Monday, January 31, 2022

Tomorrow's the Day: Forbidden City by James Ponti

Today's review is coming out tomorrow! This is the third book in a wonderful series...yes, I can say that because I actually have read the first two (see, it's happening more and more often!). I've always had a special spot for spies (key in Mission Impossible theme song here, please....and now, you'll have that stuck in your head all day), and this one is a fun one with humor, heart, and everything to make a middle grade spy story entertaining. So, there was no way I was going to skip out on an ARC of this book. It's been sitting in my pile for a couple of months just waiting for release day (patience is hard).

Ready to dive into the world of spies? (key in Mission Impossible again)

City Spies #3
by James Ponti
Middle Grade Adventure / Spies
448 pages
ages 8 to 12


In this third installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies help a fellow agent in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

After taking down a mole within their organization, the City Spies are ready for their next mission—once again using their unique skills and ability to infiltrate places adults can’t. The sinister Umbra has their sights set on recruiting a North Korean nuclear physicist by any means necessary, and the City Spies plan to keep an eye on his son by sending Paris to the chess prodigy’s tournaments in Moscow and Beijing.

Meanwhile, Sydney’s embedded as a junior reporter for a teen lifestyle site as she follows the daughter of a British billionaire on tour with the biggest act on her father’s music label to uncover what links both the band and the billionaire have to a recent threat from an old Soviet missile base.

From a daring break-in at one of London’s most exclusive homes to a dangerous undercover mission to a desperate search and rescue operation on the streets of Beijing, the City Spies have their work cut out for them on their most dangerous mission yet.



Intrigue, puzzles, and forming friendships run high in an exciting race to solve the code and travel the world in the process.

This is the third book in the series, and while the others are quite a bit of fun and I do recommend them (yes, I read the first two already), these aren't hard to dive into and join the fun without hitting the other books first. 

I do enjoy this series. Not only do the characters come across naturally but there's a nice sense of humor mixed in. Of course, there's tension and action and moments, where it's not clear if the heroes will complete their mission (and of course, that would have terrible consequences if they didn't), but there's also quirks in their personalities, shopping, misunderstandings, forming friendships, and personal issues (nothing to heavy). So while all of this dances along spies and such, it also carries the needed lightness to make it an easy and enjoyable read.

One of the things, which makes this book so enjoyable (outside of the needed atmosphere) are the character strings. Each one (outside of Charlotte) has their own, distinct subplot and problems to solve, while working on the bigger, main one (although Brooklyn is stuck in Scotland first). There's the friendship dynamic, and there's a bit of a type of family dynamic thanks to 'Mother'. And then, there's the travel. The author is a busy guy as he covers quite a bit of ground and research (whether in reality or information wise). It's a travel around the world, which incorporates enough details to make each place unique and, yet, never bogs down with descriptions. This one flows with a well-woven pace the entire way through, and that makes it a treat.

My final thoughts, this is a middle grade series to not be overlooked. The writing sits, the characters are tons of fun, the adventure is there, and...well, it's simply a good read.

And here he is...

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: the all-new City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at


The Liars Beneath by Heather Van Fleet with Giveaway!


The Liars Beneath
Heather Van Fleet
January 27th 2022
YA Thriller

A romantically dark YA thriller set in the backdrop of Iowa’s suspenseful farmlands.

After a tragic accident ends her best friend’s life, 17-year-old Becca Thompson succumbs to grief the only way she knows how: by wallowing in it. She’s a fragment of the person she once was—far too broken to enjoy the summer before her senior year. But when Ben McCain, her best friend’s older brother, returns home, Becca must face her new reality head on.

She isn’t interested in Ben’s games, especially since he abandoned his sister during the months leading up to her death. But when he begs for her help in uncovering the truth about what really happened the night of his sister’s death, Becca finds herself agreeing, hoping to clear up rumors swirling in the wake of her best friend’s accident.

An unhinged ex-boyfriend, secret bucket lists, and garage parties in the place Becca calls home soon lead her to the answers she’s so desperate to unveil. But nobody is being honest, not even Ben. And the closer Becca gets to the truth—and to Ben—the more danger seems to surround her.

Clearing her best friend’s name was all she wanted to do, but Becca is quickly realizing that the truth she craves might be uglier than the lies her best friend kept.

Goodreads / Amazon


It was almost midnight when I heard the knock against my window. Three soft and consecutive thuds, all of which match the beat of my heart. Why he chose that way to get my attention instead of texting, is a mystery. The kind of mystery I was way too amped up to question.

I wasn’t excited in the sense that I like him and want to spend time with him or anything. At least that’s what I told my racing heart when I first saw his smile from the other side of the glass. He’d been crouched on his belly on the roof of our porch like a stealthy spy, and the sight was something I’d never forget.

