Monday, January 30, 2023

MMGM with a review of Kelcie Murphy and the Hunt for the Heart of Danu by Erika Lewis

Kelcie Murphy and the Hunt for the Heart of Danu by Erika Lewis
Publisher:  Starscape
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:  432
Publishing:  July 25th, 2023
Source: Edelweiss +

Opening Lines:  "A thunderous rumble woke Lexis before dawn. Half-asleep, she stumbled out of bed to the window."

The Hunt for the Heart of Danu begins just after summer vacation.  Kelcie Murphy is excited to have returned to the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts, however, this is not going to be an ordinary school year.   Shortly after her arrival, Kelcie and Brona receive a visit from their mother's, warning them of an upcoming disaster that will impact all of Summer.  At the same time Lexis is in Winter holding off a Giant attack by Summer.  Just as she and her fianna successful defend the attack, they're summoned for a meeting with The Queen, who plans to send them on a special mission, deep under cover to steal the Heart of Danu, the source of all light and warmth within Summer.  The news could not have come at a worse time for Summer as it is The Year of Ascencion, and everyone is distracted by the ball, parade and the rumors as to who will be the Regent to assume the throne.  Can Kelcie uncover the plot to destroy Summer and save her friends and family from the omen prophesized by her mother?      

It's been a long while since I've read this book and unfortunately the E-ARC is no longer available to me for reference.  It was first available on Edelweiss+ but then was later taken down for some revisions.  The publication date seems to also have moved from May to July.  Well, suffice to say, I'm a little rusty with my notes, so any errors are my own.  

Kelcie grew up in the human world and is still getting her bearings and coming to terms with her father being known as an infamous traitor.  She's also new to her powers and has had difficulty in managing them, with the help from her friends she's improved her skills, but her fear of water has lingered and impeded her in harnessing its power.  What I recall enjoying about this story is the sort of Lightening Thief meets Holly Black's Magisterium series and the strong bonds that Kelcie seems to have formed since the first book.  The comraderies, banter and the sense that she would do anything to help her team.  In the previous book, I was rooting for her and Niall to grow closer.  Their relationship is complicated to say the least.  I also rooted for Kelcie to get some long due answers about her father's imprisonment, but again there felt like some lingering issues that hopefully will be addressed in the next book.  This time around I enjoyed learning more about Lexis, her motivations and desires.  She's in a tough spot and tries to be true to Winter and her own fianna.  While she sympathizes with Kelcie and Summer, she's also very conflicted about the situation the Queen of Winter has placed her in.  Overall, I enjoyed the Celtic mythology, the action, the distinction between Summer and Winter and their ongoing battle, and the magical system of dens each with their own unique powers and of course the twists and turns that keep me eager for the next book.   

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

BLOG TOUR for CITY SPIES: CITY OF THE DEAD by James Ponti with an Excerpt + Giveaway

Today, I'm super excited to be hosting a spot on the CITY SPIES: CITY OF THE DEAD by James Ponti Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours.  I hope you'll check out the excerpt and make sure to enter the giveaway!

                                                                                  About The Book:

Author: James Ponti
Pub. Date: February 7, 2023
Publisher: Aladdin
Formats: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 400

Find it: Goodreads

In this fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies go codebreaking in Cairo in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Codename Kathmandu, better known as Kat, loves logic and order, has a favorite eight-digit number, and can spot a pattern from a mile away. So when a series of cyberattacks hits key locations in London while the spies are testing security for the British Museum, it’s clear that Kat’s skill for finding reason in what seems like randomness makes her the perfect candidate to lead the job.

And while the team follows the deciphered messages to Egypt and the ancient City of the Dead to discover who is behind the attacks and why, Kat soon realizes that there’s another layer to the mystery.

With more players, more clues, and involving higher levels of British Intelligence than ever before, this mission is one of the most complex that the group has faced to date. And it’s also going to bring about a change to the City Spies…


Grab the rest of the CITY SPIES BOOKS now!


Book Trailer:


British Museum 


ON A SLATE GRAY NOVEMBER DAY, ONE hundred years after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, a group of five young people converged in a part of London known as Bloomsbury. Like Howard Carter, they were looking to recover treasures of Egyptian antiquity. Except they weren’t going to dig a tunnel in the desert, they were going to sneak through one in an abandoned section of the London Underground. And the artifacts they sought weren’t concealed in some long-forgotten tomb, they were on display at one of the busiest museums in the world. 

