Wednesday, May 29, 2024

City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak

City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak
Publisher:  Puffin
Format:   E-ARC 
Number of pages:  384
First Published:  June 29th, 2023, and in U.S.  May 28th, 2024
Source:  Edelweiss+

Opening Line:  "Chompa wrinkled her nose as her mother ran the wooden comb firmly through her ever-knotted mass of hair and dipped her toes into the river to distract herself." 

Chompa has always known that she possesses powers, as both she and her mother, Ammi are witches.  She has the ability to move and transform small objects, yet her mother has forbidden her from utilizing her powers.  Instead, encouraging her to concentrate on learning her Farsi letters and assisting in writing the charms that her mother sells.

Ammi has been desperately hiding Chompa's abilities, claiming she has no powers, to protect her from the British rulers who are searching for individuals to capture and ship off to England to use their talents. Eager to prove herself to her mother, Chompa uses her powers and ignites a flame that spirals out of control, compelling her mother to extinguish it with her finger magic.  Unfortunately, Chompa's display catches the attention of the British, leading to Ammi's capture.

Shortly afterward Mohsin arrives.  He's an old friend of her mother's, who offers to assist Chompa in rescuing her mother.  Together they travel to London, where they become intertwined with Sir Clive Devaynes, a British man who plans to exploit Chompa's powers for his own schemes.

City of Stolen Magic draws inspiration from Nazneen Ahmed Pathak's work as a historian, researching the history of Muslim communities in the East End.  The character of Sir Clive Devaynes is the combination of two of the East India Trading Company directors, Clive and Devayne who were responsible for the stealing of about thirty-six trillion dollars' worth of goods from India.  The author also relates in her author's note that she drew upon stories that were told to her by her family and her meticulous research into the historical events of the forcefully removal of people from India and the indentureship of its children.  Further themes include colonialism, imperialism, and resistance.

Chompa is an excellent heroine; she's feisty and determined in her quest to save her mother.  Children may resonate with the idea of a protective mother and Chompa's sense of being restrained.  The story's premise is captivating, filled with unexpected twists.  Observing Chompa's first encounter with London was entertaining, while also illustrative of how people attempt to blend in by conforming to various styles of dress, in her case by wearing a frock.  

I enjoyed the magic system which incorporated both finger magic, written charms and djinn speakers (Tipu and Laurie, who aid her in her quest).  A type of magic which admittedly I'm less familiar with but was eager to learn more about.  The illustrations by Sandhya Prabhat at the beginning of each part of the book and chapter were very nicely done and I also found the map illustrations for Bengal and London by Lisa Visirin to be very helpful.  

Overall, I thought the story was fast paced, has interesting characters and settings, while providing meaningful perspectives on this historical time period.  My only caution is that there is a death which could be distressing to certain children and therefore should be taken into consideration when picking out the right reader.  

Monday, May 27, 2024

Happy Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday with a review of Braided (Sister's Ever After #5) by Leah Cypess


Braided (Sister's Ever After #5) by Leah Cypress
Publisher:  Delacorte Press
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages: 
Published:  May 28th, 2024
Source:  Banholzer PR
Opening Line:  "On the day my long-lost sister came home, I cut off my hair."

Braided is the fifth book in Leah Cypess's Sisters Ever After series, which is a collection of middle-grade fantasy novels with a slight twist, the fairy tales are reimagined from the viewpoint of a sibling in the original tale. The book retells the story of Rapunzel through the eyes of her younger sister, Cinna.  Each book can be enjoyed as a standalone or read in any order.

Princess Cinna has spent her entire life longing for the older sister she's never known, Rapunzel, who was kidnapped before Cinna was born.  Now, rescued from the Faire Realm by Sir Joshan, Rapunzel is finally coming home, and Cinna couldn't be more thrilled.  While at the same time a little worried.  As the first-born daughter, Rapunzel is the true princess and should take her rightful place as heir to the throne, and Cinna can't wait for that to happen. 
Rapunzel, however, shows no interest in becoming the Queen, confiding in Cinna that her return was solely for her. 

At a banquet celebrating Rapunzel's return, a fae girl appears delivering a message from the Fae Queen, declaring that Rapunzel must return to the Faire Realm within three days.  Cinna is distraught because her sister just got to the castle.  She desperately wishes to save her.  Yet, Rapunzel seems unfazed by the Fae Queen's request and tells Cinna that nothing can be done, she must go back.  Returning is a condition of the agreement that was made at the time she was given to the Fae Queen.  Cinna says that although everyone else abandoned the search for Rapunzel after her kidnapping, she refuses to do so.  She is determined to uncover the person responsible for making the deal with the Faire Queen and devise a way for Rapunzel to remain.

