It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-grade Edition

I’m so excited to talk about my Middle-grade gift suggestions today! I’ve read a couple of amazing middle grade books this year, and my oldest is an expert (being a middle grader, and all). If you’re looking for great gifts for upper elementary/ middle grade age, these are my picks!

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips


I was fortunate enough to join The Write Reads Blog Tour for The Beast and the Bethany back in August. I devoured the ebook and loved it so much that I’m planning to buy a physical copy for myself, as well as a few to give as gifts. This book is absolutely delightful! It resembles nothing as much as a brilliant cross between Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Read my full rave about it here. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (series) by Chris Grabenstein

My son was gifted these books a while ago and he loved them. He said they’re full of puzzles and riddles and are a ton of fun. He raced through them and could talk of nothing else for quite a while. This would be a great choice for less enthusiastic readers who need to be actively involved. Solving the riddles will suck them right in.

The Oddmire: Changeling by William Ritter

Both my son and I have read and loved the first two books in this series (the third will release next year). William Ritter is the author of the brilliant Jackaby adult series and I am happy but unsurprised that his middle-grade novels are just as wonderful and creative as his adult novels are.

This is about twin brothers, one of whom is a goblin changeling (although no one-not even the changeling himself-knows which is which). They are called to travel into the Wild Wood and save the day. It’s rare to find a book that has so much adventure, and so much heart. I loved all of the characters (especially the protective mom) and my son felt the same. You can read my full review of the book here.

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

Did you know that the author of the famous Percy Jackson series has also written an Egyptian series. As much as my son loved the Percy Jackson books, he says the Kane Chronicles are even better.

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

My middle-grade reader says this was his favorite book that he’s read this year. It definitely spawned an obsession with magic tricks. This is an incredibly quick read (my middle-grader finished it in a day), so I suggest buying more than one book in the series. That way your reader can jump right into the next installment as soon as they want.

So, there you have it. These are my top suggestions for middle-grade gifts this year. Have you read any of these? What are some middle-grade books you’d recommend? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

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:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

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.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


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.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

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.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

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?

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips-The Write Reads Book Tour

Beauty comes at a price. And not one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy? (taken from Amazon)

I’m so excited to be joining in The Write Reads blog tour today! The Beast and the Bethany will be available for purchase on December eighth (Psst! This would make a great Christmas gift!).

Take The Picture of Dorian Gray , and make it less gothic and more fun, and you’ve got The Beast and the Bethany. This book follows Ebenezer Tweezer, a 511 year-old who is ridiculously rich and remarkably spry for his age. His secret? He has a beast hidden in his attic. Ebenezer feeds the beast in exchange for a potion that keeps him young. At first, the beast wants small things, but as time goes on its appetite grows and…well, let’s just say that the beast is not a vegetarian.

Eventually, Ebenezer is asked to put a child on the beast’s menu. Ebenezer finds this vaguely upsetting, but not enough to keep him from bringing Bethany home. Bethany is a brat. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Then again, can someone who’s planning on feeding his houseguest to a monster really make judgments? Ebenezer can handle her staying with him prior to the Big Meal. It’s only for a little while, after all. Then it’s bon apetit! But then something unexpected happens: Bethany and Ebenezer start to become friends! Whatever shall Ebenezer do?

This book is monstrously delightful! Bethany and Ebenezer are the most likable jerks that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. They’re good for each other, and it was wonderful seeing them slowly change (just a little!) and learn to appreciate each other. I particularly loved Ebenezer and seeing how he’s basically been going through a mid-life crisis for the last fifty plus years.

The way the story is told is perfect for older elementary and middle-grade kids, but it will keep any age group entertained. The language is simple and snappy, and the book is a quick read, though the concepts are most understood and appreciated by the slightly older crowd. My oldest will be reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in school this year and I’m adding The Beast and the Bethany to his curriculum. I know he’ll love it! I may have to make it a read-aloud so I have an excuse to enjoy it again.

