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.

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

Harper Collins Publisher, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 417

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Survival, Trust, Loyalty, Freedom

Synopsis: Deep in the jungles of the Realm, the Sandwen clan live among deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. But with their winged battle horses, they manage to keep their people safe.

Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, taking care of his brother’s winged stallion. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in their land, and turned them into flying warhorses to protect themselves from the giants. When a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clanmates are stunned. Who are these pegasi, and where have they come from?

Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi have journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new, and free, land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware that the Sandwens are ready to fight. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.

Opening: Every Sandwen child dreamed of riding. A winged horse, though most never would, and one would rather not.

Why I love this book:

Look at that gorgeous and engaging cover! What teen wouldn’t be drawn to this tantalizing novel?

Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters is a thrilling new fantasy by Jennifer Alvarez for the fans of her Guardian Herd series. They will not be disappointed! Riders of the Realm is a brand new journey into an unknown realm for 140 terrified pagasi who have fled Anok in treacherous search for a peaceful home and new life. Readers will be delighted to reunite with Echohfrost, Hazlewind, Graystone, Dewberry, Redfire and Shysong, and the other pegasi, who call themselves the Storm Herd. Her storytelling is magical and flows organically.

The setting and world-building is enchanting, but full of hidden dangers. Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans ruled by a monarch queen. Storm Herd lands among the Fifth clan. The men in the clans are warriors. The flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and are paired for life with a flyer, but they are trained for the military guard to protect the clans. There are huge ants, killer plants, spit dragons and giants who communicate by using sign language.

The plot is exhilarating with epic adventures, action, clashes between the wild and tame steeds, the evil Fifth clan queen, the capture of Echofrost and Shysong, and the warring giants. There is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that will keep readers fully engaged in this fast-paced novel.

We also meet Rahkki, a 12-year-old stable groom for his older brother, Brauk, who is a Rider. They have suffered a horrific family loss and take care of each other. When the wild flying herd glides high above their village, Rahkki is excited and his imagination soars as he wonders what else may live outside his world. Rahkki has no hope of ever being a rider, so he spends a lot of time with Echofrost. It is the perfect pairing, since both share a loss. And their relationship is crucial to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. Loyalty, trust and friendship will lead them forward.

Alvarez expertly tells her story in the alternating voices of Echofrost and Rahkki, which offers a rich perspective and a lot insight into this compelling story. For Echofrost, being paired and ridden by a flyer, is unthinkable. For the tame Sandwen Pegasi being wild is an unimaginable. They are honored battle warriors and paired for life with a human.

Alvarez ends the book with a huge cliffhanger that will have readers imagining the future of the characters, the flying steeds and the realm. I predict this will be a favorite and cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It is a perfect summer read! Readers will have to wait until February 2019, for the release of her second book in the trilogy, which will give new readers the opportunity to check out the Guardian Herd series.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is an active horsewoman. a volunteer for US Pony Club, and a proud mother of three children. She’s also the author the Guardian Herd series, fantasy novel starring wild pegasi. Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of animals when writing her books.  Visit Alvarez on her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

Review copy from the library.

Inspired by Susan Schaefer Bernardo

Inspired

Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Author

Inner Flower Child Books, YA Fantasy, May 6, 2018

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Pages: 282

Themes:  Self-confidence, Creative ability, Greek muses and mythology, Family Relationships, Friendship

Synopsis: As if life weren’t complicated enough, 14-year-old Rocket Malone has just learned that her mysterious Aunt Polly is actually Polyhymnia, a Greek Muse who desperately needs her help. And there is the matter of the gift of a mysterious mirror from Aunt Polly that keeps glowing and draws Rocket into the timeless world of the nine muses. The more time she spends with the muses, the more lost Rocket feels at home and the more out-of-place she feels at school. Now Rocket needs to juggle middle school and apprentice Muse training, learn how to ride Pegasus and blow glass, stand up to Zeus and catch a crazed nymph named Echo — all without losing her best friend or looking like an idiot in front of her crush, Ryan. As she strives to inspire others, Rocket learns to trust her own voice and realizes that the most important spark she must ignite is her own — because the brighter she shines, the more she lights the way for those around her.

Why I like this book:

Inspired is a charming novel with a perfect balance of magic and Greek mythology, but is grounded in a strong dose of realism. It is set in Hollywood and takes place in a regular middle school with all of the angst of messy teen problems.

