Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Review: Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

I'm ending this month with a dark...almost horror but not, which doesn't hit the world until November. But it is worth waiting for. It's for the young adult audience and sinks deep into the gothic, dark end of the paranormal world. It does slide right into the intended audience, however, and even throws in a romance to meet the lines.

Ready to take a peek at this haunting tale?  

by Lauren Blackwood
Wednesday Books
Young Adult Paranormal / Gothic Retelling
336 pages

NOVEMBER 21st!!!

What the heart desires, the house destroys...

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.



Darkness and evil form a hauntingly, deadly background for a young woman, discovering the world beyond the walls of what she's known.

Kicked out by her adoptive father and trainer to survive on the streets, Andromeda sees a job at a mansion in the middle of the desert as her only hope to finally find footing in her future as a debtera (an exorcist, who cleanses houses of the Evil Eye's influence). All other experienced and older debtera have failed, but she knows she was trained by the best. The horrors, however, are stronger and more deadly than any she ever even dreamed to be possible. She should give up before the house destroys her, but her one fault keeps her from leaving. She can't leave an innocent victim to fall prey to the evil, especially when her heart won't let her.

In some ways, this house reminds me of the one in The Amityville Horror but with a few major twists, since the evil isn't the house but connected to a cursed person. The horrors are terrible and dangerous, but still, it doesn't have the same scary atmosphere. Andromeda and those living in the mansion are well aware of the horrors surrounding them and try to deal as best they can. So, I don't see this one as horror or really even a real thriller. It slides more into a gothic or dark paranormal realm. And it does this masterfully.

Andromeda is a trained exorcist and a talented one. She knows her skills but also realizes when she might be in over her head...something which made me like her more. Her harsh past does add a bit of sympathy, but more so, it gives a solid basis to understanding her personality, which is packed with corners and sharp edges. And yet, she does have a soft side and a yearn for the one thing she never had, friends. It makes her likeable while still allowing the basis for her hard exterior.

I did almost lay this one down about half-way through (but am so glad I didn't!) There are horrors, which she has to extinguish but this started to get lost in the background of the romance and seemed to be losing the plot. But luckily, this lull was really only a couple of pages (for me) because it immediately swooped in with an unexpected twist and shot the action back up along with the plot. So, this hiccup (and it may have just been a personal thing) was cleared up so fast that it didn't hurt the read really.

Gore, death, and paranormal evil are unforgiving in these pages, which may not be the best for more sensitive readers. It is a dark story...not horribly cruel, though, either. Just lots of haunting, brutal (but not overly graphic) deaths, and violence. Anyone who enjoys dark paranormal tales with a young adult romance are going to enjoy this one quite a bit.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Happy Book Birthday, Long Distance by Whitney Gardner!


by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Science Fiction / Graphic
320 pages 

From the creator of Fake Blood comes another exceptionally charming middle grade graphic novel about friendships both near and far, far away.

Vega’s summer vacation is not going well.

When her parents decide it’s time to pack up and leave her hometown of Portland, Oregon, behind for boring Seattle, Washington, Vega is more than upset—she’s downright miserable. Forced to leave her one and only best friend, Halley, behind, Vega is convinced she’ll never make another friend again.

To help her settle into her new life in Seattle, her parents send Vega off to summer camp to make new friends. Except Vega is determined to get her old life back. But when her cellphone unexpectedly calls it quits and things at camp start getting stranger and stranger, Vega has no choice but to team up with her bunkmates to figure out what’s going on!



Learning all about friendship and meeting new ones takes a quirky and out of the world path.

Vega isn't exactly thrilled that her parents have moved to Seattle for work, and she's left her best friend, Halley, behind. Not only will she miss her but making friends is never easy. It's basically impossible. To help her smooth into things, her family sends her off to camp. Here, things seem to get worse. Her phone dies, Halley appears to have met new friends now that Vega's gone, the camp counselors are weirder than weird, and things just get stranger from there. 

Friendship, finding new ones, and trusting old are key themes in these pages, but instead of taking a boring, ordinary, contemporary twist, this book heads in a slightly unexpected direction. The author lets the reader get to know Vega and her family a bit before sending her off to camp. She comes across as a very normal girl, and it's not hard to understand her fears and doubts. Her problems with finding friends or trusting herself to meet people is something many readers will sympathize with, too.