Much like the beast, I gobbled this up and I’m hungry for more. This author is fantastic! I most definitely recommend picking this book up. If you have kids, buy this for them. If you don’t, buy it for you. It’s a great read!

The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar-The Write Reads Blog Tour

The SHIP of SHADOWS_final

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always been told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates-and discover what they are risking everything to find.

                             Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you also to The Write Reads for including me in this blog tour. This book is available now.

Well, buckle my swash! Wow, this book is fun! Adventure, piracy, and a fair bit of mystery made this an enjoyable romp full of nonstop excitement. I can tell you with absolute surety that all of the excitement surrounding The Ship of Shadows is well deserved.

Aleja is a wonderful main character. She loves books and adventure, and is incredibly smart. While she wishes she fit in more with the other children her age, she never pretends to be someone else. I loved that. When she finds a pirate crew of all females going on the sorts of adventures Aleja thought were reserved only for males, I felt like cheering.

The ship itself is full of mysteries to answer and wonders to discover. The pirates themselves are each a puzzle waiting to be solved. I especially liked Frances, an incorrigible partner-in-crime. Oh-and the ghost. Yes, there’s a resident ghost and it’s fantastic.

The book is full of small details that elevate it above “just” an adventure book (although there’s nothing wrong with that sort of book): there are bits of history thrown in, and travel to exciting (and real) places.  Aleja learns from each crew member, as they all have their own individual strengths.

The main story-line itself is fantastic and there was never a dull moment. This is the sort of book that will capture the imagination of anyone who longs for adventure. While it is meant for the middle grade audience, this would make an excellent read-aloud for slightly younger kids, and it was a blast for me to read as well. I highly suggest picking this one up!

The Oddmire, Book 2: The Unready Queen by William Ritter


The Oddmire, Book 2: The Unready Queen - Kindle edition by Ritter ...

Human-raised brothers Tinn and Cole join forces with Fable, daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, to stop the fighting between the people of Endsborough and the creatures of the Wild Wood before violence turns into all-out war.  

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

In this second book in the Oddmire series, the New York Times bestselling author of Jackaby takes readers on an adventure full of monsters, mayhem, and magic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Kelly Doyle at Algonquin Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase on June twenty third.

After reading and loving The Oddmire: ChangelingI couldn’t wait to read The Unready Queen. The series continues wonderfully, combining the fantastical with the everyday wonder of childhood.

Cole and Tinn are still a large part of this book, but Fable takes center stage this time. Oh, wow, I love that character! She has a self-confidence and a desire to believe the best of everybody that is refreshing. Each character is nuanced, and Fable is no exception. She doesn’t feel ready to take on the responsibilities her mom is training her for, completely unaware that her unique way of doing things is exactly what the Wild Wood needs.

Of course, Tinn and Cole each have their own obstacles. Tinn is learning how to be a goblin after discovering that he is, in fact, a goblin changeling. More importantly, he’s learning how to be himself, without fading into his brother’s shadow. Cole, on the other hand, is learning that there are places his brother goes where he can’t follow. He is discovering how to be his own person. I really love Tinn in particular. He reminds me of my oldest in many ways.

As with the first book, a lot of attention is paid to relationships. I absolutely love that both the boys’ mom and Fable’s mom are very involved in this book. Not only that, it’s apparent that they are caring and involved, subverting the “hero alone” trope. From an adult standpoint, I love seeing positive relationships between parents and children in literature.

The fantasy aspect of this book is epic. Spriggins, and goblins, and hinkypunks, oh my! I adored the sheer variety of fantasy creatures that show up in these books. It’s not often that I read a book that includes hinkypunks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The adventure is fabulous, the story moves quickly, and there’s never a dull moment.

This series is so much fun! William Ritter is an excellent author (I highly recommend the Jackaby series to adults) and I can’t wait to see what happens as the Oddmire adventures continue.

