Monday, April 29, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera Brosgol (Graphic Novel)

Plain Jane and the Mermaid by Vera Brosgol
Publisher:  First Second Books
Format:  Paperback ARC
Number of pages:   368 pages
Publishing:   May 7th, 2024
Source:  Banholzer PR

After the sudden death of Jane's parents in a fish cart accident, her cousin Colin becomes the heir to the family estate. As Colin focuses on redecorating and selecting his new bedroom, he gives Jane a week to vacate before he forces her out on the streets.  Jane's only ray of hope lies in marriage, which promises a substantial dowry.  So, Jane intends to propose to her crush, Peter, in hopes that he'll see this arrangement as being mutually beneficial.  She'll secure her dowry and he will be free from his domineering father.  However, their plan goes awry when Peter is kidnapped by a mermaid.  Undeterred, Jane ventures into the underwater realm of the mermaids to rescue Peter.

I really enjoyed Vera Brosgol's graphic style, her illustrations give you the feel of looking at an animated movie.  The colors are dark and dreary in the right places then contrast well with the blue and teal colors under water.  How she portrays Jane's home as desolate, empty of any warmth.  Contrasted with her adventures underwater where Jane crosses paths with a water demon, and well those pesky mermaids.  I also really enjoyed the panels where Jane is rescuing a seal.  At times you really want to give Jane a great big hug.  Throughout her life, Jane has heard that she's plain, she wears black baggy dresses, her hair is disheveled, and her clothes are ripping at the seams.  She hoped that marrying Peter would give her an autonomy over her life.  There are strong messages conveyed about the importance of inner beauty and that we shouldn't be judged solely by our outward appearance.  I really enjoyed everything about this beautiful graphic novel, the artwork, the underwater setting and especially Jane who learns that beauty is not how we should value our worth.  Lovely authors note at the very end.  

**A huge thank you to Banholzer PR and the publisher for the paperback ARC**    

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hopscotch Girls Presents: Mia Madison, CEO by Kathryn Holmes and Illustrated by Luna Valentine

Hopscotch Girls Presents: Mia Madison, CEO by Kathryn Holmes and Illustrated by Luna Valentine
Publisher:  Andrews McMeel Publishing
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   210 pages
Publishing:   April 30th, 2024
Source:  Publisher

Opening Line: "I'm the only eleven-year-old I know who keeps a handwritten day planner."  

6th grader Mia Madison is known at her school for being a very successful kid-trepreneur, having launched a pet sitting business and a lemonade stand.  Mia hopes that someday she can be like her mom, a CEO of her own company.  During a visit to the park, Mia runs into Liam, a new boy at school who has a side job dog walking.  Liam shares his difficulty managing one of his dogs named Princess, who often escapes while walking the other dogs.  Mia offers to try and devise a solution for Liam's problem, which also inspires her to help her other classmates with their ventures.  Thus, Mia's KidBiz is born, a consulting firm dedicated to troubleshooting, enhancing profits and guiding her classmates in promoting their own business.

Initially, everything is progressing well.  Along with Liam, Mia starts assisting Daphine to determine a price point for her bracelets, and even her best friend, Lillian decides to sell her once anonymous and free comic books at school.  However, juggling three new clients, schoolwork, friendship and her part time cat sitting job quickly becomes an overwhelming challenge.  Will Mia be able to manage all the responsibilities she has taken on before everything starts to unravel?  

Hopscotch Girls is a social enterprise created by a mom who was frustrated by the marketing of pink, princess, and beauty items as gifts for girls.  The goal of the enterprise is to "offer products that will build confidence and self-esteem in girls and combat these harmful stereotypes."  Some of their previous titles include, "I Am Confident Brave and Beautiful, and I Am an Adventurer, Artist and Athlete," which are Sticker and Colorings Books.  Mia Madison, CEO is the first book in their new middle grade series.  

