A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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

Twist by Sarah Cannon

Twist

Sarah Cannon, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Feb. 11, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Monsters, Fantasy world, Magical creatures, Creativity, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Eli has a dream. He’s going to be the next Stephen King, and he’s just created his best monster yet!

Neha has a secret. Her notebook is filled with drawings of a fantasy world called Forest Creeks, and it’s become inhabited by wonderful imaginary creatures. But her new friends are in danger . . .

Court has a gift, both for finding trouble and for stopping it. And when she accidentally ends up with one of Neha’s drawings, she quickly realizes that the monsters raiding magical Forest Creeks are coming from Eli’s stories.

When these three creative kids come together, they accidentally create a doorway from Neha’s sketch book of Forest Creeks into the real world. Now every monster that Eli ever imagined has been unleashed upon their town!  Only Eli really knows what his monsters are capable of doing. The kids must band together to save their town and a fantasy world from horror-story monsters that come to life.

Why I like this book:

Sarah Cannon’s novel, Twist, is an imaginative, scary and offbeat adventure story. Readers who love dark humor and wacky storytelling are in for a treat! There are quirky main characters they’ll root for and monsters lurking on every page. The story is fast-paced and combines a spirited narrative with clever wordplay. Fans of Cannon’s first novel, Oddity, will cheer for Twist.

I marvel at Cannon’s ability to build fantasy worlds with a strong realistic “twist.” The standout characters, Eli, Neha and Court are kids with real problems. They are a diverse  group of students who deal with their own inner monsters: bullies, social anxiety and regular middle grade angst. But they are also very creative artists and writers, who realize that they have to work together to stop the mayhem they’ve released on their vulnerable town and Neha’s fantasy world, without the help of adults. Court is the problem-solver. There are other memorable characters — both human and magical — who contribute to the story.

The plot is dangerous and the tension palpable. Eli’s writer brain knows his monsters,  especially Howler, who is murderous and has an evil glint in his eye. And there is Lichenthrope, who is designed to lie flat and undetectable in the forest until someone walks over top of him. Eli also knows exactly when the monsters will attack, so he has to act fast. But Neha’s adorable and mischievous Creeps are invading the town and must be located and protected from the monsters. The friends divvy up groups of Creeps and sneak them into their homes for protection. More mayhem! Time’s running out on their mission is to restore order.

Cannon’s story ending allows readers to imagine what happens next.  OR, it may leave the door open for a sequel. I’ll let readers make their own conclusions.

Sarah Cannon, author of Oddity and Twist, has lived all over the US, but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids, and a misquided dog. Sarah hold a BS in education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human. Visit Cannon at her website. There is a study guide for the classroom.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy, Volume 8

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction/Fantasy, Nov. 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Synopsis:

Sophie Foster wants answers. But after a liftime of lies, sometimes the truth is the most dangerous discovery. Even the smallest secret comes with terrifying new responsibilities.

And Sophie’s not the only one with blank spots in her past or mysteries surrounding her family. She and her friends are part of something much bigger than they imagined — and their roles have already been schosen for them.

Every clue drags them deeper into the conspiracy. Every memory forces them to question everything — epecially one another. And the harder they fight, the more the lines blur between friend and enemy.

Illusions shatter — and Sophie and her friends face impossible choices — in this astonishing eighth book in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Why I like this book:

Shannon Messenger is a superb storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured.  Her settings and magical world building in Legacy continue to be vividly creative and seductive. Her plots are thrilling and DANGEROUS.  Once you begin Legacy, you will be drawn into her magic until you have read the nearly 800 pages. And when you reach the last 100 pages, you’ll want to slow down because you don’t want the story to end.  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, as does the book’s ending. And yes, adults enjoy her books too.

Like other reviewers, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read their Christmas copy or are just beginning the series — like my great granddaughter who’s on Volume 6. So my review will focus on my observations.  I will say that the verdict is still out on Sophie’s relationship with Keefe and Fitz. And both relationships are very important and different, providing a certain amount of support and stability for Sophie.  However there is a lot of drama and adventure in Legacy, and more reveals to come in Unlocked, Volume 9, that may leave us all speechless.

