A Gilded Gotham Mystery by: Katie Belli Publishedon: October 6, 2020
Originally I wondered if the gaslight in the title was a reference to the actual gas-light of that era, or was a story about being gaslighted. Either way, I knew it was a story that I would be intrigued by, not to mention it having a terrific cover.
The Clockwork Crow #1 By: Catherine Fisher Published On: September 8, 2020
Orphan Seren Rees is being sent to a new home. Her father’s oldest friend and his family has offered to keep her and now all she needed was to board the train. But while at the train station she meets a man who gets a little nervous when he hears a strange noise. Before he goes to check it out he makes her promise to watch over a package. But then he never comes back. To keep her promise she takes the package with her to her new home.
When she arrives the family who had promised to keep her is no where in sight. She’s allowed to stay in their home with the caretakers, but they give her no information about when the family will be back or why they aren’t there. All alone she decides to open the package from the stranger and discovers it is a mechanical crow….who can talk.
The intrigue of the story surrounds the crow, the missing family, and a secret room no one can enter. The servants refuse to talk about the family, especially the boy and it’s up to Seren to figure things out.
Overall, I felt the story was ok, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre. The story has a Victorian era setting, which gives it a classic feel especially since the location is a very large house surrounded by mystery. The only aspect that gave me pause when reading was the big reveal of who/what the crow is. Since this is a book for children, I was a little surprised and I wonder how kids will respond.
Rating: 3 stars
Thanks to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for the advanced reader copy and the opportunity to provide an honest review.
Travelling to a new home with an unknown new family, orphan Seren Rees is shivering in a Victorian station waiting room, when she is given a mysterious newspaper parcel by a strange and frightened man, who then disappears. Reluctantly she takes it with her… But what is in the parcel? Who are the Family who must not be spoken of, and can the Crow help Seren find Tom, the boy who has been missing for a year and a day, before the owner of the parcel finds her?
The Clockwork Crow is a gripping Christmas tale of enchantment and belonging, set in a frost-bound mansion in snowy mid-Wales, from a master storyteller.
Embassy of the Dead #1 By: Will Mabbitt Illustrated By: Taryn Knight Published On: January 1, 2018
Embassy of the Dead is the kind of book I would have loved to read as a child. It’s spooky and ghostly, but in a fun way. Definitely never truly scary.
It all starts out when Jake accepts a package from a ghost who mistakes him for someone else. When Jake gets home he opens the package to discover it’s part of a finger. That’s yucky enough, but in the Afterworld this violation sets off alarm bells and they immediately assign someone to send Jake to the Eternal Void. Jake needs to find a way out of this fast. With the help of Stiffkey (the ghost who accidentally gave him the package) and Penny they discover that if he can get an Undoer’s license it will invalidate the law that he supposedly broke. Now all he has to do is find a ghost to ‘undo’.
In general the story has a simple and straightforward plot that will be easy for kids to follow. The book also includes a few illustrations that helps young readers visualize certain situations or characters. This is a big plus for me because I remember how much I loved when middle grade books included pictures. Then, between some of the chapters are facts about different types of ghosts, their characteristics and how to handle them.
The only issue I have is that it used a word a few times that in America may be considered a mild cuss word. The way it was used within the book put it into a grey area so it’s definitely not straight-out cussing. But generally it’s word that parents try to steer their kids away from and don’t want them to repeat.
All in all a fun story that gives young readers a hauntingly good time.
Rating: 4 stars
Jake Green is dead. Or he might as well be when he mistakenly accepts a package from the Embassy of the Dead in this hilarious adventure of the afterlife, the first in a series.
When Jake Green opens a mysterious box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper intent on dragging him to the Eternal Void (yes, it’s as fatal as it sounds). Now Jake is running for his life. Luckily, he has a knack for talking to ghosts, which just might help him survive long enough to reach the Embassy of the Dead and plead his case. With the help of a prankster poltergeist and a dead undertaker, Jake dodges fearsome undead creatures, discovers his own ghostly abilities, and gets excused from the school field trip due to a terrible (and made-up) bout of diarrhea. But the Embassy has its own problems, and Jake must be very careful where he places his trust–in both the living and the dead. With a plot that zips and a colorful cast of characters, this delightful new series delivers laughs and shivers in equal measure.
