Sunday, November 27, 2022

Today's read... Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston

Today's read plunges into the world of vampires and magic with a very unique twist. It hit the shelves at the beginning of this month...and I just love the cover! Plus, it's by the same author who wrote the Caraval trilogy. I did enjoy those books, so I figured this one might be worth a peek too.

Ready to dance on the side of danger, magic, and mayhem (or I think that's what this one is about)?

by Margie Fuston
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Young Adult Fantasy 
499 pages

Caraval meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this deliciously dark young adult fantasy about a girl who makes a deal with a magical secret society to enter a potentially deadly competition for the chance to avenge her mother’s death.

Ever since a vampire murdered her mother, Ava has been determined to get revenge. This all-encompassing drive has given her the fuel she needed to survive foster home after foster home.

But it’s been ten years since anyone’s seen a vampire, and Ava has lost hope that she’ll ever find one…until she stumbles across a hidden magic show where she witnesses impossible illusions. The magicians may not be the bloodsuckers she’s hunting, but Ava is convinced something supernatural is at play, so she sneaks backstage and catches them in acts they can’t explain.

But they’ve been waiting for her.

The magicians reveal they’re part of an ancient secret society with true magic, and Ava has the same power in her blood that they do. If she joins them, they promise to teach her the skills she needs to hunt vampires and avenge her mother. But there’s a catch: if she wants to keep the power they offer, she needs to prove she’s worthy of it. And to do so, she must put on the performance of her life in a sinister and dangerous competition where illusion and reality blur, and the stakes are deadly.



Magic, revenge, immortality, and romance weave among bloody thorns and a very dangerous game.

Ava will never forgive the vampire, who took her mother's life. Nor can she forget her parents' love of performing magic shows on the stage. Now that her brother and her have shifted from one foster home to the other, he, at least, has found a place he can call home. She, however, is eighteen and needs to deal with the revenge she's planned for the last years. When she runs across a magic show, which not only impresses but seems to call to her in a strange way, she wonders if she's found what she's looking for. But it's the hunt for vampires the magicians do after the show, which completely wins her over. Convinced she can finally find her revenge, she agrees to become the troupe's apprentice...but she's no where near ready for everything that means. Especially when she's forced to take part in a dangerous competition, where only one of the new apprentices is allowed to keep their magic and continue the hunt.

This book packs a lot...which also explains the almost 500 pages found in the hardcopy. It starts out with Ava and her brother somewhat settled into their latest foster home, explaining a bit of past but mostly allowing the reader to get to know her situation and sink into her character a little, first. She comes across as sharp-edged but not as cold as she'd like to be. Her love for her younger brother is golden, and although she's untrusting of the rest of the world, she doesn't completely spit in kindness' face. It gives her just the right amount of warmth to gain a little sympathy, while showing how her past has hardened her, too. It sets up the perfect stage for the rest of the wild ride...because it does shift into high-gear from there.

The author does a fantastic job at opening up a world of amazing magic and scenes. The descriptions allow for wonder, letting the darkness mix with beauty. It was fun to watch the magic happen through Ava's eyes and almost see the impossibility unfold. The manor, the fight scenes, and everything else comes to clear life, and that without overly wordy or drudging description blocks. 

Plots weave with secrets and sub-plots to make quite the intricate tale. While some aspects are predictable, there are quite a few which hit with unexpected twists and turns. Every truth is hard-won and comes at a price, and each one holds a darker secret behind it. It gave the read richness and felt as if there were more than the pages should be able to hold...but it all fits into a great story. The ending does leave enough open to let imagination flow, while securing the loose ends to form a solid finish.

There are tons of characters, many of which fall clearly into a gray zone. It's a complex world with shadows and forced survival, making each character hold their own goals and rules dear. It's hard to see who is worthy of friendship, and who is hiding their hand. But many have very individual story arcs...although Ava's didn't progress or change as much as it could have. Still, it was easy to root for her and the others, and hope they came through.