Even though the books are known for their magic, there really is a lot of realism in Legacy and the series. I don’t know why it took me a while to realize it, but Legacy brought the realism more into focus. Yes Sophie is the Moonlark, who’s DNA is genetically engineered to give her certain powers. But she is also human and makes big mistakes. She has flaws, stumbles, misjudges, and disappoints, but she always picks herself up and doesn’t give up.

Sophie realizes some flaws in her abilities and she asks Mr. Forkle and the Black Swan team to reset her abilities, a huge risk to her life. The adjustments enhance her abilities. Another major character undergoes a resetting, but I won’t give that away.

We see Sophie and her friends, Bianca, Fitz, Keefe, and Dex, Tam and Lihn maturing and trusting in each other’s abilities — even though one member is forced to join the Neverseen enemy.  I was delighted to see characters we haven’t seen or heard a lot about in earlier books, take more prominent roles — like Stina and Maruca, who were once at odds with Sophie. Their confidence is growing and it has opened the door for strong teamwork to form. We also see the parents, the Black Swan, and the Councilors taking a huge step back and trusting Sophie and her friends. This may be a build-up for the finalé next year.

And, yes there is one HUGE reveal in Legacy that jolts Sophie and we won’t know how that works out until Unlocked is published November 17.  But there also is some happy news with a  birth.  So in Volume 8, we are beginning to learn some secrets that will have to find resolution at the end. Legacy did advance the story for me.

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

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds, Book 3

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Nov. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Clans, Pegasi, Mythical flying animals, Giants, Adventure, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Echofrost, Shysong, and all of Storm Herd are finally free from the giants, but their freedom comes with a price. Sandwan Clan Rider Rahkki Stormrunner has been captured by the Gorlan giants, with no possibility for escape and no hope of being rescued by Princess I’Lenna or his fellow clan members. As the giants are quickly losing their patience with the Fifth Clan, putting Rahkkii in deeper danger, Storm Herd will have to join forces with the humans they have long feared.

As sweeping monsoon rains threaten to devastate the region, enemies and friend, tame steeds and wild, will have to engage in a final battle to decide the fate of all three groups — the Sandwans, the giants, and the pegasi. Freedom, they will learn, is not about fleeing to a safer land. It’s about staying and fighting for the right of all creatures to live as they choose.

Why I love this book:

This is the final book in Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s Riders of the Realm trilogy. Fans will be thrilled with the many surprises and unexpected twists in the story. And they will be pleased with the resolution. The book cover is gorgeous!

Alvarez is a master at building believable worlds. She has created a matriarchal culture within the seven Sandwen clans, each ruled by a monarch queen.  In book three we enter into the world of the Gorlan Giants, where Rahkki is being held captive. Fortunately Rahkki’s knows enought giant sign language, so that he can communicate. He makes a great effort to really learn their way of life, customs, and history, so that he can get to the reasons for their discontent with the Sandwen Clan. He realizes that the giants are smart and are experts at battle. He is hopeful that the giants will help him overthrow the evil Queen Lilliam and bring peace to the realm. But Rahkki makes one honest mistake and sends the Giants into a rage. He flees for his life.

The trilogy is character-driven. In the final book we see a lot of character development and growth. Rahkiki remains clever, but he begins to trust himself and his abilities. He is courageous because he’s looking at the bigger picture of peace for the entire realm and not focusing on himself or just his clan. His brother Brauk’s tough, hard and angry edges are smoothed and he plays a vital role in the final battle, as does Princess I’Lenna the eldest daughter of the Queen. I’Lenna is smart, exposes her mother’s betrayals, and risks her own life for the future good of the realm.

This novel is a fantasy involving three groups of characters – the pegasi, the Sandwen clan and the giants. But the characters also deal with real issues if they want to stop battling one another and find peace. Each group has to learn each other’s languages, customs, and cultures in order to attempt to resolve their differences and bring freedom and peace to the realm. There is a lot that readers will take away from this trilogy.