I quite liked Mia's enthusiasm and passion for her businesses.  She dives into her ventures with great energy.  Mia's mom is an immense support, offering advice, sales strategies and even her old textbooks to assist Mia with her clientele.  Mia's determination to make her consulting business a success is very evident, though it sometimes leads her to overcommit and rush her tasks.  Yet, she remained undeterred by her responsibilities or setbacks, instead she sought help when she needed it.  The book introduces financial concepts such as venture, entrepreneur, inventory, reframing and commission, integrating their explanations seamlessly into the narrative for younger reader's ease of comprehension.  Luna Valentine's playful black and white illustrations contribute significantly to the book's charm.  A recurring theme that I picked up from the book is that failure happens, that there will be setbacks, and mistakes, sometimes even more than once.  The key is how you recover from them and move forward.  Mia Madison, CEO will resonate with children interested in entrepreneurship, and I'm eager to see what the series holds in the future. 

**A huge thank you to Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read an E-ARC**                           

Monday, April 22, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Climate Diaries: Book One: The Academy by Aaron Arsenault

The Climate Diaries Book One:  The Academy by Aaron Arsenault
  Friesen Press
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   300 pages
Publishing:   April 22nd, 2024
Source:  Books Forward

Opening Line:  "Jax...Jax...Jax!  Mr. Clifford shouted from across the classroom."

Eleven-year-old Jax has been sent to detention twenty-eight times at school.  He just can't seem to avoid it.   "The Curmudgeon" and Jax have been at odds since the first day of school.  Frustrated by Jax's constant doodling in his notebook and always pulling stunts, his teacher destroys Jax's notebook.  What his teacher doesn't realize is that Jax's notebooks are precious to him; they're the place that Jax records all of his ideas on climate change and how to fix it.  Jax is obsessed with finding the answers to why the sea levels are rising and why there are so many forest fires?  His notebooks are filled with his brilliant ideas and plans for making a better world, including his models for predicting hurricanes and how to grow his own organic crops.  Following the "notebook shredding incident," Jax vows to defeat his enemy once and for all in an epic act of retribution.  

Unfortunately, Jax's latest stunt sends his teacher's car off of a cliff and his rebellious nature almost lands him in Juvenile detention.  Instead, Jax learns that he has been selected as a new recruit for the CAT (Climate Action Taskforce), a secret organization focused on combating climate change.  However, life at the Academy isn't going to be a walk in the park for Jax either. It's a two-month bootcamp without electronics or parental contact and the Academy has a grueling schedule of classes, to include learning about progressive climatology, environmental science, sustainable energy practices and all things climate change related.

Soon Jax is placed onto Team 19 with Grace, August and Kylie and he and Grace begin to butt heads. Grace is made Team captain and Jax becomes furious.  Once again, Jax is up to his old tricks, causing trouble and he even manages to get the whole team expelled from the Academy.  Just as they're leaving, a category 7 hurricane hits their vessel, and they crash land on an island.  The team now has to hope that the lessons that they had at the Academy will be enough to help them survive their latest obstacle.

Jax is such a rule breaker, troublemaker and rebel.  There isn't one moment that he isn't getting into trouble.  First in school and then in landing himself in the Academy.  He constantly pulls pranks on people.  At first smaller things like putting a spider in someone's locker and then his plans becoming increasingly more and more dangerous things.  His negativity and bickering with Grace add a lot of conflict to the team and takes up much of the last half of the book.  Grace is probably the only other character that stands out in the group as she seems to have a few of her own secrets.  Although her attitude can be a little off putting, but I still would like to know more about her past.   Hopefully, we'll learn more about the other members of the team in the sequel as well.  

Overall, I thought the story has a unique premise and liked how it addresses the real problems of climate change.  There were lots of interesting tasks for the team to complete, including building an ecofriendly tiny home and trying to determine a way to cut down on methane gas emissions.  Included in the author's note there were several tips for what the reader can do to minimize climate change, to include shopping smarter.  As well as a free activity guide for kids, and a link to the teacher's guide.  Although Team 19's time at CAT was short lived, and the story ended on a cliffhanger, everything is left pretty open in terms of what can potentially happen next.  It kind of felt like a mixture of Survivor and an Army bootcamp with cool gadgets like the personal locator beacon and windowless drones used for transportation.  I'm looking forward to seeing what is in store for the team next.     
** A huge thank you to Books Forward for the E-ARC and paperback**    

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Orris and Timble: The Beginning by Kate DiCamillo , Illustrations by Carmen Mok

Orris and Timble: The Beginning by Kate DiCamillo, illustrations by Carmen Mok
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   80 pages
Publishing:   April 30th, 2024
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening Line:  "Orris the rat had made a nest for himself in a hole in the wall and papered it with pages from a discarded book." 