There is so much beauty in this novel. The tone of the prose is rich and wandering, inviting the reader along this magical journey about Greek muses, gods and mythological creatures, like a Pegasus. A school field trip to the Getty Villa opens the door for Rocket’s first contact with the mythological world, when she wanders off among the statues of muses and discovers Polyhymnia, who looks like her Aunt Polly. When the statue turns from stone to Aunt Polly, Rocket gasps and nearly collapses.

The characters are believable and have problems, which are handled with sensitivity by the author.  Rocket isn’t happy with the direction of her life, but she is a resilient character. Her father committed suicide and her mother has remarried. They are moving from their Venice Beach apartment to her stepfather’s home in the Hollywood Hills. Rocket isn’t pleased when her mother announces she is pregnant and expecting twin boys.  Her best friend Gillian, finds a new friend. Her friend Ryan is dealing with the death of his sister in a car accident and the loss of his home in a wild-fire.

I enjoyed the diversity among the female apprentice muses, each representing a different country, culture and different time period. It takes Rocket a while to realize that they all communicate with each other through a universal language when they are together. They aren’t fluent in English, as she first thought.

The plot is fast-paced with universal themes the author manages to keep fresh for readers. For instance, no matter how challenging our lives may seem, they are “part of our human, creative process.”  This is an engaging story about self-confidence, friendship, adventure, trust, embracing one’s uniqueness, and finding one’s voice. This novel shines!

Susan Schaefer Bernardo is a published poet and the author of several award-winning picture books, including Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, The Big Adventures of Tiny House, and The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm (a collaboration with LeVar Burton that was sent via rocket to the International Space Station for Storytime from Space!). This is her first novel. She loves school, and has collected her B.A. from UCLA, a master’s degree in English Literature from Yale, and teaching credentials from Pepperdine University. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. You can visit Susan 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 copy provided by the author.

Recompense Trilogy by Michelle Isenhoff

Michelle Isenhoff’s  has managed to captivate me in her fresh and diverse YA fantasy/dystopian series, the Recompense Trilogy, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.  It is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all three novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, published since January 2018.  Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel!

Isenhoff ‘s trilogy is a heart-pounding and thrilling read with gorgeous writing, mesmerizing world building and gripping story line that culminates in a series that is absolutely addictive. She masterfully builds a world that is believable, haunting and creates a realistic backdrop for her multi-layered and authentic characters in Jaclyn (Jack), Will, Ethan, Aunt Opal, Willoughby and Jewell. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into their high-stakes story. The heroine, Jack, is such a likable character, who repeatedly demonstrates strength of body, mind, and spirit throughout the series. You’ll be cheering for her from the very first page. The thing I liked about the large cast of characters is that you never know who you can trust and when you can trust them. They keep you on your toes and utterly glued to the pages. And there is a sweet love story.

Readers will enjoy sinking into the thoughtfully constructed details of Isenhoff’s ravaged future Earth, as well as a number of terrifying action sequences that build to a game-changing twist. The plot is riveting, action-packed and complex. Isenhoff has a sweeping imagination and you never know what to expect next. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome. I lost a couple of nights of sleep because I couldn’t put her engaging novel down.

Instead of reviewing each book separately, I’ve given you my impression of the complete trilogy. I’ve also decided to share the synopsis of each book below, so readers can grasp the depth of this brilliant trilogy.

Synopsis: Born into Capernica’s lowest social tier and not permitted to leave Settlement 56, Jaclyn (Jack) Holloway refuses to pour out her years in the local fish cannery. She gambles on the one chance available to her to advance–the high school Exit Exam. In a country that still keenly remembers the horrors of the Provocation, the period of unexplained disappearances that led to revolution, the smartest and strongest are richly rewarded in exchange for military service. Jack is adamant that her best friend, Will Ransom, join her in striving for induction.

But if Jack fails to pass the stringent physical standards and Will succeeds, she will not be allowed to see him again until his tour of duty is completed–in twenty years.

Meanwhile, the government has been keeping a tight lid on a new string of abductions. Jack’s Exam score places her in a position to aid Axis, an underground organization charged with investigating events that threaten national security. The evidence leads her back forty-seven years, to a series of high-profile cover-ups linked to the Provocation. Blowing the whistle could place her in danger, but holding her silence means history will likely repeat. And Capernica could never survive a second Provocation.