And there is romance. This wasn't quite my thing since it involved a lot of instant attraction and that with a love triangle... of sorts. I did root for one side, and Ava is in a hard spot. I just had a little trouble accepting the triangle with all of the other things going on too. But that's a personal thing, and the romance did flow with all the delicious tension and excitement that it should

I did enjoy this read quite a bit and found it extremely well done. I read it in one sitting and let myself happily get lost in this dangerous but magical world.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Today's read... My Very Rocky Christmas by Jackson Murphy

Today's read came out the beginning of this month and caught my attention right away. Firstly, I don't remember ever seeing a Christmas story surrounding trees and rocks. Second, some of the proceeds go to 'Plant a Billion Trees'. And after reading this...well, let's just say that I wasn't disappointed.

A Rocky the Rock Quarry
by Jackson Murphy
Illustrated by Rebecca Rem
Picture Book
34 pages
ages 3 to 8

While on an annual December outing with his father to a local tree farm to cut down the family Christmas tree, a young boy encounters an unusual resident who changes his life forever. “My Very Rocky Christmas” is the heartwarming, “based-on-a-true story” memoir of a very unlikely friendship. Destined to become a new yuletide tradition, adults will want to share this amazing adventure — and the important lessons it teaches — with the young ones in their lives each and every holiday season.

Author Jackson Murphy was 6 years old when he first met Rocky (who was over a million years old at the time). Their relationship got off to a bit of a rough start (as you’ll find out), but today it’s as solid as a…well, you know.

"My Very Rocky Christmas" also includes fascinating and educational information on all the varieties and traditions of Christmas trees grown around the world, along with some fun holiday trivia.

BUY THIS BOOK HELP PLANT A TREE! Partial proceeds from every book sold go to The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ Campaign.



Based on a real experience from the author, this Christmas tale takes a very original direction, which ends with warm feelings and unique inspiration.

Every year, a boy and his father head to a tree farm to find their Christmas tree, something the boy enjoys. One year, after cutting down their perfect tree, the boy discovers a rock by the now cut truck. Concerned that the rock will no longer be happy to be lying in the open, the boy finds a new spot, which should work well. The next years, he visits the rock to make sure it's still fine...until one year, the tree it was under is gone right along with the stone. Finding the stone a few yards away buried in the snow by itself, the boy comes up with a new plan to make sure the rock is always protected.

This is a sweet, Christmas story, which is very easy for kids to relate to (and for adults to remember when they might have done similar things themselves). It's told with a gentle flow, starting with the wonderful atmosphere of finding a perfect tree with a parent, before meeting the stone. The entire thing is done in first person from the child's perspective and with a natural feel. It does make a great read-aloud for quieter moments to settle listeners down and simply enjoy a story.

The illustrations are well done and bring atmosphere to the experiences and happenings. The snowy landscapes and Christmas details invite to the season. These are placed, here and there, around the text at the right moments. The pages are full-sized (A4) with the text in a slightly larger font and always on white, which also makes reading much easier.

I can see kids wanting to meet their own rock friends after this and developing a new hobby for awhile. Plus, there are two sections at the end of the book, which give more insight on the various types of Christmas trees as well as a bunch of Christmas tree facts. 

As a super bonus, this book was created with the intention of giving some of the proceeds to The Nature Conservancy's 'Plant a Billion Trees' campaign. 

You can learn more about Jackson Murphy and his wonderful endeavors...

Friday, November 25, 2022

Today's read... The Patrick Picklebottom Everyday Mysteries by Mr. Jay

 Today's read would have been one I would have definitely snatched up as a kid, and my own son was curious too. I only had the chance to read one of the ten mysteries in this book, but I was still curious to see how to flowed (and if it was as good as I'd hoped it'd be).

Patrick Picklebottom isn't new to the book world but has several titles already in print. I have not read any of them before, so this sleuth was new to me. This book is a collection of ten mysteries (with answers at the end of the read) and is the first in a new series surrounding Patrick. This one comes out March 1st, so there is a bit of a wait.