By: Laura Farina Illustrated By: Elina Ellis Published On: September 1, 2020
I loved the concept of this story: An older brother reading two fairy tales to his little sister changes up the story to be something less scary. She’s not fooled though and wants the stories back to something less boring. But as much as I loved the concept, the story didn’t quite work for me. Part of my issue was that I never knew what the true overall goal or moral of the story was. Are we to root for the brother and his retelling? Or are we rooting for the sister who thinks he hurt the story by taking out all the drama? Are classic fairy tales better left as they are? Along those lines, I also wasn’t sure if the focus was supposed to be on the brother, the wolf, or how he retells the story at the end when he tries to make it less boring. Yet, even that opens up further questions such as why was the brother so scared of the real story? Or why was the last retelling supposed to be so much better because that one fell a little flat for me as well? The illustrations were nice, but there were some confusing layouts that made the flow of the story more difficult to follow than it should have been.
Rating: 2.5 stars
A boy’s little sister doesn’t like the way he improvises when he tells tales, in this funny and bighearted tale about what makes a story good.
The stories Gabe ?reads? to his little sister start out sounding familiar — a red-caped girl on her way to Grandma’s house meets a wolf in the woods — but then, just in the nick of time, Sir Gabriel swoops in to save the day. His sister points out that’s not how the story is supposed to go. The boy says his way is better: “Nothing bad happens in my story.” But when his sister stops listening, the boy realizes he needs to reconsider. Are his stories boring? Why does it seem like there’s always something missing?
Laura Farina’s funny and empathetic tale explores why a good story is never made up of only good things. Many young children want a story to be exciting, but they don’t want anything scary or bad to happen. This picture book shows how a brief period of being afraid or sad is necessary to make a story worth hearing. It makes for a great discussion starter and works well for loads of language arts applications, including writing skills, elements of a story, and fairy tales or other literary genres. With its playful humor, endearing sibling relationship and high-energy illustrations by Elina Ellis, this book also makes an entertaining read-aloud.
By: Lindsay Currie Published on: September 1, 2020
This one gave me chills. If you are looking for some serious middle grade spooks, then this is for you. The amazing cover has the phrase “Something Terrible Followed Her Home” and indeed it did. There is no “Friendly Ghost” in this story, Claire is clearly being haunted.
I’ve known about the Great Chicago Fire since I was young. However, I never knew how many other horrific tragedies this city has faced. In Scritch Scratch, Claire’s father has a ghost bus tour where he visits potentially haunted sites. Silly me was curious to know more about all the places they visited on the tour and as a result I spent way too much time on the Internet reading about these tragedies. So beware of what you may be getting into when starting this book. It can become so much more than this one story.
The main plot follows Claire who is required to help her dad out on his ghost tour one night even though she thinks it is embarrassing and not scientific. But between stops she sees a young boy among the seats that she can’t remembering counting in her numbers (as per the job her dad gave her at the beginning of the tour). Then, he is gone. But as the days progress she slowly begins to realize it has followed her home and is haunting her in ways that are fairly scary.
Scritch Scratch is a very good middle grade horror book. What I loved is that it wasn’t a fake haunting. In the context of the story, it was serious and very real and Claire finds she needs her brother and her friends (both old and new) to help figure out who is haunting her and why. What I also loved was how the author was able to blend Chicago history into it, which gave it a very authentic feel. On the flip side, I may now be a little too scared to visit Chicago again.
This is a terrific book and one worth reading if you get the chance. Highly recommended to fans of Small Spaces as well as anyone wishing to learn a lot about Chicago history. In addition, I also wish to congratulate the cover artist for a very stunning cover.
Rating: 5 stars
Thank you Sourcebooks and Netgalley for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.
For fans of Small Spaces comes a chilling ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.
Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.
Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.
Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late.
By: Sally M. Walker Illustrated By: Kayla Harren Published On: September 1, 2020
Illustrations of fierce orange, angry red, and threatening yellow await readers in this harrowing and heartwarming historical picture book story about a boy named Justin Butterfield and his goat, Willie, during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Around midnight, Justin and his family are woken up to pounds on the door telling them they need to wake up. A policeman tell them there is a fire and they need to protect themselves. The family rushes to save their house from flying orange embers, but soon realize it is too late: the house is lost and they will need to find a way to escape. They gather all the belongings they can into a wheelbarrow while Justin is determined to ensure Willie comes with them.
Slowly their family along with many, many other families are forced into the street looking for safety, which they hope they will have once they reach Lake Michigan. Willie is scared. The air is filled with too much smoke and the flames are getting closer so the family is forced to leave even their belongings in order to keep ahead of the fire, but Justin keeps Willie and continues to protect him from the ash and the wind and the fire throughout the night until it is over.