Synopsis: Jack and her teammates at Axis have succeeded in stopping the widespread abduction of Capernica’s teenage girls and neutralized the operatives living among them. Now they turn their attention to uniting the nation against the Bruelim. It’s time to take the fight through the portal and make sure, once and for all, that the Provocation never repeats.

Even as they prepare, disgruntled Lowers hang on the brink of revolution. Their rebellion has the potential to split Capernica along its caste lines just when the nation should be pulling together against a common enemy. But how can Axis convey the importance of cooperation when they’re unable to tell the people exactly what dangers they’re facing? Forty-seven years ago, Governor Macron expressly forbid any investigation into the Bruelim and ordered the evidence from the Provocation destroyed. No one’s certain what she’ll do when she learns the files have been reopened.

Meanwhile, Jack remains crazy hopeful that upcoming Military maneuvers might once again throw her into contact with her best friend Will, while Ethan, her capable Axis partner, strongly hopes they do not. Neither she nor Ethan are prepared for the testing their partnership is about to undergo. Or the revelation of their most immediate threat.

Synopsis: Jack was the revolution’s contingency plan. With the assault on the Macron City Military Base shattered, she was to assassinate Governor Andromeda Macron and revert Capernica back to Capernican control. But she failed, the revolution lies in ashes, and the one person she loves more than anyone in the world has betrayed her.

Alone in Brunay, Jack becomes an anonymous cog in the vast Bruelim slave economy, where callous wardens aren’t the only threat to her safety. The labor compound she’s been assigned to has an inmate hierarchy dominated by descendants of the Provocation’s original victims, and they don’t welcome newcomers. But Jack also finds friendship among the displaced laborers, and like her grandmother, Ruby, she burns with the desire to see them all home.

More importantly, Jack discovers the key to freeing Capernica from Bruel aggression forever. But even if she managed an escape, how could she leave Will in Brunay, trapped in the body of a Berkam?

Isenhoff has made Recompense available free for download on Amazon kindle. I ordered the paperbacks. This new original series will please fans of Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Isenhoff has completed a prequel to the trilogy, Provocation, which will be released soon. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

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.

Oddity by Sarah Cannon

Oddity

Sarah Cannon, Author

Feiwel & Friends, Fiction, Nov. 28, 2017

Pages: 310

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Fantasy, Missing Children, Twin Sisters, Humor

Book Jacket Synopsis: Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where everything normal is odd and everything odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, or instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven’t been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town’s yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared…

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and a new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (whose inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly laughable). Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity’s secrets while evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But when one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes, Ada can’t let it go. Because if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

Why I like this book:

Sarah Cannon is an original voice in children’s literature with her debut novel, Oddity. Her impressively crafted story is clever, imaginative, quirky, and beckoning. I have never read anything like Oddity. Readers who enjoy weird, spooky and wacky, will be wild about this offbeat adventure and revel in its dark humor. Cannon’s world building is exceptional. And check out the gorgeous cover!

The characters are diverse, wacky and believable. Ada, Raymond and Cayden are devoted friends who conspire with zombie rabbits in pajamas and aliens, to investigate the suspicious disappearance of Ada’s twin sister.  The zombie rabbits and aliens are pranksters. They create a lot of chaos and crazy humor that provide comic relief and keep readers turning pages.

The plot is multi-layered, complicated and courageous. There is danger and the tension is palpable. With sinister puppets running the town, an invisible monster terrorizing the community, and another Sweepstakes approaching, the three friends and their sidekicks have a hefty mission to uncover the dark secrets Oddity is hiding and find Pearl. The ending is epic!

Sarah Cannon, author of Oddity, has lived all over the U.S., but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids and a misguided dog. Sarah holds a B.S. 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 Sarah Cannon at her website.

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

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

The Castle in the Mist

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, Feb. 7, 2017

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Castles, Wishes, Magic, Family relationships, Siblings

Book Synopsis:

Tess and her brother, Max, are sent for the summer to their aunt’s sleepy village in the English countryside, where excitement is as rare as a good wifi signal. So when Tess stumbles upon an old brass key that unlocks an ornately carved gate, attached to a strangely invisible wall, she jumps at the chance for adventure. And the world beyond the gate doesn’t disappoint. She finds rose gardens, a maze made of hedges, and a boy named William who is just as lonely as she is.