Aline and the Blue Bottle by Carolina Ugaz-Moran

Aline and the Blue Bottle: Carolina Ugaz-Moran: 9781734072822 ...

In the beginning there was only One World, where creatures with white magic, with black magic, and with no magic lived. As their powers grew, so did the thirst for power until it all ends during the War of Magic. The One World is divided into 8 worlds: 7 with magic and 1 with no magic–the human world.

For thousands of years, the 8 worlds live in peace. But secrets begin to brew to either protect or to threaten the peace. One secret, was Aline, who lives in the human world with no awareness of the other seven magical worlds. Where nothing special ever happens to her. She lives a plain life with horrible school mates where she has no friends.

On her 12thbirthday, on Halloween, she has to flee to a new magical world. In this world she learns that she has magical powers and must figure out how to use them in order to defend herself from a horrible warlock named Dashiok. She meets two sisters, Cristina, a nature sylph, and Sofia, a sense sylph, who become her best friends. Together they receive powers from magical meteors in an Endowing Ceremony.

During her training sessions with the sisters, she discovers that a magical blue bottle needs Aline’s help. Dashiok wants to use the powerful blue bottle to take over the 8 worlds. This leads Aline to go on her first quest. Some of the members of the High Wizard Council join Aline and her friends and they become the quest carriers.

The quest carriers travel through the Winding Forest, the Bleak forest, and finally the Southern Shores where they fight an army of hobgoblins, enchanted colossals, and yawares to find the blue bottle. Here Aline faces Yakar, the first and only vampire.

Aline finds out that before she was born, when Dashiok was trying to take her, he transfers some of Yakar’s powers to Aline and this creates the only real connection Yakar ever had to another leaving being.

The link between the Yakar and Aline secures her safety, and the quest carriers are able to take the blue bottle away from Dashiok.

See if you can uncover all of the secrets hidden in the magical worlds where Aline and her friends have their adventures…(taken from Amazon)

 

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This sort of premise always interests me. The idea of an “ordinary” person suddenly being transported to a fantastical world and having adventures is so much fun. I was very much looking forward to seeing a new take on this classic idea.

There were a few hiccups for me. First of all, there is a lot of exposition. I mean, a lot. While I found it interesting, I think the book would be better served if all the additional explanations were put in the back, instead of before the beginning. I know I would have enjoyed it more if I’d already had a chance to become acquainted with the characters and story. As it was, it dragged a bit. It felt a bit like the Silmarillion; it would be better appreciated after reading the main event.

Once the story got going, I really liked it. The author’s strength lies in her attention to world development. There’s origin mythology, and complex descriptions. If you’re looking for a fast-moving, simple book, this isn’t it. There is a wealth of detail in everything, which was alternatively very good, and not-so-great, depending on what was happening.

The characters were all great, especially Aline. She was so upbeat, no matter what was going on. Ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. I think the series will continue to improve as it carries on, and the author “finds her groove,” so to speak.

Interview with a Middle-Schooler: Fantastic Fantasy

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My oldest is a huge reader. He likes most kinds of books, although he tends to gravitate toward sci-fi and fantasy. I like to interview him every few months and get his take on books that he’s read and enjoyed. Today, I’m asking him about his favorite fantasy books. If you’re looking for middle-grade fantasy books to read, here are some he recommends.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (new cover) (Artemis Fowl (1)): Colfer, Eoin ...

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius—and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit.  These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous. 

            Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them…but then they stop playing by the rules. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest says: “I really liked it because it’s written in a smart way. Artemis Fowl was around my age and he used words that I like, like he had good dialogue. There’s one character that I don’t like because all his jokes are about flatulence. The story was fantastic and I also like that it’s a long series because I got hooked on it. The action is pretty good, even though the main character isn’t athletic at all. That’s one thing I liked about it; he’s really smart. Like Tony Stark, instead of Captain America.”