Everyday Mysteries, Book 1
The Case of the Brazilian Vase
by Mr. Jay
Illustrated by Erin Wozniak
New Paige Press
Middle Grade Mystery
128 pages
ages 8 to 12

MARCH 1st, 2023!!!

Patrick is back! Can YOU help him solve 10 different mysteries?

Patrick Picklebottom has a knack for critical thinking. So it's not too surprising that he and his best friend, Claire, keep coming across everyday mysteries. In school, at the local ice cream shop, during a history fair - even in his own house - Patrick constantly comes across new cases to crack.

In the great tradition of the classic Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol, The Patrick Picklebottom Everyday Mysteries takes the beloved picture book character into a completely new direction with an interactive book for early readers.

Join Patrick and his friends in 10 short stories where YOU help solve the mysteries. Can you figure out the solutions based on the clues provided? Think carefully before checking the answers in the back!


While the mysteries are relatively short and sweet, they push the thinking-gears and let the reader become a sleuth.

Patrick Picklebottom is a pretty normal middle schooler, who has a knack for noticing the details. He doesn't search for mysteries; they find him. In this first book of the series, Patrick runs into ten different situations, where he discovers something isn't what it appears to be or not quite right. At the end of the book, the solutions are offered so young sleuths can make sure they solved each case correctly. 

I only had the opportunity to read one of the ten cases, 'The History Fair', but it was enough to win me over to want to read the rest of the tales, too. In this one, Patrick and his friend are at a history fair with their own presentation table...which isn't getting as much attention as it should. When one of the other presenting kids pokes fun at Patrick's work, he decides to take a look at that kid's presentation and see why everyone seems drawn to it. And that's where the mystery begins.

The writing is very smooth and easy to read. The dialogue flows naturally, and it's easy to like Patrick and his friend. Their reactions were understandable and completely down-to-earth, which kept drama at bay. Instead, the author swings into the mystery effortlessly. In this one, the case was very appropriate for the intended age group (no murders or darker material).  So, I'll assume the others are, too. It does require a bit of thinking and contemplating to reach the solution, making these not extremely easy to solve. Still, it wasn't impossible to figure things out, either, and fits the age level nicely. 

The illustrations are spot on and bring each scene to life, while the text still holds the hints and clues needed to solve the situation. These added a little lightness to the atmosphere and make the entire tale more approachable.

I'm going to keep my eye on this one and am considering picking up the entire thing, when release date rolls around.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Happy Book Birthday, The Tarnished by E.S. Christison

 It's another day of book birthday celebration! This one came out yesterday, so it's very new to the shelves. It's the 2nd book in a series, and I did read the first one already back in 2020 and enjoyed it quite a bit. Since that book ended with a cliff-hanger, I was excited to see what happened next. So, let's dive in and see.

The Blameless, #2
by E.S. Christison
Wildling Press
Young Adult Fantasy
372 pages

Princess Briana has escaped imprisonment and is on the run. Her beloved Predonia is in upheaval as the villainous Vaylec tightens his grip on the Blameless, tearing the kingdom apart in search of the girl who’s evaded him. To regain her people’s freedom, Brie must turn her back on her friends and her new home as she and her uncles race to uncover the secrets of Vaylec’s mysterious and growing power. There is no safety nor rest for the usurped heir to the throne, and Brie must dig deep inside herself for strength to take action as her world crumbles around her.



I did read the first book in this series and enjoyed it quite a bit. This second book (and this needs to be read as a series) grabbed me more than the first.

Brea, thanks to her uncles, has escaped evil Vaylec's grasp, but that's only the beginning, since she now has to find a way to stop Vaylec and help her people. With her amazing uncles, who do have their own lives and responsibilities but give them up to help her, she heads out to uncover the secrets surrounding Vaylec and try to find a way to turn things around.

This is a young adult read, which works well for teens, too, since Brea is only fourteen and also comes across that age. There's a wonderful sense of family and growing friendship. It's like a moment of fresh air whenever the uncles' families hit the scene, since it adds a great balance of calm and security to the otherwise dangerous situations they face. There's also the first signs of a romance, but this stays more on the sidelines, since Brea really has enough on her plate. But that doesn't mean there isn't emotion and moments to touch the heart. Mixed with the action, secrets, and tense scenes, something is always happening.

