The Healing Star by A. Kidd

The Healing Star

A. Kidd, author

Quiet Storm Publishing, Fictioin, July 15,  2019

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Stars, Adventure, Magic, Fantasy, Intergenerational relationship, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis

Feisty fourth-grader Julia’s best friend in the entire universe is her grandmother. Julia and Grammu share secrets while cooking soup together, stay up late eating junk food and watching scary movies, and go stargazing on Blackberry Hill. They even wish on the same star every night.

But everything changes when Grammu catches the disappearing disease: little by little, she’s turning invisible. If Julia can catch a falling star, then her wish to save Grammu will come true. All Julia needs to do now is find the legendary ladder to the stars…

Why I like The Healing Star:

A. Kidd has written a magical story filled with heart and hope. Pause a moment to gaze at the beautiful fairy-tale cover.

What really stands out in The Healing Star is the endearing bond between Julia and her grandmother.  They stay up late watching scary movies and sharing secrets. They enjoy cooking together. They snuggle in bed together. Grammu shares wonderful stories about star-catching, healing star dust and the star constellations. They even pick their own star. Julia and Grammu are so close that they think of themselves as cosmic twins. So when Grammu falls ill, Julia has to catch a falling star to save he life.  Julia’s mother is skeptical, calling Grammu’s stories “old wives tales.”

When Julia fails to catch a falling star in Miller’s Field one special night, she and her loyal flatulent beagle, Pete, embark upon a dangerous journey to find the legendary ladder that leads to the stars. She discovers magical clouds, cloud people, and a cloud castle with a video game parlor. The story fantasy elements are fun but also teach Julia that not everyone is trustworthy.

This empathetic novel also dives into the uncertainty of life — disaapointment and loss — that many young people experience in their daily lives with loved ones.  It is a story about family and how we keep those memories in our hearts forever. The ending is very moving and will surprise readers. Julia will inspire readers to find  their own inner strengths during difficult times. This novel is a perfect read-aloud for younger kids and a read-alone for middle grade readers.     

A. Kidd is the middle child in a family of three girls. She started making up her own stories at age four. Because she couldn’t yet write, her mom wrote the stories down for her while she painted the pictures. Her first story was called Wagland and featured an island community with sea creatures that ate tuna fish sandwiches.

She has a B.S. in Written Communication with a minor in Language, Literature, and Writing from Eastern Michigan University and an MLIS with a specialization in children’s librarianship from Wayne State University. Her poetry has been published in literary magazines. A. Kidd lives with her husband and daughter in a suburb of Detroit, MI. The Healing Star is her debut novel. She often wishes on stars but hasn’t caught one yet. Connect with A. Kidd through her Facebook page.

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 the author in exchange for a review.

      

 

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages 12 and up

Pages: 738

Themes: Fantasy,  Magic, Adventure, Magical creatures, Friendship, Villains

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster changed the game. Now she’s facing impossible choices: when to act, when to trust, and when to let go.

Her friends are divided and scattered, and the Black Swan wants Sophie to focus on their projects. But her instincts are leading her somewhere else.

Stellarlune—and the mysterious Elysian—might be the key to everything. But finding truth in the Lost Cities always requires sacrifice. And as the Neverseen’s plans sharpen into terrifying focus, it appears that everyone has miscalculated. The Lost Cities’ greatest lie could destroy everything. And in the battle that follows, only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same.

In this stunning ninth book in the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie and her friends discover the true meaning of power—and evil.

Why I like Stellarlune:

Many teens have been gifted Stellarlune over the holidays. so I am going to be careful and not spoil anything for readers.  First of all, Karin Paorocki’s cover is stunning!  Gorgeous and packed with action!  

Shannon Messenger is certainly setting the stage in Stellarlune for the fate of the Lost Cities. Dedicated fans will find  her story gripping, risky, and thought-provoking. This story ties up loose ends as it prepares readers for what is to come in her final novel next year. How will it all end, only Messenger knows. And yes Shannon, some readers will think your ending is “evil,” (your words, not mine). But that cliff hangar is spectacular and will leave readers with gaping mouths and playing out many scenarios in their minds until the final novel is released and all is revealed. 