Orris lives a fairly secluded life in an abandoned old barn with only his treasured red velvet slipper, a yellow marble and a sardine can with a sardine king on the cover for company.  Then his once quiet and peaceful barn is disrupted by a loud screech and cries for help.  Slowly, Orris creeps toward the hole leading further into the barn and peeks out to find that a small owl has caught one of their claws in a mousetrap nailed to the floor.  The owl continued to call out that they were stuck and needed help, but too frightened, Orris turned and returned to his nest saying that the Owl was done for.

You see, Orris has his reservations because owls and rats are natural enemies, to help would be foolish and only lead to being captured, or worse eaten.  Why should he get involved?  But then Orris catches a glimpse of his prized sardine can with the king's message of making the "good and noble choice, " and is encouraged to venture from the safety of his nest and approach the owl.  Timble, the owl tells Orris that he wouldn't eat Orris and so despite his misgivings, Orris helps to release the owl.  What follows is an unlikely friendship.  

Orris and Timble is the first book in this new trilogy written by Kate DiCamillo.  It's a quiet story about a timid rat who overcomes their initial fear and chooses to do a good and noble deed by helping the very predator that has been known to hunt them.  The story is filled with colorful watercolor illustrations showing Orris as this small, brown timid rat and Timble as a white owl with fluffy wings, and yellow eyes.  I liked how the illustrations of Timble's facial expressions didn't make him look like a large menacing owl.  It gives the reader the impression that these two could potentially become friends as Timble looks scared and a little bewildered.  I also really liked the importance that storytelling played in Orris and Timble developing a friendship.  How Timble wanted to hear more stories and how Orris began to anticipate and look forward to Orris coming to the barn.  This is a very sweet story that younger kids would enjoy.  A wonderful addition to fans of Kate DiCamillo's other books.       

Monday, April 15, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Sunny Parker Is Here to Stay by Margaret Finnegan

Sunny Parker Is Here to Stay by Margaret Finnegan
Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Format:  Softcover ARC
Number of pages:   288 pages
Publishing:   April 24th, 2024
Source:  Blue Slip Media and Publisher

Opening Line: "On the day I cursed, I was zooming around the Del Mar Garden Apartments, testing out the new brakes on my bike."  

Sunny and her dad live at the Del Mar Gardens, a three story, sixty-four apartment affordable housing complex where her dad is the manager and all-around handyman.  Sunny helps her dad by emptying the lint traps, cleaning the floor and taking out the trash in the laundry room.  Usually, she can be found playing with her best friend Haley or taking a neighbor favor walk (something they learned from an app) with Mrs. Garcia and her son A.J to pick up tomatoes people are giving away or to help look for someone's lost pet.  However, this time when they take their walk, they see a sign on the old school building that the city housing authority is planning on tearing it down to build another affordable housing complex.  Mrs. Garcia says that no one will let that happen as they're already unhappy that the Del Mar Gardens was built, but Sunny can't understand why the neighborhood wouldn't want another building.  Her dad's building brings so much to the neighborhood already, another would be even better.

Then Sunny and Haley get invited to classmates Lark and Chases birthday party, and Sunny overhears the adults talking about the plans for tearing down the old school.  The adults feel that a park should be developed in the area instead of more housing, as "everyone could use it."  Plus, they comment that affordable housing projects only bring down the value of the houses in the area.  Sunny has always thought of herself as being low-income but never as being poor.  Not only is she offended by what the adults at the party were saying, but she begins to worry that she'll be ostracized by everyone at school if they find out she's poor.  Sunny wonders if this means that people don't even want her in the neighborhood.  Then news of a local town hall meeting comes, and Sunny feels obligated to do something.  She starts to organize a petition and gathers signatures but isn't sure if her dad will understand when even Mrs. Garcia thinks it won't change anything.  Sunny's dad thinks that they shouldn't get involved and as the manager it might cause problems, but Sunny is determined to do something, but will anyone even listen to a kid? 

