Category Archives: Middle-Grades

Book Tour: Cookie Monsters by Erika J. Kendrick

COOKIE MONSTERS

by

ERIKA J. KENDRICK

Middle-Grade Contemporary / Growing Up /

Facts of Life / Coming of Age

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Page count: 320 pages

ISBN-10: 0316281484 / ISBN-13: 978-0316281485

SYNOPSIS:

A fun, fast-paced novel about friendship, family, fighting for what’s right, and standing out from the crowd while standing up for yourself. 

Twelve-year-old Brooklyn Ace is ready to take the Valentine World Scouts by storm and build her own cookie empire. She nearly won the top cookie selling spot last year and is determined to make her mom—who recently passed away—proud by coming in first this time around. With her fabulous best friends by her side, Brooklyn knows she’ll become Santa Monica’s District Cookie Queen. The crown is practically in the bag. 

Then Piper Parker arrives. 

Piper has a rich dad, a fancy hotel, and a drive to steal the cookie crown right off Brooklyn’s head. Before long, most of the seventh grade is under Piper’s spell. But Brooklyn is in it to win the biggest cookie war the school has ever seen. With the help of her cookie squad, her rockstar grandmother, her super cool therapist, and a lot of self-love and inner growth, maybe—just maybe—Brooklyn can end up a winner after all.

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

Within its exciting cookie sales campaign plot, Cookie Monsters also delivers a warm and wonderful story of recovery after the loss of a loved one.

Cookie Monsters is a warm and poignant story about a twelve-year-old’s struggle with grief and its toll on her mental well-being, as well as an exciting and tense battle to sell the most cookies. Brooklyn is cool, popular, wholesome, and very much a regular pre-teen. From the outside, she appears to be coping well with her mother’s death but inside, she is drowning in pent-up emotions. She is surrounded by a supportive circle of girlfriends and has a loving father and grandmother at home, who are also dealing with their own grief. But as the results of Brooklyn’s loss visibly begin to affect her ability to function, she reaches out and accepts professional help and makes progress on dealing with her feelings. The story also reveals that her friends are dealing with their own difficulties, and Brooklyn is able to share her experiences and help get them on a path to communicating their needs with their own families.

The story is also about a very competitive race to sell the most cookies. Brooklyn’s nemesis, Piper Parker, pulls a couple of rabbits out of her hat, using her father’s business resources and wealth and promising incentives (bribes) to their fellow students to buy her cookies rather than Brooklyn’s. Although Brooklyn cries foul at all of Piper’s strategies, and some were definitely shady moves, frankly, Piper just had a better sales plan and executed it better than Brooklyn did (which Brooklyn slowly comes to recognize.)

Brooklyn’s scout squad is a wonderful mix of different personalities, each with their own strengths that they bring to their friendship and the campaign. Young readers will surely relate to one or more of these great characters and the individual issues they are facing in their lives. I enjoyed this group of girls so much.

The writing and pace of the story are absolutely flawless. I was completely drawn into the story and emotionally invested; I teared up a couple of times while reading, especially when she was making a breakthrough with her therapist. I know I’ll be thinking about Brooklyn’s tale for quite a while; I was that affected. Cookie Monsters would make an excellent read-aloud selection.

With its important messages nestled within an exciting cookie campaign plot, I recommend COOKIE MONSTERS to young readers who have experienced their own loss of someone close to them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Erika J. Kendrick is an acclaimed writer, a national speaker, and a mental fitness expert. She earned a psychology degree from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Erika was an NBA cheerleader for the Chicago Bulls before writing her novels, Confessions of a Rookie Cheerleader (Random House) and Appetite (Random House). She is currently touring her debut middle grade novel, Squad Goals, with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The spinoff, Cookie Monsters, is set for a summer 2022 release.

