Category Archives: Middle-Grades

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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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades

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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September 5th
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September 6th
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September 7th
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This Souls Devouring Words – Review
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September 5th
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September 9th
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September 11th
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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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August 29th
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post
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Phannie the ginger bookworm – Top 5 Reasons to Read Ravenfall & Playlist
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September 3rd
Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post
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September 4th
This Soul’s Devouring Words – Review
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August 29th
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August 30th
dhirviepages – Top 5 Reasons to Read Ravenfall & Favorite Quotes
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August 31st
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September 1st
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September 3rd
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September 4th
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Filed under Book Reviews, Magical Realism, Middle-Grades, Mystery, Suspense

Blog Tour: The Daredevils by Rob Buyea

THE DAREDEVILS

BY

ROB BUYEA

Middle Grade Contemporary / Growing Up

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Pages: 240 pages

Publication Date: August 9, 2022

Hardcover 978-0593376140 / ebook B09LH4WL9Q / Audio B09LRLM49C


Readers on the cusp of adolescence will find much to love in this middle grade novel from the author of the beloved MR. TERUPT series that follows three kids who come to realize that letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.

Loretta and her twin brother, Waylon, are headed to middle school. Loretta has always been quick with her fists and her wits. Since Waylon is on the small side, Loretta doesn’t let anyone mess with him. But now she worries he won’t survive without her by his side. Her secret plan: bulk him up with muscle over the summer. Little does she know that Waylon has a plan of his own. He’ll show his sister he can take care of himself.

As each puts their strategy in motion, Loretta and Waylon spend the summer going into the woods behind their house, even sneaking there in the dead of night. That’s where they first encounter Louie, who is about their age but noticeably bigger. Louie is homeschooled, he explains when Loretta gives him the third degree. Loretta, Waylon, and Louie soon fall into a comfortable friendship and continue their nightly forest adventures. When they unearth a mysterious box, the past collides with the present, propelling the trio on a quest that will forever change their lives.

Rob Buyea’s spirited dual narrative drives this funny, touching brother-sister story, where even the best-laid plans sometimes backfire and feelings may get bruised, but family and friends always count. Letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.


5 stars!

Even though THE DAREDEVILS is not a fantasy, it is still a magical story of summer and growing up.

Although not a fantasy, The Daredevils is a story filled with magic. Told from the dual points of view of Loretta and Waylon, readers are privy to the thoughts and feelings of these two precocious and adorable pre-teens. Loretta is a bright, savvy, strong, capable “older” sister who loves her brother and wants to do the best for him. Her chapters are witty while revealing she’s still young and vulnerable herself. Waylon is beyond smart and very creative, and he loves his sister. He’s quirky but not as helpless as his sister seems to want to think.

Their summer of adventure is one of achieving their personal goals and accomplishing their quest while avoiding people that make their lives difficult. The story is an entertaining and engaging one that both boys and girls will enjoy. Many smile-inducing moments and a couple of heart-wrenching turns of events will keep readers turning the pages to see what happens next.

With its likable and relatable characters and inventive storyline, THE DAREDEVILS is tremendous fun and a worthwhile chapter book for upper elementary and middle-grade readers. It would work well as a read-aloud book as well.

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


For more information or to purchase:

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Rob Buyea is a former teacher and the author of the Mr. Terupt series, The Perfect Score series, and What Comes Next. As a young boy, he spent countless hours exploring the woods. He is a true country-music fan, as are his wife and children, though they won’t admit it.

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Filed under Action/Adventure, Book Reviews, Middle-Grades

Blog Tour: Twelfth by Janet Key

Twelfth

by

Janet Key

Genre: Middle Grade Mystery Historical

Publishing Date: May 17, 2022

Better Nate Than Ever meets The Parker Inheritance in this heartwarming mystery about finding your people and accepting others as they are.

Twelve-year-old Maren is sure theater camp isn’t for her. Theater camp is for loud, confident, artsy people: people like her older sister, Hadley—the last person Maren wants to think about—and her cinema-obsessed, nonbinary bunkmate, Theo. But when a prank goes wrong, Maren gets drawn into the hunt for a diamond ring that, legend has it, is linked to the camp’s namesake, Charlotte “Charlie” Goodman, a promising director in Blacklist Era Hollywood.
 