Two standouts for me in this series are Messenger’s magnificent worldbuilding and her impressive cast of characters, who are growing up. Sophie is more mature, and has her abilities under control. But she is a teenager, so there are times she is impulsive, over zealous, headstrong and reckless as she carries the elven world on her shoulders. Needless to say there is a lot of normal teen drama in this book. Her friends Fitz, Biana, Dex, Linh, Tam, Marilla, Maruca, and Wylie are upset with her lack of team work. So Sophie’s working hard on finetuning her leadership skills, to keep Team Valliant strong and one step ahead of the Neverseen. And there is a little more romance in this story. Keefe–Sophie fans will be cheering. But Keefe flees to the Lost Cities to hide from his evil mother, Lady Gisela, who is conducting experiments on him and triggering dangerous abilities he can’t control.

The plot is action-packed. It picks up from the previous book, where Sophie and a few friends return from blowing up a hidden Neverseen storage facility. They retrieve valuable information, including the stolen “caches” of former Councillor Kenric and Fintan, an evil Pyrokinetic. Readers will know that there will be retaliation at some point in the story. But, lines are beginning to blur a bit between good and evil, when Sophie tries to understand hidden secrets from the ancient world the Council has hidden for a millennium. A meeting with the enemy only reinforces that. premise. Sophie and Team Valliant are beginning to question how the secrets have contributed to the instability they are all feeling in the Lost Cities. Sophie knows that CHANGE is inevitable and it will be fascinating how it plays out in the end.  I will not share anything more as I don’t want to spoil anything for readers.  

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale!  Stellarlune is a thrilling read for her worldwide fans! If you are new to the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, do not start with this book! Start with the first volume and you can binge read the entire series.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with her family — and an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon 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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire

Cress Watercress 

Gregory Maguire, Author

David Litchfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 29, 2022

Pages: 224

Suitable fore ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Family, Loss, Moving, Friendships, Independence,  Fantasy, Magic

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Gregory Maguire turns his trademark wit and wisdom to an animal adventure about growing up, moving on, and finding community. When Papa doesn’t return from a nocturnal honey-gathering expedition, Cress holds out hope, but her mother assumes the worst. It’s a dangerous world for rabbits, after all. Mama moves what’s left of the Watercress family to the basement unit of the Broken Arms, a run-down apartment oak with a suspect owl landlord, a nosy mouse super, a rowdy family of squirrels, and a pair of songbirds who broadcast everyone’s business.

Can a dead tree full of annoying neighbors, and no Papa, ever be home? In the timeless spirit of E. B. White and The Wind and the Willowsyet thoroughly of its time—this read-aloud and read-alone gem for animal lovers of all ages features an unforgettable cast that leaps off the page in glowing illustrations by David Litchfield. This tender meditation on coming-of-age invites us to flourish wherever we find ourselves.

Why I like Cress Watercress:

Gregory Maguire’s Cress Watercress is a delightful celebration of the wonders and beauty of the natural world, along with the hidden dangers and threats lurking on rocks, behind trees and in the plants and flowers. 

Reading Gregory Maguire’s Cress Watercress, stirred up so many fond childhood  memories of  sitting on my mother’s lap and listening to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit,. I was eager to read Maguire’s (Wicked) more contemporary story about a family of rabbits who deal with grief, loss and all the difficulties of life, while learning to create a home where they can heal and move forward after a tragedy. The animal characters are relatable with human emotions. The story is both sad and happy. It’s  packed with adventure and suspense, and has a strong sense of community.

Maguire’s imagery is rich and vivid and a delight to read.  For example, “The setting sun was a lumpy clementine in a net bag of string clouds. The air, so cool and damp. A few birds moaned in falling tones.” David Litchfield’s lively and breathtaking artwork makes this story sing. Readers will delight in his colorful eye-popping images. I believe my favorite illustration is the split oak tree apartment, which alludes to a  theme of dark and light in the story. It is a perfect read aloud book for bedtime, with short chapters and delightfully humorous, cranky, witty, conniving and dangerous characters. 