I’d thrown a hoodie on over the Tee I’m dressed in, pairing it with some denim cutoffs. Then I tossed my hair up into a messy bun and slid on some cherry Chapstick—but only because my lips were chapped. That’s it. No other reason whatsoever.

Once my Docs were on, I slid out my window and met him head on, the two of us jumping the five feet off the low hanging roof. I’d giggled uncontrollably when he landed on his butt instead of his feet, and he’d nearly pulled me down with him when he tried grabbing my laces. That would be the last time I’d ever not tie my boots.

“Guess what?” he whispered when we started to walk away from the house. “I researched your family tree today and found out that you, Becca, are the biggest sap.” He ended that statement with a tap to my nose. My freaking nose, for God’s sake.

He’d booped me.

My response—one which had been paired with a hard thump to his equally as hard abdomen: “You’re so dumb, you planted a dogwood tree and expected a litter of puppies.”

We both laughed at how stupid we sounded, yet at the same time it felt good to just be goofy. Or dare I say, normal. Though that word—normal—was a bit of a stretch when it came to the two of us anymore.

After that, Ben took my hand like it was the most natural thing in the world and proceeded to lead me to where we are now: the middle of the cornfield.

I trail my fingers over the silky corn stalks, marveling at their height and the way the midnight moon reflects off the green color. Nothing about this spot eases my frazzled nerves, of course. It doesn’t give me peace of mind like it once had when I’d come out here with Rose either. It’s kind of like the alcove in that sense—a spot tainted by a bad memory, despite the many good memories trying to override it.

Ben moves closer, our shoulders brushing.

“What are you thinking about?” he asks.

“Stuff.” That no longer matters. A time and a place and a memory that’s long past.

“Rose said you guys used to hang out here a lot.”

I shrugged one shoulder, unwilling to indulge in what happened the last time she and I had been out here. It’s not a huge thing, smoking weed and all, but for some reason, I don’t want Ben to know that it’d been my bucket list item, not Rose’s. It shows my age—how I’d been so young and inexperienced.

Not that I care what he thinks.

“It’s nice,” he continues. “Quiet too. I can see why you liked it.”

“We did some of our best thinking out here.” Thinking that was more along the lines of Rose smoking joints, while I stood by to keep watch.

“Hmm.” He nods, kicks the toe of his foot into the dirt. “I’m gonna go to that party on Saturday,” he tells me out of the blue.

I frown. “You think that’s smart after beating up Adam like you did?”



“Because Adam’s gonna be there.” He looks away, but I don’t miss the flex of his jaw—not even in the dark. “I don’t trust the guy.”

I turn him around by the shoulders, forcing him to stand in front of me. “What’s there not to trust, exactly?”

“Lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“I’ve got facts that need exploring.” His lips purse.

“Yeah.” I roll my eyes. “Because you’re suddenly a detective now. I forgot.”

Adam wouldn’t hurt a puppy, let alone be behind Rose’s death. He used to talk big, but his love for my best friend was endless. Without a doubt, I know that’s who her secret boyfriend was. I just don’t get why they never went public.

“I’m more of a private eye, actually.” He covers one eye and curls the corner of his upper lip, making an argh noise.

“That’s a pirate, not a private eye, dork.”

“Either way, they’re both sneaky, right?”

I sigh, wondering if he’s always been this weird. Cocky, a smartass, and a huge instigator—that’s Ben. Not funny.

And here she is...

Heather Van Fleet is a stay-at-home-mom turned book boyfriend connoisseur. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, a mom to three girls, and in her spare time you can find her with her head buried in her Kindle, guzzling down copious amounts of coffee.

Heather graduated from Black Hawk College in 2003 and currently writes Adult contemporary romance. She is published through Sourcebooks Casablanca with her Reckless Hearts series and Bookouture with her Red Dragon series.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest


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Sunday, January 30, 2022

What's Coming in February?

 February is the month of love (Valentine's Day!) and Black History Month. I do have several reads in the line-up, which hit both themes...but that's not all. Not even close.

Graphic novels, a couple new series, middle grade adventure, exciting new releases, fantasy, and even some silliness have worked their way into my schedule. Of course, it's a packed schedule, too. This month, I have three...yes, three books on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to sneak in.

Ready to take a glimpse?


Fans of this series are no doubt looking forward to the release of the first book in...yep, graphic novel form! I know I'm curious because I bet it will work great in this format. Find out if it's a winner or not on the 1st.

Middle Grade Spy Fiction / Graphic Novel


The title had me won over already. I'm so in the mood for a zany and crazy picture book, and this one appears to fit that description. Head to space with me (and run from zombies, too?) on the 6th.

