If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!
This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for allowing me to join in on this book tour and for providing me with The Ogress and the Orphans in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.
Sometimes you read a book and think, “Oh, what an entertaining and fun book!”
Sometimes you think, “This is an important book, a book that says something.”
And sometimes you read a book that is both. The Ogress and the Orphans is a well-written adventure, with children that speak to crows and a generous ogress. It is also a dangerous book, with wicked dragons and fear stoked into hatred. It is the sort of book that draws you in and makes you think. It teaches a lesson without beating the reader over the head with it (as a homeschool parent, I love children’s books like that).
The Ogress and the Orphans follows a house full of orphans in a town that used to be kind and helpful but became selfish and afraid after everything burned down (starting with the library. Hmmm…could it be that the freedom to read is important?), leaving suspicious neighbors who only trust their mayor, who has slain a dragon after all. He never seems to do anything to help, but in the town’s eyes he can do no wrong.
Meanwhile, in the Orphan House, there may not be enough to eat, and the caretakers are world-weary, but there is kindness aplenty. I loved all of the characters in the house! There are so many of them, but my favorites were Bartleby and Cass. Bartleby could hear the stories that the walls and trees tell, stories of both the past and the future. And sweet, kind Cass sets things in motion when an attempt to care for others goes in unexpected directions.
I loved the narrator, who gave small asides about the things it could say if anyone asked (but they didn’t). The entire book was wonderful and uplifting, something that is always appreciated. The Ogress and the Orphans is full of both adventure and heart. Pick it up. You’ll love it.
Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).
The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!
Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.
The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.
Thank you to Storytellers on Tour and the author for allowing me to join the book tour for Little White Hands. This book is available for purchase now.
For those of us who are fantasy readers, there’s that moment of wonder and anticipation when we get swept up into a new world for the first time. It’s one of the many great things about fantasy: that excitement that comes with the beginning of a new adventure. That excitement is just waiting for the reader who opens Little White Hands.
Garlan “Little White Hands” is a wonderful main character. He is a dreamer whose aspirations of knighthood seem destined to fail. He is, after all, only a kitchen hand. One of the things I loved about him is that, despite having the adventure he dreams of delivered to him, Garlan understands that there are dangers that come with it. It isn’t a game. He takes his role seriously and does his best no matter what. His interactions with others show that at his heart he is a good person, the sort of person who should be the hero in a book like this.
Garlan happens to receive the last words from a dying man- a call that sets off a quest to save everyone from an endless winter. As he journeys, he battles monstrous foes and learns about the world, and about himself. He is joined by others who help along the way. I loved Trickster, in particular. And, of course, there’s Oldface. What an incredibly creative idea for a companion!
It only took half a chapter before I was completely invested. Seeing as this book would be enjoyed by older elementary and middle grade children, a half chapter of setup is perfect. Any more than that, and there’s the risk of loss of interest from some of the more impatient readers. There was never a danger of that, as the story moved at a steady pace, with character development and further backstory coming along throughout the rest of the story.
The world was beautifully realized and utterly unique. Everything was described perfectly, with words that seemed deliberately placed to invite the imagination. Little White Hands is a great read for any older elementary/middle grader, and would be a great place to start when introducing younger readers to the wonders of the fantasy genre.
I hope this is the first of many books by this author.
Mark Cushen has loved the fantasy genre since he accidentally stumbled onto Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion masterpiece, “Jason and the Argonauts”, while channel-hopping one Christmas-time Saturday afternoon, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8.
Ever since then he has been obsessed with stories of sword-wielding heroes battling monsters in fantastical lands, and is now attempting to create his own. Little White Hands is the first of (hopefully) many.
I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)
Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!
For little monsters:
Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.
The Ghost-Eye Tree
This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.
The Monster at the End of this Book
This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.
For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:
I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.
The Beast and the Bethany
This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of DorianGray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review
For Young-adult vampires:
House of Hollow
If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review
Tales from the Hinterland
Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review
The Devouring Gray
Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review
For adult zombies:
Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?
In the Garden of Spite
I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review
I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.
Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.
There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Deepest, Darkest is available now.
There will be some spoilers for book one, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. You can find my review for book one, Changeling, here. I’ve loved the first two books in the Oddmire series, as well as William Ritter’s Jackaby series, so I was beyond excited to read book 3.
Deepest, Darkest was a fantastic continuation of the story that started in Changeling. Cole and his changeling brother Tinn have found a new adventure: they’re going to solve the mystery of what happened to their dad. He’s been missing since they were babies, but they’ve found clues that lead them on an unforgettable journey for answers.
One of the many things I love about the Oddmire series is that the parents are involved and they have loving relationships with their kids. Often children in middle-grade books are orphaned, or their parents are completely uninvolved. Not so with this series. The brothers’ mom, who I absolutely love, goes searching right along with them. They are accompanied by Fable, the “Little Queen of the Wild Wood” and her mama bear (quite literally sometimes); their friend Evie, and Evie’s great uncle. While the children were still the main characters and took center stage, it was great seeing the relationships with their parents.
