The Oddmire: Deepest, Darkest by William Ritter

Brothers Cole and Tinn—one human, one a goblin changeling—are determined to solve a mystery almost as old as they are: What happened to their long-missing father?
 
Joseph Burton vanished without a trace, leaving the baby boys’ mother to raise them alone. Some say he abandoned his family, others that he met foul play looking for a way to get rid of the changeling imposter. Cole is determined to finally push through the rumors and learn his father’s fate.
 
With the help of their friends—Evie, expert on the creatures of the Wild Wood, and Fable, the indomitable half human, half fairy—Tinn and Cole set out on a dangerous quest to the deepest, most deadly limits of the Wild Wood. Meanwhile a shudder runs through the forest. Increasingly powerful earthquakes shake the land, sinkholes form, and the spriggans, trolls, and other creatures along their path speak of an ancient evil on the rise . . . (taken from Amazon)

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.

The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz- Algonquin Young Readers Book Tour

Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day her father is cursed by a mysterious rival.

Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. But when it’s time for her to perform dastardly deeds against the townspeople—including her brand-new friends—she begins to question her father’s code of good and evil. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be a dark lord after all? (taken from Amazon)

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.

Interview With a Middle-School Reader: Spring 2021

My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.

Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:

Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate — and find a way to save their world in their own way. (taken from Amazon)

“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.

I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. (taken from Amazon)

“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

With a lonely boy named Ben on board, the brave young dragon Firedrake sets out on a magical journey to find the mythical place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage — and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home. (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people. (taken from Amazon)

“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”

Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.

Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan

Wind-voice the half-dove, formerly enslaved, is now free, and Maldeor, the one-winged archaeopteryx, hungers for supreme power.
Can Wind-voice and his valiant companions—Ewingerale, the wood-pecker scribe; Stormac, the myna warrior; and Fleydur, the musician eagle—save the future of their world? (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”

Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles

Twelve-year-old Ash waves goodbye to her miserable life as a traveling circus stablehand when she and her feisty bird, Flynn, are whisked away to the Academy of Beasts and Magic: a school where wealthy children train unicorns, manticores, and scarf-wearing ice dragons. The downside to owning such a highly magical beast? Everyone wants him. When a mysterious sorcerer suggests the Academy may have dark intentions, Ash realizes her tiny bird might be the key to saving Cascadia…or destroying it. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”

There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?

Kids on the March: 15 Stories of Speaking Out, Protesting, and Fighting for Justice by Michael G. Long- Book Tour

From the March on Washington to March for Our Lives to Black Lives Matter, the powerful stories of kid-led protest in America. 
  
Kids have always been activists. They have even launched movements. Long before they could vote, kids have spoken up, walked out, gone on strike, and marched for racial justice, climate protection, gun control, world peace, and more.  
 
Kids on the March tells the stories of these protests, from the March of the Mill Children, who walked out of factories in 1903 for a shorter work week, to 1951’s Strike for a Better School, which helped build the case for Brown v. Board of Education, to the twenty-first century’s most iconic movements, including March for Our Lives, the Climate Strike, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests reshaping our nation. 
  
Powerfully told and inspiring, Kids on the March shows how standing up, speaking out, and marching for what you believe in can advance the causes of justice, and that no one is too small or too young to make a difference. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to  Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Kids on the March will be available on March 23rd.

Kids on the March touched me, educated me, inspired me, and left me in awe of what children have done, and continue to do, when confronted with injustice. While adults sometimes waffle- or even turn a blind eye- children stand up for change.

“When democracy was threatened, kids were there. When people on the margins needed a voice of protest, kids were there. In some cases, kids were there, marching and chanting, long before adults even thought about protesting.”– Michael G. Long

This isn’t your average history book. Aside from the fact that it focuses entirely on children’s activism throughout history, it educates in a way that is accessible for older children without speaking down to them. While there is no glorification in the sometimes ugly response to demands for change, it is also not left out. There is no pretending that opposition doesn’t exist. At the same time, the focus is on the kids’ activism.

I loved the timeline that is provided at the beginning of the book. As a homeschool teacher, this will be extremely handy. For me personally, it helped highlight how active children have been, and for how long. Kids on the March starts in 1903 and goes all the way up to 2020! That is a long history of children standing up and moving the world. It was truly astonishing to see.

There were several marches/protests that I knew nothing about. Whether that is an oversight throughout school history classes, or me just not paying enough attention growing up, it was surprising to see. There were a few early protests over issues that were eerily similar to things happening now.

At the end, there are “tips for marching”, which is exactly what it sounds like. Children can shake the world and affect change by standing up and speaking out. In many ways, children have been examples to adults. They have been examples of bravery, compassion, and action.

Kids on the March made me cry on more than one occasion. It provided me with teachable moments for my child, and moved me. I cannot recommend this book enough.

“Let us pray with our legs. Let us march in unison to the rhythm of justice, because I say enough is enough.”