Two things are simply amazing to me:
1) After the fire the Butterfields stayed with friends. While there Justin wrote a letter to a friend telling him of what happened and drew a picture of them fleeing the fire that was included within the fire. This picture is now housed at the Chicago Historical Society and can be seen at the end of the story along with actual photos of the aftermath of the event.
2) The pictures are perfection. Their vivid colors evoke so much emotion as they help recreate the story of what the Butterfields and others must have witnessed and experienced during this fire. A few years back I remember seeing a specific video shown on the nightly news of a person’s car ride escape from one of the California fires. The colors of orange, yellow, and red screaming out all around them. If you have ever seen one of those videos then you can imagine what many of the illustrations may look like within this picture book.
Fiery Night is a well told story that is paced evenly showing the love between Justin and Willie and the escape. And even though the story focuses on one family, I appreciated how it demonstrated that this impacted more than just the Butterfield’s and how it impacted the entire city and community. The story and the illustrations together create a wonderfully memorable book that will be difficult to pass up. However, please note that because of fierceness of the flame illustrations and because the story recounts a very dramatic moment in time some children may find it a little scary.
Thanks to Netgalley and Capstone for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.
Rating: 5 stars
Based on a true story, Fiery Night is a heartwarming, empowering picture book about a little boy’s devotion to his pet goat, Willie, and how they gave each other strength during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Young Justin Butterfield was awakened in the night by neighbors warning his family of the coming fire. The Butterfields did what they could to save their home but eventually had to flee. Justin insisted on taking Willie with them, even though the frightened goat made it more difficult for them to get away quickly. Encouraging and comforting Willie helped bolster Justin’s own courage during the family’s difficult journey through the burning city.
Op-Center #19 By: Jeff Rovin Published On: August 4, 2020
Ha! The timing of this book… I didn’t read the description closely enough when I started reading this book several months. All I knew was that it was a Tom Clancy/Jeff Rovin military thriller and I was all in! So imagine my surprise (and maybe discomfort) when the story reveals that the threat is a new, unknown supervirus. The story was good so I kept going, but eventually real life and my hobby (reading) were colliding a little too much so I had to put the book on hold.
My favorite part about these books is always the build-up. The ‘unknown’ happening over and over again with everyone scrambling to figure it out. This particular ‘unknown’ starts in multiple locations – a plane in mid-flight and the South African navy on a surveillance mission among some other instances. Although I’ve just met the characters in the story, the narrative still gave me enough to care about their survival or situation. It’s this part that keeps me hooked on the story and God of War did this part well. Then add the the political dynamics between the U.S., South Africa, China….it all made for a very entertaining story.
In the end, I enjoyed the book very much and found it a good way to escape even if it did mirror real life a little too closely this time around.
Rating: 4 stars
In Jeff Rovin’s Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: God of War, after the devastating outbreak of a killer super virus, the Black Wasp Team must prevent America’s enemies from gaining access to the most dangerous weapon the world has ever seen.
The passengers and crew on an Airbus en route to Australia suddenly begin coughing up blood and hemorrhaging violently as the plane plunges to the ground. There are no survivors.
A luxury yacht in the South Indian Sea blows up, and a lone woman escapes the contagion that has inexplicably killed everyone else on the boat.
A helicopter whose occupants have been stricken by an unknown illness crashes into a bridge in South Africa, killing motorists and pedestrians.
The world is facing a devastating bio-terror event, and a game of brinksmanship gets underway as the major powers jockey for position: China sends a naval flotilla to seek the source of the plague and find a way to weaponize it; Russia maneuvers quietly on the sidelines to seize the deadly prize in its quest to regain an empire; while back in Washington D.C., Chase Williams and his top secret Black Wasp special ops team must find out who is behind these deadly attacks before war is unleashed.
What is the secret linking an illegal diamond mining operation, a controversial cure for AIDS, an apartheid-era conspiracy to cover up attempted genocide, and a brilliant but utterly amoral entrepreneur with a score to settle? Black Wasp mounts an ingenious attack on two fronts, from the storm-tossed seas off South Africa to an edge-of-the seat-chase as they seek to find the truth behind this lethal disease before millions of innocent lives are lost.
Pugtato is a wonderfully illustrated picture book filled with a lot of play on words that kids and adults will definitely all enjoy. However, I found the story ending a little confusing and felt like perhaps I missed something.
