The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis

The Wolf’s Curse

Jessica Vitalis, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Sep. 21, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Death, Grief, Rites and ceremonies, Orphans, Wolves, Grandfathers, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

The Wolf is not bound by the same rules as you are.

The Great White Wolf is very, very old. And she is tired. After living through 700 winters, she id searching for someone to take her place. But she is invisible to most people. In all those years, only three have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive a — a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge.

Gauge lives in the fictional French village of Bouge-by-the-Sea with his grandfather, Bastien the Carpenter, and works hard as his apprentice. He’s been hiding much of his life in his grandfather’s shop, just because he once saw the invisible Wolf — and right after that the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Now his only protector, his beloved grandpapá, has died.

Everyone in the village is superstitious about death and believes that Gauge is a Voyant — witch. Gauge wants nothing to do with the Wolf, but the Wolf visits the boy regularly. The Wolf has an offer. She can save him the pain of growing up. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. If only his grandpapá’s last words hadn’t been, Stay away from the Wolf.

Why I like The Wolf’s Curse:

Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel, The Wolf’s Curse, is a captivating and unforgettable fantasy about about death, grief, loneliness, superstitions, magic, and friendship.  The storytelling is exceptional and full of depth. The plot is risky and engaging. And the ending is perfection. This is a story that will remain with readers. 

This beautiful tale is narrated by a snarky female Wolf, who has her own back story to tell. She’s old and tired and has set her hopes on Gauge taking her place to free the souls of Gatineau from their bodies and help them on their journey to a place of rest. The Wolf is not harmful. The Wolf also tells the stories of the the other characters and brings some humor to the story. Fans of The Book Thief may enjoy this novel.

Gauge is a relatable character who has endured isolation, loneliness and anger because of  how he’s been treated by the villagers. But, he’s also courageous and wise. When his grandpapá dies, he has no choice but to emerge from hiding and deal with his releasing ceremony alone.  With a bounty on his head, no one seems to care about Gauge, except Roux, the Blacksmith’s kind and smart daughter. They hide Gauge in their home while the authorities hunt for him. When Roux loses her father to lung disease, the two friends begin to question the village’s long-held beliefs and rituals, and search for the truth. In doing so, they bravely expose corruption.

The Wolf’s Curse addresses difficult and thought-provoking topics with a wonderful sense of hopefulness. It will enable readers to discuss death in a way that is less scary.

Jessica Vitalis is a full-time writer with a previous career in business and an MBS from Columbia Business School. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two daughters. This is her first novel. Visit her at her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy won on Natalie Aguirre’s website Literary Rambles, where she interviews authors and agents weekly and offers many giveaway opportunities to her readers. Make sure you check out her wonderful site and read her fascinating interview with Jessica Vitalis.

 

 

 

 

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

Daughter of the Deep

Rick Riordan, Author

Disney – Hyperion, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Adventure, Underwater exploration, Marine sciences, High schools, Orphans, East Indian Americans

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family’s she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. (And they’ve heard all the Harry Potter jokes already, so don’t go there.)

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now that cold war has been turned up to a full broil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

What I love about this book: I am only going to leave bullet comments, because I know this book will be a popular gift for many teens over the holidays. So, no spoilers! 

Rick Riordan has captured my heart with Daughter of the Deep. The brilliantly crafted novel is action-packed, fast-paced, and full of unexpected surprises, right from the start. His storytelling is magnificent. And take a good look at that stunning book cover!

Daughter of the Deep is inspired by Jules Vern’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I believe fans of Vern will find this modern take a thrilling read with a new spin on Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus. Riordan takes world-building to another level. And the believer in me sees the potential for a  series. 

Riordan has created a cast of characters who are complicated, original and represent a wide range of ethnicities, faiths and abilities. Ana Dakkar is very relatable, believable and will capture reader’s hearts. She’s thrown into a situation she didn’t ask for. But her courage shines in the face of what she faces on an emotional level. She quickly gains the respect of the other students, and has a strong team of friends in Nelinha, Ester, Gem and many other HP students. And I love Jupiter the orangutan chef who communicates through sign language. He adds some humor and lightness to the story. First time I’ve seen attention given to menstrual cramps in novel.      