Picture Book


Now, it's time for me to SQUEEL!!! Coming from the author of Ender's Game, there was no way I was going to let this one pass me by. It's about 'side-steppers' or those with the power to with their consciousness to alternate versions of themselves in parallel worlds. No worries: I'm not quite wrapping my head around that description yet, either. But visit it with me on the 9th.

Young Adult Science Fiction


This book has been re-releasing since 2001 and constantly captures interest. Since it's coming out again, I'm going to take a look myself because it has to be good. If I understood correctly, it's a historical and tells the tale of a boy, a girl, and a tiger, who meet in Florida. Hit the wild side with me on the 10th.

Middle Grade Fiction


Yes, this cover has a tiny-bit of similarity to the one above. I guess I'm racing this month! It's time to jet back to the Revolutionary War as a girl heads on a quest to save those she loves. George Washington and other historical figures create, what I hope, will be a historical fiction based on some facts. Let's find out together on the 14th.

Middle Grade Historical Fiction


Swirling around chess, this one takes an original move and heads into a dystopian future. It addresses difficult themes such as abuse, while bringing in all the chills of a thriller. I'm not sure what exactly to expect but find out on the 18th.

Young Adult Thriller


The blurb caught me on this one. a boy, who likes basketball, also loves to dance. The illustrations look more than promising, too. I'll swirl with it on the 21st.

Picture Book


Yep, I love the cover, but I also was grabbed by the blurb. A girl arrives in a new town and starts to get settled, but her dreams, while she sleeps, are changing in an odd way.  A promise of tension, imagination, and dark secrets will hopefully be fulfilled on the 23rd.

Middle Grade Thriller


I'm expecting pure fantasy and adventure in these pages with magic, rulers, villages and all those things, which build a more traditional fantasy. The idea of throwing pigs into the mix should give it an original direction, too. Find out if it has me squealing for joy on the 26th. (Bad joke, I know)

Young Adult Fantasy

Like every month, I have a book or two, waiting on the sidelines to slip into the schedule when an opening suddenly occurs (the publishing/reviewing world does change and shift and who knows what.)
This month's book that I'm definitely going to squeeze in is...


History can be so exciting (not that I thought that as a kid). When I saw this read, I grabbed it up hoping it would bring history to life with all the excitement it deserves. This one swings around an 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. The ship disappeared with 129 men. Let's see how this one is....well, I don't know when!

Young Adult Historical

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Review: The Weeping Tide by Amanda Foody

Today's review is the second book in an exciting, middle grade, fantasy series. I say that because I did read the first one and was already captured by the characters and world. This one takes a completely different turn as it leaves the forest and heads to the open is obvious with one glance at the cover. So, I had high expectation when I received this ARC. Oh, and be excited, because it is releasing in just a couple days! On February 1st!

Curious to see if it's as good as book one was? 

Wilderlore #2
by Amanda Foody
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Middle Grade Fantasy
352 pages
ages 8 to 12


Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Something is wrong at the Sea. The weeping tide, a carnivorous algae bloom, is eating up all the fish. Beasts are terrorizing the nearby Elsewheres. And Lochmordra, the Legendary Beast, is rising at random and swallowing ships whole.

Barclay’s teacher, the famous Guardian Keeper Runa Rasgar, has been summoned to investigate, and as her apprentice, Barclay gets to join too. But Runa’s nemesis has also been called to the Sea, and he’s brought apprentices of his own. When the not-so friendly competition between them grows fierce, it’s Barclay—the only one from the Elsewheres—who can’t seem to keep up.

The key to stopping Lochmordra lies in his mythical home, but as the flood of the weeping tide encroaches, time is running out to find it. If the rival groups can’t cast aside old grudges and learn to work together, soon the Sea will be destroyed completely. And all the while Barclay must ask himself: is there truly a place for him in the Wilderlands?



This is the 2nd book in the series, and I did read the first one. I do highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series because it does offer background information, which will make book two that much more enjoyable. That said, it isn't impossible to start with book two, but....why would anyone do that with this series?

Where fantasy and action already filled the pages of book one, the excitement notches up even more to create a fun read in this next tale.

Barclay still has a lot to discover about his Lore, the world, and...well, everything. When his teacher is called to the Sea to deal with something, which is swallowing everything in its path, the next adventure begins. The forest is left behind as this adventure heads to the Sea. It was fun to discover the new creatures and sink into the new world. The imagination is just as rich as in the first book and as exciting to discover.

While book one already kept the pace high, book two ticks it up another notch. Barclay has a lot of obstacles to face, and the tensions between him and his friends still aren't fully erased. Add the competition with the other teacher, and there's a lot going on. With all of this, it's still an easy read to get lost in with tons of twists along the way. 