It's been awhile since I've read a middle grade book, which hits upon the summer camp theme. This one adds a fresh layer as it takes a really quirky twist...and this definitely gave it an original and fun direction. The science fiction direction is odd but works wonderfully. It's easy to read, moves a long at a steady pace, and takes turns a reader wouldn't expect. And that all in a easy-to-read, graphic novel form.

And here she is...

Whitney Gardner is an author, illustrator, and cartoonist living by the Salish Sea with her husband and two pugs. She started drawing stick figures in second grade and somehow no one's been able to stop her. If there’s ever a moment when she isn’t drawing she’s likely to be found baking, tending to her many houseplants, or rolling twenty-sided dice. Her favorite color is, and always will be, yellow. She is the author of the YA novels You’re Welcome, Universe and Chaotic Good, as well as the creator of Fake Blood and Long Distance and the illustrator for Debbie Levy’s Becoming RBG.

The Trueheart by Helene Opocensky with Giveaway!


The Trueheart
Smoke and Mirrors Book 1
by Helene Opocensky
Middle Grade, YA Fantasy

How could Corbin possibly do what he was supposed to do?

After Corbin’s mother died, Maxim Moritz Grobian took him, penniless orphan that he was, under his wing and taught him the magic that was their heritage. Corbin owed Max everything, and now Max had given him a mission. Corbin was to bring Max's estranged daughter to New York. Lorelei was the only one, Max insisted, that could use the Heartstone, a crystal of phenomenal power, to keep mages safe from the Inquisitors that hunted them and allow mages to finally take their rightful place in the world.
A worthy goal, thought Corbin initially, but now that he had actually met Lorelei all he really wanted to do was to run for the hills. Both afraid of hurting her and endangering himself, he needed to stay away from her, not befriend her to do Max’s bidding. Besides, his instructions were more than to just befriend her. He was supposed to make her fall in love with him.

There was no way, absolutely no way he was going to do that – not after what she had told him.

**Get it FREE 6/28 – 7/2!!**
Goodreads * Amazon

And here she is...

Helene Opocensky was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a child.
After college graduation, she worked for an insurance company for ten years but, after filing a sex discrimination lawsuit against them, she was hired by her law firm and encouraged to attend law school.
After graduation, she worked for many years in the child support department as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Connecticut.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Amazon * Goodreads

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review: Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! by Maggie P. Chang

 Before this month draws to a close, I'm going to throw in two more graphic novels. Today's review is over one for beginning readers. I was thrilled to see this one because my own daughter tended to pick up graphic novels quicker than traditional books in elementary school. I have no doubt that she would have grabbed this one at the time, too. Plus, there are tons of extras.

But I'm going to stop babbling about it and let you take a look yourself.

by Maggie P. Chang
Simon Spotlight
Chapter Book (Graphic Novel)
64 pages
ages 6 to 10

JUNE 29th!!!

Meet spunky, funny, and friendly Geraldine Pu as she takes on a bully and makes a new friend in this first book in a new Level 3 Ready-to-Read Graphics series!

Geraldine Pu’s favorite part of school is lunch. She loves her lunch box, which she calls Biandang. She can’t wait to see what her grandmother, Amah, has packed inside it each day. Then one day, Geraldine gets stinky tofu...and an unexpected surprise. What will she do?

Ready-to-Read Graphics books give readers the perfect introduction to the graphic novel format with easy-to-follow panels, speech bubbles with accessible vocabulary, and sequential storytelling that is spot-on for beginning readers. There’s even a how-to guide for reading graphic novels at the beginning of each book.

GOODREADS   /     BOOK DEPOSITORY    /     B&N    /     AMAZON


                                      * beginner reader friendly
                                      * graphic novel (with explanation on how to read one)
                                      * glossary
                                      * explanation on culture and such
                                      * recipe at the end


Graphic novels tend to be a favorite among young readers, and this one adds on so much more, too.

Geraldine Pu lives in the US but has family which originated in Taiwan and does speak three languages (English, Mandarin and Taiwanese). Her Amah packs curry rice and other yummy food in her Biandang (lunchbox) every day for school, which Geraldine loves. That is, until a boy at school complains how yucky it looks. His teasing catches on with the other kids and soon, Geraldine is ashamed to bring her food to school.