Make sure you check out the maps Alvarez includes of the territory for each of three groups and information about the key players. Verdict: This trilogy is a winner! I suggest you read the books in order.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkely. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters #1, Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky, #2, and the Guardian Herd series. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferDiaries or on Instagram @jennifer-lynn-alvarez. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky

Jennifer Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fantasy, Mar. 26, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Dragons, War, Survival, Loyalty, Bravery, Freedom

Book Synopsis:

After winning the wild Pegasus mare named Echofrost in a contest, Rahkki Stormrunner becomes an official Rider in the Sky Guard army. But Rahkki is terrified of heights, and Echofrost is still difficult to tame. And with Echofrost’s herd captured by the giants and the growing threat of battle looming over the realm, the new Pair will have to work through their fears in order to fly with the army and free the herd.

Meanwhile, back in Rahkki’s village, rebellion is brewing, and Rahkki learns there is a sinister plot to overthrow Queen Lilliam. But the queen suspects Rahkki’s behind it, and he is under intense watch.

As Rahkki and Echofrost travel to Mount Crim to free Storm Herd, Rahkki fears that the greatest danger may not come from the impending battle against the giants, but from within his own clan.

Why I like this book/series:

Fans have waited a year for the release of Jennifer Alvarez’s second novel in the Riders of the Realm series. It was worth the wait. Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Skies is an exhilarating and epic journey.  Alvarez’s storytelling is exquisite and her world-building outstanding.

Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans, all ruled by a monarch queen. The men in the clan are honored battle warriors. Their flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and paired for life with a flyer, but their mission is to protect the clans from giants, dragons, huge snakes, and killer plants.

The story is character-driven. Kind-hearted Rahkki, the 12-year-old stable groom for the wild Echofrost, has won the steed in a contest. He built a relationship of trust with her in the first novel. Rahkki’s goal in competing is to save her life and free the Pegasus so she can find her herd. But now they are bound to each other for life. And Rahkki is her Rider.  Princess I’Lenna is the eldest daughter of Queen Lilliam. Unlike her evil mother, the princess is kind, smart, clever and wants to build peace among the clans. She is Rahkki’s best friend and their relationship is crucial to the future of the realm and freeing Storm Herd from the Giants. But there is an uprising building within the clan and Rahkki isn’t sure who are his friends or enemies.

Alvarez ends the book on a huge cliff hangar which will catch readers completely off-guard and leave them imagining the future of the realm and their favorite characters. They will have to wait for the final volume next year.  This will give new readers an opportunity to check out the original Guardian Herd series, where the Pegasus are free.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of the Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters and the Guardian Herd series. To learn more about her winged universe of novels, please visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Tears of the Mountain by Michelle Isenhoff

Tears of the Mountain (The Mountain Trilogy, Book 3)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, Dec. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up (adults will enjoy)

Themes: Ancient land, War, Journey, Prophecy, Fantasy

Synopsis A simple act of obedience has the power to change the world.

Jubal wants only to live in peace, but ancient feuds from neighboring kingdoms steal away any hope of tranquility. He is a son of the grand vizier when he would rather be a hermit living high in the mountains playing his flute. Jubal is expected to be part of the Kindolin army, but he doesn’t like battle, unlike his best friend Sark. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s unknown history.

On the day of the annual Sun Festival, a well-planned coup erupts from within the palace walls and Jubal’s family is slaughtered along with many others. War erupts in Kindolin and Sark’s father is involved in the coup. Jubal and Liena go to Doli’s home, where the wise man helps him flee to the mountains. Doli tells Jubal he “has been given a calling and it his destiny to play out a role on a divine stage.” It is a prophecy where Jubal will end a curse.

“Mud and mire shall birth a tree;

A sprout shall grow of ancient seed.

The five unite to break the one;

The curse of man shall be undone.

But brothers rise ere dragon’s bane; 

The last shall smite the first again.” 

Jubal finds himself flung into a quest of even greater antiquity. For victory lies not in the strength of arms but in this promise given long ago. His path, fraught with betrayal, loss, and his own lack of faith, carries him far beyond the boundaries of Kindolin. Will Jubal be strong enough to lay down his own life in fulfillment of his task? Or will Kindolin disappear into the pages of history?