Gregory Maguire, is the author of the incredibly popular  Wicked, which inspired the musical. He is also the author of several books for children, including What-the-Dickens, a New York Times best seller, and Egg an Spoon,, a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year. Gregory Maguire lives outside Boston.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

 

 

The Last Fallen Moon by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Moon: A Gifted Clans Novel (#2)

Graci Kim, Author

Rick Riordan Presents/ Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Jun.14, 2022

Pages: 384

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Spiritrealm, Quest, Fantasy, Korean Mythology, Magic, Korean Americans, Sisters, Family, Diversity, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

For Riley Oh, life as the Godrealm’s last fallen star is not all it’s cracked up to be. Her new divine heritage doesn’t even come with cool magical powers; half of her friends and family (including her parents) can’t remember her; and to top it all off, the entire Gom clan is mad at her for killing the Cave Bear Goddess and stripping away their healing abilities.

But when their anger boils over and a group of witches curse Riley’s home, she knows it’s up to her to restore magic back to her clan – even if it means sneaking into the Spiritrealm.

Luckily, Riley has some backup. Along with her sister, Hattie, Riley meets Dahl, a heaven-born boy with shockingly white hair and a fondness for toilets, who might not be telling the whole truth about who he is. Together they’ll fight vicious monsters, discover dark underwater worlds, and race to save the land of the dead from a fate that no one could have foreseen.

And this time, Riley won’t let anything get in her way. Because she can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is coming their way – and the gifted community is going to need all the powers they can get.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the second book in Graci Kim’s New York Times best-selling Gifted Clans trilogy.  “Graci Kim does such an amazing job of blending Korean mythology into the modern world, I am now wondering how I ever lived without knowing all this cool information.”New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan.

Why I like this book:

Another compelling Korean mythological fantasy in the Gifted Clans series by Graci Kim. Her illustrious writing skills and fascinating world-building are perfect for this action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. 

After the death of the Cave Bear Goddess in The Last Fallen Star, Riley decides to travel to the Spiritrealm and find the patron, Saint Heo Jun, and restore the magic and healing powers to the Gom Clan. That means Riley must leave the real world behind (won’t tell you how) and journey into the afterlife, where souls pass through an interim period between life and death — seven stages of hell — before they can move into heaven. (View the realms inside the book cover.)  Kim’s inclusion of the seven trials really makes this a rich reading experience as it expands the first book. It also introduces readers to this fantastical realm, new mythological creatures, danger and a lot of humor. (No more spoilers.)    

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley, an adopted protagonist, who can’t do magic or heal, makes a lot of mistakes in the first part of the story. But then her character growth takes off and she surpasses her sister by the end. Hattie is the best sister ever and takes risks of her own to be by Riley’s side in the Spiritrealm. Her presence reminds readers of the strong family relationships in the story. And there are new characters like Dahl, a delightful, witty, white-haired 13-year-old who claims to be a janitor  and tour guide and helps Riley navigate the realm. There is so much more to his story (no spoilers) and he’s never incarnated. There are many more characters like the incompetent mayor and creatures who aren’t who you think they are — some loveable and and others are dark —  but they will find their way into the hearts of readers in unexpected ways.

The plot is skillfully executed and readers will think they know where the story is headed, but will experience many different twists and turns.  And they will be surprised and satisfied with the resounding ending,  

Additional thoughts: If you enjoyed the first book, you will probably enjoy reading The Last Fallen Moon. I will admit that it took me a while to get into this story, but I am glad I hung in because it was worth the my time to really understand Korean mythology and the various rituals that still exist today in Korea. I do recommend you read the books in order, even though there is a short summary of the previous book to bring readers up to speed, I really loved The Last Fallen Star, so you don’t want to miss it! There will be a final book in the trilogy. 

Gracie Kim is the national best-selling author of The Last Fallen Star, the first book in the Gifted Clans trilogy.  a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

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.

 

Unicorn Island: Beneath the Sand by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Vol. 2)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stanecliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Mar. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Adventure, Fantasy, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Samantha’s (Sam) life couldn’t get much better. Since coming to Foggy Harbor to stay with her Uncle Mitch while her mother tours with an orchestra, she’s discovered a magical island full of unicorns and is learning how to protect them with her new friend, Tuck by her side. Foggy Harbor is finally starting to feel like home,

But just when everything seems perfect, a mysterious illness befalls the unicorn herd and threatens to rob them of their immortality. As Sam and Tuck race to help find a cure, she must confront a dark secret that her Uncle Mitch has spent her entire life trying to protect her from — a secret that links her own past to the future of the herd.

learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath Sand is the second volume in this enchanting contemporary fantasy, which is packed with adventure, mystery and tension. It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts where they can learn to become “unicorn protectors.” 