There are so many lovely things about this book. First, it's a graphic novel...a simple one...and just right for readers, who have begun to read and are slowly gaining comfort with their words. Second, the book has a glossary and explains several terms and words the reader might not know or understand. This includes words used in Geraldine's family, which originate from Taiwan like Amah and Bao. The pronunciation for these words is given along with a description in the glossary. Then, there's an quick introduction on how to read a graphic novel for those not familiar with the form. Add a few more cultural descriptions at the end of the book (which are written for adults to explain to readers) and a recipe for bao, and it's a packed few pages.

The story itself is something many kids can relate to. If not teased for their food, most readers have been teased or seen someone teased for something. The message in this one is clear and still flows right along with the tale. The friendly relationship between Geraldine and her lunchbox did make me wonder at first, but it works really well and doesn't come across as quirky as I thought it might. (Readers might wish they had a friend as a lunchbox themselves). The introduction of 'new' types of foods, which the reader might not yet know, also grabbed the interest of even my older readers. 

This is a fun book with so much more and great for beginner readers.

And here she is...

Maggie P. Chang grew up in Kansas, where she constantly had her nose in a book and art supplies close by. She began her career in art education, but after teaching the most fabulous and talented teens at LaGuardia Arts High School (a.k.a. the Fame school), she was inspired to follow her own passion for children’s books. This Taiwanese American is the author-illustrator of the Geraldine Pu series and is also the cofounder of two education nonprofits. Maggie lives in California with her husband, their daughter, and their dog, Benihana.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Review: Can You See Me? by Gökçe İrten


A Book About Feeling Small
Kids Can Press
Picture Book
46 pages
ages 4 to 8


For kids starting to think about their place in the world, here's a unique look at point of view. Being small --- or big --- is not always what we think it is!We all know which things are big, and which are small, right? Buildings, streets, cities: big. Paper clips, daisies, teaspoons: small. But are they really? Or do things look different, depending on who's doing the looking? Take an orangutan. To a human, it's small, like a child. But to a flea, it's gigantic! And imagine how scary a chicken looks to an ant! In this unconventional and original introduction to the idea of perspective, children learn the importance of recognizing that everyone has their own way of seeing things. And how, though bigness is in the eye of the beholder, all of us are just the right size!
Gökçe İrten's quirky and innovative picture book provides a fun way for young children to explore the world through the eyes of those who see it quite differently than they do. It could be used to spark discussions on feeling small, or big, in the world, and on both empathy for others and self-acceptance. Mixing drawings, photographs and collage, İrten's distinctive art brings a lighthearted touch to the pages. Comparative facts about the smallest animals --- if you could jump as high as a flea, you could reach the top of the Eiffel Tower! --- encourage respect for the countless tiny creatures in the world, many of whom have characteristics far more impressive than ours.

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON     /    B&N     /     BOOK DEPOSITORY


Some things are big, and small are small in a fun book, which shows how this comparison can be flipped on its head depending on the perspective.

The feeling of being too small hits front and center in these pages as the author explores what exactly small and big mean. By taking various objects, comparing them, and then throwing them into a whole new comparison, the idea of small and big become a matter of perspective...and it's shown that even when something is bigger, that doesn't mean it's more important or 'better'.

The illustrations in this one are fun to gaze at all on their own. It's a whimsical mix of painted/printed art and realistic objects, giving an almost 3-D appearance at times. There are little details to look through and simpler scenes as well, and unexpected bits of humor thrown in, too. The difference in sizes is brought across clearly and makes it exciting to discover what objects will come next....and these are definitely unexpected.

The text is kept on the lighter side, making it an easy read aloud and keeps boredom at bay. The explanations are short and allow the illustrations to meld in to demonstrate the message of big and small. Still, there are a couple more difficult concepts thrown in, which will probably leave younger listeners a little baffled. The older end of the intended age group will feel more at ease on this end. 

It's a lovely book with a well placed message, and if nothing else, is intriguing and humorous as it takes the ideas of big and small, and shows how these descriptions aren't necessarily always right.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review: Saint Cecilia and Pastor Lawrence by Hazano Kazutake

It's Manga time! Since these are not to think away from the literary world (and rightly so!), I'm trying to get a couple of these in...along with a graphic novel or two...every month. Today's manga was re-released this last week and slides along romance with a tiny touch of paranormal. 

