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.
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: 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.
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.
Similar to the movie Groundhog Day, Paris on Repeat gives Eve Hollis a day to remember…over and over again. The premise is one I love and there has been more than one day in my life where I wish I could go back, repeat it and change things. However, although the story was enjoyable there were a couple of issues that really bothered me. Both issues might be in relation to genre misclassification.
Eve Hollis and her classmates have been on a class trip to Paris. It’s their last day before heading back to Germany where their parents are stationed due to being the military. This particular day is filled with lots of excitement because they are finally getting to go to the Eiffel Tower where Eve plans to confess her feelings to her friend Jace. But before she can, things move in a direction that feels out of her control. Lucky (or unlucky) for her she wakes up the next morning repeating the same day and gets to try again. Only that day doesn’t go as well as she wanted either.
As mentioned above, there were two issues that I had. When I selected the book it was very clearly advertised or placed in the middle grade/children’s fiction genre. Since this is a children’s book, I was completely taken aback when the first two sentences reference the Eiffel tower looking like the middle finger and then the main character thinking about giving ‘the salute’ back. Since middle grade age range starts at age 8, it seems completely out of place and unnecessary for the story. After these two sentences, nothing like this is within the book and I found no other content-type issues.
The other issue is more minor and it relates to romance. In Paris on Repeat, the kids in the story are in 8th grade – not quite high school yet and are really in that in-between stage in terms of book categories between middle grade and YA/teen. Since the story includes kissing (chaste kissing) it seems a bit more than what one might expect for the middle grade genre. Because of this issue and the one mentioned in the previous paragraph, I’m wondering if this should really be moved up to YA/teens.
Overall, a fun story about friendship and developing confidence in yourself. Not a book I can recommend for younger middle grade, but is one that I definitely think late junior high/teens would enjoy.
GROUNDHOG DAY gets a hilarious French twist in this delightful upper middle grade novel about first crushes and friendship when an eighth-grade class trip to Paris goes horribly wrong and the worst day of one girls life keeps happening over and over. Fourteen-year-old Eve Hollis is ready to push through her fears and finally let her crush know how she feels. And what better place to tell him than on top of the Eiffel Tower in the City of Love? But things don’t go as planned, and Eve is sure she’s had the worst day of her life until she wakes up the next morning to realize the whole disaster of a day is happening again. She’s trapped in a time loop. Desperate to make it stop, Eve will have to take some big risks and learn from her mistakes or she’s destined to live the most awkwardly painful day of her life over and over again, forever.
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
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
When someone thinks of the 1936 Olympics, most people will associate it with Jesse Owens set against a tense political landscape. They wouldn’t be wrong – he won 4 gold medals and became a legend. But beyond that women were still fighting for acceptance as athletes as many felt that a woman’s place was at home or believed in the myth that too much exercise would hinder a woman’s ability to have children. Fast Girls is a historical fiction novel that follows 3 women who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The story starts several years prior, in 1928, where Betty Robinson is a competitor in athletics (track and field). Prior to 1928 women did not compete in track and field events and even then there were only 5 events they could enter. But back at home there were other girls that were being inspired by this such as Helen Stephens and Louise Stokes.
Through the years leading up to 1936 we follow each of their stories, but also learn and become engaged with a few other women athletes, such as Tidye Pickett who was the first African American woman to not only go to the Olympics, but be able to compete. We follow their struggles to train and be coached, gender discrimination, racial discrimination and personal trials – all leading up to the 1936 games, where religious discrimination was evident as well in Germany.
Due to WWII, the Olympics were not held again until 1948. Several of the girls who might have gone onto compete again in 1940 were not able. At the end there is an Afterword giving the reader details on each of the girls featured or mentioned in the story.
Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishes for the ARC and opportunity to provide an honest review.
In the 1928 Olympics, Chicago’s Betty Robinson competes as a member of the first-ever women’s delegation in track and field. Destined for further glory, she returns home feted as America’s Golden Girl until a nearly-fatal airplane crash threatens to end everything.