But at William’s castle, strange things begin to happen. Carnival games are paid for in wishes, dreams seem to come alive, and then there’s William’s eerie warning: Beware of the hawthorn trees. A warning that chills Tess to the bone.

In a magical, fantasy world that blurs the line between reality and imagination, readers are left to wonder exactly what they’d wish for if wishes could come true. Perfect for fans of Half Magic and The Secret Garden—and for anyone who’s ever wondered if magic is real.

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron’s world building in this fantasy is magical and readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action. I was enchanted with the idea of a huge castle hidden in the mist behind an invisible wall that can’t be penetrated. The grounds are large and beautiful with a pond with swans, a hedge maze, an odd sculpture garden, a carousel and stables.

Tess and Max are the grounding factors in the fantasy. They are separated from their parents, having finished boarding school in Switzerland and then sent to their Aunt Evie’s for the summer. Like most siblings they have their squabbles, but they have a strong bond and depend upon one another. William is the lonely and mysterious boy who lives at the castle. He warns Tess from the start to stay away from the Hawthorne trees, but never explains why. Tess and Max wonder about William’s identity and the odd things that happen at the castle. William introduces the siblings to a world where they question the real from the imagined and wonder “did that just happen?”

The entire story is an enjoyable fantasy from beginning to end. The plot is imaginative and fast-paced. There are unexpected twists, like the scenes surrounding the carousel and the overlapping blue, blood and super moons that occur together that influence the story. My only wish was that the book had been a little longer. The book ends with the potential for a sequel. However, Ephron has written a companion book, Carnival Magic, with Tess and Max returning in a new summer adventure with Aunt Evie. It will be released May 1, 2018.

Amy Ephron is the internationally bestselling author of several books written for adults, including the award-winning A  Cup of Tea. She is also a film producer, an essayist, and a contributor to Vogue and Vogue.com. The Castle in the Mist is her first book for children. You can visit Amy at her website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Author Shannon Messenger will be on a whirlwind tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7. Thank you Greg!

The Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger

shannon-messengerMeet Shannon Messenger, author of my all-time favorite middle grade, fantasy/dystopian series, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, and published by  Aladdin. There are five books in the series to date, with her most recent November 1 release, Lodestar. An ambitious undertaking for Messenger, book six is being written for 2017. This will please her multi-gender and global fans. The book covers are gorgeous!

Parents and grandparents, this series would make an exciting holiday gift for the tweens and teens in your lives. And they will thank you for the introduction. I recommend you start with the first book, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, before you move on to Exile, Everblaze, Neverseen and Lodestar.

Shannon Messenger is a master storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured. The settings are vividly creative and capture a new magical world. Her adventure series keep readers engaged from the start, much like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Once you start a book, you are drawn into her magic until you have read the entire book.

The plots are multi-layered, courageous, complicated, gripping and packed with thrilling adventures. Her stories are not predictable and readers won’t have a clue of what happens next because of the many cliff hangers. Sometimes my brain hurts as I wonder how in the world Messenger manages to tease and eventually outsmart me with her twists and turns. This is a unique character-driven series with Sophie and her friends Fitz, Keefe, Dex, and Biana who all possess special abilities. These are characters you will love and root for as they take on many dangerous adventures. And, there is diversity with elves, dwarves, goblins, ogres, and many magical creatures.  Enough from me. I want to share a brief publisher synopsis of each book to give you a sense of this brilliant series.

keeper-of-the-lost-516tqvac1sl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 1: Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a Telepath, and has a unique ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her — something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast, even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and staying where she is will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind her family on earth and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from her own. She’s taken to a  parallel Elvin world where mystical creatures are protected and thrive. And she is startled to learn that she is an Elf. Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, a new school to attend, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Sophie must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world—before the wrong person finds the answer first and would even kill for…

exile-51hbosuywtl__sx333_bo1204203200_jpgSynopsis Book 2: Sophie Foster thought she was safe. Settled in to her home at Havenfield, surrounded by friends, and using her unique telepathic abilities to train Silveny — the first female alicorn ever seen in the Lost Cities — her life finally seems to coming together.

But Sophie’s kidnappers are still out there. And when Sophie discovers new messages and clues from the mysterious Black Swan group, she’s forced to take a terrifying risk — one that puts everyone in incredible danger.

