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? 

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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The Raven: A Modern Retelling – Book Review

By: Elise Wallace
Illustrated By: Linda Silvestri
Published On: October 15, 2019

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

– The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

My memory of first learning about Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is sketchy. What I do remember are two things: 1) The poem was rather spooky to me. After all, it has a raven saying over and over again one single word -“Nevermore.” Yes, I think it is safe to say that a raven tapping at your chamber door definitely falls into the creepy category. Yet the use of this raven also enhances the overall otherworldly and melancholy atmosphere the poem presents. At the time, I suspect I found it spookier because I didn’t think raven’s could talk at all. Now that I am older and wiser I know that raven’s can speak even better than parrots since they can mimic the pitch of a woman’s voice vs a man’s. There are many examples on Youtube of talking ravens that are quite fun to listen to.

The second memory is that no matter how much time my teacher took explaining either the themes within it or allegorical parts or whatever else scholars say something is in order to make a story or poem sound important, the poem still never made 100% sense. Apparently, I must not be alone in this.

In The Raven: A Modern Retelling, the authors set out on a quest to help younger children understand the poem’s meaning. The story opens with Heath arriving at his new house. It’s an old house built in the 1800s and he definitely doesn’t like it. His family has moved across the country away from his old school and friend Lenore. He’s sad about leaving behind his friend, when he begins to have dreams about a raven outside his window saying “Nevermore!”.

Although the original poem by Edgar Allan Poe still has some sections to it that can be a little more difficult to follow, I found the retelling to be a decent introduction to the poem as it shows a main character going into a slow madness as he becomes more and more distraught about all these changes that are out of his control. Using an example of a young boy moving away and leaving friends is something just about all of us can understand. The good news is that this book is for younger middle-grade age kids, so there is a happy-ish ending.

The Raven is actually really short at only 32 pages and contains a few colorful pictures. Also included in the story are some book club questions to help guide the discussion surrounding the main points or themes of the story, such as asking them how the tone changes throughout the book or about the raven.

Description:

“Heath and his family have moved from the West Coast to New York. It’s a total culture shock. Everything feels wrong: the cold weather, the new house, even his dreams. But the worst part of the move is Heath is away from his best friend Lenore”–

Gargantis – Book Review

Legends of Eerie-on-Sea Book 2 by: Thomas Taylor
Illustrated by: Tom Booth
Published on: May 26, 2020

No doubt about it, Gargantis is a highly sea-worthy book. Filled with its quirks and oddities, the Eerie-on-Sea series is just what the middle grade fantasy genre needs. Instead of wizards and magic, you get sea monsters and tall tales and legends. So, batten down the hatches because this story brings you a whale of a time!

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The Cat Ninja: and a Cabal of Shadows – Book Review

A Fantastic Tails Adventure Book 2 by: Erik DeLeo
Published on: March 1, 2020

Clearly inspired by Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, Erik DeLeo has created a world where a cat and a mouse work together to secure jobs that require the special skills of a ninja and where humans may live in, but are never seen.

The story opens with Miko in the middle of a job where she has been hired to steal a rare Japanese coin. Scaling walls and walking in shadows with only her kobachi sword in paw. The night doesn’t end the way Miko or her mouse partner, Sukoshi, would have liked and now they are desperate for a paying job. After all, Sukoshi has 12 mouths to feed at home.

Not to long after Sukoshi is able to find a job that gives hope of a nice payout: A young puppy has gone missing and the mother is desperate to find who took her baby. But, the more Miko looks into the disappearance the more danger Miko and Sukoshi find themselves in.

Miko, our cat ninja, is a complex and compelling character. As the story progresses we learn more and more about what has made Miko into the cat she is today. When still a young kitten, she lost her mother and brother and this fact still haunts her and has defined who she has become. Now, her heart is dead set on revenge and she keeps her friends and others at a paws length, even as she fights against some of the negative tendencies. However, her reasons for revenge on one individual dog is never fully explained as we are only given a single name that caused the death of her mother, but never given any information as to how Miko came to this decision. As a reader I wasn’t sure if Miko was just jumping to conclusions or if the information was based on facts.

Although there is quite a bit of action that keeps the story moving forward, the center and heart of the story is Miko’s journey to forgive and open herself up to friendship. As a reader, I really enjoyed reading the story, but there were lingering questions about the cabal and other things that I felt it missed. The cabal is only seen or known about at the end of the story and you never quite see their full influence in society. I do think a second book would help flesh some of these things out.

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

Rating: 3.5 stars

Description:

A missing puppy. An evil gang. And a hidden enemy lurking in the shadows.

She’s a cat. She’s a ninja. She’s a cat ninja. When Miko’s friend Sukoshi the field mouse comes calling with a new job, she agrees to investigate. But when it turns out the job entails helping the family an old enemy, little does Miko know that she’ll need to face her past in order to solve the case before it’s too late.