As always, my favorite character was Tinn. He has grown into himself a little more and is feeling a bit more confident in who he is. However, he isn’t quite sure he wants to find his father, since he’s been told that his father left because one of his children wasn’t human. That’s a complicated box of emotions to unpack, to say the least. Tinn’s a wonderful combination of heart, anxiety, and scrappiness. I’ve said this before, but he really does remind me of my oldest. All of the characters are great, though. Fable makes me smile, and the boys’ mom, Annie, is one of my favorite moms in fantasy.
The story was so much fun! And the creatures! Tommyknockers! Kobolds! Spriggans! I love the sheer variety of critters found in the Oddmire series. The world is rich and full of mysteries to solve, secrets to uncover, and magic to experience. This is a fantasy world that I love to disappear into. My oldest, who is in the targeted age range, loves the series as well. It’s awesome to be able to rave about a book with your child!
Deepest, Darkest is filled with adventure and heart. This is a series that fans of magical worlds and mysterious doings will love.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Dark Lord Clementine is available for purchase now.
A sweet story balanced out by a good-natured touch of the macabre, The Dark Lord Clementine is delightful! It has a wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor, and is peopled with characters both memorable and likable.
Clementine notices one day that her father, The Dark Lord Elithor, is missing his nose. In fact, it seems like bits of him are just chipping away. As he tries to find a way to reverse this little difficulty, Clementine finds herself taking on more and more. She isn’t so good at being bad, she’s worried about her father, and she’s lonely (although she might not admit that last bit). She’s also quite possibly the only one who can keep her father from whittling away to nothing. That’s a lot to put on any twelve year old’s shoulders, even those of a Dark Lord in training.
Clementine is fantastic. She’s spunky and has a stick-to-it-ness that I loved. Oh-she also has hair that is the equivalent of a mood ring. I loved watching her grow and discover more of who she is, as opposed as to who she (or anyone else) thinks she should be. Self-acceptance is something I enjoy in books, because being okay with who we are can take just as much bravery as finding and defeating a witch.
Of course, The Dark Lord Clementine features several other great characters, as well as some seriously awesome fantastical surprises. I personally was a huge fan of the black sheep. Every family has one, and I’m glad this book has one too.
The book was punny, fun, and heart warming. The Dark Lord Clementine is dastardly enjoyable and I highly recommend it.
About the author:
Sarah Jean Horwitz grew up next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy-tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. She currently lives near Boston, MA. Find her on Twitter, @sunshineJHwitz, or at sarahjeanhorwitz.com.
I am ridiculously excited about this book! Aside from the subject matter being interesting, I have a new perspective: my child. He’s a little guy, too young to even ride a bike without training wheels, but he has big dreams. He likes mostly nonfiction books about historical figures, people who he sees as world changers. Kids on the March sounds perfect for him. He says he wants to change the world when he grows up: how cool will it be for him to see examples of kids who didn’t wait until they had a drivers’ license or were old enough to vote? Kids everywhere need to see that they can affect change, that they can SHAKE THE WORLD. They’ve done it before. They’re doing it now. And I am so jazzed to read about it.
I’ll have a review coming up before too long. This book will be available on March 23rd.
Did you know that the second week in November is National Young Readers Week in the U.S.? This is a week to encourage and promote the love of literature in young readers. While mainly celebrated in public schools, I think all of us everywhere should get in on the fun. I’m a homeschool parent (going on seven years of homeschooling!), so my “classroom” looks a little different. Here are some ways that I encourage my young readers:
Book It! Program – This has been around since I was young and it’s as much fun now as it was then. Basically, you sign your kid up and give them a reading goal based on age or skill level. When that goal is reached, Pizza Hut provides the child with a certificate for a one-topping personal pan pizza. Yum!
Lego Magazine– I believe that this is only available in the U.S. and Canada (please correct me if I’m wrong). My kids love getting mail and this magazine, while in essence a long advertisement, still has little comics and such whatnot for young kids to read.
Origami Yoda– My oldest loves the Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger. They’re a blast to read. After reading them, have your kids check out the Origami Yoda website for free origami instructions. They can make their own origami Star Wars characters, and (with parental supervision) even create and submit their own foldable fun on the site. Warning: you will go through a ridiculous amount of paper while your kids fold away.
Lunch Doodle with Mo Willems– If you have a little reader, you’re probably familiar with the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If not, you definitely need to fix that. They’re a blast! Well, author Mo Willems has a delightful YouTube channel which he started back in March when the U.S went on Quarantine lockdown. It is just a fun, calm way to encourage kids to get creating along with Mo Willems. There is also an email address where kids can send their own doodles.
I think it’s important to encourage reading of any kind. Yes, I mean that comics are just as valid as picture books, or even The Great American Novel. Reading is reading. If it excites your kid, then there’s a bigger chance they’ll keep reading. What are some great free reading resources for kids that I’ve missed? Are you doing anything special with your littles to spark a love of reading?
The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.
My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:
I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”
My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours. He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”
My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”
I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”
There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?