The characters are diverse and believable. Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs to become a unicorn protector. She befriends Tuck, the veterinarian’s son, is very resourceful during difficult situations and a supportive friend. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but welcomes their help when he needs rescuing.  Sam can’t help but feel that Uncle Mitch is keeping secrets from her. 

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the second volume with four books to follow. And it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history about horns and hooves, secret rooms and passageways, invasive species, and healing salves. 

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

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 Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

The Last Mapmaker

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2022

Pages: 368

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Mapmaking, Explorers, Ship, Adventure, Dragons

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In a fantasy adventure every bit as compelling and confident in its world building as her Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark, Christina Soontornvat explores a young woman’s struggle to unburden herself of the past and chart her own destiny in a world of secrets. As assistant to Paiyoon, Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, twelve-year-old Sai plays the part of a well-bred young lady with a glittering future. In reality, her father, Mud, is a conman.  In a kingdom where the status of one’s ancestors dictates their social position, the truth could ruin her.

Sai seizes the chance to join an expedition to chart the southern seas, but she isn’t the only one aboard with secrets. When Sai learns that the ship might be heading for the fabled Sunderlands—a land of dragons, dangers, and riches beyond imagining—she must weigh the cost of her dreams. Vivid, suspenseful, and thought-provoking, this tale of identity and integrity is as beautiful and intricate as the maps of old.

Why I like The Last Mapmaker:

Set in a Thai fantasy world, The Last Mapmaker is a suspenseful and thrilling high-seas adventure that will captivate readers, It will introduce them to some history of early colonizers exploring uncharted countries and staking their claims. And sometimes there are environmental consequences that are detrimental to the country.  

Soontornvat’s richly textured novel is original, fast-paced and tightly plotted with surprise twists, secrets, and betrayals that will keep readers engaged. Her prose is lyrical and visual. Readers will experience both the beauty and wrath of the sea, deal with sea sickness, smell the salty air, and enjoy the time in ports.

The diverse cast of characters are complex, messy and real. Sai is a determined and resourceful character who dreams big. She gets her chance when the aging mapmaker, Paiyoon, invites Sai to assist him on expedition to chart and discover the fabled Sunderlands for the Queen. His handwriting has become shaky and Sai can duplicate his writing without anyone knowing — their secret. He is somewhat fatherly toward Sai. The Captain of the ship is a female war hero, Anchalee Sangra, who is professional and aloof. Sai connects with the Captain’s friend Rian Prasomsap, who takes her under her wings, but she has her own agenda. Readers will enjoy seeing women in leadership roles.  Sai recognizes a crew member on the ship, Grebe, who could reveal some of her own secrets. And Sai’s relationship with with a colorful pickpocket/stowaway, Bo, could get her in a lot of trouble. 

When the Captain suddenly falls ill, the voyage takes a dramatic turn and the captain’s friend, Rian takes command of the ship. She convinces the crew to chart a course for the fabled Sunderlands, a place thought to be beseeched by dragons. 

This story deals with some serious themes written in a way that is relatable to middle grade students. It has a contemporary takeaway for readers about being true to yourself and charting the right course in your life when others disagree — much like navigating a course through an unmapped ocean.  It is easy to lose yourself in The Last Mapmaker. I highly recommend this story to those who enjoy fantasy, adventure and history. I will be reading this gem again!

Christina Soontornvat is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children of all ages, including A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, both of which received Newberry Honors. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two young children and one old cat.

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 Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee

Tiger Honor (A Thousand Worlds Novel)

Yoon Ha Lee

Rick Riordan Presents / Disney Hyperion, Fiction, Jan. 4, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 248

Themes: Families, Loyalty, Honor, Space adventure, Korean Mythology, Shapeshifting, Magic, Ghosts, Fantasy, Science fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sebin is a young tiger spirit from the Juhwang Clan who wants nothing more than to join the Thousand Worlds Space Forces and, like their uncle Hwan, captain a battle cruiser someday.  But when Sebin’s acceptance letter finally arrives, it’s accompanied by the shocking news that Hwan has been declared a traitor. Apparently the captain abandoned his duty in order to steal a magical artifact, the Dragon Pearl, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Sebin hopes to help clear their hero’s name and restore honor to the clan.