Sunny Parker Is Here to Stay has a wonderful diverse cast and community atmosphere.  It kind of reminds me of growing up in military quarters where everyone becomes a part of an extended family.  Neighbors look after each other's kids on the playground, and you just help each other out.  Kids played until it started to get dark, and it was safe enough to wander from one building to the next.  The story is a little on the younger side as Sunny and the other children still believe in the "Scanlon Curse."  Where if Mrs. "Sourpus Scanlon" talks to you then you become cursed into silence until someone recites "paprika" three times to uncurse you, and you only have 24 hours to lift the curse, or you die.  It was still quite amusing to read about their attempts to avoid Mrs. Scanlon so as not to be cursed.  I also couldn't help feeling bad for Sunny because she started to think that her dad was a coward, not even brave enough to help her with her petition.  When she just didn't realize how complicated the situation was for him.  If you've read any of this author's other works like We Could Be Heroes, New Kids and Underdogs or Suzie B Won't Back Down, I'm sure you'll also enjoy this book.  Read it for the sense of community and standing up for what you believe in.  Or just for the message that a town belongs to all of us and even kids should have a say.  The author's note which ties it to her own experiences living in affordable housing gives this a personal and relatable authenticity. 

** A huge thank you to Blue Slip Media and the publisher for the softcover ARC **    

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

Friday, April 12, 2024

Blog Tour for A THUNDERING OF MONSTERS by S.A. Patrick with Excerpt & Giveaway

I have greatly enjoyed the first two books in the Songs of Magic series and am excited to host a spot on the A THUNDERING OF MONSTERS by S.A. Patrick Blog Tour, organized by Rockstar Book Tours. Take a look at my post and don't forget to enter the giveaway!

                                                      About The Book:

Title: A THUNDERING OF MONSTERS (Songs of Magic #3)
Author: S.A. Patrick
Pub. Date: April 2, 2024
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 400
Find it: Goodreads 

The spell-slinging, shape-shifting, and epic fantasy adventure concludes in Book Three of the Songs of Magic trilogy!

After confronting the evil Hamelyn Piper, Patch Brightwater, his dracogriff friend Barver, and an army of Pipers have been transported to a mysterious island where they find themselves trapped with monstrous beasts.

Meanwhile, their shapeshifting friend, Wren, has been captured by the nefarious villain and is working hard to escape a pair of magic-dampening manacles.

Clad in his suit of impenetrable black armor, with traitorous dragons on his side, the Piper of Hamelyn hunts for a mythical amulet to achieve true immortality. But Erner Whitlock, an apprentice in the Piper’s Custodian Elite, is on the verge of discovering yet another foe with even more sinister plans.

. . Can Patch and friends reunite in time to prevent destruction from ruining the world?




The Lost Army

Patch & Barver

Patch Brightwater sat near the cliff’s edge, watching the sun rise over an unknown sea. From a cord around his neck hung the cross-eyed owl, Wren’s favorite Fox and Owls playing piece. Every morning since they’d arrived in this mysterious place, he’d done the same thing: look out to sea and think of Wren.

This was the third morning.

Nearby was the cave where Barver slept. Patch missed his dracogriff friend during the night, of course, but it was right that Barver spend time with his father. Patch made sure to send him off in the evenings, reassuring Barver that he’d be perfectly fine here in the camp.

In truth, he wasn’t fine. He didn’t feel unsafe, though. Alia was there, and Tobias; both were formidable Pipers, and Alia had the added bonus of being a powerful Sorcerer. There was also the small army they’d brought with them, with forty Battle Pipers and two hundred and thirty soldiers—as well as the three griffins who’d helped them in their doomed quest to track down the Hamelyn Piper, two of whom were still seriously wounded.

So, no, he didn’t feel unsafe, but he did feel miserable, and strangely alone.

Last night, Patch had noticed Merta Strife, one of the griffins, sitting awake by the fire near where the two injured griffins lay sleeping. He went over to join her.

“You can’t sleep?” he said.

Merta shook her head and nodded to the slumbering griffins, Cramber and Wintel. “Cramber is healing well, Tobias tells me,” she said. “But until he regains consciousness, his life remains in the balance.”

Cramber was laid stretched out with one wing tied to his side, allowing the dressings on his chest wound to be changed without having to move him. Wintel was beside him, curled up with her head under her wing. Cramber’s breathing was ragged; Wintel’s was regular and peaceful, but she’d taken a severe blow to the head.

