Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas – Book Review

By: Colette Sewall
Published On: August 4, 2020

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.

Description:

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.

The Mulberry Tree – Book Review

By: Allison Rushby
Published on: July 14, 2020

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.”

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Curse of the Night Witch – Book Review

Emblem Island #1 By: Alex Aster
Published On: June 9, 2020

In The Curse of the Night Witch three kids go on an adventure to find the Night Witch and remove a curse.

On Emblem Island, every individual has a mark on their wrist denoting a specific unique skill. Some marks identify what role you will have in society while others are skills that have a bit of a magical touch to them. Tor was born with the leadership emblem, but he’d much rather be able to breathe underwater. In the hopes that the wish-god can change his emblem, he submits this as a wish on Eve. But instead of a wish he receives a curse that could have only come from the Night Witch.

Part of what makes this book unique is how the story is structured. Emblem Island is full of myths and lore and all the inhabitants grow up learning about these fairy tales in a book called The Book of Cuentos. As Tor and friends seek out the Night Witch the chapters and narrative follows the places that are mentioned in The Book of Cuentos and learn that these so-called fairy tales are a bit more real than expected. In between the chapters is a short version of the lore followed by a chapter specifically relating to that lore. This creates mini-stories, or stories within a story.

The story is fast-paced in that no mini-story is longer than two chapters. This approach is perfect for young readers to help them feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a mini-story. It also shows a lot of potential in where the series can go. As an adult, I wish these stories within a story had been a little longer so that I could settle in more to the story.

All in all I enjoyed the lore and myths and the overall uniqueness of this island and look forward to the next in the series.

Thanks to Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 4 stars

Description:

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only k

Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review

By: Elys Dolan
Published on: July 7, 2020

The fun never stops with Dave, who is now part of a book club, and Albrecht – Dave’s “trusty steed and life coach.”

In Wizarding for Beginners, Dave and Albrecht are at their book club when a post card is delivered to Albrecht. It is from his family, but is also a sad moment for Albrecht because ever since a wizard put a spell on him giving him the ability to talk he has never been able to communicate with his family. One thing leads to another and soon Dave and Albrecht are off to become wizards themselves, but there are so, so, so many rules about who can be a wizard and what a wizard must or must not do that it becomes a bit too much. What’s even better is when they begin to find all the ways their fellow wizards are either following or not following the rules.

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Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows – Book Review

The Elandrian Chronicles #1 By: J.M. Bergen
Published On: February 2, 2019

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus is living an ordinary life. He has friends, a crush on a classmate, a good relationship with his mother, and is learning Kung Fu. But one day a musical note from an unknown source and a mysterious man lead Thomas to a unique bookstore that changes everything for Thomas. While in the bookstore, the owner gives Thomas the Book of Sorrows, but only after promising to follow a few strict rules. Eager to learn about magic and everything the book has to offer, he starts reading one chapter at a time.

What I was immediately drawn to was how much the world came to life in the background of the story. While Thomas walks down a street, I can almost hear the car horns blaring. He visits his friend Enrique’s house and can feel the liveliness of activity in the home. I can see a chess set waiting for players. All together, it adds to the ambiance of the story that not every middle grade story can capture as well.

The story hums along with Thomas receiving the book, to going to school and interacting with friends, and to learning about magic. The pace is quick and even and before you know it your at the end.

The characters are fun – especially Enrique and Professor Reilly. With Enrique, there was always a wave of activity around him that captured my attention. While Professor Reilly was almost always at the center of a funny scene. Also, Huxley played the part of the enigmatic shopkeeper well with his ‘many rules to agree upon’ before letting Thomas have the book.

While I found the story a fun adventure read there were a few points that bothered me that I am certain the younger me would not have even noticed. To move the narrative along Thomas gets taken without warning by people he trusts. As an adult, it concerned me that no one told him what was going on. How difficult could it have been for those around him to give Thomas a heads-up to keep him from getting scared? Later, these same adults whom Thomas trusts also lock him in a room without warning. As a reader, I understand what was transpiring, but once again couldn’t they have mentioned this part of the plan to Thomas ahead of time? Then last, I found Enrique’s travel explanation a bit implausible considering where he had to travel from and to. Would his mother believe that story and destination? But as I said – the younger middle-grade me would not have noticed any of this at all.

Overall, Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an engaging book that kids will find humorous, entertaining, and filled with the wonders of magic.

Description:

Thomas thinks he’s an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

The Unready Queen – Book Review

The Oddmire #2 By: William Ritter
Published On: June 23, 2020

To be honest, I was not a big fan of the first book, Changeling. There were moments of action or adventure that I found a little boring or underwhelming. And while I liked most of the characters there was one I didn’t like: Fable. Why am I saying what I didn’t enjoy about the first book? Because I rather enjoyed the second book in this coming of age story featuring Fable.