I did enjoy Brea's character development in this book as she slowly learns to embrace who she needs to be...which for a 14-year-old is a lot to ask. She makes mistakes, is hesitant, and comes across pretty realistic. But then, many moments in this read come across very naturally, which gives it a nice flow. 
It was fun to root for Brea and those rallying around her, and it will be interesting to see where al of this goes next.

Sneak Peek at... Hunted by V.M. Nelson with Giveaway!


by V.M. Nelson
The Dhampyr Series, #1
October 25th 2022
YA Paranormal

Tasi, an eighteen-year-old, head-strong, blood-drinking, dhampyr, has been hidden away in a small town in Maine since the death of her parents. Though she had trained to fight and kill vampires, she never believed those skills would be useful in her mundane life. That’s where she’s wrong.

In one moment, her life changes forever, and her aunt’s final words ring in her head.

They want your blood.

Now orphaned and charged with protecting her sister, Emily—a sister who doesn’t know what they are or that she’s about to endure a life-threatening change—Tasi has no other choice but to follow directions left for her. She is to find an ally who lives in New York City. This is the only way Tasi will figure out why she and Emily are being hunted before they end up drained of their blood.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play


What started out as a routine task to find blood turned into an onslaught of pain. I rubbed my eyes, allowing the darkness that filled my head to fizzle away. My hands, tender from scraping against the gravel, grasped at the cold metal fence. I flinched as my cuts burned against the steel. I’d done this to myself. The thumping under my skin and my lack of balance were all a result of ignoring my need to feed.

Now here I sat, watching my blood as it dripped down my leg and pooled onto the sidewalk. A tingling sensation ran through me as I flicked out the tiny shards that had embedded themselves in my skin. My body helped to push them out in an effort to heal itself. This was not part of tonight’s plan. I stared back up at the fence—my nemesis. Razor-sharp wire wrapped itself around the top of the rusty, twelve-foot-high chain-link barricade.

Take the shortcut, Tasi. It’ll be quicker and safer, Tasi. What a stupid idea.

Under normal circumstances, I could dart up the fence, hop over the barbed wire, and gracefully land on my feet. My overall dexterity might have won me a gold medal in gymnastics, but that was so not happening in my current condition.

An ache thundered through my body as I reached for the fence again. I hoisted myself up for the first time since tumbling off. With one last labored breath, I ran my hands down my pants, dislodging the remaining rocks from my newly healed skin. Nearby, a rustling sound echoed through the alley. My breath caught. The metal garbage cans clanked together as if they were being tossed around. If I were human, I wouldn’t think twice about the commotion. Lucky for me, I knew better. It was probably setting up to kill its next victim. There were a few shady-looking dive bars and run-down nightclubs in this area. The repetitive pounding of music stemming from different directions would drown out all screams. This was a perfect feeding ground.

Over the past few months, these creatures had become my reality. Since I was thirteen, I’d known of their existence, but only recently had I been in the same vicinity as them. And when they were around, you didn’t want to be, so it was time to go.

With a quick pivot in the opposite direction, I ran. I didn’t get farther than a few feet before my shoelace caught in the grate and my chin scraped against the ground. More blood dripped from my body.

Tasi, seriously—what else can go wrong?

Wrapping the shoelace around my fingers, I yanked until it released itself. By the time I tucked it into my shoe, it was too late. It had heard me. The pounding in my ears was no longer from the nightclubs but the pavement, and it was getting louder. I’d piqued its interest. Rather, my blood had piqued its interest.

And here she is...


V. M. Nelson is the author of The Dhampyr Series. She writes upper young adult paranormal, urban fantasy with a touch of romance thrown in. When she isn’t writing, you can find her playing video games.

Virginia resides in Minnesota with her partner and three children. She has always had an obsession for myths, legends, and fairytales. If asked, she would prefer to live in an alternate universe with vampires and fairies.

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