birth.  However, when a scan is attempted on Ava's wrist, she doesn't show up in the registry.  She's an anomaly, something that has never existed in their city before and is seen as a threat to the Magites.  Not only can they not determine who she is, there is no way to know if her parents know of her return.  The city is left with no way to determine who she belongs to and what species she is.

To keep an eye on Ava until a solution can be found, Ambrose decrees she should enroll in Linhollow Academy for the Supernaturally Gifted.  He also assigns two rather large guards to track her every move.  Ava hopes that while at this Academy she can learn more about her unexplained existence, what she is and just who her parents are.  Along the way she makes some new friends who help her navigate the Academy and help her uncover her craft, Duncan (a vampire), Tara (a witch who writes for the Arat Asoraled, a secretive newspaper) and Colin Arion (a fairy and fellow Lost One).  But trouble seems to be following Ava when some of the students are attacked and one is killed that appears to be linked to a Resistance group within the city that has ties back to Ava.  Can the students uncover the truth?    

I quite enjoyed reading The Impossible Girl.  It has the feeling of reading something gloriously familiar.  A little Alice in Wonderland, when Ava falls down through the hole ending up in a new place.  Some Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger and Nevermoor Series by Jessica Townsend vibes, being a place filled with magical creatures, wonderous shops and a girl with hidden talents, above what would be typical.  And maybe even a little Harry Potter for the exciting school.  There are some familiar tropes, a girl who never knew her parents, has special magical abilities, and comes to the school for magical training.  There's a clash between Magites and the Resistance.  And even a prison that feels like Azkaban.  Yet there is also a uniqueness in the story.  The Academy is underwater, Ava is one of hundreds of different species and even the Assembly Games that they play are very different.  I found myself rapidly turning pages to find out who or what was behind the killings.  It's an exciting world to explore.  Very atmospheric, detailed and wonderous.  Ava makes for a lovely main character; she's flawed and longing for a place to be accepted.  She goes on this journey to discover who she is and we're following right along.  The friendships that develop are fun, and they experience many an adventure, it's the kind of book that I want to revisit, just to read it all again.  And I'm hopeful that there will be more books in the future.  

  **A huge thank you to Monarch Educational Services for the ebook in exchange for an honest review.**       

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



Monday, November 6, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Song of the Swan by Karah Sutton, illustrated by Pauliina Hannuniemi

The Song of the Swan by Karah Sutton, illustrated by Pauliina Hannuniemi
Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:  288 pages
Published:   October 24th, 2023
Source:  Banholzer Public Relations

Opening Line:  "You may have heard, little ones, a story or two about the secrets of the human heart."  

Olga has been traveling from town to town with Pavel, the protector and Mr. Bulgakov, who took Olga in when she had no place else to go.  In exchange, she performs magical illusions, steals and uses sleight of hand to swindle people for the goods they need.  Olga possesses a unique form of magic that allows her to draw from her heartstring to enchant jewelry that Mr. Bulgakov then sells.   Sometimes, when the town finds out about their tricks and crimes, they have to make a hasty exit from the city.  Which is just what is happening at the beginning of the book.  After having hurriedly escaped into the woods, the trio cross the path leading towards Sokolov Palace.  Mr. Bulgakov, is very leery of the Palace, stating that it is a dangerous place, he cautions them from ever going there and rushes them off to the next town.  But Olga can't help but be drawn toward the palace, she knows that it is rumored to house The Scarlet Heart, a rare stone desired by the tsar himself.  Seeing this an opportunity for a quick heist and great wealth, Olga convinces Paval that it is a risk they must take, it's a chance for them to change their lives for good.  If they can only recover the stone, they'll never have to steal for Mr. Bulgakov again. 

Just as Pavel and Olga get closer to the palace, she plummets down a cliff, only to awaken in the palace, with the Baron attending to her wounds.  While she was unconscious, Pavel began participating in the festivities of the ball and to Olga's dismay he seems to be enjoying himself.  Even having made friends with a young woman, Anna.  Once Olga recuperates, she desperately tries to get Pavel back on track with locating the stone.  But Pavel seems to be enamored by the opulent food, twirling of the dancers, soft music playing and Anna, so he isn't sure that they need the stone anymore.  Even Olga seems to have difficulty holding on to her thoughts and the reason why she is there.  