-Demetri Hoth, senior at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (2018)

Where to find the book:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble


A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Paladins, Clerics, and Druids

I had the idea to discuss Dungeons and Dragons classes (which is very similar to the class system in most roleplaying games) and its similarity to characters in books. Basically, a “class” is a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class” consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I asked for contributions from book bloggers and authors and what they came up with is brilliant. What had started out as a single post has turned into a few, with each post discussing a different set of classes. You can find my post on Fighters and Barbarians here. Today, let’s talk about paladins, clerics, and druids. Here we go!

Paladin: Take a fighter and add a fair dose of religious fervor, a strong code of conduct, and an oath to fulfill, and you’ve got the general idea. Paladins get a power boost from either their god or their commitment to their cause. Boiled down: holy warrior. Or, if you’re feeling saucy, an unholy warrior.

I’m happy to have The Swordsmith joining in the conversation :

“Firstly, I am delighted to be contributing to the Witty and Sarcastic Book club for the first time!  It’s an amazing blog that I follow and when Jodie put out this interesting call, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of this post.

I have a feeling this is going to be a great post. Jodie’s request was to match a character from fiction to a Dungeons and Dragons class and I had so many ideas!  I settled on something though, it seemed so bizarre but then thinking about it I just had to write about Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells as a Paladin!

Go with me on this one as Paladins are a holy warrior class in D&D, while Murderbot isn’t the major comparison is that it always tries to do the right thing.  This is an important part of the books and the character, this part of the character drew comparisons to the Paladin class. It reminded me of one cool dude I am playing D&D with at the moment and guess what?  He’s playing as a Paladin.

Doing the right thing or what you perceive to be the right thing is tough, Paladin’s can have a very hard time in D&D and Murderbot..well the character is an interesting one because it fights for what it believes, for it believes to be doing the right thing when it does.  I can’t say too much without spoilers but I just knew that the character connotations were there.

Thank you to Jodie for allowing me to let loose my love of Murderbot and comparing it to a Paladin class, enjoy the rest of the post!”


Author Ricardo Victoria also has some thoughts on the paladin class: “This class gets a lot of flak due to its apparent rigidity, but I blame that more on the player (no offense) than on the class, as not many people know or like or can play a Lawful Good character without trying to make it a cardboard cutout. That’s why I think the best example of how a Paladin should be is Sgt. Carrot from Discworld. Strong as an ox? Check? Abides by the Law? Check. Charismatic? Check. Compassionate? Check. Innocent? Check. Can pound you to an inch of your life if you hurt an innocent? For sure. Carrot proves that a Paladin can abide by the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter, can be courteous yet dangerous, flexible when needed, and smart in an unexpected way, especially with clever interpretations of the law. But his most important trait is that he could have the power (it’s somewhat of a secret that he is the true heir to the crown of Ankh-Morpok, and he knows that). The thing is he doesn’t want it. He just wants to protect the innocent and then go home, even if he is pretty much married to his job. That, for me, is how a paladin should be played.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, on paladins: “For me, I picture Sir Gawain as the epitome of a holy warrior. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he is very concerned with honor and adhering to the strict code he’s sworn to uphold. There are themes regarding service to the helpless, as well as to God. His sense of morality and his code of conduct guide him in every aspect of his life.



Cleric: More than a healer, but not quite a paladin, clerics are servants of their deities. Clerics have the ability to heal as well as possibly harm through magical means granted by their god. However, unlike a priest or acolyte (who usually stay in a town or temple), clerics take their skills to the frontlines, helping those such as paladins in their holy cause.

Geeky Galaxy has some great thoughts on clerics: “Trudi Canavan has a great many series that covers every angle of character archetypes, from rogues to magicians, and the one I’m going to talk about a little more, clerics. Age of the Five #1 is called Priestess of the White and features all manner of religious icons, from cults, to gods and of course, clerics. This series is perfect if you love a rich depth to your fantasy worlds with a particular focus on religion and politics. It’s perfect for the sort of person who wants to get lost in a book for hours at a time!


Beneath a Thousand Skies
shares her thoughts on clerics: “Anyone who’s ever played D&D has likely has the cleric call them out on their nonsense at least once. The long-suffering cleric is part healer, part priestess/priest, part counsellor, and often (but not always0 the common sense of the party. They can also pack quite a punch when they want to.

For me, that is Gilda from the Godblind trilogy in a nutshell. In many ways, she’s central to the story and plays a pivotal role in the lives and stories of many of the characters. Yet she’s also an unsung hero, and she is a perfect example of someone straddling that line between priestess, counsellor, and healer. She might not have magic, but she has powe, heart, and that all-important common sense and she has a mean right hook when needed (just ask Lanta).”

“There’s little I understand about your religion, about why you would choose a life of fear and of pain over a world of life and light and beauty and an afterlife of joy and oneness. Because life is hard, aye, but it isn’t brutal. Brutal’s what we do to each other. Hard is what the seasons do to us.”-Anna Stephens, Darksoul

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub says: Clerics are probably the class that I have the least experience with. However, Melisandre from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series comes to mind. Her deity is called the Lord of Light and, to be honest, she really weirded me out.