In this second book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must uncover hidden memories as long-buried secrets rise to the surface, before someone close to her is lost forever…

everblaze-untitledSynopsis Book 3: Sophie’s talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers — before the come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves the Lost Cities teetering on the edge of war — and causes many to fear that Sophie has finally gone too far. With her world turned against her, Sophie is forced to rely on her friends, even though it means putting their lives in danger. And the deeper they search, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that Sophie’s most deadly enemy might be closer than she realizes.  Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion before they destroy everyone and everything she loves.

neverseen-51lg2iodwal__sx334_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 4: Sophie Foster is on the run — but at least she’s not alone. Her closest friends from the Lost Cities have gone with her to join the Black Swan. They still have doubts about the answers is to start working with them. As they settle into their new lives, they uncover secrets far bigger than anything they’d imagined.

But their enemies are  far from done, unleashing a terrifying plague that threatens the safety of an entire species. Sophie and her friends fight with everything they have — including aid from new allies joining them — but every choice has consequences. And trusting the wrong person could prove deadly. In this game-changing book, Sophie must question everything to find a truth that will either save her world — or shatter it.

lodestar-51j59ndelpl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 5: Sophie is back in the Lost Cities– but the Lost Cities have changed. The threat of war hangs heavy over her glittering world. And the Neverseen are wreaking havoc where they can. The lines between friend and enemy have also blurred, and Sophie is unsure exactly whom she can trust. But when she’s warned that the people she loves most will be the next victims, she knows she has to act.

A mysterious symbol could be the key — if only she knew how to translate it. And each new clue reveals how far the dark schemes spread. The black Swan aren’t the only ones who have plans. The Neverseen have their own Initiative, and if Sophie doesn’t stop it, they might finally have the ultimate means to control her. Loyalties are pushed to the limit as the villains twist the game into something Sophie might not have the talent to win.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she studied art, screenwriting and film production.  She realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the bestselling author of this middle-grade series and the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries and translated into ten different languages. Visit Shannon Messenger online at her website. She also hosts a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post where  bloggers share links to their favorite middle grade books.

Rules for Stealing Stars

Rules for Stealing Stars 51lZ0dDU84L__SX333_BO1,204,203,200_,jpgRules for Stealing Stars

Corey Ann Haydu, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Sep. 29, 2015

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Sisters, Magic, Mother and daughters, Family problems, Family secrets, Mental Illness, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis: Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she’s too little for most things — especially when it comes to dealing with their mother’s unpredictable moods and outbursts. But for Silly, that’s normal. She hardly remembers a time when Mom wasn’t drinking.

This summer, Silly is more alone than ever, and it feels like everyone around her is keeping secrets. Mom is sick all the time. Dad acts like everything is fine when clearly it is isn’t. Silly’s sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot and giggling about jokes that Silly doesn’t understand.

When Silly is brought into her sisters’ world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she’s soon forced to wonder if it might tear them apart.

What I like about this book:

  • A bold and skillfully written novel that touches on magic and realism. Teens will find this a thrilling read. The magic is exciting, but also borders on a dark side, with a little paranormal thrown in the mix.
  • The sisters live in a dysfunctional family, which is the very heart of the story. There is tension in the family and themes of  mental instability, abuse, and loss. Their journey is sad as family secrets unravel and they have to depend upon one another in order to cope with their mother’s illness.
  • The sisters’ characters are richly developed and believable. Eleanor and Astrid are 14-year-old twins who share a bond that make 13-year-old Marla and 11-year-old Silly, feel like they live in another universe. Eleanor is smart, bold, bossy and the protector. Astrid is creative and spacey. Marla is sensitive, sad and whiney. Silly (Priscilla) is the baby that everyone protects. She narrates the story in first person and turns out to be the strongest and wisest of the sisters.
  • The magic Eleanor and Astrid discover in the bedroom closets offer the sisters a way to escape into a fantasy world that is free of pain. The magic is different for each sister. It can be calming, exhilarating, or scary. It can hold memories. But it also offers the sisters a way to bring healing to a broken family. The ending is satisfying and hopeful. This story lends itself to important discussions among readers.

Corey Ann Haydu is the author of YA novels, OCD Love Story, Life by Committee, Making Pretty, the middle grade novel Rules for Stealing Stars, and the upcoming novel Falling Girls and Missing Boys.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.