Sokolov Palace is a dangerous place that holds many secrets and Olga hopes to uncover them all.  What she doesn't know at first is that the castle is ruled by an enchanter, Baron Sokolov, who hosts elaborate balls each night, only for the guests to disappear the very next morning.  Housed within the palace there is also an aviary filled with swans, which Olga feels are connected to the enchanter.  Determined to find the stone, Olga begins to search the palace, and while in the crypt, she comes across a spider who agrees to help her in exchange for uncovering the magic that has a grip on the palace and surrounding valley.  The more time that Olga spends at the palace the more deals she begins to make.  She promises to help the Baron repair the magical spell that is over the palace, and also promises to help the spider queen.  Where Olga was once consumed by the idea of wealth and what the stone could provide to her, she slowly begins to be torn between her desire to ensure that her friend Pavel doesn't become trapped at the palace and a need to understand what causes the guests to disappear each day only to be replaced by swans. 

The Song of the Swan as explained in the author's note was inspired by the origins of the Swan Lake story and includes various themes from the ballet.  Sutton also included spiders from Slavic mythology and the ballet Giselle seems to have influenced the lure of the dancers and inclusion of swans.  I must admit I'm not as familiar with the ballet, but it slightly reminded me of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, although Olga never spent very long at the ball.  She spent her time exploring the palace.  I did really enjoy the fairy tale like introduction and the description of how the heartstring magic was formed.  I also liked that each chapter began with the spider spinning his tales.  It was a nice way of blending Olga's quest with past events surrounding the heartstring magic.  It basically helps to fill in some of the gaps, like why the Baron quests to have such power over the palace and what he hopes to accomplish.  Finally, I enjoyed Olga, her prickliness and lack of trust.  But also, the way that she transforms in the story.    While Olga detests deceiving people, she's also become accustomed to its necessity for survival.  She's also used to seeing inside people to determine their desires.  She utilizes many of the skills that Mr. Bulgakov taught her on the Baron in order unearth what he's hiding and to trap him into revealing his secrets.  She's quite a clever girl.  I'd be remiss if I didn't include the lovely illustrations by Paulina Hannuniemi that really add to the story and highlight certain important events.  

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Blog Tour for The Night Raven by Johan Rundberg , translation by A.A. Prime

Today I'm super excited to be hosting a spot on the blog tour for The Night Raven by Johan Rundberg, translated by A.A. Prime.  This would make for a perfect Halloween read!!

The Night Raven: The Moonwind Mysteries by  Johan Rundberg , translation by A.A. Prime
Publisher:  Amazon Crossing Kids
Format:  E-book
Number of pages:  192 pages
Publishing:   November 1st, 2023
Source:  Blue Slip Media via Edelweiss + 
Find it:  Goodreads

Opening Line:  "No More!"  "The cry comes from one of the beds in the back rows." 

Mika is twelve-years old and lives at the Public Childrens Home in Stockholm and works at a local bar.  The story takes place during the frigid winter of 1880 where times at the orphanage have been exceedingly tough.  Food has been scarce and without an adequate supply of firewood it has even been difficult to keep the rooms warm at night.  It's on one of these blistering cold nights that a scared boy shows up at the orphanage doors and hands Mika a small bundle containing a baby.  While rushing off the boy exclaims "The Dark Angel knows I'm the one who took her."  Things become further complicated when Valdemar Hoff a detective from the department of police shows up and begins to question Mika and then suddenly decides that she must come with him to Kungsholm Church's graveyard to investigate.  Soon Mika becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding the notorious serial killer the Night Raven, someone who drains all the blood from his victims but was thought to have been caught and beheaded by the executioner over four years ago.  Can it be that he somehow has returned?  With Mika's keen eye for details and Detective Valdemar's encouragement can they come to a pack to catch the Night Raven before he can strike again?  


★“This gripping, fast-paced mystery comes together well, with Mika’s deductions based firmly in logic and connections based in her own clear observations…A thrilling and thoughtful period murder mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This English translation of Rundberg’s lively historical mystery…is something to celebrate…Joyous, funny, suspenseful, and serious—an unusual and winning combination for middle-grade readers. Let’s hope its three sequels appear in [A. A.] Prime’s English translation, too.” —The Horn Book (starred review)

“It’s a testament to the authors that none of the solutions comes easily — in any good mystery story, truth is a messy and painful business.”  —The New York Times Book Review

The Night Raven is an interesting historical fiction giving glimpses of Stockholm during the 1880's.  It's a time of dock workers, brick layers, tanneries, tobacco factories and cops on the hunt for a notorious criminal.  Mika has been raised at the orphanage for some time, being the eldest, she is often put in charge of the other kid's needs.   She has a very dry sense of humor and will resort to scaring the orphans by telling them that the police like to eat up children in order to get them to do what she wants.  She's also one of the few orphans who holds down a job at a local bar, although she is mistreated by the customers quite often.  Mika is also a very smart girl and picks up on very small details that others miss.  She appears to be a valuable partner to Detective Valdemar.  