Nothing goes according to plan, however. As soon as 13-year-old Sebin arrives for orientation, they are met by a special investigator named Yi and Yi’s assistant, a girl named Min. Yi informs Sebin that they must immediately report to the ship Haetae and await further instructions. Sebin finds this highly unusual, but soon all protocol is forgotten when there’s an explosion on the ship, the crew is knocked out, and the communication system goes down. It’s up to Sebin, three other cadets, and Yi and Min to determine who is sabotaging the battle cruiser. When Sebin is suddenly accused of collaborating with the enemy, the cadet realizes that the most dangerous for of all is … Min.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Yoon Ha Lee’s companion to the best-selling and award-winning DRAGON PEARL, another space opera inspired by Korean mythology, this time told from the point of view of a nonbinary tiger spirit.

Why I like Tiger Honor:

Tiger Honor is a riveting, high-adventure sequel to Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.  This is her second Rick Riordan Presents novel and another “space opera meets Korean mythology.” It is crafted out of Korean mythological themes. The mythology is never fully explained in this compelling story, because it is the foundation for the world and characters. The world-building is seamless.

The stakes are high in Tiger Honor, when an explosion leaves the new cadets in charge of the battle cruiser and trying to figure out who’s their enemy. But much more sinister things are happening behind the scenes. So Sebin’s first day on the ship starts of with an explosion that injures the captain and crew, and the new cadets are left to fend for themselves. 

Sebin is a nonbinary tiger spirit eager to join the Space Forces like his Uncle Hwan. He can change from his human form into his native tiger shape. He has a keen sense of smell and heightened hearing. Sebin has integrity because he’s grown up in a strong and strict Tiger clan that emphasizes rules, loyalty, honesty and grooms true warriors in martial arts. Min is a courageous character who is a fox spirit with heightened senses and clever charms that distract and manipulate people. Sebin and Min don’t trust each other, but are both dedicated to figuring out who sabotaged the battle cruiser. I enjoyed not completely guessing the ending and won’t give away any spoilers.

Lee handles gender neutral variances as an accepted fact of life. Cadets in the Thousand World’s Space Force wear pronoun pins that tell them how to address each other. Many of the characters in Tiger Honor are nonbinary.  Lee also addresses racism through the tension between the supernatural beings, like ghosts, foxes, and tigers. 

There is a mystery surrounding former general Hwan’s betrayal of the Space Forces in Dragon Pearl, and his scheming and treacherous activities in Tiger Honor, that will keep readers engaged. I was disappointed that more of the story from Dragon Pearl wasn’t shared with readers in Tiger Honor, which is it’s own story. I had to read the end chapters of the first book to remind myself of the details. 

I recommend Tiger Honor to lovers of science fiction, fantasy mythology and space adventures. It will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination.  I’m sure there will be another sequel!

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean American who grew up in both Texas and South Korea, learning folktales of wily foxes, shapeshifting tigers and benevolent dragons. Lee was inspired to about tigers and foxes in space because everything is better in space. Lee is the author of NYT bestseller Dragon Pearl and is also the author of the adult book Phoenix Extravagant and Machineries of Empire trilogy: Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun. Visit him at this website or on Twitter @deuceofgears,

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 by a library copy.

 

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: River, Grief, Fantasy, Dragon, Neighbors,  Greed, Friendships, Family

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Donna’s always loved her life by the river. Aunt Annabelle taught her there was more to the world than meets the eye, and the two of them built tiny shoreside houses for fantastical creatures Annabelle insisted were real. But now Annabelle has died in the very river she claimed was magic, and nothing feels wondrous to Donna anymore. Money is tight with Annabelle gone. Her mom, “Mim,” and sister, Janice, work all the time, and her best friend, Rachel, spends way more time with her basketball teammates than she does with Donna.