This was no excavation. It was a heist. 

“Testing comms, one, two, three,” Kat said into the microphone hidden in the red remembrance poppy pinned to her lapel. “Can everybody hear me?” “Loud and clear,” said Paris. 

“Perfectly,” answered Rio. 

“All good on my end,” Brooklyn replied. 

There was a pause as they waited for a final voice to check in. 

“Sydney, are you not responding because you can’t hear me?” Kat asked. “Or is it because you’re still pouting?” After a moment, Sydney replied, “I’m sorry. I was under the impression nobody cared what I had to say.” “So, pouting,” Paris commented. 

“I’m not pouting,” Sydney said defensively. “I’m just . . . disappointed. All I asked was that we slide the break-in a couple hours so we could see the fireworks at Battersea Park. You know how much I love Bonfire Night. It’s going to be huge and everyone’s going to be there.” 

“Which is exactly why we’re going to be here,” Kat said. “The police will be spread thin, and there are no celebrations scheduled for Bloomsbury. That means they’ll be elsewhere, which dramatically improves the probability of us not getting caught.” 

Kat was the alpha on this mission, which meant she had to come up with the plan to break into the British Museum. She’d studied dozens of famous robberies and noticed that many took place on holidays or during special events, when police and security altered their nor mal patterns and were understaffed. She picked this date because of its connection to one of the most infamous figures in British history. 

On November 5, 1605, a soldier-turned-radical named Guy Fawkes was captured before he could exe cute his plan to use thirty-six barrels of gunpowder to blow up Parliament. Ever since, Britons had marked the occasion with raucous public displays that included bon fires, burning effigies, and fireworks. 

For Sydney, a born rebel who loved “making things go boom,” it was as if Bonfire Night had been created specifically with her in mind. And here she was in Lon don, so close to some of the biggest celebrations in the country, yet she was going to miss out. 

“Just tell me this,” Kat said. “Are you good to go with the mission? Or is this going to be a problem?”

“Of course, I’m good,” Sydney replied. “I never let anything affect our work.” 

“Excellent,” Kat said. “And if it makes you feel better, I’ll try to find something for you to blow up.” “I really appreciate it,” Sydney said. “That means a  lot.” 

Rio cleared his throat and said, “Now that we’ve got everybody’s feelings sorted, can we please get started?” “Yeah,” Brooklyn said, “you know we can’t do anything until you give us the word.” 

As the alpha, it was Kat’s responsibility to say the good luck phrase that kicked off every operation. “Okay then,” she said, surveying the museum entrance from her vantage point in the Great Court. “This operation is hot. We are a go.” 

And just like that, the City Spies were in action. The five of them were an experimental team of agents, aged twelve to fifteen, who worked for MI6, British Secret Intelligence. They were called in for assignments in which adults would stand out but kids could blend in. 

In this instance, the job was to steal two items on display in a special exhibition called “Wonderful Things:  One Hundred Years of Tutmania.” They didn’t know why they were stealing them; after all, spies weren’t supposed to ask too many questions. All they’d been told was that it was in the best interests of the British government for them to do so. 

Kat had never been the alpha for a mission this big, and she’d prepared for it like she did most things, as though it were a series of complex math equations. She split the heist into two parts so they could, in her words, “isolate the variables.” The theft wouldn’t happen until after the museum closed. But now, while it was still open, they had to set up things for later. 

“Everyone good with what they’re supposed to do?”  she asked. 

“Yes,” Rio said with a groan. “We’ve gone over it and over it and over it.” 

“Good,” Kat said. “Repetition leads to fluency, and fluency leads to confidence. It’s a cornerstone of executing complicated mathematical processes.” 

“Except this isn’t math,” Rio said. “It’s a break-in.” “You’re so funny,” Kat said. “Everything’s math. Now blend in and disappear. Do your best to stay invisible.” “Don’t worry,” Sydney replied. “We’ll be ghosts.” “Yeah,” Rio added. “Math ghosts.” 