When Maren connects the clues to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she and her new friends are off searching through lighting booths, orchestra pits and costume storages, discovering the trail and dodging camp counselors. But they’re not the only ones searching for the ring, and with the growing threat of camp closing forever, they’re almost out of time.

5 stars!

Easy to read and with a satisfying storyline, I was delighted, inspired, and still very entertained.

Twelfth, a reference to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the play the campers are to perform at the end of camp, is a unique middle-grade novel of mystery, suspense, self-awareness, and the need each person has to be seen for who they are. Told in dual timelines, one set in the summer of 2015 and the other beginning in the early 1940s and continuing into the 1950s, two distinct plots wend their way toward each other until they come together in one remarkable story. I was completely immersed in both tales and appreciated how the characters from each one experienced similar struggles. I was gripped by how each set of characters chose to handle being outside societal norms and the impact on their choices that a 60-year separation in time had.

Maren and Theo are great characters. Maren arrives at the camp in a total funk, but she is actually pretty game to get things going and the summer done. She’s never sullen or whiny, just really disappointed, confused, and torn about what is going on with her family. She’s ready just to endure it all and surprises herself with what a good time she has as she works through the mystery and her personal feelings. Theo is so upbeat and delightfully driven to follow their dreams. I loved their daily vests and quest for extras in the cafeteria. I admire anyone who can take on the opinions of others like they did and come out on top. Allegra is perfect as the pair’s antagonist; we all know THAT girl.

Most of all, I loved the twists and turns the story makes. Just when I thought I knew where things were going (and they eventually do get there), the author threw a fantastic curveball. Easy to read, with a satisfying conclusion, I was delighted, inspired, and very entertained.

Diverse and well-drawn, the characters in Twelfth felt realistic. I thought they could easily match the random makeup of people and personalities one finds in real life. The exciting story held my attention; I would have happily read the book in one sitting, and I feel even reluctant readers would stick with it. I recommend TWELFTH to readers who enjoy a fun and exciting mystery with true-to-life personal issues complicating characters’ lives and those who want some insight into the hearts and minds of someone who doesn’t fit society’s gender molds.

Click for more information or to purchase!

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When Janet Key was twelve, she sang and danced onstage in the background of musicals, stayed up too late reading Shakespeare, and had a closet full of themed, handsewn vests.

This is her first novel. 

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Tour Schedule

May 16th
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post
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Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post

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The Book Dutchesses – Promotional Post
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May 20th
Kait Plus Books – Interview

May 21st
Whispering Stories – Interview
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May 22nd
the nutty bookworm reads alot – Review
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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical mystery, Middle-Grades, Mystery

Cookies and Milk by Shawn Amos

Cookies & Milk

by

Shawn Amos

Book Info

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Publishing Date: May 24, 2022

It’s a summer of family, friendship, and fun fiascos in this semi-autobiographical novel that’s as irresistible as a fresh-baked cookie.

Eleven-year-old Ellis Johnson dreamed of spending the summer of 1976 hanging out with friends, listening to music, and playing his harmonica. Instead, he’ll be sleeping on a lumpy pullout in Dad’s sad little post-divorce bungalow and helping bring Dad’s latest far-fetched, sure-to-fail idea to life: opening the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store. They have six weeks to perfect their recipe, get a ramshackle A-frame on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard into tip-top shape, and bring in customers.

But of course, nothing is as easy as Dad makes it sound, even with Grandma along for the ride. Like she says, they have to GIT—get it together—and make things work. Along the way, Ellis discovers a family mystery he is determined to solve, the power of community, and new faith in himself.

Partially based on Shawn Amos’s own experiences growing up the son of Wally “Famous” Amos in a mostly white area, and packed with humor, heart, and fun illustrations, this debut novel sings with the joy of self-discovery, unconditional love, and belonging.

5 Stars!

A unique story of growing up in the mid-70s that is still relatable today – to both the young and the young at heart.

In Cookies and Milk, Shawn Amos relates the feel of the middle school years during the mid-1970s perfectly. His main character, Ellis Johnson, is looking forward to a great summer and turning 12, spending time with his best friend, Alex, listening to their favorite music, and just being kids. Didn’t we all, and wouldn’t we still? You can feel his disappointment and restlessness when things don’t go as planned.