“How’s Wintel doing?” asked Patch.

“She spends most of her time asleep,” said Merta. “When she wakes, she’s confused and can’t see anything but a blur. The next few days will be key to how well she recovers.”

Patch thought back.

They’d been so sure of their plan.

The Hamelyn Piper had been vulnerable, they’d thought—hiding out in the forests of the Ortings with a small group of his own soldiers. They’d known he’d created a suit of magical armor, one that would make him an even more powerful Piper than before; they’d known that he was looking for an ancient amulet that would grant him immortality.

Even so, they’d believed they would easily outmatch him with the army they’d brought. At last they would bring the evil Piper to justice!

Instead, it had been the Hamelyn Piper who had outmatched them, ambushing them in Gossamer Valley with a huge army of mercenaries. They’d not stood a chance.

“Wintel was so brave,” said Patch. “You all were.”

“We did what had to be done,” said Merta. She gave Patch a kindly smile. “But it’s Wren we all owe our lives to.”

Patch clutched the cross-eyed owl, feeling tears prick at his eyes. Wren. She’d come up with the only plan capable of saving them. A plan that meant sacrificing herself, but which allowed their entire army to escape certain destruction, magically transported to this unknown place.

Unable to speak, Patch simply nodded.

He felt like everyone in the camp had said it, or something like it, in the last few days. Every Piper, every soldier, seeing Patch’s heartbroken face, would put a hand on his shoulder and say, “She will always be remembered.”

And he wanted to scream at them to shut up. Because they all thought the same thing—even Alia and Tobias and Merta too. That Wren was gone forever.


And that was why he felt so alone at night, once Barver had gone to his father’s cave—because Barver was the only other person who hadn’t given up hope.

So here sat Patch, looking at the sunrise and waiting for his friend to wake up. At last he heard the sounds of movement from the cave, and a few seconds later Barver sat down beside him.

“Morning,” said Barver.

“Morning,” said Patch.

“Can I?” asked Barver.

Patch nodded. He took the precious owl from around his neck and set it in Barver’s hand; Barver held it tightly. They sat in silence and, together, thought of Wren.


The smell of smoke, and of meat cooking, made Patch realize he was hungry. They headed back toward camp.

“Did your dad say much last night?” asked Patch as they walked. Barver’s father had been a prisoner here for over twelve years, utterly alone, not even knowing why he’d been captured. The sudden arrival of others, and of his own son especially, had seemed so strange to him that he didn’t think it was real most of the time.

Barver smiled. “He talked and talked as usual, like he had a decade’s worth of words to get out, yet I didn’t mind. Just hearing his voice is a gift I never thought I’d get again. His eyes shone when I told him about my adventures—although there’s a lot to tell! I had to cover the Hamelyn Piper and the quest of the Eight before I could even start, because when he was captured none of that had happened yet.” His smile faded. “He made little sense most of the time, though,” he said. “He claims he’s never seen a single ship, or even a bird, out to sea. He warned me that sometimes dense mist rolls in and ‘everything changes.’ He wouldn’t explain what that meant, but the idea seems to really upset him. If we’re going to find a way out of here, we need anything he can tell us, though until he starts making sense I’m not sure how useful it is.”

“Did you sleep at all?” said Patch.

“No,” said Barver. “I came out as soon as he nodded off. I’ll get some sleep later.” He sighed. “It’s so strange, talking to him. One moment he seems like my dad, and the next he’s distant, talking aloud to himself or speaking like a child. Although I still haven’t told him about Mum. When he asks about her, I just tell him she’s well and missing him.” He looked at Patch with sorrowful eyes. “I don’t know if he could take it, knowing she died. Or that we’d fallen out beforehand.”

As they walked through the sycamores, the smell of cooking grew stronger, and now they could hear the sound of axes on wood. Of all the oddities in this curious prison, the strangest surely had to be the way the vegetation regrew overnight. Much of the plant life was edible—wild carrots, derdily tubers, apples, and berries. Yet whatever they picked, the bushes were laden with fruit again by morning; whatever they dug up, a replacement appeared by sunrise. Even the trees, their trunks cut down for firewood (or for the various projects Alia had thought up) would regrow as if an axe had never touched them.