After battling her brain pain, Erika founded Mental Fitness For Life where she launched her latest Mental Fitness book tour, “Who Moved My Happy?” While talking to audiences of all backgrounds and ages, Erika shares her story of brain pain and inspires hope by creating safe spaces for life-saving conversations. She has presented and guest lectured at colleges and universities as well as the US Army and US Air Force, national sororities and fraternities, middle and high schools, conferences, retreats, and national organizations, large and small. Erika has toured with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and is a speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where she has been inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Erika is a recipient of several “Who’s Who” honors, a Rising Icon honor, and several Awards of Excellence. Erika has taken the stage for TEDx, appeared on Good Morning America – The Third Hour (GMA3), NBC News, CBS News, The Wendy Williams Experience, national television and radio segments, and a host of other media outlets. She has been featured in several publications, including Page Six of The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and various other magazines and digital media.

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January 16th
The Litt Librarian – Promotional Post
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January 18th
Kait Plus Books – Promotional Post
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January 19th
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January 20th
heylittlesiren – Promotional Post
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January 21st
Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post
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January 22nd
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January 16th
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January 18th
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January 19th
tbrandbeyond – Promotional Post
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January 20th
mellasmusings – Favorite Quotes
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heylittlesiren – Content Creator’s Choice

January 21st
mulberryreads – Review
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January 22nd
writingrosereads – Promotional Post
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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Fiction, Middle-Grades

Pop-Up Blog-Hop: The Aquamarine Surfboard by Kellye Abernathy

THE AQUAMARINE SURFBOARD

by

KELLYE ABERNATHY

Middle Grade / Magical Realism / Fantasy

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Page Count: 290 pages

Publication Date: November 22, 2021

Scroll down for a giveaway!

“Age never matters; these things are about bravery and heart.”

Thirteen-year-old Condi Bloom’s dream is to learn to surf, but her laid-back beach town isn’t what it used to be. Big resort owners are taking over the cove. Worse, someone’s harassing the Beachlings, the mysterious old women living in the cliffs off Windy Hollow, a lonely tower of rock that people say is haunted. When a new surfer boy named Trustin shows up in town and invites Condi to a forbidden surfing spot, she’s swept into an extraordinary underwater adventure, where a surprising encounter with Koan, the Riddlemaster of the Sea, changes her life. Along with Trustin, his quirky twin and a mystical aquamarine surfboard, Condi learns the untold stories of the Beachlings, uncovering the timeless secrets of Windy Hollow.


Ebbing and flowing between reality and magic, times past and present, The Aquamarine Surfboard by Kellye Abernathy is a riveting beach tale about opening up to mystery, building community when and where you can — and discovering the ocean is filled with magic—the really BIG kind—the kind that changes the world
.

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Kellye Abernathy’s passions are writing and serving trauma survivors as a yoga teacher and practical life skills advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary English Education from the University of Kansas. Her home is in land-locked Plano, Texas—where she’s dreaming of her next trip to the sea!

 

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Middle-Grades

Book Tour: Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker

DAD’S GIRLFRIENDS

AND OTHER ANXIETIES

by

Kellye Crocker

Middle Grade Contemporary

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Pages: 288 pages

Publishing Date: To Be Announced

SYNOPSIS:

Since Ava’s mom died, Ava has relied on her consistent routines, predictable schedules,
and exhaustive risk assessment to keep herself safe from uncertainty. For the most part, her life in small-town Iowa has been stable. That is, until now.

As soon as sixth grade ends, Dad is whisking Ava away to meet his girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the ground squirrels can be deadly. Managing her anxiety, avoiding altitude sickness, and surviving the mountains might take all Ava’s strength.

Can she stay in control when everything around her is changing so quickly?

Content Warning: panic attack

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties is a realistic portrayal of a pre-teen dealing with not only an anxiety disorder but growing up and facing possible changes in the makeup of her family (her father’s possible remarriage, gaining a stepmother and stepsister.) And despite all of Ava’s attempts to sabotage their entire vacation and even her dad’s relationship, it’s a warm and wonderful story.

Ava is a great character, and her anxiety has its hooks into her deep. As a result, she researches and overthinks everything. Although Ava consciously makes decisions to sidetrack everyone else’s plans but genuinely feels terrible doing it. But she faces her fears and takes brave steps to admit her actions and try to make things right. Z is a wonderful, spirited girl dealing with her own insecurities and struggles with ADHD. Jenn and Eric are both good parents who have potentially found a new partner to love and share their lives with. They have their hands full with these two girls.