I really enjoyed this reimagining of the Rapunzel fairy tale, especially the intriguing questions that arose about Rapunzel's kidnapping.  Cinna grew up believing that it was her duty to guard the Fae border and protect their kingdom.  I liked how Rapunzel made Cinna rethink everything that she was told.  Questioning who is good versus who is evil and what the real story really is.  Each chapter begins with a letter Cinna wrote to Rapunzel as she was growing up.  They're really sweet letters and convey how Cinna feels as the years go by.  

It's truly saddening that these sisters were separated and prevented from getting to know each other sooner. Despite leading vastly different lives and experiencing such loneliness, they always hoped to one day reunite.  Cinna, sweet Cinna, who often felt like she was always saying the wrong thing to Rapunzel.  Worried that her sister may not like her.  And so confused about Rapunzel's reluctance to share details of her abduction and time in the tower.  Cinna truly loves Rapunzel and her resolve to uncover the truth is very admirable.  Braided reminds me a little of Caroline Carlson's Wicked Marigold (releasing 7/24), as both stories feature a sister's unexpected return and some of the mistakes that they both.  If you enjoy fairy tales with a unique spin, this is must-read.  Other titles in the Sister's Ever After series include, Thornwood, Glass Slippers, The Piper's Promise, and The Last Rose. 

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon: The Graphic Novel by Paula Danziger, adapted and illustrated by Victoria Ying

Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon: The Graphic Novel by Paula Danziger, Adapted and illustrated by Victoria Ying
Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers 
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   112 pages
Published:  Today, May 21st, 2024
Source:  Media Matters Publicity via NetGalley

Opening Line:  "In ten minutes, our entire class is getting on a plane for our flight to China."

Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon: The Graphic Novel is the adaptation of Paula Danziger's chapter book first written in 1994, into a graphic novel.  It was also adapted into a TV series for Apple TV+ in 2022 and lasted for one season.    

Since preschool, third-grader Amber Brown and Justin Daniels have been inseparable, the best of friends. They have always sat together at school; Justin helps Amber with her fractions, while she helps with any writing assignments.  They also spend time together at each other's houses after school.  Justin was the one who was there for Amber when her parents got divorced and her dad moved away to France.   
But now that Justin's dad got a new job in Alabama, his parents are planning to sell their house and move away, leaving Amber really sad.  She struggles to imagine her life without Justin, who will be her best friend now?   Justin seems to be adjusting quite well to the move, claiming that "everything is going great."  While also avoiding discussing his feelings about how the move makes him really feel with her, despite her many attempts to bring up the topic, leaving Amber confused and really mad.    

While helping Justin pack his room, they find a ball made of chewing gum which they both contributed to.  Justin decides to throw it away, which sparks a huge argument, and Amber vows she'll never speak to him ever again.  Thankfully, Amber's hurt feelings don't last long and soon she's trying to find a way for them to makeup before Justin has to move.

I deeply related to Amber's feelings of not wanting her friend to move and the fear of being alone.   As an army brat, my family moved roughly every three years during my childhood.  Often, I was the one leaving or a friend's dad received orders to move to a new post.  Saying goodbye can be incredibly tough and challenging for kids to adapt to.  I believe the story addressed this with sensitivity, conveying how Amber had already experienced loss due to her parents' divorce, and how now having to deal with Justin's impending move compounded things for her.  She shows considerable sadness and anger, yet you can tell that she really cares for Justin.  With its short chapters, vibrant, full color illustrations and concise text this book is an excellent adaptation for young readers tackling similar issues and emotions.  I'm really hoping that the rest of Danziger's chapter books will be adapted into graphic novels.  As a bonus the back of the book features a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the characters and insight into Victoria Ying's process for creating the interior artwork. 

**A huge thank you to Media Matters Publicity and the Publisher for the E-ARC via NetGalley**

Monday, May 20, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Mermedusa (The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea #5) by Thomas Taylor

Mermedusa (The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea#5) by Thomas Taylor
Publisher:  Walker Books US
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:   336 pages
Publishing:   June 14th, 2024
Source:  Edelweiss+

Opening Line: "Time.  It's just one thing after another, isn't it?"

Mermedusa begins with Herbie and Violet (Vi) in the Lost Founders office of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, when Herbie begins to have a dizzy, eerie, and queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.  Can it be because of the new lost and found object that showed up at his desk?  A wristwatch, that's "dead" or "frozen forever at the moment of some terrible crime..." professes Violet.  Yet, neither can come up with a reason as to how it ended up behind a radiator in the hotel restaurant and now in Herbie's possession.    

