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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.