Why I like this book:

Isenhoff has written a captivating novel about the ancient orient. It is about a prophecy and the destiny of a boy to slay the dragon, Ju-Long, and end an ancient curse. Isenhoff’s storytelling is superb and her language is lyrical and poetic. The untamed beauty of the lush mountains setting creates both joy and challenges as the seasons change. The plot is thrilling, courageous and perilous.

The characters are fascinating and unforgettable. Jubal is the son of the vizier, where much is expected of him. He is a gentle soul who has no interest in being part of the army, bearing arms, training and learning battle strategies. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s ancient beginnings. Jubal values his childhood friendships with Sark and Liena, and the three share their skills. Sark likes war and teaches Jubal and Liena martial arts. Liena shows them the forest plants that they will need to  sustain them. And Jubal helps Sark with his school lessons. Liena’s destiny is intertwined with Jubal’s task and a love story emerges within the story.

Journey back to the first age of men in Isenhoff’s final installment of the Mountain Trilogy that ties Song to his family’s very earliest beginnings. There are three books in this trilogy, Song of the Mountain (free on Kindle), Fire on the Mountain and Tears of the Mountain. They can be read together, or as stand-alone novels. I have read and loved all three inspirational novels. Isenhoff includes a Prologue at the beginning, so readers have an understanding of the story. I choose to read a book in hand

Sample of Isenhoff’s lyrical style: “Under normal circumstances, music bubbled out of Jubal like water from a spring. He was forever humming or whistling or tapping his fingers to some new tune. He heard them everywhere –in the syncopation of raindrops, in the minor key of the wolf’s cry, even moonlight carried a soft melody. And when the surrounding peaks sent their breath strumming through the forest, it produced an entire symphony.”

Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and The Divided Decade collection. She also writes fantasy: The Recompense series and The Mountain Trilogy. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy of the book.

The Broken Ornament by Tony Diterlizzi

The Broken Ornament

Tony Diterlizzi, Author and Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Christmas tree, Ornaments, Family relationships, Fairy, Fantasy, Magic

Opening: Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever! “I want more decorations,” he said. “That way Santa will see our house first.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Jack wants this to be the best Christmas ever, and he knows just how to make it happen.

More! More lights, more presents, more cookies, more treats. More. More. More! So, when Jack breaks a dusty old ornament, he’s not sure why his mom is so upset. They can always get more ornaments, so what’s the big deal? Turns out the ornament was an heirloom, precious for more reasons than one. And Jack has a lot to learn about the true meaning of Christmas.

A fairy emerges from the shattered ornament. She has the power to make the most magical Christmasy things happen. Suddenly trees are sprouting, reindeer are flying, and snowmen are snowball fighting. All of it is so perfect, or it would be if she could fix Mom’s ornament. But she can’t.

So it’s up to Jack to make some Christmas magic of his own.

Why I like this book:

There is so much heart, imagination, charm, humor and love in Tony Diterlizzi’s Christmas story. Kids make mistakes and want to make things right.  When Jack accidentally breaks his mother’s ornament,  he finds a heartfelt way to put a smile back on his mother’s face.  The message is simple and endearing – that making someone else happy is the best gift of all.

Diterlizzi’s colorful and playful illustrations are dazzling and fill this holiday story with magic and cheer. With the help of a fairy, the front door opens and elves, snowmen, nutcrackers, and reindeer leap across the pages and transform Jack’s house into a winter wonderland. Children will have a grand time studying each page to make sure they don’t miss any of the action. This book is a winner!

Resources: Visit the Tony Diterlizzi’s website where children will find holiday decorations, activities, a maze, and ornaments.

Tony Diterlizzi is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator who has created books with Simon & Schuster for over 20 years. His pictures books include Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-The-World Moon-Pie Adventure and The Spider and the Fly. His middle grade novels include Kenny & the Dragon and the WondLa trilogy,

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Purchased copy.