Herbie and Violet agree to put the watch aside for the moment, as it's midwinter and they've previously agreed to help Blaze with his Monster Tour.  They are supposed to show the three new guests that have just arrived in Eerie-on-Sea (EOS), Professor Herman Newtiss, the host of the Anomalous Phenomena podcast and his two assistants, Angela and Fluffy Mike around.  The podcast crew are in town searching for the terrifying and legendary Malamander, while also hoping to uncover the many hidden secrets of EOS.  

Professor Newtiss has been interested in Sebastian Eels for some time as Eels is an expert on EOS's folklore, having stolen most of the research, books and artifacts that are in existence on it.  The Professor consulted Vi and Herbie because they're the ones who know Eels best.  If they can find out what Eels is up to, he will provide them with his notes about Violet's dad's mysterious disappearance and Herbie's origins.  To get them started, the professor provided them with a clue from Eels diary, "when I was only twelve years old, I sold my soul for Kraken Gold." Soon Vi and Herbie are setting sail for the dangerous Dismal Beacon, the site where Sebastian Eel's sister mysteriously vanished years ago hoping to uncover the connection that ties him to their shared mysteries. 

Conclusions to a beloved series are always difficult.  Taylor does a remarkable job of answering all the various questions that have been lingering across the series.  I loved that all the characters are present in this book one way or the other, and I really enjoyed how things were wrapped up. The Berthday for Vi was a nice touch.  And as usual, the illustrations are wonderful.  

Each of Taylor's books in the series are filled with action, danger and delightfully creepy monsters.  We've had the Malmander, Gargantis, Shadowghast, Festergrimm and now the Mermedusa.  Each creature a bit more terrifying than the last.  There's so much to love about this series, the adventure, mystery and the friendship between Vi and Herbie.  Of course, there's also finally uncovering those lingering questions about Violet's father and Herbie's past.  It seems perfect to be ending the series with where it began, with the Malmander wreaking havoc once again.  I enjoyed learning more about Sebastian Eel as a kid.  I've always thought that he made the perfect sort of villain and hearing about the cause of his sister's disappearance really drove that point home.  Overall, a lovely series that I hope to revisit again.  

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

Monday, May 13, 2024

It's MMGM with a review of The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln, illustrations by Claire Powell

The Swifts:  A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln, illustrations by Claire Powell
  Dutton Books
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:   338 pages
Published:   February 7th, 2023
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  "Dull, adjective:  not exhilarating, not delightful, as, to make dictionaries is dull work."  

The authors introduction explains a little bit about languages and highlights the distinctions between British and American English. How dictionaries like Johnson's and Webster's were formed and the modifications that were made to some words used in the text, while others were left in their British form.

Chapter one opens with the family rehearsing for Arch Aunt Schadenfreude's impending funeral, a practice she insists they repeat over and over to ensure that everything is carried out perfectly.  Phenomena, Felicity and Shenanigan have grown weary of the entire affair.  They are much more excited about the upcoming family reunion, an event where the Swifts converge from all over the world on the family manor for a celebration and to search for their Grand-Uncle Vile's hidden treasure.  Which is rumored to be hidden somewhere within the manor and has remained undiscovered for centuries. 

Shenanigan was looking forward to meeting her extended family at the reunion, while also scheming to outsmart them and claim the treasure first.  However, the quest for treasure is abruptly interrupted when someone pushes their dear Aunt Schadenfreude down the stairs and the priority shifts to unmasking the culprit.  Shenanigan and her sisters begin to investigate the murder, gathering a list of suspects and looking for clues.  Meanwhile the culprit tries to evade capture and hide their tracks by destroying evidence and killing anyone who gets in their way.  Can the sisters unmask the culprit in time to save the family from further injury?  

Someone with a passion for languages, wordplay, and dictionaries would likely find The Swifts very fascinating.  It combines some of the character traits of Wednesday from the Addams Family, with the old mansion setting of Jessica Lawson's Nooks and Crannies, and the whimsical amusement found in Lemony Snicket's books.  I always seem to be drawn to books set in old mansions or manors, especially ones with hidden rooms, treasure and eccentric families.  Swift mansion is a treasure trove for any adventurous explorer, brimming with secret passages, false walls and even the occasional trap door.  However, the mansion is also fraught with danger, filled with booby traps, so it's important to be cautious and be familiar with the premises.   Shenanigan has explored every inch of the manor and has even crafted her own detailed map.  For the past few weeks, she's been examining every painting on the walls to find any hidden safes.  Her zeal and thoroughness in unraveling the mansion's mysteries are truly admirable.