Fans of middle grade fantasy will not want to miss this one (or the entire series, so far). The only problem will be the wait for book three to see what happens next.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Review: Buzz, Croak, Hiss and Hoot by C.E. Moore

Today's review head out into the world around us and all the noises we can hear...if we just stop to listen. I loved the cover (of course, I did!) and was pretty sure that a book about noises would not only be educational but make a great read-aloud. Maybe.

Ready to find out if I was right? 

by C.E. Moore
Picture Book
28 pages
ages 3 to 7

If we listen, nature has a song to sing.

Whether it's deep in the ocean, under a starlit sky, or in the heart of a forest, Buzz, Croak, Hiss, and Hoot is a lyrical journey through some of the sounds and wonders of the natural world. Follow the rhythmic cadence of whooshing birds, erupting volcanoes, and whirring insects as young readers discover nature's sweet song.

A great gift for curious-minded readers ages three through seven
A joyful ode to the natural world
Encourages kids to listen and explore the sights and sounds around them
A perfect read-aloud for the classroom, outdoor school, or homeschool

Great for fans of Hear Bear Roar (Eric Carle), Flowers are Calling (Rita Gray), and Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature (Rachel Williams)



Nature's noises, variety and so much more are presented with enthusiasm, respect, and a contagious desire to want to explore.

It was the cover on this one, which caught my attention with the large words and the invitation to hear nature around us. I'll admit I expected something a little different than what this book provides...which isn't a bad thing. The various noises in nature are presented, but this isn't connected to specific animals or places or times of day as I thought it might be. These pages go beyond that, using the noises as a more general point to stop and listen and enjoy. It's nature and the world around us, which is stressed along with the variety of life around the world.

The illustrations hold details and portray nature in various and artistic-touched ways. Everything from changing seasons to sleeping animals to environmental issues to wildlife is hit upon. There are quite a few things for readers to gaze at and find, making this one to revisit and search for more. The calmness and variety of life is definitely brought across well.

The joy for nature and need to step away from life and let it sink in comes across, especially in the ending spreads. I did find some sections a bit wandering and overly broad, but then, it's more of a general message about nature and the world with an atmosphere, which edges on dreamy and poetic. In that sense, the cover only hints at a part of what is to come. But nature fans will find many things to enjoy.

And here she is...

C.E. Moore is a visual designer and creative tinkerer who loves nature. Daughter of a bookaholic and a sewing maven, she credits her parents for her love of reading and making things like upholstered chairs, savory soups, and children’s books. With degrees in communications design and journalism, C.E. has over twenty years of experience in shaping pixels and dabbling in hues. By day, she works at the largest library in the world. By night, her creative perspective brings an artistic spark to her writings about the magic and wonder of our wild places. Having grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, C.E. loves hiking and camping and exploring many of the natural areas near her home in Washington, DC.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review: Dragon Games by R. A. Douthitt

Today's review heads into the realm of fantasy and dragons and elves...or at least, I'm pretty sure that's where we're going. I haven't read the first book in this series, but since I tend to jump in on the second book (a bad habit of mine), that shouldn't matter. I have read works from this author before. Honestly, I adore her middle grade Children Under the Ice series (mystery, ghosts, tension). So, I'm looking forward to what adventure these pages will hold.

Who else wants to dive into a world with dragons? 

The Elves of Vulgard, Book Two
by R.A Douthitt
Young Adult Fantasy
223 pages

Winning the Dragon Games is all that Kieron ever wanted. To win the tournament means a chance to be on the Queen's elite Dragon Riders force. But when Kieron discovers bandits abducting dragons to fight in the arena, suspicious dragon games are exposed and it's more horrifying than Kieron had ever imagined. Kieron decides to risk it all to free the dragons...even if it means never flying with the Dragon Riders.



First off, I didn't read the first book in this series, and while I would recommend starting with book one, it wasn't overly difficult to understand what was going on in this book. 

This wasn't exactly the normal 'dragon' read, in many respects, and that's a good thing. Dragon lovers will sink right into this world. The descriptions are very well done, and that includes the dragons. They come across with wonderful vividness, which invites to dreams. But it was the attitude toward and with the dragons, which impressed me the most. These dragons are ridden and steered, but that doesn't mean they are just  'steeds'. They have personalities, are 'spoken' with, and have a atmosphere which makes them simply worth more respect. Kieron's fight to help them just hits home.

Of course, there's so much more than dragons. The main character Kieron is a hero to cheer for from beginning to end. He makes mistakes and learns from them. His personality and especially dialogue comes across naturally. It's easy to understand his choices and sympathize with him. He's a hero with everything needed.