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Bob

Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, Authors

Nicholas Gannon, Illustrator

Feiwel and Friends Book, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Friends, Magic, Fantasy, Creature, Lost, Mystery

Synopsis:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia, which is under a severe drought. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. During that time he learns to count to 987,654,321, six times; build a Lego pirate ship, 63 times; and reads and memorizes the dictionary. But Bob can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, solve a community problem, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Why I like this book:

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead work their magic to create an enchanting and heartwarming story about a girl, Livy, and a little green creature, Bob. This will be a popular summer read inviting teens on an adventure to solve the mystery of Bob.

Livy is on a quest to discover exactly who and what Bob is, where he  comes from and how she returns him to his home and family. The story is told by Livy and Bob in alternating chapters. Stead wrote Livy and Mass wrote Bob. The storytelling is seamless with the tone of the text wistful and wandering, with a sense of urgency that there is much to discover.

The characters are lovable and relatable. Livy is a sweet 10-year-old girl struggling to feel comfortable in Gran’s home, a place she barely even remembers. She is troubled that she has forgotten Bob. How could she forget a little green zombie-creature? Bob is a kind-hearted and jovial and patient friend who tells  stories about the “old 5-year-old Livy” who wasn’t curious and took risks. He often refers to the “old” and the “new” Livy, when he wants to nudge her. There are many other memorable characters in this story, especially young Danny who has made his own discoveries about green creatures.

The plot is one big mystery with many subplots. Livy discovers that something peculiar happens to her whenever she leaves Bob for the afternoon to go with Gran into town — her memory of Bob fades. So she carries around Bob’s chipped chess piece in her pocket she can stroke and remember him. She also discovers that not everyone can see Bob.

I enjoyed the collaboration of these two celebrated middle grade authors, along with the entertaining illustrations of Nicholas Gannon, which contribute significantly to the story. It’s easy to lose yourself in Livy and Bob’s world because it is an inspiring story about the importance of family and friendship, with a sprinkle of magic. Even thought this story is rated for middle grade students, I believe it is a perfect read for fourth and fifth graders.

Resources: Visit Wendy Mass’ website, where readers will find a Book Club Guide, an Educator’s Guide and book trailers.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Carnival Magic by Amy Ephron

Carnival Magic

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Carnival, Fantasy, Magic, Adventure, Family relationships, Vacation

Synopsis:

This companion to Castle In the Mist features a mysterious carnival, an ominous psychic, and a wind that whisks Tess and Max away from their vacation in South Devon, England. Which fantastical world will they find this time?

Tess and Max are back in England for another summer with their Aunt Evie–this time by the seashore in South Devon. And they’re incredibly excited about the travelling carnival that’s come to town. There are rides, games, acrobats, The House of Mirrors–and even a psychic, with a beautiful wagon all her own.

In a visit to the psychic’s wagon, while Tess is being hypnotized, the wagon seems to move. Before Tess can shake herself out of the hypnosis, before Max can do anything, they seem to be travelling–along with the rest of the carnival–too quickly for the two of them to jump out. But where are they going and what awaits them? Will they be caught in a world different from their own? And do the Baranova twins, acrobats who miss their sister almost as much as Tess and Max miss their family, hold the keys to the mystery?

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron returns with a companion novel to The Castle in the Mist and creates a magical tale filled with adventure, mystery, fantasy, family, and fun. Readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action and find Carnival Magic the perfect summer read.

The fun carnival setting will appeal to readers. Who doesn’t like cotton candy, a baby tiger, a Ferris wheel, a Hall of Mirrors, psychics, and acrobats. The chapters are short and fast-paced, propelling readers forward into this magical ride.

The plot is one adventure after another, as the brother-sister duo literally work themselves through a magical maze of adventures that are not of their world. Tess saves a baby tiger, rescues a child dangling from a stuck Ferris wheel, stands in as an acrobat, and tries to reunite three siblings, while Max figures out the mystery of the Hall Mirrors and navigating worlds.