Ready to take a peek?

Volume 1
by Hazano Kazutake
Kodansha Comics
YA Romance / Paranormal
174 pages

Saint Cecilia is beloved by the townspeople—not only is she elegant and composed, she benevolently shares her wisdom with all who seek it. That is, until the last person has left—at which point she becomes totally hopeless! Only Pastor Lawrence, is keeping the Saint put together enough to do her duties...and though she may test him, it's all in a day's work!



Being a saint gains an entirely new perspective in this super-sweet romance, which has a blissfully slow build.

Saint Cecilia showed up at the small town church with no where to go. So, Pastor Lawrence had no choice but to fulfill his duty and take her in. While she is pretty, extremely kind, and carries miraculous blessings, her quirks (unknown to the townspeople) keep the pastor on his toes.

Set in a more historical setting, this one rotates around a simpler life and a small town church, which is quaint and pure. The illustrations bring across the setting and emotions well without ever delving into too much detail. They are easy to follow and make each character sympathetic...and have the reader wishing they could jump right in. The text is well set and never confusing.

This is cute, sweet, shy romance in every shape and form. Saint Cecilia might have her quirks, but they are gentle ones which never let her sainthood near any questionable borders. Still, they are exactly those kind of innocent oddities, which can make someone like Pastor Lawrence's life a little strenuous. While I wondered at the constant coddling from his side, toward the end of this book, a bit more is revealed which balances the pair's workload out. And it hints at more interesting things to come in the rest of the series, which is good because it needs an extra push.

Anyone who enjoys very timid, slow romances will adore this one...and they better be in for almost only romance with light humor thrown in. There isn't much plot otherwise, and the entire volume is pretty much a back and forth between the two...although another character does enter in more strongly toward the last third. This volume, I assume and sincerely hope, simply sets the tone for the Saint and the Pastor and solidly builds the foundation of their personalities and relationship before the series heads into slightly more exciting directions. While fun to read, it could use just a tad bit more of pizzazz on the plot end, and the slight hints at the end suggest that more is to come. In any case, it was a quick, easy, enjoyable read.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Review: Really Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick


A Pumpkin Falls Mystery, #3
by Heather Vogel Frederick
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Mystery
354 pages
ages 8 to 12

JUNE 30th!!!

The Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes grapple with pirates and mermaids in the third cozy mystery of the middle grade series.

Truly Lovejoy is excited for the perfect summer in Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire: swim practice outside, working at the bookstore, one-on-one time with her mom, and best of all, time with the dreamy RJ Calhoun who may just like Truly back. But the idyllic falls apart when she’s sent off to mermaid academy—sparkly tail and all.

Luckily, a mystery is never too far behind the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes, and synchronized swimming turns into a hunt for a sunken ship and an investigation of the founding of Pumpkin Falls…which may have involved more pirates than originally thought.

And as the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes get closer to the heart of the mystery and Truly gets closer to her mermaid debut, she may just learn to come out of her shell.



Note: I did not read the first two books in this series, but that isn't a problem. There are nods to the earlier books and reading them first would clarify characters and such, but grabbing it up as a stand alone isn't terribly difficult, either.

Truly is anything but thrilled, when her family decides to have their annual reunion in the small town of Pumpkin Falls. She's still trying to settle in, since she no longer lives next to her best friend and cousin, and knows her huge family is embarrassing. But as life bubbles around her, the first mystery pops up and a trophy goes missing. But before her and her gang of sleuths can really get going, she's sent off to Mermaid Camp with her cousin...something she's not thrilled about. Add the new adventure of a possible lost treasure and deepening mystery back home, and soon she's dealing with more than a super heavy, mermaid tale.

This is such a lovely book. The author has woven two mysteries together, and that while diving into an amazing family and bunch of friends. Each character...and there are a lot of them...carries so much personality and quirks. There's a constant sense of chaos, and yet it's the wonderful kind, which makes the reader wish they could dive right into it too. The relatives are smart but ridiculous in their own ways, and the mermaid camp is packed full of unexpected and odd moments, too. Truly definitely has a lot going on, but she keeps her chin up, tries her best, and has so much support from around her that it's impossible not to cheer her on.