The pacing in this one is, for the most part, quick and steady. Kieron has quite a bit to accomplish , and the characters and obstacles are well woven to keep him on his toes...and more. There were a few sections in the training, which slowed the pace, but it wasn't enough to disrupt the tale. The tension remained high to keep me in the pages, and the ending held a nice, unexpected twist. It's a rich tale and an enjoyable read.

And here she is...

Former writing teacher, R. A. Douthitt is an award-winning author of many books for middle grade readers and adults in fiction and non-fiction.  She is the winner of the Moonbeam Children’s Books Award-Bronze Medal for Best Book Series and the Gateway to the Best third prize winner of the Missouri Romance Writers of America contest. Ruth is working on a Christian-themed women's inspirational fiction series, coming soon. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband Scott and their little dog. When she isn't writing, Ruth loves to run, draw, paint, and garden.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Review: Inside a Book by Giuseppe Bordi and Domenico Lacava

Today's review is a fun book...or so it promises to be. This one explores what a book is for young readers, as in what goes into a book to make it a book. I'm thinking simple and just a basic understanding on books. Plus, if I understood right, this one includes a bit of 'do-it-yourself'. It is available in Italian as well (the original title is in Italian). And isn't the only book available from this author duo.

See how that hand on the cover peels back the first page? Well, let's take a peek, too!

by Giuseppe Bordi
Domenico Lacava
Lupo Blu Editions
Picture Book
49 pages
ages 4 to 8




This is a well done, humorous read, which teaches kids the basics of storytelling, while getting them involved in the process.

A blank page doesn't mean that nothing is there. It just can't been seen, yet. The 'reader', only seen by the arm, discovers the main character, a rabbit, and through conversation and active assistance, helps the rabbit develop its adventurous tale. And there is quite a bit of adventure involved.

This is cute and so much fun. I did wonder how it'd work, at first, as the unseen-reader speaks with the rabbit, but it is well done and puts a smile on the face right away. The rabbit is polite enough but needs help in developing its tale. Luckily, it knows where it's going...pretty much. It just needs the reader's help, since the book isn't finished. There are word bubbles, signs with information poking in the landscape, and the rabbit explains things quite well. I was very glad to see that this isn't a book with tons of text, even though it does bring across the basics of storytelling—characters, world, plot, protagonists (evil), antagonists (heroes), etc. 

I see this one great for anyone, who is trying to teach how to write a story, especially very basic stories. While young readers first watch the 'reader' interact and learn from the rabbit, the book switches gears at the end and allows the true reader to get involved. There are pages to color with directions, and all of this encourages young readers to start considering how to create their own tales. 

And here he is..

Giuseppe Bordi was born in June 1969. He grows up in a house with few books and a lot of dreams. He is five years old when he decides that when he grows up he will be a writer. His first children’s book is “Puzzolo and the Illegal Landfill”, a fairy tale that does not meet the editors’ favour. He  then decides to publish it by himself and goes to promote it personally in Rome's primary schools. Meeting the kids gives a new perspective to his dream. From 2010 to 2016 Puzzolo’s success led him to publish with Rizzoli Education, Fabbri Editore and as many as eighteen narrations and related stage versions. In the meantime he graduates in Economics at Rome’s University La Sapienza with a dissertation on “Financial and economical aspects of a movie production” and works as an advisor on creative writing in schools.

In 2016 he wrote the primary school manual “Piccoli Eroi” (Little Heroes). After selling more than 100.000 copies in schools he decided to make his appearance in the world of bookstores publishing novels for big Italian editors.

In 2019, together with his friend the illustrator Domenico Lacava, he created the independent editorial label Lupo Blu Editore.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review: Double Negative by Susan Marshall

Today's review hits on a young adult contemporary read, which I spotlighted toward the end of last year. I do have a difficult relationship with the contemporary genre and tend to steer clear as much as I dare. Don't get me wrong—there are reads I love in this direction, but many just don't hold my interest for various reasons. However, the blurb on this one did catch my attention. Not because of the romance.... Not because of the disability... Not because of the drama which is promised to ensue...

I decided to take a peek at this one because it hits the realm of sports. Especially in the YA contemporary/romance arena, sports often fall by the wayside. So, I wanted to give this one a try, hoping it won't disappoint.

Let's see if it can spark my interest, shall we? 

by Susan Marshall
Evernight Teen
YA Contemporary
245 pages

Injured competitive swimmer, Reece never wanted to be Vice Prez of West Hill High. It was her brother Jamie’s idea and just something to do until she could get back into the pool.

She knew that Jamie—who led off his campaign with a strip-tease “election speech”—would be a complete “President Dumbass.” But what Reece didn’t foresee was that she’d fall, and hard, for Jamie’s student council rival, Zain. And that big drama would follow.