Fitting into a new situation is difficult for most people and especially tough at the pre-teen age. The story portrays the girls dealing with the possibility of their two small families becoming one and having to share their parents with new people. It dramatically explores some of the typical issues that come up, but there is a satisfactory resolution. I felt for both of these girls and the situations they were experiencing, and was quite affected by some emotional scenes.

The fun mountain resort setting is a bonus with all the cool activities going on. I loved the mud race. The young resort host, José, was an admirable role model/mentor with definite summer crush potential.

With its engaging pre-teen characters, realistic representation of the impact of anxiety, and the tightrope walk that meshing two families can be, I recommend DAD’S GIRLFRIEND AND OTHER ANXIETIES for middle-grade readers, especially those with anxiety, ADHD, or related issues.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kellye Crocker is a journalist who has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, and Glamour. She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial from the Missouri School of Journalism. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Stuck in Fiction – Interview
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Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post
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Boys’ Mom Reads! – Review
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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Middle-Grades

Book Tour: Outside Nowhere by Adam Borba

OUTSIDE NOWHERE

by

Adam Borba

Middle Grade Contemporary

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 272 pages

Publishing Date: October 18, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

From the author of The Midnight Brigade, this heartwarming and humorous middle grade novel follows one boy’s summer adventure at a peculiar farm in the middle of nowhere. 

Charming and funny, Parker Kelbrook can wriggle out of anything he doesn’t want to do. So when he’s forced to take a job at the local pool—a threat to his beach-filled summer plans—he comes up with the perfect prank to get himself fired.

Once Parker’s father catches wind of his latest scheme, he decides enough is enough, and Parker is sent halfway across the country to work on a farm alongside five other kids who aren’t his biggest fans. As Parker learns to roll up his sleeves and keep his head down, strange things start happening. And after he awakens one morning to find a seventeen-hundred-pound dairy cow on the roof of a barn, he suspects that something magical and mysterious is growing in the farm’s fields.

Adam Borba presents a whimsical new story about a boy’s discovery that mistakes and miracles can have serious consequences.

Content Warning: death of a parent

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

A surprise-filled and unique coming-of-age story that is both whimsical and wonderful.

Outside Nowhere is a warm and whimsical story of a boy’s magical summer on an unusual farm in the Midwest. Parker had lost his mother, and it was just him and his father and their friend and father’s employer, Ms. Birdseye. A bright child, Parker has lost his way since his mother died, and his actions have become thoughtless and somewhat out of control. The adults in his life have tried nudging him in a more promising direction, but his costly prank at the recreation center swimming pool proves the need for stronger tactics, hence, the farm stay.

Parker’s voice is both precocious and witty, and the deadpan dialogue throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Readers of all ages will be surprised by what is revealed about the farm, and the scenes of discovery will delight everyone. However, there are lessons for Parker to learn, and there are moments when harsh reality shows its face.

I recommend OUTSIDE NOWHERE for middle-grade readers, and with its wit and charm, whimsy and magic, even reluctant readers will be tempted by this medium-length chapter book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ADAM BORBA is a writer and filmmaker from California who helps develop and produce movies for Walt Disney Studios. Outside Nowhere is his second novel.

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October 10th
Stuck in Fiction – Interview
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October 11th
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October 12th
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post
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October 13th
Kait Plus Books – Interview

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Writing Rose Reads – Promotional Post
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Nine Bookish Lives – Interview
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October 10th
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October 11th
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October 12th
get.outside.and.read – Review & Favorite Quotes
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October 13th
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October 14th
mulberryreads – Review
writingrosereads – Blogger’s Choice
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October 15th
kmo.reads – Review
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October 16th
ninebookishlives – Blogger’s Choice
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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Middle-Grades