The mix of pirate treasure and mermaid camp is amazing...and not what I expected when I first read the blurb. The pirate end belongs to a mystery back in Pumpkin Falls, which her friends are investigating. This one involves the history of the town and a town myth. The Mermaid Camp, on the other hand, is a setting all for itself and involves Truly's cousin's dream of becoming...or learning to a mermaid. Actually, this end could have been a book on its own thanks to the amazing setting, characters and happenings. I almost wish this had been so as to let it deepen even more. The pirate mystery, while a great contrast (and in some ways, combination) to the mermaids, didn't get the attention it could have...and would have made a great book on its own as well.

This is a fun read with tons of silliness, tension, heart, family, friendship, and exciting mystery. I can really recommend it (and will have to go back and read the first two books, now).

And here she is...

Heather Vogel Frederick is the award-winning author of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the Pumpkin Falls Mystery series, the Patience Goodspeed books, the Spy Mice series, and Once Upon a Toad. An avid fan of small towns like Pumpkin Falls, Heather and her husband live in New England, close to where Heather grew up. You can learn more about the author and her books at

Sneak Peek: Pseudocide by A.K. Smith with Giveaway!


Sometimes You Have to Die to Survive
by A.K. Smith
 YA Twisty Suspense

This tense tale will keep readers on edge until its surprising finale. - Kirkus Reviews

"A gripping suspense novel with unexpected twists."

"Teen fans of Gone Girl will enjoy this smart dark and unpredictable novel."

"Natasha Preston and Karen M. McManus readers will enjoy." ♥


Sunday Foster had THE PLAN. Make it through the rest of high school, graduate and THE PLAN will begin. Only, fate chose a different path; one decision, one second changed everything,

THE PLAN is ruined.And then a new idea emerges.

What if you could escape your life? Change your name, where you live, and escape all the bad stuff that keeps happening.

Sunday decides in order to change her destiny she must fake her death and start a new life.
 Pseudocide not suicide. Sunday has secrets, but she's not the only one. That's when Sunday must decide how far she will go to hide the truth. Plans never work out quite the way you expect. 

Sometimes you have to DIE to survive.


I wish I hadn’t worn my blue dress, a wrap dress from H&M that ties in the front. It was an impulse buy, part of a shopping spree for my job at the courthouse. I would never wear the business dresses and suits to school, but putting them on and going to work seemed like dress-up. An adult costume. Now I wonder if the top reveals too much. My boobs fill out the blue lacey Victoria’s Secret bra underneath, which makes me worry about my secret tattoo: the words “live free” printed in a tiny circle, about the size of a dime. I can see the edge of the tattoo if I look straight down—a consequence of one of the ugly rampages with HE and SHE.

It happened a night SHE had passed out after drinking two bottles of wine, and HE had punched the fridge, smashed the plates, and thrown spaghetti sauce all over the kitchen. HE left to wherever it is HE goes and I had snuck out and drove to a tattoo shop near University Park. The brown-eyed tattoo artist, Max, blew me off as soon as I walked in the door because I didn’t have any ID. But when he saw my rendering, the size of the tattoo and the two simple words, he paused, studied my face, and said, “I’m sorry, can’t do it. Come back when you’re really 18.”

Pain is a childhood friend I loathe but sometimes need. A video and a home tattoo kit taught me how to ink my own skin. Jack is the only other witness to my hidden impulse. And now, after the slow healing, Jack likes the tiny tattoo, often tracing the circle with his finger. I think he likes it because he’s the only one who knows it exists.

Tyler’s eyes focus on the cleavage in my flushed chest. With confidence, he orders a dirty martini. The dark-haired, pretty waitress turns to me. “IDs, please.”

The martini is for me. Young Sunday is helping a lonely twenty-one-year-old enjoy a decent dinner, before I hit the party with my buddies.” He holds out his bogus license. His eyelashes never flicker as his lips slide into a smooth smile.

The waitress turns her scrutiny off me and focuses on Tyler, eyeing him up and down like a delicious cupcake she wants to lick. Within minutes, she brings the staff over to the table to sing Happy Birthday. As their voices rise higher, my cheeks flush red. The attention adds a centralized energy in the room. Everyone is looking RIGHT AT US.