I love how he was able to adapt and “get it together,” wanting to make his father’s dream come true but still being a little grumpy about the whole thing. His introduction to Wishbone was a great plotline, and I never expected where this eventually led, but it was an extremely satisfying surprise. I loved Grandma with her fearsome cane and intriguing slips of paper with the secret acronyms for Ellis and his father to puzzle out. And I so wanted everything to go right for his father from the very start. I enjoyed the supporting characters that arose out of the Sunset Boulevard neighborhoods. They were a great mix of people in various circumstances, and I loved that they formed a sort of “found” family.

My favorite part of the story was Ellis’s increased exposure to his family’s culture, something he really missed out on growing up in a primarily white neighborhood and school. He was at the perfect age to learn and soak up the views and lifestyles different from his small family. The author wonderfully conveyed Ellis’s excitement and the wonder he felt.

With its blend of historical fiction, life in the 70s, and family mystery, I recommend COOKIES AND MILK to middle-grade readers and those with an interest in music (contemporary of the time and the blues from even earlier decades), and since it is semi-autobiographical, to those who enjoy some excellent chocolate chip cookies.

BOOKLINKS! CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO PURCHASE!

Goodreads Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book DepositoryIndigoIndieBound

Shawn Amos is a world-renowned Blues musician who grew up the son of Wally Amos, aka Famous Amos: a pop culture icon, cookie mogul, and household name to this day. When Shawn’s not touring or recording as The Reverend Shawn Amos, he works as a partner at NYC communications firm Hudson Cutler. He is also a divorced father of three children, with whom he enjoys baking. This is his first novel.

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May 16th
Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post
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May 17th
Kait Plus Books – Promotional Post

May 18th
The Book Dutchesses – Promotional Post
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May 19th
Balancing Books and Beauties – Cookie Recipe

May 20th
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Twirling Book Princess – Promotional Post

May 22nd
Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post
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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades

Book Tour & Review: Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Presented by TBR and Beyond Tours

Book Info:

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Publishing Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track.  Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book DepositoryIndigoIndieBound

Tour Schedule:

Tour Schedule for Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

A.J. Sass

About the Author:

A. J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship can impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2020 and ALA 2021 Rainbow Book List Top 10 for Young Readers selection, and Ellen Outside the Lines (Little, Brown, 2022), the co-author of Camp QUILTBAG* with Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 2023), as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us (Knopf) and Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again (DK US & UK) anthologies. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.

Author Links:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | GoodreadsFacebook

My Review:

5-Stars!

Understanding self-identity is beautifully incorporated into this astounding coming-of-age story.

Ellen Outside the Lines is a warm and wonderful story of an autistic teenager coming-of-age while on a summer school trip to Barcelona. The view inside Ellen’s thoughts and feelings had me enthralled from the first page as I witnessed how the world appeared to her. The support and understanding of her experiences by her closest classmates were astonishing to me, and I hope it is true-to-life because I didn’t expect that level of caring and compassion from schoolmates of that age. Of course, there were examples of those that weren’t so caring or compassionate. I ached for Ellen’s disappointments and missteps but cheered as she recognized where she went wrong or could have done better.

Besides her journey through her relationships with others, including her father, the story presented intriguing glimpses into her family’s life and religious observations of the Jewish faith. Her mother and her hobbies while husband and daughter were away provided fun little side surprises. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Hebrew language sprinkled throughout the dialogue between father and daughter.

The setting in Barcelona was exotic, vivid, and exciting. I loved the Spanish teacher’s device of the scavenger hunt to get his students out experiencing the city and expanding their vocabulary rather than just shopping and hanging out at the beach.

The characters are a wonderful yet cohesive mix of diverse individuals who were very relatable. I found the author’s use of language delightful and feel it will resonate exceptionally well with young readers.

I recommend ELLEN OUTSIDE THE LINES to middle-grade audiences and adults wanting a better understanding of what it means to be autistic or neurodivergent.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from TBR and Beyond Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Middle-Grades

Book Tour & Review: Troublemaker by John Cho

Book Info:

Troublemaker by John Cho

Genre: Middle Grade Historical

Publishing Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Troublemaker follows the events of the LA Riots through the eyes of 12-year-old Jordan as he navigates school and family. This book will highlight the unique Korean American perspective.

12-year-old Jordan feels like he can’t live up to the example his older sister set, or his parent’s expectations. When he returns home from school one day hoping to hide his suspension, Los Angeles has reached a turning point. In the wake of the acquittal of the police officers filmed beating Rodney King, as well as the shooting of a young black teen, Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner, the country is at the precipice of confronting its racist past and present. 

