If…Then: In Which You Get a Terrifying Glimpse Into How I Come Up With Book Suggestions

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that my train of thought often jumps its tracks. Usually (but not always) these random jumps make perfect sense, but only if you’ve had a rather terrifying look into my thought process. Seeing as that can get a bit hairy, I suggest you proceed carefully, as I’m about to give suggestions of books to read next, based on books recently enjoyed. I will try my hardest to explain why, but…yeah.

If you enjoyed: The Starless Sea

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Find my review here

Then read: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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Find my review here

The reason I suggest The Ten Thousand Doors of January is that both Alix E. Harrow and Erin Morgenstern have an incredible way with words. Their prose is so gorgeous, it’s like enjoying a decadent treat. If you enjoy one of these two books, definitely read the other. Of course, other than that, the books are completely different. They make sense together to me, though. In fact, I seem to think that Alix and Erin went on a book tour together? All I know, is they didn’t come to a bookstore near me. Sad, sad, sad.

If you enjoyed: The Wheel of Time series

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Then read: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Find my review here

The reason behind this recommendation is that they have a similar feel. Both are high fantasy, both have complicated characters, both take you on epic adventures. Both will keep you guessing. If you enjoy one, then you’ll like the other. Actually, this thought process kind of makes sense.

If you enjoy: The Invisible Library

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Then read: Jackaby

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Find my review here

Here’s where my brain goes a little wonky. I have no idea why The Invisible Library series makes me think of the Jackaby series. Jackaby himself channels a Doctor Who-meets- Sherlock type of vibe. At any rate, it’s really good and I think readers who enjoy The Invisible Library need to check this one out. Incidentally, readers who enjoy Jackaby should absolutely read The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters! Both Jackaby and The Crocodile on the Sandbank feature intelligent, incorrigibly curious female characters.

If you enjoy: City of Ghosts

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Find my review here

Then read: Anna Dressed in Blood

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The thing with both of these books is that they have a bit of a “fun ghost story” feel to them. Neither of them is actually spooky (although both of them would scare the living daylights out of my middle-grade reader), but they come across as Supernatural light.

If you enjoy: The Name of the Wind

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Then read: Master of Sorrows

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Find my review here

Justin T. Call is a wordsmith, the kind that only comes around once in a while. Just like Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, Master of Sorrows drew me in immediately. This book is excellent, and definitely needs to be read by everyone.

There are several others that I’m not including because the way I’ve likened them will make absolutely no sense to anyone sober. Hopefully, the connections for these make pretty decent sense. Enjoy!

City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

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Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead . . . and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.

So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger.

When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift,” she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself. (taken from Amazon)

                          I’ve read some excellent reviews for these books lately, so when I saw them at the library, I had to snag them. After reading them, I can see why both books are so popular. Victoria Schwab is an excellent writer, and is able to effortlessly suck the reader into the world she’s created.

These books follow Cassidy, a girl who sort-of briefly died. She was saved by a ghost who has become her best friend. Now she can see ghosts and is able to cross the veil between the living and the dead. Her parents, who oddly enough host a ghost-hunting show despite not believing in ghosts, have decided to travel to “most haunted places,” with Cassidy, her ghostly bff, and their cranky cat in tow.

In the first book, they go to Edinburgh. There, Cassidy meets a girl named Lara who has the same ability she does. Lara informs Cassidy that they have a responsibility to reap the ghosts, basically sending them “on.” Cassidy unfortunately catches the attention of a very powerful and extremely angry ghost. Will she survive the encounter? Or will she end up truly dead?

I quite enjoyed the book. It felt like the first few episodes of that show Supernatural. It was episodic and a very good introduction to both the characters and the world the author has created. I found it highly entertaining, though lacking in some details I would have loved to had. For example, the Big Bad wasn’t as fleshed out (pun intended) as I was hoping. I loved the idea behind the villain and would have loved a bit more detail. However, Cassidy is a likable main character, and there’s a lot of potential in her ghostly buddy.