The Unready Queen starts off soon after the events of the first book. Tinn is receiving Goblin lessons and Fable is receiving magic lessons from her mom. Tinn’s lessons are going well. Fable’s are not. Fable would rather spend time in town with Tinn and Cole and even make new friends, such as Evie. While Fable is spending time in town, odd incidents involving fairy folk/forest creatures begin to manifest in town. Things start to escalate after new townsfolk start cutting down forest trees. As a result, tensions rise between not only the forest creatures and townspeople, but also between the forest inhabitants themselves.

Like the first book, the children’s mothers play a important role. But instead of Annie it is Raina, Fable’s mother, that is more central to this narrative. The story explores the relationship between Raina and Fable and parallels what many mother/daughter relationships struggle with. A mother trying to hold on. A daughter wanting more freedom.

What won me over to this book is how multiple story lines are interwoven together to create an overarching plot about the forest vs townspeople. Instead of a single story like last time, Tinn and Cole begin to have their own separate story lines. Fable begins to spend time outside of the forest and is able to learn more about the world. She is still naive, but the experience can only benefit her personal growth. Then various forest creatures, such as spriggans, take a more prominent role that is sure to continue into the next book.

The story ends with a feeling of foreboding and a cliffhanger that immediately makes you want to grab the next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

The Witches of Willow Cove – Book Review

By: Josh Roberts
Published On: May 26, 2020

Well, this was quite a fun middle grade read. Full of mystery, history, friendships, bullies, jealousy, rivalries and magic. As an adult I enjoyed it. The younger middle-grade me would have devoured it.

What the description doesn’t do justice to is the fact that this is an ensemble cast. While it is true that Abby Shepherd is the main character, it is also true that her best friend Robby – a nonmagical person – plays a significant role as well. Even then there are several others with large ‘screen time’ such as Amethyst, whose hair color matches her name, Zeus, Becca, and Piper just to name a few. The strength of the book lies with these characters and the different avenues they take to learn the truth about recent events and the town’s history. Doing so helps the plotting of the story continually move forward, but the variety of characters also help provide a realistic town and school setting. After all, this is the age where kids start ‘noticing’ each other.

It all starts on the night certain girls turn 13. That’s when their magical abilities begin to manifest themselves. Some of the magic they experience seems to be person-specific and other types of magic is general to all. While our new magic users are becoming adjusted to this rather huge change two seemingly unrelated individuals mysteriously disappear. There is too much coincidence going on and some of our cast is split on learning spells while others are researching the town’s history.

If there are any issues with the story it would be with how one of our main characters handled a disappearance of someone they knew. While the individual and their parent were upset I felt it was glossed over a bit to help ensure the main story line plot continued to move forward.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Toward the end, we get the hint that perhaps there are more sinister events coming their way, but that will be for a future book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.

But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove? 

Changeling – Book Review

The Oddmire #1 By: William Ritter
Published On: July 16, 2019

Once upon a time, there was a child whom the goblins came to steal, and once upon a time, there was a child whom the goblins left behind.

William Ritter, Changeling

There is a classic feel to Changeling. Here middle grade readers are introduced to goblin folklore, which is then combined with contemporary elements. The premise of this story is mostly based on goblin changeling lore: a goblin substitutes a couple’s real baby for a goblin baby that looks identical. Sometimes the lore describes fairies doing this, but mostly I’ve seen goblins as the main culprit. But there is another folklore element that the story introduces readers too: The Hinkypunk.

It all starts when Kull, a goblin, goes to change one human baby for a goblin baby. Except Kull gets confused as to which is which and has to leave them both there. Everyone in town understands what has happened, but since the two boys are identical no one can tell them apart. Now they just wait for the day the goblin part of the boy reveals itself.

Changeling is very unique in this: Unlike most middle grade novels that separate the children from their parents so the kids can have an adventure, Changeling makes the mother extremely integral to the story. Annie (mother) is hands down my favorite character from the story as it revolves around her love for both boys. For 12 years Annie has raised them, loved them, helped them. No one and not even Kull can tell her that they are not both her sons. It’s a lovely theme and message: You do not have to be blood-related to be loved, to be a family, nor to be someone’s child.

If Annie is my favorite character, then Fable is my least favorite. Fable is an innocent, naive character that at times acts as if she were 5 years old and then other times surprises you by her boldness and loyalty to her new friends. Her naivete she displays contrasted against how she acts extremely bravely and assertively other times felt a little disjointed. In the end, I couldn’t reconcile the different parts to her character.

The story is sweet and adventurous with a lovely message. But there were moments in the story where I needed more dialogue to help bring me into the story as I felt like the action or events were being described to me instead of me experiencing it along with Cole and Tinn. I also didn’t understand why the story needed to take the boys the first wrong direction, but I can’t elaborate without spoiling. But in the end Changeling will certainly be a story that resonates with many readers.

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Description:

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

Tuesdays at the Castle – Book Review

Castle Glower #1 By: Jessica Day George
Published On: October 25, 2011

Oh! Who wouldn’t want to live in a magical castle, especially one that rearranges its floor plan or creates new rooms whenever it gets bored. Need a slide to get you from one room to another quickly? Castle Glower is for you, especially if the day is Tuesday.

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