Book Tour: New Dragon City by Mari Mancusi

NEW DRAGON CITY

by

Mari Mancusi

Middle Grade Fantasy

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 352 pages

Publishing Date: October 4, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

Set off on a high-stakes, action-packed adventure in this story about friendship, survival, and fighting for ones you love, perfect for fans of Wings of Fire and How to Train Your Dragon

No one predicted the dragon apocalypse. The dragons came suddenly and decimated the world as we knew it, including New York City. Now, three years later, Noah, his hardcore survivalist father, and a ragtag group of survivors are barely scraping by in this new reality. Kids scavenge not only for materials in abandoned homes but also for leftover books at the library. Adults spend their time establishing a make-shift society and defending their shelter… with any means available. At least for the few months the dragons are hibernating, until it’s no longer safe aboveground.

Noah has seen the damage these creatures can do firsthand. When it comes to dragons: It’s kill or be killed. But a chance encounter between Noah and a young dragon forces him to question everything he thought he knew. With rumors spreading that there’s a group of survivors living in harmony with dragons instead of hiding underground, Noah teams up with his fire-breathing ally to find out if peace between humans and dragons is really possible. But the division runs deeper than scales versus skin because trying to follow his heart might just cost Noah his family too. If Noah and his father can’t see eye to eye, can he really get humans and dragons to?

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REVIEW:

A unique and imaginative post-apocalyptic and dystopian story for middle-grade readers.

New Dragon City is one of the most unique and imaginative post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories I’ve read. While destruction by war, zombies, pestilence, and extreme climate change have all been done to death, an infestation of dragons feels like a fresh take on this theme.

I enjoyed immensely that the story is told from two points of view, that of the boy Noah and Asha, the young dragon. The parallels in their situations made the story much more interesting, entertaining, and emotion-filled. Both are still so young and are thrust into situations that would be tough on those older and more experienced. Noah is being tugged in different directions by his disagreeing parents. Asha, as the daughter of the dragon herd’s queen, has restrictions on her actions and a heavy burden of responsibility for the herd. I liked that during their brief encounters with one another that they could eventually relax and relate and just be “kids.”

The ruins of New York City are described in compelling detail, with familiar sights and locations sprinkled throughout. I had a clear picture of where everyone was and what it looked like. Unlike other books in this genre, I liked how organized these survivors had gotten and how well they seemed to get along and help each other. The survivors Noah meets away from the safety of the organized groups were scary and surprisingly creepy to me. I can’t get that couple he encountered in the restaurant out of my mind.

Young readers will easily relate to the two very likable main characters. Their budding friendship and ability to get along despite the years of terror of the other’s species will delight. They will soon be rooting for Noah and Asha to overcome their friends’ and families’ objections and anxieties.

I recommend NEW DRAGON CITY to middle-grade readers that enjoy novels with fantasy elements such as dragons and won’t be disturbed by the post-apocalyptic setting, dragons hunting and trying to eat people, or people hunting and killing dragons.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mari Mancusi is a former Emmy award winning TV producer and author of more than two dozen sci-fi/fantasy books for kids, teens and adults including Gamer Girl, the Scorched series, The Blood Coven Vampires, and her newest series, The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek, published by Disney Books.

Her bestselling series have been chosen as featured selections in the Scholastic Book Fairs and clubs and have been selected by the American Library Association as “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers” and “Popular Paperbacks.” In addition to writing, Mari is an avid cosplayer, horror aficionado, and MMORPG gamer. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their young daughter. She can be found online at http://www.marimancusi.com.

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October 3rd
Kait Plus Books – Interview
The Girl Who Reads – Review

October 4th
Boys’ Mom Reads! – Review
Phannie the ginger bookworm – Review & Playlist

October 5th
The Ink Slinger – Review & Favorite Quotes
The Someday Librarian – Review

October 6th
Nine Bookish Lives – Interview
Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post
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October 7th
The Momma Spot – Review
Booky Cat – Top 5 Reasons to Read New Dragon City, Review & Favorite Quotes

October 8th
Debjani’s Thoughts – Review & Favorite Quotes
The Bookwyrm’s Den – Review