Us. Together. I still can’t wrap my head around what I am doing. What am I doing?

The first martini is on the house.

Taste it.” Tyler slides the delicate martini glass across the white tablecloth.

No thanks.”

Oh, come on. Have you ever tasted a dirty martini?”


Try it.”

It tastes like earth mixed in with bitter olives, a man’s drink. When he ordered the second one, I smiled, but my gut constricted. HE’s blood-shot eyes flashed in my mind. I heard my father’s cruel words that came with sucking down alcohol. “You are stupid. If I didn’t have to take care of you, I could have a better life. You and your worthless mother.” Alcohol loves a cruel vocabulary. 

Full of wanderlust and a professional sunset watcher, A.K. Smith writes twisty suspense books that will keep you up late. Her debut novel, A Deep Thing was awarded the Readers Favorite Gold Medal. A freelance travel writer (under another name), she loves to experience the world, and discover new settings to feature in her latest novels and articles. If she’s not on the water or in the water, she is looking at the water. She spends her days working remotely online in either Mexico on the Sea of Cortez, or in the desert or forests of Arizona. Beautiful settings provide thousands of story ideas that she can’t wait to get down on paper. She is convinced, her best life is with a beach, a blanket, and a book.  Her big loves are her husband, family, friends, and kindness. Her goal is to step foot on every continent on Planet Earth (maybe even the moon) --she's slowly getting there.

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!

Win an ebook of A Deep Thing and a $25 Amazon gift card! 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: 21 Cousins by Diane de Anda


by Diane de Anda
Illustrated by Isabel Muanoz
Star Bright Books
Picture Book
32 pages
ages 4 to 8

Tall, short, big, small, athletic, artistic . . . cousins may look different and have different interests and abilities, but that just makes them one extraordinary family! From Maricela's bilingual spelling skills to Mario's tech whiz abilities, no two cousins are alike--and that's just the way they like it. All the cousins are muy entusiasmados for the surprise at the end of their family gathering! Diane de Anda cleverly highlights the beautiful diversity of Latino and mestizo families as readers are introduced to each cousin. Isabel Mu�oz's whimsical illustrations are filled with rich details, delivering a cornucopia of color for young readers. Featuring a mix of skin tones, personalities, and abilities, 21 Cousins is a delightful read that invites children to appreciate the rich heritage of Latino culture.

GOODREADS   /   B&N   /    KOBO    /    BOOK DEPOSITORY    /    AMAZON


A huge family can means a large variety of relatives and having 21 cousins promises something unique with every single one.

Maricela's family is Latino, but the 21 cousins are anything but alike. Each one has a different appearance, talents and interests which make them very unique and special.

I found this one interesting, not only because it promotes the wonderful aspect of family but reminds me of my own larger one, since we hit about that same number for several generations now. I do enjoy how the author presents each one, illustrating their differences and how they are seen. It's fun that each one has a nickname, fitting to one of their attributes. The illustrations depict them all in positive lights and show how neat it is to have such a variety in the family. And none is better or worse than any other.

The first page holds quite a bit of text, which made me wonder, but this quickly changes for the rest of the book. Each cousin is presented in a few, short sentences, which will be simple for the intended age group to understand. While the huge variety of attributes and differences is visible in each illustration, I was surprised that the author seems to concentrate on hair...but then, the intended audience will also tend to center in on simple yet visible differences in their own family, when describing them. While each one is shown with a difference appearance (to show how such things don't matter), the interests of each one is also widely varied, but interestingly enough, often concentrates on sports. Also, I was surprised at how the 'over-weight' cousin was presented. 

In general, this is a lovely book, which fulfills its purpose well and shows that just because people are related, doesn't mean they are very similar. Varity is golden, and not only in these pages.

And here they are...

Author Diane de Anda cleverly highlights the beautiful diversity of Latino and mestizo families.

Isabel Muñoz’s whimsical illustrations are filled with rich details, delivering a cornucopia of color for young readers. Featuring a mix of skin tones, personalities, and abilities, 21 Cousins is a delightful read that invites children to appreciate the rich heritage of Latino culture. This book is intended for children ages 4-8 and it is available in both English and Spanish.