It was the same, they suspected, with the rabbits and pigeons, the only animals they’d found so far—their numbers seemed the same each morning, however many they’d caught the day before.

The camp was spread over several glades in the trees. In one, the horses grazed, each hitched to a ground pole. The Battle Pipers and soldiers camped in a second glade, at the edge of which the injured griffins were tended, Merta keeping a watchful eye.

The other glade in use was where Alia’s “projects” were taking shape. Closest to the cliffs, and to the cave of Barver’s father, this was the one that Patch and Barver reached first. Even though the morning was young, there was already plenty of activity here.

Alia spotted them and waved. She stood in the center of the glade while soldiers worked around her. Yesterday, they’d been gathering and preparing logs; today, they were tying those logs together.

“It’s taking shape,” said Barver when they reached Alia. “Whatever it is.”

They are taking shape,” Alia said, and Patch realized there were three separate groups, lashing wood together with what looked like milkweed stems. “Two rafts and a scaffold. A resourceful lot, these soldiers of Kintner! Most of their equipment was left behind in the camp at Gossamer Valley. Luckily some of the horses were saddled with equipment packs when we leaped, so we have four axes and a variety of knives.”

“Why do we need rafts?” asked Patch.

“And what do you mean by a scaffold?” added Barver. The rafts were easy to spot—a basic rectangle of lashed wood at their core—but the third construction was harder to work out, various sizes of log tied together into triangles several feet across, which were being fastened together into something much longer.

“You’ll see what that’s for later,” said Alia. “First, though . . . any improvement with your father?”

“It’s hard to tell,” said Barver. “Although he does appreciate having cooked food for the first time since he’s been imprisoned here.”

Patch sniffed the air. The smell of roasting pigeon was making his stomach gurgle. “Speaking of which . . .”

Alia came with them, and Barver pressed her for an explanation of her rafts and scaffold.

“We have to do everything we can to escape from this prison,” she told them. “The world must be warned of the Hamelyn Piper and his army! But how to escape? We know this is a Bestiary, a magical zoo. It seems to be split into enclosures. This enclosure is bounded mostly by cliffs, and the only way out is the large meadow beyond the sycamores. Past the meadow lie the bone trees. When the griffin Alkeran was also a prisoner here, he must have been in his own enclosure, far enough away that your father never heard him cry out. We have no idea how big this prison is!”

“Indeed,” said Barver. “Everything about it seems wrong. There’s a hill in the distance, but the air shimmers and I can’t tell how far away or even how high it is. If we attempt to fly above the height of the trees, we fall unconscious. And as for the creatures that live in the bone trees . . .”

Patch shivered, remembering the horse that had panicked soon after they’d found themselves here, all of them disoriented by their magical leap. The poor animal had bolted across the meadow and into the tall trees that looked horribly like leg bones. As soon as it had gone out of sight, it had been attacked by something—its screams had filled the air before suddenly being silenced.

“Exactly,” said Alia. “That’s our neighboring enclosure, I believe. Many creatures with magical value are dangerous, but whatever lives in those bone trees seems particularly nasty. Your father said they sometimes hunt in the meadow, didn’t he? Yet they never venture into this enclosure.”

“Yes,” said Barver. “They only hunt in the meadow on the darkest nights. Dad said he’d never actually laid eyes on one—that if you heard the sounds they made, you’d not want to see them either . . .”

Alia nodded gravely. “Well, if they’re as unpleasant as they seem, then something must prevent them from coming here. I think those carved posts that run along the edge of the sycamores mark out the enclosure and act as a barrier.”

Patch thought of the strange posts with just simple rope between them. “A barrier?” he said. “It wouldn’t stop anything, let alone such vicious creatures.”

“They’re clearly magical,” said Alia. “I imagine similar posts and ropes mark out all the enclosures in the Bestiary. They didn’t stop us from crossing them, so perhaps they’re specific to the creatures being kept imprisoned.”

“My father is chained,” said Barver. “He can’t travel far from his cave. Why be so cruel, if a magical barrier would stop him from leaving anyway?”

“A good point,” said Alia. “But there’s plenty of magic that only works for simple beasts. Those posts might be unable to trap an imprisoned griffin, yet they could still keep the creatures of the bone trees at bay. Now, to find a way out of here, we have the option of marching through those bone trees and fighting our way past the horrors lurking there. And then to the next enclosure, and the next, for however long the Bestiary continues! But a better plan may be to reach the sea and go by raft around the coast.”