October 9th
The Book Dutchesses – Interview
laura’sboookish life – Review

October 3rd
get.outside.and.read – Review & Favorite Quotes
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October 4th
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gryffindorbookishnerd – Review
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October 6th
fictionalfey – Review & Book Look
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October 7th
tinybooknest – Favorite Quotes
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October 8th
tbrandbeyond – Promotional Post
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October 9th
theenchantedshelf – Review
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Filed under Book Reviews, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic, Fantasy, Middle-Grades

Book Tour: Sisterhood of Sleuths by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

SISTERHOOD OF SLEUTHS

by

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Middle Grade Mystery / Growing Up

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Pages: 336

Publishing Date: October 4, 2022


SYNOPSIS:

Maizy always assumed she knew everything about her grandmother, Jacuzzi.  So when a box full of vintage Nancy Drew books gets left at her mom’s thrift store, Maizy is surprised to find an old photo of her grandmother and two other women tucked beneath the collection. Stranger still, when Maizy shows the photo to Jacuzzi she feigns ignorance, insisting the woman is someone else. Determined to learn the truth — and inspired by the legacy of Nancy Drew — Maizy launches her own investigation with the help of new friends, Nell and Cam. What they discover not only points to the origins of the iconic series, but uncovers a truth from the past that will lead to self-discovery in the present, connecting three generations of women. 

This intergenerational mystery filled with literary history, friendship, and family secrets delivers a captivating tribute to the world’s most famous girl detective. 

CLICK TO PURCHASE:

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REVIEW:

4 stars!

Sisterhood of Sleuths is an entertaining middle-grade novel featuring both a mystery and the effects of growing up on friendships. It feels like the main character, Maizy, is faced with change from all sides: at school with her best friend, Izzy, at home with her older brother leaving for his first year at college, and even in her relationship with her beloved Jacuzzi who is definitely keeping secrets.

The author subtly portrays how individuals mature at different rates, with their interests evolving along the way. She shows how friendships also change over time. For some, the changes are gradual and gentle but leave others, sometimes, sorrowful and bereft. I loved how that theme was developed to include the three generations of women in Maizy’s family, how those relationships were damaged, and how they are eventually resolved.

I felt the Nancy Drew plotline was brilliant: how it connected the generations and the actual history of the series, its beginnings, the revisions of the 50s, and Mildred Wirt Benson’s entire story. I particularly liked the parallels Maizy could draw between herself and Benson’s experiences.

With its emphasis on friendships, especially at the middle-school age range, the mystery of Jacuzzi’s old photo, Cam’s rejection of stereotypically feminine dress and assignments, and the sprinkling of that unique style of middle-school boy humor from Link and Ben in the school project, the story has a little something for everyone. I recommend SISTERHOOD OF SLEUTHS to middle-grade fiction readers, especially those who enjoy the Nancy Drew series and those experiencing changes in their childhood friendships.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the New York Times bestselling author of the Book Scavenger series and Sisterhood of Sleuths, forthcoming in Fall 2022. Book Scavenger was an Indie Next Top Ten pick, an Amazon Book of the Year, a Bank Street College Book of the Year, an NCTE Notable Book, and has been nominated for over twenty state award and honor lists, among other accolades. The series is being translated into more than a dozen languages. Jennifer’s debut picture book, A Good Deed Can Grow, illustrated by Holly Hatam, will be published in 2023. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has worked in a variety of roles with children and in publishing. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer now lives in Colorado with her family.

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September 26th
The Nutty Bookworm Reads Alot – Review
The someday librarian – Top 5 Reasons to Read Sisterhood of Sleuths, Review & Favorite Quotes

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Twirling Book Princess – Promotional Post

September 28th
Stuck in Fiction – Interview
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Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post
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AndOnSheReads – Interview
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October 1st
Nine Bookish Lives – Interview

October 2nd
Boys’ Mom Reads! – Review
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September 26th
tbrandbeyond – Promotional Post
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September 27th
iya.reads – Review

September 28th
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September 29th
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September 30th
hodophile_z – Review
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October 1st
daniereads87 – Review

October 2nd
get.outside.and.read – Review & Favorite Quotes
bookbriefs – Blogger’s Choice

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Filed under Book Reviews, Middle-Grades, Mystery

Book Tour: The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

THE DOOR OF NO RETURN

by

Kwame Alexander

Middle Grade Novel-in-Verse Historical Fiction

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 432

Publishing Date: September 27, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

Dreams are today’s answers for tomorrow’s questions.