The sequel, Tunnel of Bones, started to see a bit more of a storyline. The foil in this book had more of a background, and this book focused more on solving the mystery behind all the ghastly, ghostly activity. I liked that aspect. Adding a bit of a mystery to the book made it much more interesting to me. Tunnel of Bones takes place in Paris, and the author made good use of the Catacombs. The final surprise has me very interested in seeing what comes next.

The best way I can describe these books is as Supernatural light. They’re entertaining, quick reads, that make for fun weekend reading.

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Image result for thornhill by pam smyParallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense. (taken from Amazon)

I am so proud of myself! I struggle with reading anything that could be even remotely considered a graphic novel. I think it’s because of my epilepsy; my brain just doesn’t process that setup well. However, I was able to read this book no problem. Yay!

This book was interesting in that two stories were being melded into each other. One was told through a diary; the other, in pictures. The story told through diary entries is that of Mary, a lonely orphan who lives in Thornhill Institute in the early 80’s, right as it is closing its doors. She doesn’t speak, and has no friends, but she is extremely talented in making dolls and puppets. Because of her quirks, she’s horribly bullied by the other residents in the institute, and by one girl in particular.

As her story continues, we see illustrated pages scattered throughout. The illustrations tell the story of Ella, who has moved in next door. Ella’s story takes place in 2017, and seeing the two tales meet was pretty cool. They begin to merge slowly, as Ella finds some damaged dolls that belonged to Mary years ago. From there, a mystery unfolds: what happened to Mary? And how will it relate to Ella?

The prose was striking in its simplicity, and the illustrations were evocative of isolation and the need for human connection. While at its heart this short story is eerie, it’s also very sad.

This book is very short and I was able to read it in about an hour. That doesn’t lessen its effect though; this one will stay with me. It’s very thought-provoking (plus-those dolls are creepy!)

I recommend this book to those who like their (light) horror stories with a bit of mystery thrown in.

The Royal Gift: 2019 Two Giftens Edition by Drae Box- ARC Review


                  Five days to save him.

Five days to find a thief, rescue her village’s one line of defence – a magic dagger – and return home. Could Aldora do it? She didn’t know the first thing about tracking a thief, and barely knew any of the kingdom’s geography.

Accompanied by a talking Prince of the Cats and a law enforcing soldier that’s a trouble magnet, Aldora’s future is forever changed. (taken from Amazon)

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

This was an interesting experience for me. I did not care for it myself, but I think that the author will improve and the next endeavor might be really good. The ideas were creative, but the execution needed a little work.

First of all, the reader is dropped right into the middle of the story without any setup or explanation. I was actually confused enough to wonder if I’d missed a previous book that explained everything. While it does clear up as time goes on, it was a very disconcerting start.

I did appreciate the uniqueness of the book. The Prince of Cats was a fun character, although, like the others, he needed more development. It felt as though I was reading a first or second draft and not the finished book.

That being said, the premise is interesting, but the end product needs tweaking. I didn’t hate the book, but it wasn’t for me.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Frozen Secrets by Myles Christensen

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He has trouble following the rules on Earth. But this trip to Jupiter’s moon could kill his curiosity for good…

Thirteen-year-old Max Parker is a grounded Earthling with the soul of a space explorer. So when he learns his family is relocating to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, he readily agrees to stay out of mischief. But his promise is soon forgotten, and his snooping lands him on a shuttle doomed for a fiery disintegration.

Convinced someone sabotaged the craft to cover up the theft he witnessed, he digs into the incident. Why was this robbery worth attempted murder? Dodging a series of deadly accidents, he follows the clues to an abandoned outpost and discovers a secret that could blow the lid off a moon-wide conspiracy…

Can Max solve the mystery before his interplanetary escapade gets him killed? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available in January.

Funny story: I couldn’t find this book one afternoon. I looked in all the usual places that I “lose” things, but I still couldn’t find it. Guess where it was? In the hands of my sixth grader, who was very interested in reading it. That’s a pretty high recommendation for the book just right there. I have a feeling he’ll be curled up with it soon.