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid: The Graphic Novel: Rick ...

Since his mother’s death six years ago, Carter Kane has been living out of a suitcase, traveling the globe with his father, the brilliant Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. But while Carter’s been homeschooled, his younger sister, Sadie, has been living with their grandparents in London. Sadie has just what Carter wants — school friends and a chance at a “normal” life. But Carter has just what Sadie longs for — time with their father. After six years of living apart, the siblings have almost nothing in common. Until now.

On Christmas Eve, Sadie and Carter are reunited when their father brings them to the British Museum, with a promise that he’s going to “make things right.” But all does not go according to plan: Carter and Sadie watch as Julius summons a mysterious figure, who quickly banishes their father and causes a fiery explosion.

Soon Carter and Sadie discover that the gods of Ancient Egypt are waking, and the worst of them — Set — has a frightening scheme. To save their father, they must embark on a dangerous journey — a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and its links to the House of Life, a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I like that it has ancient Egyptian mythology. There’s a ton of action, and the magic is really cool. They use actual Egyptian words for it, I think, which is really neat. The magic has a lot of interesting results, like it can blow stuff up and put it back together. It’s a three part series. My favorite Egyptian mythological character is Anubis and he’s featured a lot, which is cool. The characters are around my age, which I like. It’s also written like it’s a tape recording and the characters don’t get along very well, so there’ll be arguments between chapters.”

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom: Healy, Christopher ...

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s absolutely hilarious. It’s chock-full of funny, sometimes fourth-wall breaking jokes. It’s got good action and the characters are written in humorous ways. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s actual fantasy, you could say that it’s like a bad D&D campaign. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Once and Future Geek (the Camelot Code #1) by Mari Mancui

Amazon.com: The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code (1 ...

When young Arthur of Camelot accidentally time-travels to the 21st century and Googles himself, he discovers the not-so-happily ever after in store for him once he pulls the sword from the stone. Yes, he’ll go from squire to sovereign basically overnight, but he’ll also lose the love of his life to his best friend and eventually die in battle. What’s a once-and-future king to do? Easy: stay in the future, where he’ll actually have a future-and join the football team instead.
Now, with the help of the great wizard Merlin, modern-day gamer-geeks Sophie and Stu find themselves in a race against time to get that sword pulled from the stone and the stubborn soon-to-be-king Arthur back to the past where he belongs. Complicating the plan? Lady Morgana-Arthur’s sister and greatest enemy-has traveled to the future as well, determined to take Arthur out and seize the throne. Can Sophie and Stu use their gaming abilities to defeat the evil Morgana and set the timeline right? With the very existence of their friendship, their families, and the world as they know it (including pepperoni pizza!) at stake, they’ll use every skill, power-up, and cheat code they know in their quest to save the day. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s a different version of the King Arthur and the Sword and Stone legends. It was like if you took King Arthur and made it really nerdy. I liked the first one better than the second one, even though the second one is still good. Stu was my favorite. He’s not very athletic, although he does come through at the end when he’s given a weapon. Mostly, he prefers video games.”

Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1): Flanagan ...

They have always scared him in the past – the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied….(taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s just an overall really good fantasy. The main character, Will, was my favorite. He’s around my age, and he was really good with a bow and arrows. He was a good fighter.”

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic in a cynical world. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite…

Kendra and her brother Seth have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws give relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, an arcane evil is unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save her family, Fablehaven, and perhaps the world, Kendra must find the courage to do what she fears most. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I reread it and returning to it was really fun. There’s a lot of fantastical creatures in it and one of the characters is a big trouble maker. The other is a big rule-follower so it’s a fun contrast. There are goblins, fairies, and a witch. I’m not sure if it’s a classical witch, but it’s a female magic-user. It’s actually a series. The trouble-maker, Seth, is my favorite character. He is kind of goofy. Plus, yet again, he’s close to my age from what I can tell.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.