Patch was puzzled. “At the bottom of the cliffs? Where the sea crashes into the rocks?” He couldn’t help picturing those rafts reduced to tiny splinters.

“You just need to get a bit of distance from the rocks first,” said Barver. “I could fly a raft down there for you, I know I could!”

Alia was already shaking her head. Right from the start Barver had suggested he fly out to sea and get help that way, but Alia had forbidden it and made him swear not to try. “I told you, Barver,” she said. “Whatever spell causes unconsciousness as you fly up, it’s possible the same would happen when you flew away from the cliff, even if it was only a short distance. And there’d be no way to save you!”

“I’m sure I could carry a raft down safely!” he protested.

“I don’t doubt your ability, Barver, but there’s no need to take the risk,” she said. “That’s what the scaffold is for, you see—we push that out over the cliff edge and lower the raft down away from the rocks.”

At camp, there was a steady supply of pigeon and rabbit being provided by the camp cooks. Barver asked them to put some aside for his dad, for later.

They sat on the grass as they ate and could hear the sound of Tobias playing his Healing Songs for the injured griffins. Patch would take a turn playing soon. He was proud of how good he’d become in such a short time. Not long ago, his skill at Healing Songs had been rather limited. While he’d been training at Tiviscan, his teachers had spotted that Battle Songs were one of his strengths and had often focused on that. Yet Healing was far preferable, Patch thought, and with Tobias as a teacher he’d discovered he had a knack for that too.

“When do you think your scaffold will be ready?” he asked Alia.

“Tomorrow, I hope,” she said. “Although we’ll have some other excitement this afternoon. Some of the soldiers are intending to climb down the cliffs!”

Barver frowned. “That would be even slower than escaping by raft,” he said.

“They have a very important goal,” said Alia. “We know you black out if you go too high up . . . What if the same thing happens when you go too low down?”

“That would spoil the raft idea,” said Patch.

“Quite,” said Alia. “By climbing down the cliff, we’ll find out if the rafts can work. My fingers are very tightly crossed! Otherwise, we’d have no choice but to face the creatures in the bone trees and then to move from enclosure to enclosure—confronting whatever terrible beasts we come across. Not a pleasant thought.”

It wasn’t long before Tobias finished his Songs and joined them, just as Patch ate the last of his pigeon.

“Good morning,” said Tobias. He eyed Patch’s food. “I suppose I should go and get myself something to eat. Even if it’s rabbit and pigeon . . . again.”

“It’s not that bad,” said Patch. “They try their best.”

“Just imagine what I could do with the right ingredients,” said Tobias. “I keep thinking of the hedge-beet onions I bought. The vinegar makes those onions so much sweeter . . .” He had a faraway look in his eyes. “I’d had two barrels delivered and they’re just going to waste in Ural Casimir’s pantry. Such a terrible shame!”

“Not for me,” said Barver, grinning. Patch grinned too—when Barver had eaten those onions before, he’d burped out a torrent of fire. “Hedge-beet plays havoc with my guts. If I’d been a dragon it would have been even worse, believe me.”

“Yes, sorry,” said Tobias. “I should be grateful we have food at all, I suppose.”

“How are the patients?” asked Alia.

“Steady improvement,” Tobias replied. “It’s your turn to play for them, Patch. Focus your Song on Cramber this morning and keep his breathing steady. Wintel is out of danger, but Cramber could slip back if we’re not careful.”

Patch nodded and stood. Barver stood too—still rather battered after his encounter with the Hamelyn Piper in the battle of Gossamer Valley, he always curled up nearby when Patch played his Healing Songs, gaining some benefit as he caught up on his sleep.

“Oh, wake me when the cliff climbing starts!” Barver said to Alia before he and Patch headed to where the griffins slept. “I don’t want to miss it!”


                About S.A. Patrick:

S. A. Patrick was born in Belfast. When he was a child, he wanted to write video games, become an author, and have magical powers. The first two came true. If he ever does get magical powers, he hopes people like dragons and griffins because there will suddenly be a lot of them around. He lives in England.

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