This book follows Max and his best friend Jonathan. They’ve just moved with their families to Europa, as part of a colonization. The two best buds manage to get themselves into trouble on a pretty regular basis, but their usual hijinks give way to the possibility of real trouble when they notice that things seem a little off. What did they stumble on? More importantly: will they survive?

Max was a fun character to read about. Trouble follows him, but he’s not a bad kid. He was actually really sweet. Both he and Jonathan were very believable and- I’m sure- easy for middle-graders to relate to. Their relationship was a joy to read.

This book is full of action, very rarely pausing to explain things. This is perfect for someone like my son, who is able to glean any background information that is included among other things that are happening, and prefers his stories to be action-packed. There’s never a dull moment.

Frozen Secrets is the beginning of what I think will be a highly enjoyable series. If you’ve got a middle-grade/YA reader who likes sci-fi, this is not one to miss. Keep this book in mind if you’re looking for something fun to give as a gift.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2019- Middle-Grade Books


The other day I listed some picture books that would make fantastic gifts (you can find that post here.) In this post, I’m moving on to upper elementary and middle-grade books. After all, it’s good to continue to cultivate a love of reading.

The Origami Yoda Files by Tom Angleberger

My oldest has read this series multiple times. He loves these books! They’re fun stories, and have directions to make cute and simple origami Star Wars characters.
Cool side note: my son has written two fan letters to Tom Angleberger- and received two handwritten notes back! I’m more than happy to support authors who not only write quality books, but take the time to answer their fan mail. My oldest was over the moon.

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Not so long ago, in a middle school not so far away, a sixth grader named Dwight folded an origami finger puppet of Yoda. For class oddball Dwight, this wasn’t weird. It was typical Dwight behavior. But what is weird is that Origami Yoda is uncannily wise and prescient. He can predict the date of a pop quiz, guess who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and save a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, Tommy assembles this first case file in the blockbuster bestselling Origami Yoda series, hailed bySchool Library Journal as “honest, funny, and immensely entertaining.” (taken from Amazon)

Oddmire #1: Changeling by William Ritter

I’m hoping to grab this one for my oldest this Christmas. It’s the perfect blend of adventure and excellent character development. The story follows two brothers- one of which is a changeling- as they brave the Wild Wood to become magical heroes. What sets this story apart from many other fantasies is the subtle themes of friendship, loyalty, and learning to be proud of who you are. I loved it and I know my oldest will too (find my review here.)
Incidentally, William Ritter is also the author of the fabulous adult Jackaby series.


Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart, so he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. When they are thirteen years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave their sleepy town and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and uncover who they truly are. (taken from Amazon)

The Return of King Lillian by Suzie Plakson

This absolutely wonderful book tells the hero’s journey from the perspective of a female. It’s charming, and has life-lessons subtly woven in. I recommend this to anyone who likes a good adventure. Find my review here.


When Lillian, the one and only heir to the throne, is cast out of her kingdom by malevolent forces, she accidentally wanders into the Forest of Forgetfullness, where she is rescued by wolves and raised by an eccentric old wise woman. When she comes of age, she is called by Destiny to return home. The trouble is, when Lillian steps out of the Forest, she has no memory of who she is or from whence she hails. Undaunted, the spirited, self-reliant young woman sets off into the unknown, determined to rediscover her long lost self and to reclaim her stolen birthright. Most of the tale is told by Lillian herself as she chronicles her extraordinary adventures. (taken from Amazon)

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Full of a delightful cast of characters, this madcap mystery/cover-up is great for any age. It’s perfect for upper elementary students as the macabre level is extremely low (nothing like a tasteful corpse, ha ha!), and this book is as far from creepy as a book can get. In fact, it’s pretty stinking funny. Find my review here.

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There’s a murderer on the loose – but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home – unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. (taken from Amazon)

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

My son loves this book! He devoured it and highly recommends it to anyone who likes Star Wars.
Interesting side-note: this author also wrote Kill the Farm Boy, an adult book that I really enjoy.


After devastating losses at the hands of the First Order, General Leia Organa has dispatched her agents across the galaxy in search of allies, sanctuary, and firepower – and her top spy, Vi Moradi, may have just found all three, on a secluded world at the galaxy’s edge.