As tensions escalate, Jordan’s father leaves to check on the family store, spurring Jordan and his friends to embark on a dangerous journey to come to his aide, and come to terms with the racism within and affecting their community. 

Purchase Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound

My Review: 5 stars!

Troublemaker is an exciting, tension-filled adventure set during the outrage, riots, and violence in South Central Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. The main character, Jordan Park, is twelve-years-old and he’s going through a tough time, as many children do when they transition from elementary school to sixth grade.

Jordan is the youngest and only son in an immigrant Korean family, which includes his parents, older sister, and grandfather. He knows his parents are struggling to make a success of their life in the U.S. He had heard them talking and arguing in the kitchen when they thought he couldn’t hear. But his parents don’t openly discuss their circumstances, only ever insisting that he not worry.

At the same time, Jordan keeps his struggles to himself with the same intention, not adding to his parents’ worries. He wants to fix things on his own, his own way. It’s just that his choices to do so have only made things worse. He also feels he’s being held to an impossible standard; his older sister, Sarah, is practically perfect!

The exciting and tense story of Jordan’s mission to get to his father makes Troublemaker an absolute page-turner! Danger lurks around every corner as he and his friend, Mike, race their way through Koreatown: danger not only from the unusual event unfolding nearby but also that as a result of the boys’ actions as well.

Troublemaker is a look inside a Korean American family, and the author includes Korean honorifics with just the right amount of context for the reader to quickly understand the meaning. The family dynamics are such that most readers will readily relate to young Jordan’s dilemmas. I found many scenes touching, and I became filled with emotion.

Another significant aspect of the story is the presentation of the events of April 29, 1992, and its effects on the people of South Central, in general, and the Korean community, in particular. The author’s notes describe this book as one result of Cho’s desire to explain to his own children current events occurring after the murder of George Floyd and also the rise and public awareness of discrimination and violence focused against Asian Americans. The similarities of events, 30 years apart, are eye-opening, disheartening, and should stand as a reminder to do better.

With its exciting plot and relatable characters, Troublemaker is a wonderful middle-grade novel that even reluctant readers will enjoy. The author’s writing style is easy to read and very engaging. Young and older readers alike will be caught up in the action and not only for the pure adventure but for the historical events portrayed.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from TBR and Beyond Tours.

About the Author:

John Cho is known as Harold from Harold & Kumar, Hikaru Sulu from J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, or as the star of the highly anticipated live-action Netflix series, Cowboy Bebop, based on the worldwide cult anime phenomenon (news of which “broke the Internet,” to quote Vanity Fair).  John is also a former 7th-grade English teacher who grew up as a Korean immigrant kid in Texas and East L.A. (among many other places). He is also now a proud father, with his Japanese-American wife Kerri, of two beautiful children — a 9-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old boy — who love to read.

Author Links:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Tour Schedule:

Check out the Troublemaker Tour Schedule HERE and visit the participating blogs!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Synopsis:

Content Warnings: Wild Fires, Parental Death

From award-winning and bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age survival tale exploring issues of race, class, and climate change

Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Now, years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.

Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival.

But then comes a devastating forest fire…

Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.

Book Links:

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Book Depository

Indigo

IndieBound

Tour Schedule

About the Author

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jewell Parker Rhodes has always loved reading and writing stories. Born and raised in Manchester, a largely African-American neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, she was a voracious reader as a child. She began college as a dance major, but when she discovered there were novels by African Americans, she knew she wanted to be an author. She wrote six novels for adults, two writing guides, and a memoir, but writing for children remained her dream.

Now she is the author of seven books for children including the New York Times bestsellers Ghost Boys and Black Brother, Black Brother. Her other books include Towers Falling, and the Louisiana Girls Trilogy: Ninth Ward, Sugar, and Bayou Magic. Her forthcoming novel, Paradise on Fire, will publish in September 2021.

Jewell has received numerous honors including the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Outstanding Writing, and a Coretta Scott King Honor.

When she’s not writing, she’s visiting schools to talk about her books with the kids who read them, or teaching writing at Arizona State University, where she is the Piper Endowed Chair and Founding Artistic Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Author Links:

Website: https://jewellparkerrhodes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jewell_p_rhodes

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jewellparkerrhodes/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/135707.Jewell_Parker_Rhodes

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JewellParkerRhodes

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXNEhN3tf-K7tymbTXTl-Ew

My Review

Paradise on FireParadise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting and immediately absorbing; I loved it!

