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