Sneak Peek: Mimic by C.L. Denault with Giveaway!

by C.L. Denault
The Prodigy Chronicles, #2
April 3rd 2021
YA Dystopian, Romance, Science Fiction


Three simple rules. One secret skill. Let the game continue.

In 2012, one cycle of an ancient calendar system came to a close. Humanity predicted its downfall, but it wasn’t the end of their evolutionary climb. It was the beginning.

Willow Kent is discovering that life as a second-phase prodigy comes at a price. Trapped in the London Core, her choices are limited, made difficult by her forbidden romance with Reece and the presence of a new commanding officer who establishes harsh rules. With unpredictable skills and a growing distrust in her birth parents, she is struggling to play the Core’s game. But when opportunity arises in the form of a mysterious shapeshifter, Willow realizes there’s more to her own evolution than meets the eye. She soon learns that keeping secrets is a key move, and the more dangerous they are, the greater her need to evolve into the powerful prodigy nature intended her to become.

But those closest to her have their own secrets, and her status has made her an easy target for betrayal. Who will she turn to…when nothing is as it seems?

Mimic is the second book in The Prodigy Chronicles, a Hunger Games meets X-Men dystopian romance series about a young girl struggling to control her immense powers and find her place in a city filled with enemies.

Book 1: Gambit
Book 2: Mimic
Book 3: Gauntlet (coming soon)

Goodreads / Amazon


“Gem.” I put my hand on her arm. “What did you see on that screen?”

She raised her eyes to meet mine. “A prediction.”

“Prediction?” I immediately thought of the gypsy seers that traveled between villages. They tagged alongside the musicians, setting up tables with rich fabrics and candles, coaxing a jingle out of anyone drunk enough to fall for their silky promises. “About my future?”

“About your skill level.” Ignoring the food, Gem rested her arms on her folded legs and clasped her hands. “After the machine stopped, did you see the way that commander worked with the data?”

“You mean, when he was spinning it around?” I made circles in the air with my fingers.

She nodded. “Something about your frequency shut down the program, but he forced it into making a guess about your skill level. The prediction popped up on the screen.”

That’s the message you saw?”

Again, she nodded.

“What did it say?”

She pressed her lips together, thinking. “Do you know anything about Callayo Roanoke?”

I blinked. “A little. He was my great-great-something or other, I think, but—” I shook my head, confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“He was like you, Will. He had telekinesis. Really strong telekinesis. He used it to keep London from being totally wiped out during the prodigy wars.”

“Okay, but how does—”

Waving her hands, she stopped me. “He was a Level Three prodigy. That’s the highest level on record. Anywhere.”

Slowly, the tiger uncoiled in my belly. “Go on.”

“His DNA frequency sets the standard for all programs—here, and across the sea. The parameters don’t go any higher, because no one thought . . . well, it’s just a guess, but . . .”

I reached out and grabbed her shoulders. “What are you saying?”

She took a deep breath. “The program thinks you’re a Level Four.”

Thunder rumbled outside the window, but it was nothing compared to the sound of the tiger laughing in my ears. Her delight swept through me, followed by a strange sense of awakening. Something potent and powerful unfurled in my belly as she rose to all fours. Then her laughter faded, and Gem’s voice broke though.

“—change the software and run the test again. If it’s true, Will, then everything has to be reconsidered.”

Blood pounded in my ears. “Everything?”

“Security, location, testing, even your betrothal contract.”

Nausea set in. “What do you mean?”

Peeling my hands off her shoulders, she held them tightly between us. “I mean that no one knows what you can do, and that could scare a lot of people. If Callayo Roanoke was able to save this city, you could easily be capable of . . .” She trailed off, the tiger finishing for her.

Destroying it.

And here she is...

C.L. Denault is a speculative fiction writer who loves dreaming up tales of adventure and intrigue. A former systems analyst, she gave up her nerdy code-writing skills to care for her family (including a son with special needs) and currently lives among the vast stretches of cornfields in Illinois.

Writing and working out are her biggest passions, along with coffee and sci-fi. When she’s not hanging out with her husband and kids, she can usually be found at a library or tucked away in the shadowy corner of a hip coffeehouse. She’s also been glimpsed sneaking into her garage, late at night, to work on her time machine.

