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.

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry

On the Horizon

Lois Lowry, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Memoir, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, World War II, Bombardment, Personal narratives, History, Verse

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every person has a place in history.

Two-time Newbery medalist Lois Lowry reflects on her own in this moving account of the lives lost and forever altered in the bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and the lives lost in WWII’s most infamous events.

Drawing on the stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, as well as her own memories, Lois Lowry introduces readers to the only set of twin sailors aboard the USS Arizona, a Japanese child folding origami cranes in the wake of the unfathomable horror of the atomic bomb, and even her own grandmother. Through each vignette, this stunning work in verse contemplates humanity and war, sings with pain and truth, and emphasizes the importance of empathy in bridging cultural divides.

In turns haunting, heartbreaking and uplifting, On the Horizon searches for commonality and connection and will remind readers of the horrors and heroism in our past while offering hope for our future.

Why I love this book:

Lois Lowry personalizes WWII’s most infamous events — Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima — for young readers who may not be familiar with this period of our history. It brings history to life through the moving and heartbreaking stories of ordinary individuals, who are unaware of what will happen at 8:15 a.m. Some survived. Others didn’t.

The story is told in free verse which beautifully fits the tone of each vignette. It is told in three parts. Lowry carefully crafts each and every word so that readers feel that they have been part of something powerfully intimate. She does so with simplicity and sincerity.

Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations are haunting and will evoke a response from readers. This book belongs in every school library.

Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end because you get a sense of how long it took Lowry to find a way to tenderly tell her story with reverence, which is intertwined with so many people and events. When readers finish the book, they will feel like they are holding something sacred in their hands and they have an obligation to work for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Lowry has also done an audio recording of On the Horizon. I believe it’s her first-ever recording. Make sure you have tissues on hand!

Lois Lowry lived in many places growing up, cincluding Hawaii and Japan during the years around World War II, and now lives in Maine. She is the author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including Newbery Medal winners, Nuber the Stars and The Giver. Visit her at her website.  You can also visit her on Twitter @LoisLowryWriter.

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.

Gold Rush Girl by Avi

Gold Rush Girl

Avi, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 10, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Gold Rush, San Francisco, Tent City, Danger, Independence, Freedom, Friendship

Opening: “Have you ever been struck by lightning?
I have.
I write not of the sparkling that bolts from the sky, but of gold, the yellow metal buried in the earth and the shatter-wit world of those who seek it. That world turned me topsy-turvy, so that I did things I never dreamed I would or could do.”

Publisher Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship.

Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships.

Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Why I like this book:

Avi’s story is electrifying — pun intended! His storytelling is rich and visual and will stimulate your senses. Readers will smell the stench of San Francisco — the rotting boats,  street sewage, drunken and sweaty men, and soaked sailcloth tents. They will feel what it’s like to trudge through thick mud and dense fog. “The land of glittering gold revealed itself as mostly rich in rubbish.” 

What a joy it is to journey with Tory (13) and experience the gold rush through her point of view. With gold fever high, the plot is brimming with excitement, trickery, risks and danger. The research that went into every detail of this story, really gives readers insight into this historical time period. When Tory and her family arrive in San Francisco Bay, she is shocked to see hundreds of ships that were deserted in what was called the Rotten Row. Sea captains and their crews headed towards the gold fields. Make sure you read Avi’s note and map about the shipsof Rotten Row at the end, because it is fascinating!

The characters are multi-layered, but memorable. Tory is a spunky and determined heroine. When her father leaves for the gold fields, Tory is left to care for her young brother, Jacob (9), who is sullen, worries and waits on the beach for his mother to arrive. Because of the high cost of food and supplies, their money runs out. Tory buys men’s clothing and finds work rowing arriving passengers ashore, working construction and doing other jobs. She’s paid in grains of gold and is delighted that she is gaining more wealth in the city than her father is laboring in the fields. Tory is living the freedom and independence that’s she’s longed for. She’s happy, physically and mentally strong.

There many colorful characters in the story. Tory develops a friendship with Thad, who works at a local store and helps her improve her rowing skills. Thad is a calm and quiet and a nice balance for Tory. But he also enjoys taking risks, drinking and gambling. Across the street from her tent, is Senor Rosales, a Mexican café owner. He is a kind “uncle” and does his best to keep an eye on both Jacob and Tory. She also befriends a black boy, Sam, who plays his bugle at a shady saloon owned by an evil man, Mr. Kassel. When Jacob suddenly disappears, it is Sam who tells Tory about seeing Jacob at the Mercury and fears he’s been kidnapped and is being held on a vacant ship. The threesome jump into action to save Jacob’s life. Tory must rescue Jacob before her father returns from and gold fields and her mother arrives from Providence.