Zain is hot and intense, plus an amputee and a basketball star. Between Zain’s disability and Reece’s surgery, they have their challenges but that makes their connection deeper.

That is until Zain drops a bombshell about his accident. And suddenly everything that is important to Reece starts to implode.

Struggling with issues of family loyalty, secrets and scars, Reece must decide if real relationships are worth the heartache.

Kirkus Reviews: “The strong characterizations make the main players’ behavior realistic… The action and exposition come at a fast clip... In the end, the protagonist comes to an important realization—that, in life, “Perfection was overrated.” An often humorous and insightful story of teens becoming self-aware young adults.”




While hitting high school emotions and familiar issues teens can face, this is a quick-paced, easy read with something always going on.

Thanks to an injury, Reece has to sit out from swimming for more than a few months and is placed, temporarily, into the same high school where her brother is a senior. He's running for class president to make his college application shine, but thanks to the rules, his running mate is disqualified and Reece steps up to fill the spot...but not happily. Her brother refuses to take anything seriously, and she's caught pulling in the extra slack, especially since Zain, president of the athletic student board group, is breathing down her neck. But while she wishes Zain would lay off, she finds herself drawn to him and soon, she's caught in an odd spot.

This book is high school drama pure with a very large dose of sports, and that works great. Reece comes across very believable as every fiber in her wants to get back to swimming, and she tries her best to cope with the situation until she heals enough to return. She's in an awkward place of waiting, and yet, is supposed to deal with things as if she wasn't for the sake of her brother. Her frustration, occasional lack of enthusiasm, and uncertainty is completely understandable as she deals with all sorts of expectations from various directions...most of which won't have the same impact in her short term future even, but are still meaningful to those around her. So, the author hits her well.

There are a lot of themes in this book from sport injuries to family issues to disabilities to drugs to alcohol to relationship problems and on and on. While the author does spend the beginning chapters with sometime in Reece's head, letting the reader get to know her pretty well, the tale shifts into very heavy dialogue by the end. This is a character driven read through and through, which doesn't bog down with much world building or thoughts. So, it is quick paced on that end. 

The relationships are interestingly woven, especially on the family end. And I did find the sports connections and attitudes very well done. The romance works all right. I didn't get some of the lack of understanding from others toward Reece's ex problems. Her romance with Zain grows and holds more of a friendship direction, which I appreciate, but misses a bit of pizzazz. The longer the tale went on, the more the issues grew until there were all sorts of things hitting from all directions. The dialogue keeps it well paced, but I still noticed that I was skipping over more and more paragraphs the further I went into the read. Still, I was curious enough to know what happens to keep reading until the end, and I did find the characters well done.

Fans of high school drama, sports and romance are sure to enjoy this one quite a bit.

And here she is...

A lover of libraries, Susan obtained a Master’s Degree in Library Science but found that she was too disorganized for that field. Instead, Susan worked at The Globe and Mail newspaper and then Seneca College. Four kids later, she decided to stay-at-home, spending her quiet moments indulging her love of writing.

The old adage is to "write what you know." In Double Negative, Susan channels her experience as a parent of a teen amputee and her misguided belief that she was once an athlete. The inspiration for NemeSIS was the complicated sister dynamic in Susan's estrogen fuelled household in Hamilton, Ontario. An avid reader, she loves e-books and falls asleep nightly to the soft glow, oblivious to what happened on the last page.

Susan lives in Toronto with her husband, three sons, a daughter, rescue dog Bean and Indy the cat.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Review: Mystery Force Assemble by Tom Neill

 Happy Monday! We're starting out the week with a middle grade series, which packs tons of mystery and magical, creature fun. I'm reviewing the first book, since it's best to start at the beginning. According to the blurb, this one has a diverse span of characters and touches on monsters and a bit of magic as well as great adventure.

Ready to see what it's about?

Mystery Force, Book One
by Tom Neill
Illustrated by Suzi Spooner
Tenebray Press
Middle Grade Mystery
102 pages
ages 8 to 12

Meet Rasheed, Jonathan, and Josephine and their magical animal helpers: Maximilian the fire fox, Dan the karkadan, and Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent (but you can call her Quetzy). They're three unique kids who love mysteries (actually they hate mysteries, but they love solving them). Join them in their adventures where they take on evil doers and monsters while shattering the misconceptions and expectations of people who make the mistake of underestimating them. In this first adventure they cross the country and ocean in order to uncover who is behind the sweatshops exploiting the forced labor of magical creatures. Hi-jinks, hilarity, and heroism ensue!



Mystery melds with magical creatures in a reality based on modern Earth, where the fantastical side has made itself known and fully integrated into daily life. 