With so many kids at the museum, they had no trouble blending in as they went to work on their specific assignments. Kat had even managed to get uniforms which matched those of schools visiting on field trips.  This let them enter with large student groups which bypassed the normal security line. 

“We’re at the west stairs, and there are no surprises,” Sydney informed the others. 

She and Rio were double-checking the route they needed to take later that night. The team had plotted it using a virtual tour of the museum they found online.  This let them carefully study every room and look for vulnerabilities. Now, they had to make sure that nothing had changed or been added in the time since the tour was filmed. 

“There’s a CCTV camera on the ceiling,” Rio said.  “And the entrance to the Egyptian gallery is protected by a roll-down gate that’s operated by a keypad next to the doorway.” 

“We’ll be able to control those once Brooklyn hacks their computer system,” said Kat. 

“Grab a photo of the keypad,” Brooklyn said. “Make sure it shows the name of the manufacturer so I can download an operator’s manual.” 

“Got it,” Sydney answered. 

She motioned for Rio to stand near the pad so it would look like she was taking a picture of him and not the device. 

“Smile,” she said, and he flashed a goofy grin. Next, they walked through the Egyptian sculpture gallery, where they noted and took pictures of three different security features. There were motion detectors along the wall, closed circuit television cameras on the ceiling, and sensors eighteen inches above the floor that were part of a laser trip-wire system. 

They made special note of these locations because, unlike in the movies, there wouldn’t be brightly colored beams of light they could dance around. The lasers would be nearly invisible and tripping any one of them would mean disaster for the mission. 

As they mapped the location of two sensors near a giant statue of Rameses II, Rio noticed a security guard standing nearby. His nametag read officer hawk, although his droopy moustache and lumpy physique seemed more walrus than bird of prey. 

“Target acquired,” Rio said in a low voice to Sydney. “Why him?” she asked. 

“Two things,” Rio answered. “He’s friendly and he’s awkward.” 

Sydney gave him a curious look.

“Security guards are supposed to be standoffish to intimidate you,” Rio said. “But notice how he smiles and makes eye contact with people. He wants to connect and be liked.” 

“And awkward?” 

“His tie’s crooked and his shirt’s tucked in unevenly,” Rio explained. “Not only that, but his ID badge is clipped to his belt instead of his shirt pocket, which makes it easier to lift.” 

“It’s scary how well you read people,” Sydney said. “I’ve got skills,” Rio said. “Nice of someone to notice for a change.” 

For years, Rio’s ability to read people had been essential to his survival. He’d lived on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and made money by performing magic for tourists on a sidewalk near Copacabana Beach. To do that, he had to know how to read an audience and be able to perform amazing sleight of hand maneuvers. He was about to do both to steal a security card they’d need later. 

The lift was a two-person job that they’d done many times. Sydney’s role was to be the diversion. “Excuse me,” she said, approaching the guard. “Do you think you could take a picture of me with this statue in the background?”

According to regulations, the guard wasn’t supposed to do anything except keep an eye on the gallery. However, like Rio said, he was friendly and had trouble saying no. “Of course,” he replied with a smile. “Let’s make it quick.” 

She handed him her phone and struck a pose. He snapped the shot and gave it back to her, but when she looked at the picture, she frowned. 

“Ugh,” she said. “I’m sorry could you do it again. My eyes are closed, and it’s backlit so you can’t see my face.” She directed him to move over a few feet, and as she became more difficult, the guard became more distracted. This was when Rio brushed past him and deftly slipped the badge off his belt. Next came the tricky part.  Rio had to copy the badge and put it back before the guard noticed it was missing. If it was reported lost, the protocol was for that card to be deactivated, which would render it useless. 

Rio slid it into his pocket and pressed it against his phone, which had a built-in scanner and cloning app.  After a few seconds, he heard a single beep that told him it was done. Then he moved back to them, where Sydney was unsatisfied with another picture and the guard’s patience was running thin.

Rio nosed into their conversation. “The problem is the light from that window,” he said pointing at the photo on Sydney’s phone. “You need to be on the opposite side of the room.” 

The guard wanted no part of this. “I’m not moving to . . .” 

“Why don’t I take it?” Rio offered. 

“Good idea,” said the guard. 