Avi leaves the story open-ended. There is so much more he could write about Tory and her friends. After all, San Francisco exists as a tent city. I hope there is a sequel. This book belongs in every school library. Verdict: This book is a winner!

Avi is one of the most celebrated authors writing for children today. He has written published over 70 books. Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, The Fighting Ground and the City of Orphans. having received two Boston-Globe – Horn Book Awards, a Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a Christopher Award, a Newbery Medal, and two Newbery Honors. He lives in Colorado.

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.

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

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis and a Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway 

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Stephan Pastis, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Entertainment, Media tie-in edition, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Detective Agency, Mistakes, Failure, Self-Confidence, Comics

Book Jacket Synopsis:

My names is Failure. Timmy Failure.

I am the founder, president, and CEO of the best detective agency in town, probably the nation.

The book you are holding is a historical record or my life as a detective. It has been rigorously fact-checked. All the drawings in here are by me. I tried to get my business partner to do the illustrations, but they were not good.

This book, and my life, are the inspiration for a new movie, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It can been viewed on Disney +. It’s true. Now, in addition to being the best detective in town, probably the nation, I am also a movie star. My greatness knows no bounds.

Why I like this book:

Cartoonist Stephan Pastis brings back his boastful and overly confident Timmy Failure in this hilarious specialbook for fans. Pastis’s comedic timing is brilliant. You’ll have to admit that 11-year-old Timmy is an adorable character who is clueless about his lack of skills and his failures, but lovable all the same. Then add his imaginary and lazy business partner, Total, a 1500-pound polar bear who spends most of his time gorging on trash, and what you end up with is Total Failure Inc.

The narrative is first person TIMMY and is witty, sarcastic and entertaining. His last name was once Fayleure, but someone changed it to Failure. He certainly lives up to his name.

“I am the soon-to-be head of multi-billion-dollar employer of thousands who made it big by adhering to one simple credo: Greatness.

I am a detective without peer.

A visionary without limits.

A pioneer of tomorrow who only challenge now is to remain humble.”

The truth is that Timmy is totally bored in school and his teacher’s and other students don’t understand him or his rich fantasy life, which leads him to a lot of trouble at school and home. Timmy is socially inept in his interactions with other characters — Weevil Bun, Rollo Tookus, and Jimmy Weber. And then there is his arch nemesis, Corrina Corrina (aka The Beast) who is smart, tutors other students and has her own successful detective agency. And Timmy does not lose a client to Corrinna Corrina. Fortunately for Timmy, he does have a mother and other adults who do care about him.

Readers won’t be disappointed in their unforgettable and favorite hero. He succeeds to fail at everything, but he does so with charm and pride. Pastis’s black and white comic illustrations adorn every page and will leave readers roaring with laughter. And the fact his unorthodox story of failure has elevated him to stardom, shows Timmy’s brand of detective work is heartwarming to his fans.

Resources:  You can’t fail to have fun at Timmy Failure’s website. Check it out!

Book Giveaway: In order to participate and win a copy of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, leave a comment below by April 26! Tell me if you’ve read the other books in the series and which one is your favorite. Or tell me if you are new to this series and would love a chance to win a copy. You must live with the US or Canada to participate.

Stephan Pastis is a New York Times best-selling adult author of Larry in Wonderland and Pearls Before Swine. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is his first book for young readers, and is followed by Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done and Timmy Failure: We Meet Again. He lives in northern California.

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.

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

My Name is Konisola by Alisa Siegal

My Name is Konisola

Alisa Siegel, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Refugees, Nigeria, Canada, Generosity, Hope, Community

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On a freezing cold winter night, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother step off a plane in Canada. They have almost nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They are running for their lives from an abusive uncle in Nigeria.

Soon after they land, disaster strikes. Konisola’s mother becomes sick, and Konisola is forced to fend for herself in a strange country with no family or friends. Then she meets a remarkable Canadian nurse, and things begin to change for the better. But Konisola’s future remains uncertain. Will this new life, this new home and the friendships she has found be taken from her? Will she be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee? Will her mother? Or will they both be sent back across the ocean?

Why I like this book:

I love to share stories of hope and generosity of the human spirit, especially when it relates to refugees. They leave behind their families, homes and lives because of persecution, abuse, and war, and seek refuge in a strange new country. In My Name is Konisola, it is Canada who opens its arms to embrace Konisola (Konnie) and her mother Abimbola.

Alisa Siegel’s captivating novel is based on a true story — a bonus for readers. Siegel does an excellent job of comparing and constrasting the real challenges Konisola faces as she begins her new life in Canada. They are moved from apartment to apartment in the beginning. She can’t speak English, doesn’t understand the customs and isn’t allowed to leave the apartment.

