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

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.

Continue reading “Tuesdays at the Castle – Book Review”

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!

Continue reading “Gargantis – Book Review”

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.

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!

Lizard’s Tale – Book Review

By: Weng Wai Chan
Published on: July 2, 2019

Set in pre-war Singapore during the British colonization, Weng Wai Chan takes us to a time period where everyone is starting to feel the stress over the possibility of war with Japan and their potential invasion. Lizard’s Tale is primarily about a Japanese Navy code book the British are trying to get hold of and that the Japanese are trying to get back.

At the beginning of the story we find that Lizard (his initials are LZD) has been hired to steal a teak box from the general manager of the New British East India Company. He had been warned that this box is dangerous and could get his boss and him killed, which soon after comes true when the person who hired him is murdered before Lizard can deliver the box. Soon after Lizard finds himself in the world of spies and rescue attempts as Lizard tries to figure out what to do with this box.

Continue reading “Lizard’s Tale – Book Review”

Ghost and Bone – Book Review

By: Andrew Prentice
Published on: August 13, 2019

I am such a sucker for interesting and eye-catching covers. If you’ve ever seen the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People with Sean Connery and Janet Munro there’s a scene where Darby almost gets taken away by Death in a very creepy carriage. That is exactly what this cover reminds me of – that creepy Death carriage.

Continue reading “Ghost and Bone – Book Review”

The Lifters – Audio Book Review

By Dave Eggers
Published on: April 30, 2018

The cover is mostly what drew me to this book. It wasn’t the colors or the layout, but instead it was what was within the picture. If you look carefully you’ll see tunnels seemingly going everywhere with weird things holding them up. (Like… is that a grandfather clock? And a hockey stick?)

Continue reading “The Lifters – Audio Book Review”