Outside of Boston, Louise Stokes, one of the few black girls in her town, sees competing as an opportunity to overcome the limitations placed on her. Eager to prove that she has what it takes to be a champion, she risks everything to join the Olympic team.
From Missouri, Helen Stephens, awkward, tomboyish, and poor, is considered an outcast by her schoolmates, but she dreams of escaping the hardships of her farm life through athletic success. Her aspirations appear impossible until a chance encounter changes her life.
These three athletes will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, Betty, Louise, and Helen must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
In the summer of 1940, Germany began developing plans to invade Britain. Every other nation they had invaded had fallen so quickly how could Britain not fall as well? Their first task to accomplishing this goal would be to dominate them by air. Beginning ‘officially’ in July 1940, Germany waged war over certain objectives like air fields, radar, and other essential infrastructure. Many books have been written on this four month period of WWII that includes strategies, timelines, or even recollections from those who survived. This particular book focuses on the war from the perspectives of those who fell during this period of time. Those who never made it home.
In The Battle of Britain 1940, Dilip Sarkar uses each chapter to introduce us to an individual who gave the ultimate sacrifice during this period of the war. The chapter begins with the individual’s name, squadron or group, and date they were killed in action or went missing. But instead of taking the reader straight to the date in question we first learn of who they were, their family and what brought them into the war and into the service they were part of. Later we hear in their own words, through official documentation, recounts of their encounters with the Luftwaffe where they safely made it back home. For the day when they did not make it back home we read someone else’s official account of what transpired.
As easy as it would be to stop at just the pilot’s sacrifices, the author pays homage to others individuals who lost their lives during this battle but whose sacrifice isn’t as well documented as the pilots may be. During the events convoys going from America to Britain were often a target of attack. What may not be as well known is that a significant number of the sailors or merchant seaman were not British. Many who crewed these ships were part of the Indian Merchant Navy or were from China or Hong Kong. Another ‘hidden history’ as the author calls it was that of the sacrifices made by those who on the ground, such as ground crew or women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
Overall, I liked how personal these stories were. A lot of photographs were included that were given by their families or from other sources. I suspect many history buffs will be happy to read these stories too, especially since it includes detailed accounts of what happened in the air during these fights against the Luftwaffe.
Thanks to Netgalley and Pen & Sword for an advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.
The summer of 1940 remains a pivotal moment in modern British history – still inspiring immense national pride and a global fascination.
The Fall of France was catastrophic. Britain stood alone and within range of German air attack. America, with its vast resources was neutral, Hitler’s forces unbeaten, the outlook for Britain bleak. As Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, rightly predicted, ‘the Battle of Britain is about to begin’.
Famously, Churchill mobilized the English language, emboldening the nation with rousing rhetoric. In this darkest of hours, Churchill told the people that this was, in fact, their ‘Finest Hour’, a time of unprecedented courage and defiance which defined the British people. Connecting the crucial battle with Shakespeare’s heroic Henry V and Agincourt, Churchill also immortalized Fighter Command’s young aircrew as the ‘Few’ – to whom so many owed everything.
The Few comprised nearly 3,000 aircrew, 544 of which gave their lives during the Battle of Britain’s sixteen weeks of high drama. Arguably, however, the official dates of 10 July – 31 October 1940 are arbitrary, the fighting actually ongoing before and afterwards. Many gave their lives whose names are not included among the Few, as of course did civilians, seamen, and ground staff – which is not overlooked in this groundbreaking book.
In this unique study, veteran historian and author Dilip Sarkar explores the individual stories of a wide selection of those who lost their lives during the ‘Finest Hour’, examining their all-too brief lives and sharing these tragic stories – told here, in full, for the first time. Also included is the story of a German fighter pilot, indicating the breadth of investigation involved.
Researched with the full cooperation of the families concerned, this work is a crucial contribution to the Battle of Britain’s bibliography.