Rascheed and Jonathan hear that magical creatures they've never heard of before have gone missing in Scotland. When their teacher's at school, magical creatures themselves, talk about the problem, the two boys decide they need to get involved. With the help of a dragon and their babysitter, Josephine, they head off to Scotland to track down a warehouse and see if they can discover clues to help them find and assist the poor, magical creatures.

This is definitely an original twist on mystery and fantasy, which settles into a familiar world. Rascheed and Jonathan come across as normal, middle grade boys, except one is very good at creating inventions and the other sits in a wheelchair. So, there is a lot of imagination packed in...especially considering their teachers are unicorns, pegasi, and dragons. I find it amazing that these boys just pack up and fly around the world on a whim (teachers find it totally normal that two kids this age want to solve cases), but then, with everything else melded in, anything is possible, I guess. 

I'd recommend this one for the lower end of the middle grade audience or chapter book crowd. The sentences are short and vocabulary fairly fitting for this age group. The descriptions and thematic are light and let the action take over. The book is short, written in larger font, and carries lovely illustrations throughout. There's humor as well as action, making this an easy read...although there were moments, I skipped over paragraphs, since some were a bit drawn out, too. 

One of the more interesting things about this book is the diversity and message. Of course, there's a fun mystery and the fantasy end adds all sorts of excitement and imagination, but there's also the idea of people being equal, despite their differences (no 2nd class people) and friendship. Plus, with one of the main characters in a wheelchair, the problems they face as well as differences in their daily lives (which also includes some neat fun) comes into play in a natural way. So, there are some wholesome aspects wrapped up in these pages as well.

This is a fun read for those, who are skilled at their chapter books, like mystery and are always open to fantastical creatures and adventure. It's definitely an interesting start to what promises to be a fun series.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Review: Grape, Again! by Gabriel Arquilevich

As mentioned, I have two reviews up today. This is the second and the main one. I read the first book and reviewed it on here...oh, in 2019 (I think). And I thought Grape was amazing. So, there was no way I'd pass up on seeing what happens to Grape next...because you never know with this boy.

Ready for a fun spin? 

by Gabriel Arquilevich
Fitzroy Book
Middle Grade Contemporary
173 pages
ages 8 to 12

JULY 19th!!!

Good news! Principal Clarkson says Grape is ready for junior high. He doesn't have to go to Riverwash, the school for troubled kids! But there's also bad news. Grape's best friend, Lou, has moved to New York, leaving Grape alone to ride his Evel Knievel bike, sail with his family, and start his bar mitzvah training—all this while navigating a new school with new teachers, and, of course, the "spiders" in his brain. To make matters worse, Clair, Grape's crush, has eyes on Maxwell, the new kid with feathered hair. Sherman and Bully Jim provide some company, but it's his bond with Heidi—a wheelie-popping, cigarette-smoking foster kid—that teaches him what matters most in life. Full of hilarity and sadness, confusion and love, Grape, Again! is an unforgettable coming-of-age story.




These pages hold a masterful balance of tough themes, humor, friendship and heart, which will have the thought-gears turning while producing snorts and giggles along the way.

Grape's best friend is off on vacation for a few weeks, according to the mother, but that doesn't stop Grape from writing him letters. After all, Grape has somehow escaped being sent to a school for difficult boys, has been placed in Advanced English, has a class with his crush, and even has a new friend (of sorts), which might cause him to get into more trouble than he already does himself. Add tons more problems, and Grape is in for another, huge adventure.

Grape is a bit of a trouble-maker, but he is impossible not to love. He, actually, has a heart of gold but just keeps running into issues...and babbles non-stop thanks to other reasons. His mind is all over the place, but then, his life doesn't make things easier as his best friend moves away, his crush has eyes for another guy, and someone is egging him into causing even more issues than he usually gets himself into. He's simply wonderful to follow, and it's a treat to listen to all the directions his mind constantly wanders.

There is a ton of humor in these pages, and it's the more realistic kind, which holds such familiarity that it hits home. Readers will have no problem connecting with Grape and all of the obstacles he faces—self-created and not. Then, add the tougher themes, and this becomes a book full of richness and depth...but still, keeps that light-hearted, funny, heart-touching atmosphere. It's quick and furious and impossible not to enjoy from beginning to end. Because a ton happens....and I do mean a ton.

The length of this one, at around 160 pages, also makes it great for more reluctant readers. It's an easy read, holds lots of dialogue, and never lets the information or details drag down. Instead, something is always happening, and Grape's mind is all over the place. Add the great messages of family, friendship, peer-pressure, first love and such, and classrooms and homeschoolers will even enjoy this one.

And here he is...