11-year-old Kofi Offin dreams of water. Its mysterious, immersive quality. The rich, earthy scent of the current. The clearness, its urgent whisper that beckons with promises and secrets…

Kofi has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, in the village where he lives. He loves these things above all else: his family, the fireside tales of his father’s father, a girl named Ama, and, of course, swimming. Some say he moves like a minnow, not just an ordinary boy so he’s hoping to finally prove himself in front of Ama and his friends in a swimming contest against his older, stronger cousin.

But before this can take place, a festival comes to the villages of Upper and Lower Kwanta and Kofi’s brother is chosen to represent Upper Kwanta in the wrestling contest. Encircled by cheering spectators and sounding drums, the two wrestlers from different villages kneel, ready to fight. 

You are only fine, until you are not.

The match is over before it has barely begun, when the unthinkable–a sudden death–occurs…

The river does not care how grown you are. 

As his world turns upside down, Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life. What happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.

Content Warning: slavery

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REVIEW:

5 STARS!

In The Door of No Return, author Kwame Alexander tells the heartbreaking story of Kofi, a boy on the threshold of adulthood, and his close-knit and loving family. Readers get to know this curious and charming boy and will connect with his adolescent thoughts, feelings, and desires for the future. Young readers will undoubtedly be drawn in and quickly relate to him.

There is joy in the story as Kofi swims in the river and talks and learns from the older male members of his family: grandfather, father, and big brother, Kwasi. But tension arises quickly as he prepares to swim a race against his rival. But that tension is only a teaser for the trouble to come, something so unimaginable it will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

The story is conveyed in verse which may be unfamiliar to some young readers. However, this format creates perfect bite-sized pieces that will, in the end, keep the reader on the edge of their seats yet give them a much-needed pause from the mounting tension before continuing. These natural stops may work well for reluctant readers and those looking for a meaningful story for reading aloud.

Kofi’s story hits so many emotions and offers a wealth of material for discussion, examination, reflection, and further reading. Its gorgeous cover is sure to catch the eye of browsers as well. I recommend THE DOOR OF NO RETURN to middle-grade readers and older and those searching for an exciting opportunity for sharing and reading aloud.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, publisher, and New York Times Bestselling author of 36 books, including SWING, BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI, co-authored with James Patterson, REBOUND, which was shortlisted for prestigious UK Carnegie Medal, The Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor-winning picture book, THE UNDEFEATED, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and his NEWBERY medal-winning middle grade novel, THE CROSSOVER. A regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition, Kwame is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, The Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Three NAACP Image Award Nominations, and the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. In 2018, he opened the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic in Ghana, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded. He is the writer and executive producer of THE CROSSOVER TV series on Disney+. The fall of 2022 will see the release of book one of a new trilogy, THE DOOR OF NO RETURN.

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Book Tour: The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

The Bluest Sky

by

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Page count: 320 pages

Publishing Date: September 6, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

A boy and his family must decide whether to remain in Cuba under a repressive government or risk everything for the chance of a new beginning in this gripping story from the award-winning author of The Red Umbrella.

There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba—especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.

But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country—if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.

So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?

In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.

For more information or to purchase:

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

Atmospheric and tense, the story held my attention from start to finish.

The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a new middle-grade book that older readers would also enjoy and find enlightening. It combines historical events with fictional ones that could easily be the backstories of many Cuban refugees that literally landed on these shores. There are moments of complete heartbreak but also hope for new lives and freedom.