She enjoys connecting with people—especially those from other planets, nearby dimensions, and the future. To find her, just visit her website or social media pages. Or use a Stargate. Whichever is easiest.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Happy Book Birthday, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani with Giveaway!

 The title on this one won me over right away, and I was so excited to get my hands on a copy. I'm not from the Jukebox generation, but I do remember finding them cool whenever we did accidentally see one...and beg my parents to pay for a song. Any song. 

Add time travel and mystery, and how could I not take a peek at this one?

by Nidhi Chanani
First Second/Macmillan
Middle Grade Mystery/Time-Travel


Grab some coins for the jukebox, and get ready for a colorful, time-traveling, musical tale about family and courage

A mysterious jukebox, old vinyl records, and cryptic notes on music history, are Shaheen’s only clues to her father’s abrupt disappearance. She looks to her cousin, Tannaz, who seems just as perplexed, before they both turn to the jukebox which starts…glowing?

Suddenly, the girls are pulled from their era and transported to another time! Keyed to the music on the record, the jukebox sends them through decade after decade of music history, from political marches, to landmark concerts. But can they find Shaheen’s dad before the music stops? This time-bending magical mystery tour invites readers to take the ride of their lives for a coming-of-age adventure.

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Music and time travel mix to create an original and fun graphic novel, great for middle grader readers.

Shaheen's dad has disappeared, and she can only find a few strange things to help her figure out what has happened to him. She teams up with her cousin and discovers that a jukebox not only plays music, but transports them back in time. Every song takes them to a new place, but finding her dad in time will be more than a challenge.

This is a cute, fun graphic novel for middle graders. The illustrations are well done and set each scene...and with all of the historical flipping, they are wonderful ones...perfectly. Energy and excitement ride almost as high as the mystery. Plus, the idea of a jukebox sending people through time according to the songs played is simply tons of fun.

I enjoyed the jumps through time, but even more so, the relationships. The author has built a wonderful bond between daughter and father. It's simply refreshing to see this type of family closeness. Shaheen's relationship with her cousin is also lovely. It simply is a book, which puts family in a high position...and that is nice to see.

This tale flows with a interesting plot and keeps the pace quick all the way through. I did wish that some of the jolts through time had a bit more meaning in the overall plot or character development, and the characters themselves did lack a bit of depth. Still, it's an enjoyable read, which middle graders are sure to enjoy.

And here she is...

Nidhi Chanani was born in Kolkata, India and raised in California. She creates illustrations that capture love in everyday moments which are often featured at Disney Parks. In 2012 she was honored by the Obama Administration as a Champion of Change. She’s the author of Pashmina, Shubh Raatri Dost/Good Night Friend, and illustrator of I Will Be Fierce. Nidhi draws and dreams in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and kid.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Review: What Can Hayes Be? by Kayce Smith


by Kayce Smith
Illustrated by Walter Policelli
Mascot Books
Picture Books
38 pages
ages 4 to 8

He could be a ninja doing high kicks! He could be a magician with lots of tricks! He could be a hypnotist with a powerful gaze! He's the one, the only, legendary Hayes! What could you be if you had no limits? Jump into the imaginative world of one fiery six-year-old with an extra something special a leg of steel! From one adventure to the next, join him in discovering that what makes us different is what makes us special. To learn more about Hayes's journey, visit and follow us on Instagram @whatcanhayesbe.



Possibilities know no bounds when it comes to all the things this boy might become.

Hayes is a boy with a special ability. He has a steel leg and get to exchange it for a new one every now and then. It's like his future —full of possibilities. He can be a baker, a magician, and so many more things. Even space isn't the limit.

Inspiration shines bright in these pages, not only showing that Hayes...a child with a disability...can be anything he wants to be, but that all kids have their futures open to them. I enjoyed the flip through the huge variety, some serious and some simply fun. The illustrations shift nicely with each dream and portray Hayes completely immersed in each scene. 

The writing and story fits well to the intended age group and offers a very positive atmosphere the whole way through. It is written in rhyme with a vocabulary fitting to the age group as well. Expressed vocabulary words are written in a different color than the rest of the text so they stand out. The entire thing is in rhyme and flows smoothly most of the time. It does make a nice read aloud or is appropriate for beginner readers to try to tackle on their own as well.