Druid: Druids are representative of nature. They get their power- healing, magical spells, etc.- from either the land itself or from a nature deity. They can even shift into an animal form.

I love Bees and Books’ take on druids: “Were the Animorphs a huge part of your childhood? Those tattered, much loved paperbacks certainly were a staple in all of the school libraries I visited.
Prepare yourselves for a Big Brain moment but the Animorphs were just like Druids in D&D. Take the primary power of an Animorph: the ability to morph into a creature they have seen and touched, thereby acquiring the DNA of the creature permanently. The Animorph in question then can use that shape for morphing at any time, though they are limited to the time period they can stay in shift otherwise they may become stuck as that creature. The Animorph power (given to them by the alien Andalites) is similar to a class feature of the D&D Druid, namely the Wildshape feature. Wildshape allows Druids to transform into a creature that they have seen–as opposed to touch/acquire DNA from. This mechanic limits Druids to only creatures from their region, or that they see while on their adventures at the DM’s discretion. Additionally, there are limitations that lift over time as the Druid levels up such as not being able to transform into flying or swimming creatures, and the difficulty rating that Druids can transform up to. It’s relatively easy to transform into a rat, but it takes a while before a Druid can be a giant eagle. These limitations for both Druids and Animorphs mean that they can really only transform into creatures they have access to, and have to be clever when thinking about what to transform into for fighting and other adventures.
More experienced Druids also gain additional features, depending on their Druid Circle, that can boost their abilities while in Wildshape, increase the time they can be shifted, or broaden the options for what they can shift into. Similarly, as the Animorphs grow and learn their abilities in the books they become more proficient in shifting, and even find ways around tricky situations such as getting stuck in shift.”



Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: Allanon from the Shanara series by Terry Brooks is a pretty good example of a typical druid.



Meet the contributors:

The Swordsmith is a wonderful blog focusing on fantasy literature. The posts are full of detail and so well-written! I highly suggest checking out The Swordsmith anytime you’re looking for a great new book to check out. You won’t be sorry!

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.

Geeky Galaxy is a great blog that covers a bit of everything, from book reviews to thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations. Her content is always fun to read, and her writer’s voice is a fantastic!

Bees and Books is a delightful blog, and one of my go-to’s for fantasy opinions. Bees and Books’ posts are so unique and always give me something to mull over.





Kids on the March: 15 Stories of Kids Speaking Out, Protesting, and Fighting for Justice by Michael G. Long- Book Spotlight

From the March on Washington to March for Our Lives to Black Lives Matter, the powerful stories of kid-led protest in America. 
  
Kids have always been activists. They have even launched movements. Long before they could vote, kids have spoken up, walked out, gone on strike, and marched for racial justice, climate protection, gun control, world peace, and more.  
 
Kids on the March tells the stories of these protests, from the March of the Mill Children, who walked out of factories in 1903 for a shorter work week, to 1951’s Strike for a Better School, which helped build the case for Brown v. Board of Education, to the twenty-first century’s most iconic movements, including March for Our Lives, the Climate Strike, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests reshaping our nation. 
  
Powerfully told and inspiring, Kids on the March shows how standing up, speaking out, and marching for what you believe in can advance the causes of justice, and that no one is too small or too young to make a difference. (taken from Amazon)

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.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads for the opportunity to join this book tour. Amari and the Night Brothers is available now.

Oh, how I loved Amari and the Night Brothers! This rollicking supernatural adventure book rivals Harry Potter for excellent world-building, and it has an infinitely more likeable main character. Amari is spunky, intelligent, and wholly original.

When the book opens, Amari is trying to succeed in a school where she’s not wanted while learning to cope with the fact that everyone thinks her missing brother is dead. She refuses to believe it, and when she gets invited to try out for a spot at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she finds herself entering a world she didn’t even know existed in an effort to find him.

And what a world! Were-dragons, illusionists, and even escalators with personalities make appearances. There is never a dull moment, and I loved seeing what new surprise would pop up next. This is a world that I’d love to see more of (luckily, this is a series, so I’ll get to).

The characters were phenomenal. Among the many awesome people, my favorites were Magnus, whose prickly demeanor hides a heart of gold, and Amari herself. She’s the kind of main character that I love to see my children reading about. She is moral, smart, and resourceful. And she persists, no matter what.

The plot is fantastic, with the mystery of Amari’s brother framing a coming-of-age story. There’s adventure galore, but the book also deals with themes that are a little more real-world, like feelings of not fitting in, and the ugly things people see (such as racism). It’s done in a way that is not too much for the intended age group, while also not dumbing things down.

Amari and the Night Brothers is a fantastic fantasy, one that older elementary kids and middle-graders will love. I loved it too. It’s an adventure of the best kind, one that will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it. I was immediately sucked in and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

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!