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.

The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Baking Life of Amelie 9781496522160The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Vanessa Curtis, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Sept. 1, 2015

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Cystic Fibrosis, Baking Competitions, Family relationships, Friendship, Trust, Responsibility, Loss

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Amelie Day is made of sugar and spice and lives to bake sweet confections for her family and friends.  Her life would be empty without baking.  Flour power dominates her mind.  She is excited when she is invited to compete in the Best Teen Baker of the Year contest, even though she knows that participating is a risk to her worsening cystic fibrosis. There are days when she can barely breathe and many trips to the hospital. When her doctors and parents tell her she is too ill to participate, she defies them and takes a train on her own from Pennsylvania to New York City.  She hopes to wow the judges with her German gingerbread with vanilla custard, her macaroons, and chocolate lava cakes. The trip presents many unexpected challenges and hurts family and friends.

Why I like this book:

I am thrilled to share Vanessa Curtis’ compelling story about a strong protagonist with cystic fibrosis (CF). This work of realistic fiction fits the bill. There is a nice balance between a teen wanting to pursue her dreams and a teen living with a serious illness. Teens with CF will find a hero in Amelie.

The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Amelie and how she finds a way to cope with CF. Her love of baking is the perfect antidote because she isn’t able to participate in many physical activities like her classmates. Amelie is a feisty, creative and determined character. She finds a way to balance her daily treatments, exercises and medications, with school, a job, a boyfriend and her baking dreams. She works part-time at a grocery store to earn her pay in baking supplies. Her parents are supportive but protective. Her childhood friend and boyfriend, Harry, is very accepting of Amelie’s CF.

The plot is interesting, adventurous and entertaining. Themes cover issues of responsibility, trust and independence. It is easy to lose yourself in Amelie’s baking world. I found myself drooling over her recipes. There is plenty of tension to keep readers turning pages. Teens who love to bake, will enjoy the inclusion of recipes of Amelie’s baked goods at the end of many chapters. Here’s to Amelie’s flour power!

Vanessa Curtis is the award-winning author of several young adult novels including Zelah Green (Egmont 2009), which won the Manchester Children’s Book Prize, and The Haunting of Tabitha Gray (Egmont, 2012), a contemporary ghost story with a shocking twist.

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

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