A planet of lush forests, precarious mountains, and towering, petrified trees, Batuu is on the furthest possible frontier of the galactic map, the last settled world before the mysterious expanse of Wild Space. The rogues, smugglers, and adventurers who eke out a living on the largest settlement on the planet, Black Spire Outpost, are here to avoid prying eyes and unnecessary complications. Vi, a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, is hardly a welcome guest. And when a shuttle full of stormtroopers lands in her wake, determined to root her out, she has no idea where to find help.

To survive, Vi will have to seek out the good-hearted heroes hiding in a world that redefines scum and villainy. With the help of a traitorous trooper and her acerbic droid, she begins to gather a colorful band of outcasts and misfits, and embarks on a mission to spark the fire of resistance on Batuu – before the First Order snuffs it out entirely. (taken from Amazon)

Are you planning on buying any books for your middle-grade reader in the next month? What are some middle-grade books that you’d suggest?

Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith- Blog Tour

Today is my spot on the blog tour for Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith. I’m so excited to talk about this magical little tale, one that is both charming and touching. My thanks go to Olivia at

This book is about a boy named Kai, who is told that his mom will be leaving to work for a family in the city, in order to provide for their family. He will stay in their village with a neighbor, and won’t see his mom for a year. The story follows his choices, and what he’ll do to bring his family together again.

In many ways, this book was very sad. Kai is dealing with many changes, and misses his mother terribly. It’s balanced well, though, and never becomes too much. The caring people in Kai’s village help with that.

Being an American, there were some cultural things that I wouldn’t have understood without the glossary of words, and short explanations that were scattered throughout the book. I found it very interesting, and it’s always cool to learn about the way things are in other places.

The magic is more of the everyday kind than fire-breathing dragons, but it was magical nonetheless. This is a great book for upper elementary aged kids.


 Q and A with author Justine Laismith

– Who are you?

I grew up in Singapore and studied Chemistry in London. After my PhD, I worked in the pharmaceuticals industry. Since then I have also worked in the chemicals and education sectors. I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was in industry, I wrote scientific papers. While I did write fiction occasionally, it really only took off around the time I returned to Singapore in 2010. Then I entered a local writing competition. As a winner, my children’s book The Magic Mixer was published. It’s a chapter book about two women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.) At that time, I was already in the midst of writing Secrets of the Great Fire Tree. This was the encouragement I needed to keep going.

– When did you want to become an author?

I first wanted to be a writer when I was seven. However at school I never did well in languages or literature. When it came to choosing subjects, I would have had to make the difficult decision of choosing what I liked, or what I was good at. My teacher saved me from this. She had expected me to take the Art/humanity subjects because ‘girls are better at them, and boys are better at Math and Science.’ Right there and then I chose the science options to prove a point. Over the years, even though I pursued a science career, the enjoyment of turning blank pages to words never left me. I continued to write poems and stories as and when they came to me, but they were for my eyes only. I also channeled this into my work and wrote scientific papers on my research. After some years, I took a career break. With a break from science, the logical part of my brain took a back seat and let the creative side of my brain dominate. I started writing in earnest.

-What inspires your work?

My inspiration comes from all around me. I now pay a lot of attention to my surroundings and how it makes me feel. Then I challenge myself to describe it in words. When I watch a movie or show, I don’t just take a seat and enjoy the ride. I think about what makes me root for the characters, or hate them. I also analyse how and why two personalities who started off with nothing in common come together as the story develops. When I’m out and about, I take pictures of nature and buildings. You can check them out on my instagram account (www.instagram.com/justinelaismith). The collection might seem like random lots of pictures, but they help me crystallize my thoughts on the setting in my stories.

-Can you tell us how Secrets of the Great Fire Tree Came About?