If you like talking animals, stealthy ninjas, and beating up bad guys, then you’ll love The Cat Ninja. This chapter book deals with many themes including anger, loss, abandonment, and fear. It is perfect for fans of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Redwall by Brian Jacques and The Green Ember by S.D. Smith, along with other fantasy series including The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Please check out the link for more middle grade book reviews.

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters – Book Review

By: Suzanne Kamata
Published on: March 3, 2020

It was winter when I was first offered this book to review and I was missing baseball. I enjoy watching youth/little league games – there is much more action (and scoring) than major league and this book was a good way to tide me over until baseball season started. But as February and then March events occurred, we now know that baseball season is delayed or will not be starting this year due to the pandemic. So, as I am missing one of my favorite sports I found this book to be the perfect read for me as it reminds of all that I enjoy in the sport.

In Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters, Satoshi Matsumoto is returning to Japan after a few years of living in Atlanta, Georgia. He misses his friends from America and quickly realizes returning isn’t as easy as he had hoped. In addition to readjusting to the different customs and culture, he also has a special needs sister, a grandfather with dementia, and has to deal with bullying at the school by both students and a teacher. He has one goal though – to join the baseball team. Back in America he was a fairly good player and he once again hopes to impress the coach to let him be on the team.

The story itself includes quite a bit of baseball. There is base-stealing, sign-watching, bunts, and play-by-plays. Just a lot of baseball fun in general. It also includes references to not only Japanese culture, but also words and phrases they may use. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a glossary or appendix at the end and wished there had been. So, while reading the story your middle grader may need to come to you to help explain a phrase or two.

I love books that teach me something new and this one provides just that. Satoshi’s school is named Tokushima Whirlpool Junior High School. In my personal experience, I have found that middle schools in the United States are often named after people, so the name of Satoshi’s school rather intrigued me. Thankfully, the author provides information on just how it got its name, which is named after naturally occurring whirlpools, such as what forms in the Naruto Strait, which is located in the Tokushima Prefecture. 

Overall an easy and fun read focusing on baseball. It also offers quite a bit of illustrations too to help young readers better understand the context of the story. I already know which young baseball player I plan to share the book with.

Thanks to Red Chair Press for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

Thirteen-year-old Satoshi Matsumoto spent the last three years living in Atlanta where he was the star of his middle-school baseball team―a slugger with pro potential, according to his coach. Now that his father’s work in the US has come to an end, he’s moved back to his hometown in rural Japan. Living abroad has changed him, and now his old friends in Japan are suspicious of his new foreign ways. Even worse, his childhood foe Shintaro, whose dad has ties to gangsters, is in his homeroom. After he joins his new school’s baseball team, Satoshi has a chance to be a hero until he makes a major-league error.

Don’t Check Out This Book – Book Review

By: Kate Klise
Illustrated By: M. Sarah Klise
Published On: March 10, 2020

To say the town of Appleton, Illinois is a bit unique would be an understatement. It’s not because their elementary school has no librarian, although that is a bit different. Instead, it’s that their school has no books. They used to have books, but they were all thrown out due to mold. Now, the “When All Else Fails Grant” has given them the money to hire a new librarian and luckily for them she brings her own books. However, she puts a green dot on some of the books, which causes quite a stir in the town.

Like the town of Appleton, Don’t Check Out This Book is also unique. Told in the form of memos, texts, emails, local newspaper articles, and letters we read the story of the new world Ms. Danjerous, the librarian, brings to the town contrasted against the old-fashioned ideas of the School Board President – Ivana Beprawpa. The story is also full of fun word-plays, such as the character’s names, which correlates to who they are in the story. One example, Cy Durr, is the owner of the apple orchard.

Young readers will probably be very intrigued by the format and layout of the story. I know I would have at that age. Overall, the story a very quick read and I suspect young readers will really feel a sense of accomplishment as they read through each email and letter quickly. The green dot book collection was also an interesting idea – books that are too scary or weird that kids can read without having to check it out of the library.

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

Description:

From the creators of the award-winning Three-Ring Rascals and 43 Old Cemetery Road series!

Is the sweet town of Appleton ripe for scandal?

Consider the facts:

  • Appleton Elementary School has a new librarian named Rita B. Danjerous. (Say it fast.)
  • Principal Noah Memree barely remembers hiring her.
  • Ten-year-old Reid Durr is staying up way too late reading a book from Ms. Danjerous’s controversial “green dot” collection.
  • The new school board president has mandated a student dress code that includes white gloves and bow ties available only at her shop.

Sound strange? Fret not. Appleton’s fifth-grade sleuths are following the money, embracing the punny, and determined to the get to the funniest, most rotten core of their town’s juiciest scandal. Don’t miss this seedy saga!

The Secret of the White Stone Gate – Book Review

Black Hollow Lane #2
By: Julia Nobel
Published on: March 3, 2020

In The Secret of White Stone Gate, loyalties and friendships are tested as the Order of the Black Hollow Lane blackmail, threaten, and do whatever else they can think up with the goal of convincing Emmy to give them what they want – her father.

Continue reading “The Secret of the White Stone Gate – Book Review”