This high-stakes undersea adventure, re-imagines technologies so far advanced that readers will keep turning pages. STEM students will especially love this book — especially those who dream of about the world beneath the ocean and the advanced technologies of the future. But readers will also be challenged to think about the caution required in using them. Who do these advanced technologies belong to and how will they be used for the good of all mankind and nature? Which makes this a perfect discussion book.

Rick Riordan, dubbed “storyteller of the gods” by Publishers Weekly, is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series with millions of copies sold throughout the world: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Heroes of Olympus, and the Trials of Apollo, based on Greek and Roman mythology; the Kane Chronicles, based on ancient Egyptian mythology; and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, based on Norse mythology. Rick collaborated with illustrator John Rocco on two New York Times #1 best-selling collections of Greek myths for the whole family: Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. He is also the publisher of an imprint at Disney Hyperion, Rick Riordan Presents, dedicated to finding other authors of highly entertaining fiction based on world cultures and mythologies, and a contributor to an RRP short story anthology, The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife and two sons. He’s even known to go scuba diving on occasion. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

The Secret Starling

Judith Eagle, Author

Jo Rioux, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Orphans, English Manor, Adventure, Family, Mystery, Secrets, Murder

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Clara Starling lives at Braithwaite Manor with her cold Uncle Edward Starling. Her life is full of dull rules, deadly routines, boring lessons with a governess and flavorless meals under her mean-spirited uncle’s strict regime. Clara’s mother died in childbirth. Clara knows she has a father somewhere, but Uncle tells her “he doesn’t know she exists.” End of question.  Clara’s only salvation is Cook, who she chats with her on the rare occasions Uncle leaves the manor. And she has her mother’s books to comfort her. 

Clara begins to notice things disappearing — portraits, china, and silver bowls.  Uncle fires staff, including Cook. One day Uncle informs Clara they are leaving the manor and orders her to pack a suitcase. He drops her off in the village, while he runs some errands. He hands her a thick wad of 10-pound notes and disappears. Clara spends the afternoon in a café and soon realizes that she’s been abandoned. Not wanting to end up in an orphanage, she trudges back to the old manor. She’s on her own now and no one is going to order her around anymore.  The manor is hers, even if there is a “For Sale” sign in the yard.  

When she arrives home, she finds a streetwise orphan, Peter Trimble and his rescue cat, waiting for her outside. He’s been sent to stay at the manor by his granny while she recuperates. The children seize the  chance to live by their own rules. But when the pair’s wild romps through the halls of Braithwaite Manor reveal a single, worn ballet slipper, they are hurled into a mystery that will lead to London’s glittering Royal Opera House, Russian dancers  and the unraveling of twisted Starling family secrets of poison, a villainous ex-ballet dancer, passion, and murder.

What to like about this story

Readers are in for a treat with Judith Eagle’s fast-paced adventure that is full of plot twists and surprises. The story is original and an exciting read. Even the cheerless opening will intrigue readers. And the run-down manor with feel like they’ve stepped into the late 19th century.

The relationship between Clara and Peter is intriguing. They both have pasts that are kind of a dead end. Peter was abandoned in a train station and adopted by a cleaning woman he calls Granny.  Peter loves the ballet and dances all over the manor. And Clara never knew her mother or has seen a picture of her. Uncle won’t tell her anything. But together they compliment one another. It’s fun to watch Clara’s growth, determination and bravery.

There are other lively characters in the story, Cook’s three grandchildren, who come to play at the manor when Uncle disappears. The manor now feels like a real home and that makes Clara feel happy and hopeful. It’s uplifting to see the children in charge and having a ball exploring, hiding and eating what ever they want. They also are clever and outsmart the grown-ups by destroying the yard sign and tricking realtors. They are the rulers of the manor…for now.

There is so much more to the story once Clara and Peter identify the owner of the ballet slipper. Sorry, no spoilers. The story speeds up and readers will be caught up in a mystery that takes them on a thrilling journey. 

Readers will also enjoy Jo Rioux’s eight full-page, pen and ink illustrations, which contribute significantly to the storytelling.

Judith Eagle’s career thus far has included stints as a stylist, fashion editor, and features writer. She currently works in a secondary school library and lives in South London with her family and Stockwell the cat. The Secret Starling is her first novel.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review.