As he handed Sydney’s phone back to her, Rio clipped the ID badge back to the guard’s belt. 

“Here you go,” said the guard. 

“Thank you for your help,” said Sydney. 

They walked away, and once they were out of earshot, Rio whispered, “friendly and awkward, my two favorite traits.” They crossed the room to take the picture with better lighting so as not to draw suspicion from the guard, and then they went directly to another gallery and found a door marked staff only. They waited until no one was around, and then Rio held up his phone next to the ID sensor. A light on the sensor turned from red to green and they heard the lock click open. 

“We’re all set with the security doors,” Rio said proudly. 

“Nice job,” answered Kat.

Excerpt from City of the Dead by James Ponti. Text copyright © 2023.  Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

About James:

JAMES PONTI (he/him/his) is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy– nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway Details:

1 lucky winner will receive a finished copy of CITY OF THE DEAD, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week One: 


Mythical Books

Excerpt/IG Post


A Dream Within A Dream



YA Books Central



Kait Plus Books

Excerpt/IG Post


Log Cabin Library



Kim"s Book Reviews and Writing Aha's

Review/IG Post


Blog Write. Read. Live

Excerpt/IG Post


Lifestyle of Me



YA Book Nerd

Review/IG Post



IG Post


Week Two:





Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog

Review/IG Post



TikTok Review/IG Post


Review Thick And Thin

Review/IG Post



IG Review


Two Points of Interest




Review/IG Post



IG Review



Review/IG Post



IG Review


Monday, February 7, 2023 at 6:00pm CT

Virtual launch event hosted by Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)

In conversation with Kelly Yang (author of NEW FROM HERE and FINALLY SEEN)


Wednesday, February 8, 2023 at 7:00pm ET

In-person event hosted by Little Shop of Stories (Decatur, GA)

In conversation with Laurel Snyder (author of ORPHAN ISLAND and CHARLIE & MOUSE)


Thursday, February 9, 2023 at 6:00pm ET

In-person event hosted by Malaprop’s (Asheville, NC)

In conversation with Alan Gratz (author of REFUGEEGROUND ZERO, and TWO DEGREES)


Friday, February 10, 2023 at 5:00pm ET

In-person event hosted by RJ Julia Booksellers (Madison, CT)

In conversation with Lauren Tarshis (author of the I SURVIVED series)


Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 3:00pm ET

In-person event hosted by Books of Wonder (New York, NY)

In conversation with Sayantani DasGupta (author of THE FIRE QUEEN series), Chris Grabenstein (author of DOG SQUAD and THE SMARTEST KID IN THE UNIVERSE), and Karina Yan Glaser (author of THE VANDERBEEKERS series)


Sunday, February 12, 2023 at 2:00pm CT

In-person event at St. Louis Public Library hosted by The Novel Neighbor (St. Louis, MO)

In conversation with George Jreije (author of SHAD HADID AND THE ALCHEMISTS OF ALEXANDRIA)


Monday, February 13, 2023 at 7:00pm CT

In-person event hosted by Wild Rumpus Books for Young Readers (Minneapolis, MN)

In conversation with Jacqueline West (author of THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE and LONG LOST)


Tuesday, February 14, 2023 at 5:30pm ET

In-person event hosted by Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC)

In conversation with Kwame Mbalia (author of the TRISTAN STRONG series)


Thursday, February 16, 2023 at 10:30am ET

In-person event hosted by Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)


Saturday, February 18, 2023 at 2:00pm ET

In-person event hosted by The International Spy Museum (Washington, D.C.)


Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 2:00pm ET

In-person event hosted at Lake Highland Prep School hosted by Writer’s Block Bookstore (Orlando, FL)

In conversation with Jerry Craft (author of NEW KID and CLASS ACT)

Monday, January 23, 2023

MMGM and a review of NeverLore: Journey to Mt. Smolder by Taya & Nathan Okerlund

NeverLore:  Journey to Mt. Smolder by Taya and Nathan Okerlund
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Bookerlunds
Number of pages:  278
Publishing:  Following Kickstarter campaign
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "Taking a walk with a magician was never an ordinary stroll in the park, though it was no genie's wishing lamp either."  