Konisola is a brave, strong and resilient 9-year-old girl. When her sick mother is hospitalized,  she moves again, this time to live with a kind nurse, Darlene Priestman, and her family. She feels like a stranger living with a white family. Everything is unfamiliar. She is afraid of the family cat — in Nigeria cats aren’t pets. Shopping malls and grocery stores overwhelm her. They aren’t like the open-air markets at home. When Darlene takes Konisola to visit her mother at the hospital for the first time, she gags at the smells. Seeing her mother so thin and ill is upsetting.

The relationship between Konisola and Darlene is endearing. Darlene is patient and loving. She always rushes to Konisola’s bedside when she has nightmares about her uncle’s rampages. After Darlene gets off work, she takes Konisola to visit her mother every evening.  Darlene gets permission to bring Abimbola to her home for Christmas Eve festivities and has Nigerian friends prepare her favorite dishes.

The pacing is fast and the chapters are short, making this story a quick read. The plot is engaging. There is friction between Konisola and Darlene’s grown daughter, Sara, who bosses Konisola around. At school Konisola wants to blend in and not stand out, but her English is poor. Kids tease her about being a refugee and living with a white mother. She makes friends with one friend, Omara. She worries about the upcoming Immigration and Refugee hearing to determine their fate.

This is a story about a community wrapping their arms around a girl and her mother. There are many more characters who step in and help: a counselor who works with Konisola and helps her design a special shawl for her mother; a retired children’s lawyer who advises on immigration matters; doctors and nurses from the hospital who go above and beyond to help; and the local Nigerian community.

I won’t spoil the ending, so you will have to read the story.  I highly recommend this story as it is a wonderful addition to any school library. Make sure you read the Epilogue.

Alisa Siegel makes radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her work has been recognized with many international awards. Her first radio documentary was a story about her father’s escape from Germany to the West Indies on the eve of the Second World War. Over the past 20 years, Alisa has produced stories on subjects as varied as the Underground Railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi

Weird Little Robots

Carolyn Crimi, Author

Corinna Luyken, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Oct. 1, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Science, Girls, Building robots, Bird watching, STEAM, Magic, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

Eleven-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive.

Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price.

Quirky and wonderful, this illustrated chapter book from Carolyn Crimi and Corinna Luyken shows that making your own space and a true friend in the world is a kind of magic all its own.

Why I like this book:

Carolyn Crimi’s has created an endearing debut chapter book that is full of wonder, magic, and new friendships. There is also a healthy dose of suspense and humor. And it is a story about girls who love all things science! Corinna Luyken’s warm and expressive black and white illustrations appear in each chapter and contribute to the story.

I enjoyed the friendship that is forged between Penny Rose and Lark, two quirky eleven-year-old girls who love science and making things. Penny Rose is good at building robots out of items she finds, like cell phones, dentures, and pencil sharpeners. Lark is not afraid of showing her weirdness and is passionate about birdwatching and building unusual birdhouses for her feathered friends from things she collects. Lark brings a unique perspective to Penny Rose’s interest in robots. Both girls are imaginative and create roboTown — a perfect city for the robots — in Penny Rose’s backyard shed.  Then something magical happens. The robots spring to life. Each robot has its own personality.

However, the friendship is tested when Penny Rose is invited to become a member of Secret Science Society. Much to her surprise, the society is made up of popular girls at school who like science, and a bully, Jeremy. But Penny Rose isn’t allowed to tell anyone about the society, including, Lark, who isn’t invited. Tension builds between the girls, until someone steals some of the robots and trashes the shed. But revenge is sweet in this story. And friendships can be rekindled when Penny Rose decides not to join the society unless Lark is invited.

Carolyn Crimi is the author of several books for children, including Where’s My Mummy?, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates, and There Might Be Lobsters. She lives in Illinois.

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

I, Cosmo

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books, Fiction, Dec. 24, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Dogs, Golden retriever, Family relationships, Divorce, Humor

Publisher Synopsis:

Ever since Cosmo became a big brother to Max ten years ago, he’s known what his job was: to protect his boy and make him happy. Through many good years marked by tennis balls and pilfered turkey, torn-up toilet paper and fragrant goose poop, Cosmo has doggedly kept his vow.

Until recently, his biggest problems were the evil tutu-wearing sheepdog he met on Halloween and the arthritis in his own joints. But now, with Dad-scented blankets appearing on the couch and arguing voices getting louder, Cosmo senses a tougher challenge ahead.