When a strange old woman moves in next door and needs help cleaning her filthy home, Donna figures this is the perfect opportunity to forget her friendship troubles and help her family. Especially since the woman pays in gold. Turns out, Donna’s new neighbor is an ancient, ornery thunder mage, and it doesn’t take muck to make her angry. Before Donna knows it, Rachel’s in danger and Donna’s family is about to lose their home. Even Annabelle’s voice, an unexpected guiding presence in Donna’s mind, can’t fend off disaster. To save the day, Donna will need the help of a caring new friend and the basket-ball team…plus the mysterious, powerful creature lurking in the river.

Why I like this book:

Ellen Booraem has written a compelling contemporary fantasy that is thrilling, dangerous, action-packed, realistic and humorous. Take a moment to look at the gorgeous book cover of Donna and her friend Hillyard. It makes you want to peek into that river with them.

There is a lot going on in the fast-paced plot — the death of a beloved aunt, a family on the brink of financial collapse, shifting friendships, an angry and greedy magical neighbor, and a cunning dragon living in the river behind the house. That being said, Booraem manages to pull it all together and create an exciting and believable magical adventure story for readers. 

What makes this story strong is its cast of memorable characters who leap off the pages. Donna is a curious and resilient character who begins to hear dead Aunt Annabelle’s voice (in her head) guiding her. She share’s her aunt’s love of the river and believes in the magic surrounding it. So moving to live with Aunt Betty’s, is not a choice for Donna. She’s not old enough to get a real job. But one appears when a very odd woman, Vilma Bliksem, moves into the house next door. Things really start to get weird. Vilma is beguiling, greedy and dangerous. Donna also develops a relationship with a new quirky friend, Hillyard, who is the perfect side-kick for Donna. He sports unusual outfits, like a  purple-and-pink tie-dyed T-shirt, leather vest, battered leather shoes laced on the side, and a brightly colored yellow scarf with orange strips wrapped around his neck. His hair is pulled back into a short pony tail. Being friends with Hillyard won’t be cool at school, but he is clever and helps Donna figure out how to outwit their wicked neighbor. Together they survive some dangerous moments and release some spells Vilma has cast.    

I highly recommend this magical story to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next.  I love not being able to guess the ending and I was careful not to give away any SPOILERS.

Ellen Booraem, born in Massachusetts, now lives in Downeast Maine. She is the author of The Unnameables (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults),  Small Persons with Wings, and Texting the Underworld. All of Ellen’s books have been chosen by Kirkus Reviews as Best Books of the Year, among other awards. In addition to being a writer, Ellen is a writing coach at her local elementary school. She lives with a cat, a dog, and an artist in a house they (the humans) built with their own hands.

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 Thief of Worlds by Bruce Coville

The Thief of Worlds

Bruce Coville, Author

Random House, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Winds, Fantasy, Magic, Other worlds, Global disaster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What happens when the wind stops? The air grows hot and still and hard to breathe. Hospitals fill with patients. The sky becomes hazy as dust clings to the air. The world begins to panic.

For Hurricane, the global disaster strikes at his core. He got his name because he was born during a hurricane, and he has always felt a strangely intense connection to the wind. And now his mother is one of the sick people in the hospital. But what can he do? He’s just a kid.

Then an old bearded man, Zephron Windlord, shows up from another world claiming he is in charge of making the wind. He seeks Hurricane’s help to find the wind thief and rescue the magical horn that will fix everything. In fact, the Windlord claims that Hurricane is the only one who can do it. Is he delusional? Can magic be real? And how can finding the magical horn rest on Hurricane’s twelve-year-old shoulders?

When all this turns out to be true, Hurricane embarks on the adventure of his life: a journey to different worlds where he will make friends unlike any people he has ever known. He will discover courage, strength, humor and ability to bring people together.

The classic epic fantasy from beloved author Bruce Coville will enthrall readers while it reminds them that magic lies in friendship — and that friendship just might have the power to save the world.

Why I like this book:

The Thief of the Worlds is a riveting, richly imagined epic tale of loyalty, bravery and friendship that will make your heart soar. It is an action-packed adventure with many complex plot twists that will keep readers guessing what will happen next. Then ending was a complete surprise. That’s a good story. 