Annabelle Silvers has always wished that she could spend more time with her father, the well-known magician.  Instead, she was left in the care of Aunt Mercy while attending a private school.  But now that Aunt Mercy has died, her father has suddenly reappeared, only to end up being imprisoned the very next day.  Even more shocking, he's been accused of stealing from the Queen and has been locked up tight in Childerbridge Tower.  Now penniless, Annabelle is thrown out of her school, and has been taken on as a servant for Mrs. Durham from The Ladies Aviary Goodwill Society, caring for her prized pigeons.  For 888 days, Annabelle cared for Mrs. Durham's pigeons but then something mysterious begins to happen while performing her daily chores, magic.  Annabelle then finds herself whisked away to Fairy with Tinsel, a pixie as her guide.  Soon Annabelle is being disguised as Alvina Appleblossom and going on a secret mission to Never for The Grand Dame, Potentate of Fairy to spy on the Lost Boys and find out what's been happening to Never.  

I think the last book I read about Neverland was Sisters of Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith which was a wonderful retelling of Peter Pan.  I like to see that Neverland is making a comeback, Saving Neverland by Abi Elphinstone was just published in the UK.  The Okerlund's story isn't so much a retelling but a reimaging with new characters and focuses more on Annabelle and her quest to find out the truth about her father and on the Lost Boys, who truthfully deserved a little storytime of their own.  It's an adventure across Never as you've never seen it before.  There are angry ants, fairies who have questionable intentions, hyena's, a dragon and pirates.  There's still pixie dust that helps you fly, and a crocodile enamored by the ticking of a clock, but it is its own story.  The story left me with a few unanswered questions, but still, it's a very promising first book in what's to be a series.  My review copy also included the prequel: Librarynth of the Lost; Peter Pan’s origin story within Fairy’s royal family, which I felt filled in some gaps.     And from the looks of it the backers on Kickstarter agree, because I see that it did get funded after all.  Kudos to the authors.  

**Again, thank you to Taya and Nathan Okerlund for the E-ARC and much success with your book series**      

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

Monday, January 16, 2023

MMGM with a review of The War of the Woods (The Crowns of Croswald #4) by D.E. Night

The Crowns of Croswald:  The War of the Woods by D.E. Night
Publisher:  Stories Untold
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:  324
Published:  May 13th, 2022
Source: Purchased 

Opening Lines:  "A frigid wind whipped her hair, and Ivy cried out, burying her face into the warm, rough cloth that she gripped in her hands.  Then she fell into the darkness again."  

The War of Woods begins shortly after the events in The Words of the Wandering.  Ivy awakens to find herself in Winsome's laboratory within the Halls of Ivy, her beloved school.  Groggy but happy to be alive and reunited with her dear Humboldt and Fyn.  As Ivy begins to recover, she also learns that they've been trapped within the castle, which is slowly being engulfed by an ivy winding items around the walls of the castle.   (This initial part, really reminded me of The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell).  Searching for a means of escape, Ivy comes across a map with a message from Rimbrick alluding that she will find the answers she seeks in Dwarflin.  Could this map help them find an entrance into the secret dwarf tunnels and the last piece of the Kindered Stone?  Can they even convince the dwarfs to help them if they make it there?  

The War of Woods is the fourth and final book in The Crowns of Croswald series and what a wonderful ride it has been.  Truthfully, I'm rather sad to have reached the final book.  It's always a bittersweet moment to reach the end of a series that you've so enjoyed.  I highly recommend starting with the first book to really grasp the plot and characters.   Here's the links to my reviews of the first two books in the series, The Crowns of Croswald  and The Girl With the Whispering Shadow.

So, what have I loved and will miss about these books?  The magic for sure, I haven't quite read anything like it, well not since Harry Potter.  But I've enjoyed how unique it feels.  I've loved how Ivy is a Scrivenists and that her magic is within her blood.  How she uses quills, ink and parchment to record images, or events.  Even drawing from these to wield her magic.  How she didn't grow up with this knowledge but is learning as she goes.  I've also loved the magical world that Night has created.  The fantastical creatures, the Dark Queen, the friendships and all her lush writing.  The way her words flow together, creating these thrilling images.  Such a creative series and characters that will stick with me for a very long time.  

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