Tess is a smart, strong and independent female protagonist, following in the footsteps of her mother and Aunt Evie.  Max is the logical and sensible of the two. He has a way of looking to the future and finding the positive, which Tess envies. Tess tends to jump in and not worry about where she’s jumping until later. She’s good at making snap decisions that lead her into some very hair-raising moments. Tess and Max are a nice balance to one another, especially when they enter another worldly dimension. Both siblings are resourceful and supportive in their attempts to right some wrongs and get back to South Devon — or did they really ever really leave it? A question readers will ponder.

The novel is entertaining, imaginative and filled with unexpected twists from beginning to end.

Amy Ephron is the author of The Castle in the Mist, which was her first middle grade novel. It was nominated for a SCIBA Award and selected as a February 2017 Barnes and Noble Best Book for Young Readers and Amazon Best Book of the Month. She has also written several adult books. A Cup of Tea was an international bestseller. Visit Ephron at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Abduction by Michelle Isenhoff (Recompense Book 4)

Abduction (Recompense Series Book 4)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing/Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, May 15, 2018

Pages: 350

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Abduction, Ruby Parnell’s story, World-building, Future Earth

Synopsis:

If you’ve read the first three novels in the gripping Recompense Trilogy, you’ve read Jaclyn’s (Jack’s) story. You know the important role her grandmother Ruby Parnell played in escaping from Brunay, turning evidence against the Bruelim and initiating the Axis investigation at the end of the Provocation. Now its time to read Ruby’s full story about her abduction.

Ruby’s story is set 47 years before her granddaughter Jaclyn’s (Jack) begins.  Readers will find her world more relatable to their own. She is entirely focused on her upcoming high school graduation and her escape from her Tidbury Bay, a warm  community of seafarers, a beautiful harbor and beaches and the safety and isolation it has offered her. She has given little thought to the disappearances that are taking place all over the North American Republic, because they haven’t touched her town. But Ruby is a restless and lively soul who sees no reason to attend college, even though she is intelligent. Ruby dreams of traveling the world and experiencing life in real-time. She and a friend are talking about getting their teaching accreditation and traveling to Europe to teach English.

Ruby has another reason for wanting to leave — her older sister Opal. The two may be related by blood, but they have opposite personalities.  The sisters live with their grandfather and Opal works at the local cannery. Opal loves nature and wandering through the woods. She is quiet and cares and cooks for the family without complaint. She’s such a model of perfection that Ruby never sees Opal’s betrayal coming the night of her graduation.  In a moment of emotional recklessness, Ruby flees to the woods alone. She awakens a captive of a cruel race in a land she’s never heard of before, Brunay. She will soon discover what happens to the missing girls.

What I like about this book:

Michelle Isenhoff is a prolific author and a skilled storyteller. Her world-building is imaginative and intelligent, with a strong elements of realism. She makes her readers think, ask questions and look at the world around them. Her execution of cliffhangers at the end of each chapter propels the reader into the next one, making Abduction and her other books addictive reads. And her characters stay with you. I’m already plotting out her final book in my head. I would love to be a cell in her brain, because she writes with such ambition.

It is Ruby’s risk-taking and thrill-seeking nature and her stubborn determination that allows her to fight for what she believes and return. She plans a massive escape for all of the women in her compound, but fails. She endures unbelievable punishment and brutality by the heartless Bruelims, and experiences heart-wrenching loss. Yet she still manages to be the first of over 100,000 captives to escape Brunay and shed some light on the reason for the abductions (NO SPOILERS). It is a harrowing story of resilience.

After reading Ruby’s story, I understand the similar personality traits between Jack and her grandmother. They both are on the same unrelenting mission with stubborn abandon for their own safety so that others may be saved.

Fans of the Recompense series, will be thrilled with Abduction. It is a full-length prequel to the series, and is intended to be read at the completion of the main trilogy. There will be five books in the series: Recompense, Betrayal, Retribution, Abduction (full-length prequel), and Reprisal (full-length sequel coming Summer 2018.) Hooray! I still have one more opportunity to see how this series is brought to a resounding conclusion this summer.  Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

Michelle Isenhoff  is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and the Divided Decade collection. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.