Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Happy Book Birthday, Spineless by Samantha San Miguel!

It's time for adventure! Today's read heads back to the Florida wilds around 1900 and lets young readers dive into a mystery packed with animals, sea creatures, action, and a main character, who is learning to step beyond a protective environment. I love the cover with the tentacles and jungle flair, and bet that this one is perfect for a summer read.

And it comes out today! 

by Samantha San Miguel
Union Square Kids
Middle Grade Historical Fantasy
256 pages
ages 8 to 12

This exciting middle-grade adventure is Hoot for the Gilded Age—with scientific discoveries, secret plots, and surprisingly enormous fauna.              
When his asthma lands him at a health resort in the wilds of Gilded Age South Florida, twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth is over the moon. The scientific treasure trove of unexplored swamps may launch his dream career as a naturalist. But even Algie is startled when he happens upon a brand-new species and her brood in the karst springs surrounding the resort. Algie quickly realizes he must keep his discovery a secret: a famous collector of exotic animals is also staying at the hotel, and the new species is threatened by his very presence. An apparent curse has also descended upon the hotel, bringing with it a deadly red tide. But when the pool starts filling with ink and guests start getting mysterious, sucker-shaped wounds, Algie must pluck up his courage to find the truth about the goings-on at the Grand Hotel—and save the new species from destruction.



Diving deep into the wilds of Florida around 1900, mystery and fantasy mix with a trio, who is ready to take on just about any adventure.

Algie is the youngest of two brothers, suffers from asthma, and is overly sheltered by his mother since their father's death. When they head to Florida for a vacation at one of the latest wonders, a resort hotel, Algie can't wait to expand on his animal knowledge, since he's determined to become a naturalist. But already on the trip there, strange things happen. He's determined to make the most of this trip, even when it means stepping way beyond his comfort zone...and fighting his mom every step of the way. A pair of sisters he meets gives him unexpected support and exactly what he'll need to solve the growing mystery surrounding the hotel.

The setting is refreshing as the reader sweeps back to the 1900's and visits an untamed Florida coastline. The landscape is rich, the details well laid, and the characters snuggle up to the time frame nicely. To keep this historical plunge from growing too heavy and boring, the plot maintains a quick pace, letting something happen on every page. There's action, there's mystery, there's friendship, and there's a boy, who is learning to finally break free of his protective bonds. 

There is quite a bit going on in this tale as Algie has a few hurdles to pass. The over-protective attitude of his mother is a little strangling, but it's made clear right away where this comes from and is understandable. She usually gives in, which keeps this from becoming a main theme...and does hold a nice family dynamic without clogging the adventure. Algie's lack of courage stems more from a lack of opportunity and not fear, which gives him the right amount of hesitation to make him easy to identify with. The recklessness comes with his new friends to add all the necessary spice and fun.  While there were one or two stumbles on the logical flow, the read is well done and lets imagination fly with wild animal flare.

As for the mystery, this is well-laid and although easy to guess on some aspects, holds more than a few twists, which are harder to see coming. There's a dash of spooky tension, too, and a hint of a darker tone with the attacks and as animals turn up dead on shore. Still, it's appropriate for even more sensitive readers.

I do see this one as being less for reluctant readers and more for tale fans who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and a good portion of mystery too. 

And here she is...

Samantha San Miguegrew up barefoot in South Florida. Living in this wild, diverse, and exuberant state taught Samantha a lifelong respect for the natural world with both its dangers and delights. Working there as an adult taught her a love for the colorful personalities that crowd the state’s borders. And leaving it taught her that whether in Florida, Cuba, or anywhere else in the world, you can never be an exile if there’s sunshine in your heart.

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