Yes, I loved this book! With interesting young leading characters, all with their own issues and fears, the story evolves, and the tension steadily increases until you find yourself smack in the middle of some honest-to-goodness pulse-pounding action. I almost thought I was breathing the fresh air and, later, choking on ash and embers. The characters were so very engaging that I was much affected as things unfolded. The story easily and totally absorbed me from start to finish.

In addition to the exciting story, the very serious themes of climate change, ecological degradation, and the need for environmental protection come through the action. These concepts with consequences are presented simply and straightforwardly so the youngest readers will understand, and older ones will not feel it’s too preachy.

Paradise on Fire is an unforgettable adventure story that is perfect for middle grades, high school, and readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from NetGalley.



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Filed under Action/Adventure, Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Middle-Grades, Suspense, Young adult

Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Alina: A Song for the Telling is a wonderfully told story set in the Christian court of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

During his lifetime, Alina and Milos de Florac’s father, Guy, had been far more interested in his family and music than estate management, and the holdings, as well as the retainers that depended on its success, had all suffered due to its neglect. And when his beloved wife, Beatriou, and eldest daughter, Maria, tragically succumbed to the sweating sickness, he sank into immovable despair, and things only got worse. Not long after, he was found drowned, a suspected suicide, and his brother, Garsanc, and his wife, Marci, arrived, determined to set things right and repair the damage to the family name.

The brother and sister felt increasingly stifled, trapped under their new guardianship. Milos was constantly in trouble for one scrape or another. He was young and undisciplined; their father had been lax with the boy’s education in estate management much as he had been. Nor were there the funds to send Milos as a page to the household of a knight where he could learn and trained as a squire before returning home to take up his duties when the time came.

Although bright and musically-talented like her father, Alina was not considered a great beauty, and lacking an attractive dowry, her prospects for an advantageous marriage were dim. She dreamed of becoming a trobairitz, a female troubadour, traveling the country, perhaps the world, playing her lute, and singing songs of her own devising.  She became alarmed by the parade of unsuitable men her aunt keeps thrusting in her path, and the threat of the convent starts to look more desirable.

As the tension at home mounted, the siblings formed an escape plan: they would join one of the parties of knights, merchants, and pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land on the pretense of praying for their father’s endangered soul. Aunt Marci and Uncle Garsanc agree, glad to have the pair out of sight for a while as they continue to mend the damage to the estate all the years of neglect had wrought. Uncle Garsanc knows of a group preparing to depart soon and led by a reputable knight from right there in Provence, Baltazar de Aurignac. With money from Uncle Garsanc in their pockets and Alina’s lute carefully wrapped for the journey, the young brother and sister set off for Lyon to join their new companions and head off on the trip of a lifetime.

Author Malve von Hassell has written a wonderfully immersive tale set in 12th century France and Jerusalem. Set during the time of the Crusades, the long journey by horseback is interesting and exciting and so descriptive that I felt I was right there with Alina and Milos. The arrival in Jerusalem was full of sights and smells, dust and heat, color and antiquity. There are mystery and political intrigue galore that kept me turning the pages as I soaked up the atmosphere the author so skillfully and effortlessly crafted. ALINA is historical fiction, so real people and events are included in the story, and fact and fiction fit together flawlessly. It is amazing to me thinking about the massive amount of research this author did in completing this wonderful story. This realization only came to me later after putting the book down because I never felt like I was reading history; the story was so lively and entertaining.

I enjoyed that the book was told from Alina’s point of view, and the thoughts and feelings of the young teenager felt true and natural. I also liked that she’d learned how to behave properly from her mother and had enough self-discipline to control her emotions and reactions to how she was treated at the court in Jerusalem. I felt this enabled her in her role as an onlooker of the various political schemes and drama. Well-behaved and a proper lady, she was useful yet overlooked and dismissed at times, allowing her the freedom to move about without being missed.

I recommend ALINA: A SONG FOR THE TELLING for readers of historical fiction, especially those that would enjoy the 12th century setting of the Crusades, France, and the history of the Christian court in Jerusalem. The book is suitable for YA and adult readers, and I could see this as a read-aloud book for middle grades and younger and something the entire family would enjoy.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades, Young adult