Although Hector is content for much of the first part of the book, it becomes clear he is so because he’s never known life to be anything different. The author envelops the characters and reader in an atmosphere of oppression, fear, poverty, and lack of the freedoms we know as fundamental to our lives in the U.S. But as the reality of life is revealed to Hector, he quickly loses that contentment. Just the effects the American embargo had on the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their homes (they couldn’t get the materials to do so) was eye-opening. The author has put names and faces, albeit fictional, to those suffering, personalizing it and making it real.

Besides the oppressive setting, the plot quickly becomes tense and dangerous. I held my breath numerous times during the family’s harrowing process of leaving the country and teared up with both sadness and relief at others. It may take me a while to get over this story.

The juvenile main characters are engaging, strong, and brave: boys and girls with whom young readers will readily feel a connection. The plot includes features of their everyday living, home life, food, and growing up. The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases whose meaning must be construed from context or looked up. Although it slowed the reading process down somewhat, I enjoyed looking up those that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t translate on my own.

With its taut storyline and engaging characters, THE BLUEST SKY would be a great book to share and discuss. I recommend it for middle-grade or older readers, which was well worth the reading.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous WhisperMoving TargetConcealed, and two upcoming books, Invisible (a graphic novel available in August 2022) and The Bluest Sky (a historical fiction novel available in September 2022). Her books have received numerous honors including the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Her work has also been designated as an American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and as an International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choice book. Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.

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Book Tour: Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

GHOSTLIGHT

by

KENNETH OPPEL

Middle Grade Ghost Story

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Pages: 400

Publishing Date: September 6, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

One teen’s summer job scaring tourists with ghost stories takes a terrifying turn when he accidentally summons the spirit of a dead girl–and she has demands. . . .

The award-winning author of Airborn delivers a roller-coaster ride of a story about the wakeful and wicked dead.

Rebecca Strand was just sixteen when she and her father fell to their deaths from the top of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1839. Just how they fell–or were they pushed?–remains a mystery. And their ghosts haunt the lighthouse to this day. . . .

Gabe tells this story every day when he gives the ghost tour on Toronto Island. He tries to make it scary enough to satisfy the tourists, but he doesn’t actually believe in ghosts–until he finds himself face to face with Rebecca Strand.

The true story of her death is far more terrifying than any ghost tale Gabe has told. Rebecca reveals that her father was a member of the Order, a secret society devoted to protecting the world from “the wakeful and wicked dead”–malevolent spirits like Viker, the ghost responsible for their deaths. But the Order has disappeared, and Viker’s ghost is growing ever stronger.

Now Gabe and his friends must find a way to stop Viker before they all become lost souls. . . .

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

A suspenseful and exciting middle-grade novel of ghosts, friendship, and family

Ghostlight is a suspenseful and exciting middle-grade novel about ghosts, friendship, and family. In addition to the fictional tale, the book includes some serious and highly discussable topics such as divorce, the death of a parent, immigrant experiences, and what happens after you die. This is definitely one I would have been glad to share with my boys when they were that age for the excellent story, superior storytelling, and the diverse conversations it most likely would have prompted.

The ghostly aspects of the story are unique. I enjoyed the author’s vision of how ghosts exist, hidden on the edge of regular daily life. The descriptions of the evil Viker were scary, and I could clearly visualize his appearance and the changes he underwent. His consuming the other spirits and the images of the ghosts crossing the water to get to land both gave me the willies. And I worried from the start about Rebecca draining the energy from Gabe; it seemed so realistic.

The setting was fresh (Toronto), and I enjoyed the quest the four friends conducted to find the answer to Rebecca’s terrible problem (trying to avoid spoilers there.) The kids, including Rebecca, were well-drawn, each different from the others, but a well-matched, balanced group with interesting backstories. I liked that Callie was continuously researching for clues, and Yuri was steadfast in his focus on improvising the best way to combat the evil ghosts. These kids were serious about what they were doing yet still displayed their fun, young, and modern side. (Even Rebecca is intrigued and learns to use some modern conveniences.)  They were or became friends, and some of their dialogue had me laughing out loud.

                “Steaming pile of yak dung! Who says such a thing?”

                “Me, from now on!”