Overall, I really enjoyed The Night Raven.  It's an exciting story, filled with mystery and moves along at a fast pace. It sort of reminded me of Enola Holmes with all the action and Sherlock Holmes vibes, meets Oliver Twist.  Being set in Stockholm and the orphanage really highlighted how challenging this time period was to survive, and then add in the increasing struggles of dealing with the harshest months of winter, yeah it felt very bleak.  But I must say that I really liked Mika, she is quite the force.  She's never down about her circumstance, she just strives to move forward.  I'd probably place this somewhere around upper middle grade as there are references to corpses, murder, beheading, pubs and some references to cruelty to children but at the same time, it really speaks to the social conditions of the 1880's.  The Night Raven is the first book in this four-part series that was originally published in 2021 in Sweden and won the August Prize, Sweden's most prestigious literary honor.  I hope that the rest of the series will be translated as I would enjoy reading more about Mika.  

Johan Rundberg is an award-winning author of children's books who lives in Stockholm. He has written picture books, early readers, and middle grade, including Kärlekspizzan, Knockad Romeo, and the series Häxknuten. In 2021, he was awarded Sweden's most prestigious literary prize, the August Prize, in the children's and YA category for Nattkorpen, the original edition of The Night Raven, which was first written in Swedish. Nattkorpen was also the winner of a Swedish Crimetime Award in the children's and YA category. There are now four books in this series published in Sweden.    

A. A. Prime (Annie Prime) is an award-winning translator of Swedish literature. She was born in London and traveled the world studying a number of languages before settling in the English coastal town of Hastings. She now works full-time as a translator, specializing in the weird, witty, and wonderful world of children's and young adult fiction. She holds an MA in translation from University College London and has published more than twenty books in the UK and US. In her free time, she can be found belly dancing, folk singing, horse riding, and sea swimming.

Monday, October 30, 2023

It's MMGM with a review of New Girl (Ella at Eden #1) by Laura Sieveking, illustrations by Danielle McDonald

New Girl (Ella at Eden #1) by Laura Sieveking, illustrations by Danielle McDonald
Publisher:  Kane Miller Publishing
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:  192 pages
Published:   First published February 1st, 2020 by Scholastic Australia
Source:  Kane Miller Publishing

12-year-old Ella is following in her best friend Zoe's footsteps by attending the prestigious boarding school, Eden College.  This is her first time being away from home, but having Zoe as a roommate makes her feel like she can finally settle in.  Yet, things don't quite go as she had initially anticipated.  Not only does she make a comment and laugh at a painting of fellow Year 7 student, Saskia's great-grandmother, but she also gets on the bad side of Year 7's housemistress and Vice Headmistress, Ms. Montgomery.  How will she ever make amends?  When items begin to go missing, and noises are heard in the hallway late at night, Ella puts her sleuthing skills to the test to catch the thief red-handed and hopefully show that she belongs at the school.  

The main character in New Girl, Ella appears to be the same character across a few early readers/chapter books, namely the Meet Ella series, which continues with Ella and Olivia, the Ella Diaries series and now the Ella at Eden series.  The first three early readers were written by different authors, with the Ella at Eden being written by Laura Sieveking.  Danielle McDonald is the illustrator for all of book series.  In all there are over 30 books.  The reader can begin with the shorter easy readers and progress to the more advanced chapter books, following Ella as she grows up and begins her next chapter at boarding school.

New Girl makes for a fun boarding school story.  Ella is confident and determined.  She really misses her younger sister, Olivia and Ella often sends her an email, which the reader can read.  Ella has a wide vocabulary and Sieveking ensures that the reader understands the more sophisticated words that Ella uses by providing the definition.  For example, a word like antithesis, Ella would say "that's a fancy word for opposite."  Ella really wants to get the best marks at school to maintain her scholarship and puts in the hard work to accomplish her goals.  There's the day-to-day challenges of fitting in, attending classes, mixed in with the mystery of who's stealing items from the Year 7 students.  There's even some late-night sneaking around the dormitory and sleuthing to find the culprit.  The story reinforces the idea of not judging people too quickly and not making rash accusations until you understand the full picture.   Overall, a fun adventure and I can see it appealing to fans who've read the earlier chapter books or who enjoy boarding book stories.  The next book in the series is called The Secret Journal.  

**A huge thank you to Kane Miller Publishing for the paperback in exchange for an honest review. **

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