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.