With its unique setting, characters, and ghostly afterlife to its suspenseful and exciting plot, I recommend GHOSTLIGHT to middle-grade readers who like stories that involve puzzling out a mystery or a search, ghosts, or a setting during a summer job at an amusement facility or waterside in Toronto.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I was born in Port Alberni, a mill town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia but spent the bulk of my childhood in Victoria, B.C. and on the opposite coast, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At around twelve I decided I wanted to be a writer. I started out writing sci-fi epics then went on to swords and sorcery tales and then, during the summer holiday when I was fourteen, started on a humorous story about a boy addicted to video games. 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Ghost story, Middle-Grades, Paranormal

Book Tour: Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson

Ravenfall

by

Kalyn Josephson

Middle-Grade Dark Fantasy

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Pages: 256 pages

Publishing Date: August 30, 2022

One magical inn, two kids with supernatural powers, and an ancient Celtic creature trying to destroy their world by Halloween night…

Halloweentown meets Supernatural in this spooky middle-grade series from the acclaimed author of the Storm Crow duology!

Thirteen-year-old Annabella Ballinkay has never been normal, even by her psychic family’s standards. Every generation uses their abilities to help run the Ravenfall Inn, a sprawling, magical B&B at the crossroads of the human world and the Otherworld. But it’s hard to contribute when your only power is foreseeing death.

So when fourteen-year-old Colin Pierce arrives at Ravenfall searching for his missing older brother and the supernatural creature who killed their parents, Anna jumps at the chance to help. But the mysteries tied to Colin go much deeper than either of them expects. . . .

As the two team up to find answers, they unearth Colin’s family’s secret past and discover that Colin has powers beyond his imagination. And now the supernatural creature, one with eerie origins in Celtic mythology, is coming after him. If Anna and Colin can’t stop the creature by Halloween night, the veil to the Otherworld could be ripped open—which would spell destruction for their world as they know it.

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5 stars!

Ravenfall by author Kaylin Josephson is an entertaining and exciting middle-grade novel full of unique supernatural creatures, magic, and mystery. It is also a coming-of-age story, though under extraordinary circumstances, told from the dual viewpoints of Anna and Colin. The cast of characters is broad, and young readers will find a diverse range of strong, good, and capable personalities. I enjoyed the wide array of magical abilities presented in the story and liked Anna’s remark about living with a sister whose special power was hearing other people’s thoughts. One that would surely come to mind for all of us if that ability was real.

“It’s hard not to think about something you don’t want Kara to hear, because by thinking about not thinking about it, you always end up thinking about it.”

I liked that both the lead characters, Anna and Colin, experienced similar feelings about their place in their families and the world. These are feelings that almost all of us can recall experiencing at one time or another growing up: not fitting in, not feeling valued, not belonging, or feeling like no one is listening or taking us seriously. Both are lonely kids, though in vastly different situations, revealing these feelings can occur under a variety of circumstances.

Both Anna’s and Colin’s families are loving ones with a lot going on at the moment, and in their different ways, they are just trying to keep their children safe. But both Anna and Colin are kept in the dark about certain family matters, with their parents not recognizing they are growing up faster than they thought.

The story is set in the charmingly described town of Wick. Surrounded by old woods with colorful cottages, shops, and a Faerie Garden, the magical and non-magical live side by side with one group none the wiser. I enjoyed the interesting and unique beings, some of which I’d never heard of before, mentioned throughout the book, such as cù-sìth, dybbukim, or merrow. The author borrowed from a wide range of cultures. Max the “cat” is mischievous, fun, and definitely, my favorite.

With its exciting and suspenseful plot, interesting characters, and dual viewpoints, RAVENFALL grabbed me from the beginning and kept me engaged and entertained until the very last page. I was delighted to read that there is a sequel in the works. I recommend this book to middle-grade readers who like a story with magic, magical creatures, and determined and capable young protagonists.

Kalyn Josephson currently works as a Technical Writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. Though she grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, she graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in Biology and English (Creative Writing). Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). THE STORM CROW duology is out now.

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Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post
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Filed under Book Reviews, Magical Realism, Middle-Grades, Mystery, Suspense