When Max gets a crazy idea to teach them both a dance routine for a contest, how can Cosmo refuse, stiff hips or no? Max wants to remind his folks of all the great times they’ve had together dancing — and make them forget about the “d” word that’s making them all cry. Told in the open, optimistic, unintentionally humorous voice of a golden retriever, I, Cosmo will grab readers from the first page — and remind them that love and loyalty transcend whatever life throws your way.

Why I like this book:

Cosmo is a grand narrator for Carlie Sorosiak’s humorous story about a golden retriever protecting and loving his human family through many life challenges — including his own aging. This story will engage readers and make them laugh as they experience the world through Cosmo’s eyes and senses.

When parents are fighting, there is nothing like a dog like Cosmo, to comfort and ease the anxiety for children. Cosmo is always there for twelve-year-old Max and five-year-old Emmaline, when their parents argue. He’s their best friend, fiercely loyal, and good for hugs. Readers will relate to this heartfelt story of unconditional licks of love.

Dog lovers will fall deeply in love with Cosmo — even adults. We all wonder what our dogs think as they watch us silly humans go about our business — pardon the pun.  We learn very quickly about everything Cosmo thinks. First of all he hates Halloween and the silly costumes he’s made to wear. But he likes bacon and sausage over kibbles. He dislikes the spoonful of peanut butter that Mom feeds him with his meds hidden in the center. When she turns her back, he hides his pill. He’s puzzled by how inferior human noses are. He loves to  sniff and roll in fresh animals scents, swim in the ocean play hide-and-seek, watch dog shows, but also the movie Grease. But as his aches and pains increase with age, Cosmo’s not fond of snow and ice, and jumping on people to greet them.

Carlie Sorosiak grew up in North Carolina and holds two master’s degrees: one in English from the University of Oxford and another in creative writing and publishing from City, University of London. Her life goals include traveling to all seven continents and fostering many polydactyl cats. She currently splits her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna’s. Visit her online at 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.

*Review copy from the publisher. Or I won it in a giveaway.

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.

The Runaways by Ulf Stark

The Runaways

Ulf Stark, Author

Kitty Crowther, Illustrator

Gecko Press, Fiction, Apr. 2, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Grandfather, Illness, Hospital, Lying, Runaways, Multigenerational families, Loss

Synopsis:

Grandpa is in the hospital and hating it. He swears at the nurses and makes trouble for everyone. Dad finds it too stressful to visit. But Gottfried Junior loves his Grandpa and visits him as often as he’s allowed, and when he’s not allowed, he goes anyway. He even sneaks him forbidden foods and beverages.

Grandpa thinks only of the place he was happiest — the island where he lived with Grandma. He wants to go back one last time, but they won’t let him out of the hospital.

Gottfried Junior and Grandpa take things into their own hands. If running away is the only way to the island, then they’ll be runaways.

Why I like this book:

I have to admit the title and cover of this book caught my eye. As I leafed through the pages, I knew that it would be a book that would resonate with children who have ailing grandparents and perhaps children who are ill. It’s packed with adventure, some clever planning, a good dose of humor, and sweet memories.

Every grandparent deserves a compassionate and loyal grandchild like Gottfried Junior, who outsmarts his parent to find ways to make secret trips to visit his grandpa at the hospital. Gottfried listens to his grumpy grandpa, his angry rants about the horrible food and being confined to a bed after he broke his leg twice. But Gottfried also remembers all the fun adventures he had with his grandpa. Together they hatch a plan to spring Grandpa from the hospital for two days, without Gottfried’s parents knowing.

The execution of the plan rests entirely on Gottfried, who arranges all of the details which include faking an overnight footbal trip; arranging the food; hiring a baker friend to help him wheel Grandpa out of the hospital and driving them to the dock to take a boat to the island. Everything goes off without a hitch, but Gottfried has to wrestle with “is it ever a good thing to lie sometimes?”

It is important for children to see how Gottfried’s grandpa handles the end of his life. He has one wish, to return to the home he built for his wife and spend time there remembering all the good in his life. In making the trip with Grandpa, Gottfried learns that death is not something to fear, that it’s important to remember joyful memories, and find closure with family members. I won’t spoil the beautiful ending.

The Runaways is written by Swedish author, Ulf Stark, and has been translated into English. It has a European feel to it, especially with the beautiful colored-pencil illustrations by Kitty Crowther that grace the chapters and give readers an additional experience.

Quote:

“I’d helped him get to the old house he’d built one last time. He’d been able to breathe in the smell of the sea. And I’d been down to the cellar and collected the last jar of lingonberry jam that he said somehow still had Grandma in it.” Page 72

Ulf Stark was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1944. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, translated into more than twenty languages. He has won many prizes in Sweden and internationally, including the German Youth Literature Prize and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

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 library 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.