The Swifts are a quirky family, that you won't soon forget.  Upon the birth of each Swift child, they are brought before the families sacred dictionary, where they receive both a name and its corresponding definition.  It is believed that each Swift's name reflects their personality and character.  This idea of names having a predetermination of who you are was very interesting.   Aunt Schadenfreude says that they're blessed to know themselves and their role from birth, while everyone else is trying to figure themselves out, but Shenanigan doesn't want her name to define her and what she's to become.  The story's exploration of the significance of names, and how sometimes the characters didn't embody their given meaning or match their definition was fascinating.  I liked that some characters wanted to change their name because they didn't like the process or felt that it didn't match with how they wanted to identify themselves.  Namely cousin Erf, who identified themself as nonbinary.  Or Cook, who wasn't born a Swift, but who still became a part of the family.  

Then there's the classic whodunit, unraveling the mystery behind the chaos and the perpetrators motives.  It kept me guessing till the very end.  The chapter titles and illustrations were exceptional, and I especially loved that the Barnes and Noble edition included a maze along the book's edge.  As a lover of words, I enjoyed the author's detailed descriptions, and my favorite quote was "they wound between the graves like black floss through crooked teeth."     Overall, the book was very entertaining, a delightful read, featuring a quirky family, a murder mystery, and intrigue.  I'm so glad that I read it before A Gallery of Rogues, which releases in August and is set in Paris.  I can't wait!  

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

Monday, May 6, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Fortune Tellers by Lisa Greenwald

Fortune Tellers by Lisa Greenwald
  Katherine Tegen Books
Format:  E-ARC 
Number of pages:   240 pages
Publishing:   May 7th, 2024
Source:  Sparkpoint Studio 
via NetGalley 

"I want to be a fortune teller, like for my job one day, Nora said curled up tight in the corner of Bea's top bunk bed."

Nora, Bea and Millie were inseparable after they met on the first day of kindergarten at Shire School in Manhattan's Upper East Side.  In third grade, they began making Fortune Tellers with their Write Your Destiny markers, special markers that seemed to make their messages come magically true.  The trio shared sleepovers, skate parties, and celebrated every birthday together, until the day their friendship came to an end just before sixth grade.  

A rift formed when Bea and Nora, attended a classmates birthday party and Millie was excluded.  Following the birthday incident, the Pandemic began, and their cherished school closed, which led to them being separated.   Millie's father quit his job as the super at an apartment complex and found a new job managing cottages in the country.  Nora's parents divorced, leading to her and her sister Penelope living with their mom, seeing their dad only occasionally.  And Bea's family moved to a bigger house to support her Aunt Claire, who suffers from uncontrollable seizures and requires constant monitoring.  Both Bea and her twin, Danny assist their mom with keeping an eye on their aunt.

While cleaning out her desk and getting ready for the first day of a new school year, Bea discovers a fortune teller.  She thought she had discarded them all after their fight.  They made hundreds of them before, yet she's pretty sure she ripped all of hers to pieces.  Soon Nora and Millie also find fortune tellers, with messages of encouragement, or just the right words that they seem to need to hear.  Their fortunes used to be silly, but now the messages are serious, appearing in the least expected places.  Why is it that they suddenly reappeared so mysteriously after all these years?

Bea and Nora receive an unexpected surprise from their former teacher, Ms. Steinhaur, a box filled with fortune tellers.  With the gift is a letter informing them that the Shire School has had difficulties, with the lower grades having closed since the Pandemic and they're now trying to determine the future direction of the school.  Nora contacts Bea via email, leading to the girls having their first group chat in almost two years.  Bea discovers the school's urgent need for ambassadors and fundraising.  Motivated to help save their school, the trio reunite and develop a plan to hold a huge gathering of all the former students and alumni.   

I recall making Fortune Tellers in school, although I think we referred to them as Cootie Catchers.  If you constructed it properly, hidden inside you could write questions, answers or responses like yes, no, maybe and try again.  Our own version of a magic eight ball.  It was fun to reminisce about them while reading the book.  

Fortune Tellers delves into the themes of food insecurity and the effects of a family member's epilepsy on the whole family.  The story alternates among Nora, Bea and Millie, with an occasional flashback to the third and fourth grade.  Each girl is nervous about starting seventh grade and how everything seems to be changing.  They experience worries over popularity, boys, the status of their current friendships and unhappiness since drifting apart over a year ago.  The fortune tellers serve as a bit of magic reminding them of their unresolved argument and wish to reconcile.  There's valuable messaging about expressing feelings resolving conflicts, or simply forgiving each other.  Which is never too late to start.       
**A huge thank you to Spark Point Studio for the E-ARC via NetGalley**

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