In Pugtato Finds a Thing, Pugtato is digging around in the mud when he finds a shiny round purple round thing. Having no idea what it is, Pugtato starts asking all of his different friends – Tweetroot (a turnip bird), Tomatoad (tomato-looking toad) and many others what they think it might be. Each give their thoughts to Pugtato and begin to use it as they saw best, but none of it felt right to Pugtato. Finally, he gets some advice to follow his heart.
The illustrations are terrific. Bright and vibrant colors are used throughout, but the highlight is how the drawings bring characters to life. Characters like Cowbbage (a cow/cabbage combination) or Purrsnip (a cat/parsnip combo) will delight readers both young and old. I can even picture many fun conversations over each of the animal-vegetables.
Although the pictures were the best part for me, I was left confused by the story. I completely understand that Pugtato finds a purple shiny ball, but I never could figure out what it was, which I knew would be ok because I was sure the ending would do a ‘big reveal.’ However, even the ending left me perplexed as I tried to figure out how hugs and snails and a purple ball went together. After re-reading it several more times I now have an inkling of an idea of what it all might mean, but I’m not sure an adult should have to read it that many times to understand it.
Thanks to Netgalley and Zondervan for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.
Rating: 3 stars
Enchanting illustrations. Giggle-inducing text. Unique and loveable characters. Join Pugtato and his cute and quirky pack of pals in this heartwarming picture book that celebrates the power of friendship, compassion, and believing in your own unique gifts.
When Pugtato’s simple, quiet life is disrupted after he digs up a strange object in his garden, he enlists his best “spuddies” to help (they are more clever than he is, after all). Tweetroot is certain it’s a new egg for her nest. Tomatoad is quite sure it’s a toy just for him. And Purrsnip simply won’t stop scratching it! Luckily, Pugtato has another very special spuddy to ask …
Pugtato Finds a Thing:
Introduces kids 4-8 to a hilarious mash-up of pet and vegetable characters by the inimitable illustrator Sophie Corrigan
Written in delightful, giggle-inducing, rhyming text
Eye-catching cover features spot gloss and embossing
After having a little trouble at the beginning, I found this to be an adorable story about a young girl saving her sister from ghost sylphs who lure young ballerinas to their death.
Kiki isn’t a natural ballerina like her sister is, but it is something she enjoys. While their father is away at a archaeological dig, both girls attend a dance conservatory at Mount Faylinn. Set next to the conservatory is a mysterious forest which the teachers warn them not to enter. Of course, Kiki does and begins to learn about its inhabitants – the fairy folk as well as the sylphs, who dance the ballet Giselle.
I will admit my struggle at the beginning was due to verb tense. After reading book after book that use a specific verb tense it took a little adjustment on my part to settle in to this one’s style. (Example of the difference “He smiles at her” vs “He smiled at her”) But once I did I found I quite enjoyed the story. The relationship between Kiki and her sister as well as Oliver (a boy who lives nearby) were both heart-warming with a positive, uplifting feel to it. Although there are ghosts and tense moments at the end, the bond between sisters and friends won out.
Using the Giselle ballet was a unique and perfect choice for this ghostly story. Most kids won’t be as familiar with it as the Nutcracker, but once they learn about this ghost-filled ballet they’ll come to appreciate it.
General themes include acknowledging and accepting that not everyone is perfect at everything, jealousy, greed, and sisterly bonds.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Thanks to Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the advanced reader story and opportunity to provide an honest review.
When eleven-year-old Kiki MacAdoo and her talented older sister go to Mount Faylinn Dance Conservatory for the summer, they ignore the brochure’s mysterious warning that “ballets come alive” in the nearby forest.
But after her sister disappears, it’s up to Kiki to brave the woods and save her sister from the ghost sylphs that dance young girls to their deaths. As Kiki unlocks the mysteries of Mount Faylinn, the ballet of the ghost sylphs, Giselle, simultaneously unfolds, sending Kiki on the adventure of a lifetime.
Out of all the genres and subgenres I enjoy, spooky and haunting middle grade stories are among my absolute favorites. Within them are narratives that invite the child in you to be a little scared and spooked, but without being too gory or graphic. Similar to Agatha Christie using poems to help add eerieness to her mysteries such as she did in The Crooked House and Then There Were None, the author of The Mulberry Tree helps set the tone by a poem/song the kids sing when they don’t think the adults are around – a very chilling poem on how the tree will ‘take your daughters…one, two, three.”