I grew up in Singapore, a country proud of its multicultural identity. This exposed me to a plethora of languages and Chinese dialects. I’m also part- Paranakan, which is a unique blend of two cultures: ethnic Chinese who speak and practice Malay customs. To give my heritage its representation, I subtly incorporated these diversities in a story that’s supposed to be set in China. A native Singaporean might spot these ‘anomalies’. Nonetheless, because I wanted to make this story authentically Chinese, I carried out a lot of research. I enjoyed going right back to my roots. Ultimately, the Chinese diaspora’s experience of their culture will be different from the indigenous Chinese. Part of this research included a trip to China, where I made several notes about their lifestyles. I’ve documented them in a series of blog articles (www.justinelaismith.wordpress.com/great-fire-tree/setting).

What are you most excited to share when it comes to Secrets of the Great Fire Tree?

I am most excited about sharing the rural life in China. As I mentioned earlier, I see myself as a third-culture kid, who never really knew her roots. China holds a quarter of the world’s population and consists of over fifty ethnic minorities. Naturally, I cannot tell everything in one story, but I hope I managed to give a flavor of this fascinating culture. 

Middle-Grade Gems: Interview with a Sixth Grader

About six months ago, I interviewed my oldest about books he was loving at the time. He devours books (not literally; that would be cause for concern) and I love hearing his opinions. I figure the time is ripe for round two. So, here are his current favorites:

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

Why he liked it: “It’s a very good adventure and fantasy book with good characters. There’s a ton of books in the series so it doesn’t end super fast. There’s a lot of awesome action and it’s just a really good series.”

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

Why he liked it: “It’s awesome that it’s Egyptian: it’s got a good mythology behind it. It’s got some good comedy, but a lot of good action too.”

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

Why he liked it: “This book is full of great action, great characters, and a great story! My favorite character was Wyl Lark, a determined pilot with a knack for flying.”

Star Wars: Blackspire Outpost by Dlilah S. Dawson

Why he liked it: “This book is full of action, importance, and great, engaging characters that really drew me in. Ten out of ten.”

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstong and M.A. Marr

Why he liked it: The book is about Matt, who is a descendant of Thor; Fen, a descendant of Loki; and Laurie, another descendant of Loki. Together, they must stop Ragnarok! My favorite character is probably Fen. He’s not like the other characters. He’s a bit more wild than the others, but he’s also a good brother, and I like that.”

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger

Why he liked it: “One of my favorite things about this book was how believable the characters are. I haven’t read any other books like this. It’s really nice to see such a unique book. I really liked it.”

The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

 

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Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. 

Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training Philip in the ways of evil. Philip is terrible at being bad, but when he falls in love with the she-devil Satina and experiences the powerful forces of love and jealousy, the task becomes much easier. 

Philip finds both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for giving me this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. It’s available to purchase now.

Um…where do I start? First of all, I really enjoyed it. It felt like a mashup between The Magisterium series and The Screwtape Letters, but for a younger audience. On Amazon it’s listed as being intended for ages 12-18. I can tell you, though, that it would scare the snot out of my sixth grader. Of course, each reader is different.

Due to an unfortunate mistake, an incredibly sweet boy named Phillip finds himself named successor to the Devil’s job. Lucifer is dying, and needs someone who can continue the job, so to speak. Thanks to the mix-up, Phillip is going to have to become a prince of darkness, literally. It’s going to be a more difficult job than the Devil originally thought.

Parts of this book were a lot of fun. The author took the usual hellish things (horns, pits of fire, etc) and made them his own. My favorite character was just a minor one, but I loved him. The gatekeeper to hell was so much fun to read! He was actually pretty polite, for a hellish guardian. He even offered Phillip a drink. It was revolting, but the thought was there.

There were mysteries to solve, and small lessons hidden here and there along the way. I did have a slight quibble with the amount of progress (or regression?) that Phillip made so quickly. Considering what a sweet boy he was, it seemed unlikely that he would go so bad so fast.

It was well-worded, and mentioned some pretty big concepts without assuming that younger readers wouldn’t understand. I really hate when books talk down to younger audiences, so I’m glad that this author understands that kids are a lot more intuitive than they’re often given credit for.

I liked the ending for the most part. I’m not entirely sure how there’s room for a sequel because it wrapped up so nicely, but I enjoyed the book enough that I’m curious to find out.