I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, a child of Argentine immigrants, a child of the ‘70s. My earliest memory of writing goes back to middle school: a story featuring my classmates and post-earthquake cannibalism. My teacher asked me to read it out loud, and my classmates’ laughs are with me still. In college I wrote a few poems, and following the encouragement of a beloved teacher, pursued poetry with a passion. In time I was off to UMASS Amherst. A few years later, MFA in hand, I took a job teaching sixth grade in Ojai, California, where I fell in love three times: once with my wife, once with teaching, and then again with children’s literature.
I authored several middle-grade/early high school textbooks, including How to Write an Essay, A Guide to Using Shiloh in the Classroom, and World Religions (Teacher Created Materials). I also published Writing for 100 Days, which was named Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 Picks for homeschoolers. My poetry, published widely, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
My wife and I live in Meiners Oaks, CA. I teach writing and literature at Ventura College.

Review: Gallant by V.E Schwab

Today, I have another double-review. See how busy the book world is? The first one swings into the direction of fantasy with a slight bend toward horror/thriller. When I saw the blurb on this one, I was more than intrigued and excited to take a look. Shadows are always spooky (aren't they?), and the idea of a parallel world where ghouls exist does promise a few chills. Will there be romance? Hmmm...I'm not sure, but I have a feeling it won't play a huge role in these pages. Maybe I'm wrong? It's been getting amazing reviews and the author is a New York Times

Let's see what this one was about! 

by V.E. Schwab
Greenwillow Books
YA Horror / Fantasy
352 pages

MARCH 1st!!!

Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?



First, don't read the blurb on this one (which is ridiculous to say, since everyone probably already did before diving into the review). But in this case, the blurb tells the entire story, leaving little left for the discovery. But here's my blurb:

Olivia has spent almost her entire childhood at the Merilance School for Girls, which is, for all intents and purposes, an orphanage. She never really befriends anyone, much of which has to do with the fact that she can't speak (is dumb). Her world rotates around a journal left be her mother, which holds ramblings as the woman slowly lost her mind, but Olivia has memorized the entire thing. When her day for 'release' comes, a strange letter arrives from a so-called uncle, who has been searching for her all these years. With no other place to go, she heads off to his house. It's a mansion and estate with a huge sign displaying its name, Gallant, and that's the one place her mother mentioned in her journal with a warning to Olivia that she should never ever go there.

The writing in this book is beautiful, and to say that the author knows her craft is an understatement. She words things in a way, which brings them to life and lets the details sit with tons of emotion and atmosphere. She plays and handles the wording and phrases in ways, which makes an impact and embraces an almost poetic feel. It is a treat to experience the writing style, and this alone made it well worth the read.

As to the tale, it's an interesting mix of paranormal, other worlds, and a bit of a thriller with an evil darkness waiting to drain the life from everything. The tale starts with Olivia at a bit younger age and her life at the girl's school as she faces off one of the bullies. The details sit and the world building is well done. Unfortunately, however, I didn't ever really connect to Olivia even then, when her situation should have made the sympathy soar. I think the problem was simply that she's strong, can take care of herself, misses a mother she never knew, but has no qualities which make her 'nice' or warm-hearted or show more than her and herself. This didn't really change the entire book, and even the other characters never really gained enough depth for me to care outside of the household staff...which were very sweet, by the way!

Also, I loved the idea of letting artwork be the communication from one end. That, you'll have to read the story to understand because I'm not going to give away the few surprises that are there, but this was amazingly well done and...well, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's exactly this type of thing which made this book stand out and show a love for the art and story-telling mastery. 

The world holds a delicious, gothic flair with a perfect, mansion setting, a spooky wall, flower gardens...and well, it is a treat. Then, throw in the idea of a shadow world which mirrors everything in its own way, and there's tons to sink into and enjoy. But while the dark vibes run high and danger comes in, again, the depth is missing. There's a bit of explanation as to the background of Olivia's parents and her relatives, but not really. Why her relatives are drawn into this over everyone else is never explained. The reason the other world came and exists there is another mystery without even a dusting of reason. How the evil came into being, the thought that it could drift away someday, or even what its purpose with Olivia included and her special 'blood' didn't really make sense. So much time is spent with the journal and longing and poetic flair that the plot is left like a shiny shell, which could hold something great but is empty.

So, what do I think of this book? I'm not disappointed that I picked it up because the writer's style and wording is amazing. I did read this in one sitting and didn't want to put it down...because I kept hoping everything was coming. But I can't say it was an amazing book, either, because that 'coming' never happened. Plus, it was weird for a YA and I believe older readers will have more from this one (although it even felt like an MG read in the beginning).

True book lovers will enjoy this read. It is beautiful, it is dark, and there are so many amazing aspects to it. But if you're all in for plot and a good story, it won't quite fit the bill.