The characters are rich, memorable and quirky. Hurricane is a 12-year-old Black boy from Chicago. His neighbors call him  “Breezeboy” and laugh about how he dances with the wind. So when the wind suddenly stops, he feels like he’s lost his best friend — until an odd bearded old man, Zephron Windlord, appears at his door and asks Hurricane to help  rescue a stolen horn that he uses to start the winds. Hurricane thinks he’s crazy, but travels with the Windlord to the top of the world on the back of a huge magical tiger with wide ebony wings. 

On Hurricane’s journey to find the horn, he enters different worlds. He meets Lura, the blue goddess of water, who is in search of a stolen basin from her world that has caused a drought; and Amberjon, a three-foot-tall man, who is seeking the lost spirit flame that lights and warms his frozen world. Together they realize that the environmental suffering everywhere is being caused by the same dangerous villain, so they join forces and search for him together.

Coville’s storytelling is brilliant and he amazingly builds four very unique worlds in a single novel. His writing is polished and his narrative will inspire readers to think about how friendship and listening to the pain of others may be the key to saving the world. 

Bruce Coville is the author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher Is an Alien and the wildly popular Unicorn Chronicles series. He has been a teacher, a toy maker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the founder of Full Cast Audio. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, author and illustrator Katherine Coville.

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 World Between Blinks by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin

The World Between Blinks

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin, Authors

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Cousins, Family vacation, Loss, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, History 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Whenever Jake and Marisol get together, adventure follows. They have their late Nana to thank for that. Her epic trips and treasure hunts were the stuff of family legend.

This summer, with the whole family reuniting for one last summer vacation at Nana’s home in South Carolina, the cousins are in for a legendary trip of their own.

Following a map Nana left behind, Jake and Marisol sneak out to a nearby lighthouse hoping to search for treasure. —they accidentally slip into another world! The World Between Blinks is a magical place, where all sorts of lost things and people wind up. Everywhere they turn, the cousins find real mysteries from history and a few they thought were just myths, from pilot Amelia Earhart to the fabled city of Atlantis. Proof to Marisol that the world is as as weird and wondrous as Nana has always claimed.

But the man who holds the key to Jake and Marisol’s journey home doesn’t want to be found . . . and if the cousins don’t catch him fast, they could end up lost in this world good.

Why I like this book:

The World Between Blinks is  heartwarming story about family, love, loss and memory. It’s an entertaining and magical summer adventure into a world where lost people, places and things go when they are lost or forgotten. If you ever wanted to see dinosaurs, London’s Crystal Palace, Atlantis, and the Loch Ness Monster, or meet Queen Nefertiti and Amelia Earhart, or hold the Great Mogul Diamond, than this book is for you — history made fun.

The world-building is magical. The plot is clever and imaginative. The authors take readers on a journey that will surprise them at every turn. Readers will discover what happens to the memories of the lost people who are living in this magical world. They will encounter the Curators who document every new arrival. I appreciated how seamlessly everything was woven together. 

Chapters alternate between Marisol’s and Jake’s voices, giving great insight into the reasons why they embark upon their journey. Marisol struggles with the grief of losing not only Nana, but her beach house which holds so many good memories. The family members want to sell and don’t want to deal with the upkeep. On the other hand, Jake is sad because he is constantly saying goodbye to friends, schools, and homes — his mother is a traveling diplomat. And there is a mysterious villain who convinces the cousins he can get them home if they steal a special ledger for him.    

Make sure you check out the Curators’ Files that has catalogue entries on just a few of the people and places you’ll find in The World Between Blinks. There are many more fun details added.

Favorite Quote: “The world between blinks is always there. It is everywhere and it is nowhere…People see it every day, but they rarely pay attention. The grown-ups are too busy doing grown-up things to stop and look, really look. Most kids are too distracted to examine it for long…But there are those who pause a little longer. The daydreamers….They stare into the dark places: blink, blink. They see.”  

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin are two bestselling, award-winning authors united by their love of history, adventure, magical stories and lost places. Ryan has explored the ruins of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and Amie has picnicked in the lost Roman city of Ostia Antica. When the learned about a vanishing island off the coast of South Carolina and the lighthouse left rising alone from the waves, the knew they had a story to tell. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and Ryan lives in Charleston, South Carolina. You may visit Annie and Ryan at their websites. 

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.