Book Review from a Teen Reader: The Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi

Today, my teenager has once again given me permission to share a book review. This time, he’s reviewing the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure how heavy his review is on spoilers. Enjoy at your own risk!

Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that? (Taken from Amazon)

I recently read the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality) and I really, really liked it!

Every single one of the characters was likable, fun, and unique. Not only that, but the story itself was set at just the right pace to make it hard to put down yet easy to pause for stuff like, y’know, eating, drinking, and other necessary things (Curse you, Life! Can’t you see I’m trying to read?).

As you probably guessed, I really liked these books. I don’t want to go into too much detail (because SPOILERS) but I will try my best to outline the series without actually saying anything too specific.

Well, let’s see…there’s a bunch of characters, and they do some stuff, and other stuff happens…I’m just kidding! I can tell you more than that (Hold onto your hats! This is gonna be fast)!

The Pandava series is a series under the unique title of “A Rick Riordan Presents book”, which basically means that, one, it has something to do with mythology, and two, Rick Riordan liked it. There are other Rick Riordan Presents books (I’m currently reading one called Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee) and all of them fall under those categories I mentioned earlier. So if you like good, fun books with undercurrents of interesting cultures and mythologies, the Rick Riordan Presents title is one to watch for.

The Pandava series is also the subject of this current book report, so back to talking about it!

Based off Indian myth and legend in its theming (though probably not all of myth and legend, because that would make my brain explode. India is BIG)! The Pandava series focuses on a group of girls who are the reincarnations of the Pandava siblings, ancient and powerful heroes from Indian myth. I won’t name names because some of them only show up in later books. so that would be a…SPOILER.

Anways, Aru Shah, the main character of the series and maybe a Pandava (no spoilers here, though she totally is) accidentally releases The Sleeper, the main villain of the series with some complicated backstory and motivation, from his imprisonment while trying to impress some rich kids from the local school (by showing them a definitely cursed lamp she was told not to touch and then touching it). This leads to lots of bad stuff, which of course leads to the main body of the book. Heroic quest, anyone?

Along the way, lots of really likable and interesting characters show up, and I won’t say any names because my favorite characters only shows up later in the series, but for all of you out there who have read the books, I’ll say that a certain naga prince is my favorite character (“I can’t die! I haven’t even learned what a microwave does!”).

Before I close off my report, I want to say thank you to the author for including a glossary of terms and pronunciations. Without it, I would not know where to start with some of the more complicated stuff. Plus, it’s fun to read the author’s opinion on all of it!

Anyways, I highly recommend this series to anyone who liked this report because the series is way better than the report says (it’s kinda hard to talk about how awesome a book is without actually saying anything specific).

The characters are great, the story is great, the action and humor and emotions are great, and overall, I’d say that the Pandava series is fantastic. I hope you decide to read it and, if you do, I hope you like it as much as I did.

March of the Sequels- Interview with Rob Edwards

Today I am grateful to be talking about sequels with author Rob Edwards. His book, The Crossover Paradox, which is a sequel to The Ascension Machine, is available now. You can find my review here.

Thank you for joining me! Will you talk a little about your series and its upcoming sequel?

Thanks for having me back! Sure thing. The Justice Academy series follows teenage grifter Grey through his studies at the eponymous college for alien superheroes. It’s a scifi superhero adventure about found family, identity, truth and proper maintenance of your grapnel gun.

I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy. The Ascension Machine is about Grey, alone, learning to work with others. Book two, The Crossover Paradox, is about unlikely team-ups. Book three… is yet to be written, but there’s a progression we’re following, for sure.

Bad things happen to and around Grey, but at its heart the series is (I hope), fun, light-hearted and exciting.

Do you find that most readers will continue to read the series?

Time will tell! This is my first foray into a sequel novel. I know a lot of people have been excited for book two to arrive, and I hope that converts into sales. If I had to guess… I think it’s inevitable you lose a percentage of readers for subsequent books in the series. The aim is to keep the retention level up.

I think received wisdom is that the arrival of book two will have a positive impact on sales of the first book in the series, at least.

Why do you think that is?

I think book buying habits have changed over the last few years. A writer friend of mine made a good point to me a while back, she said the number of people who stumble across book two of a series first has dropped dramatically. 

There are still people who find interesting books by browsing their local bookstore’s shelves, of course, and might gamble on a sequel that catches their eye. But so many book sales come from on-line stores now, particularly for independent books. Love it or hate it, buying books on-line makes it super easy to find the first book in a series. Even if you do stumble across book two of a series first, book one is usually only a click away. 

Book two raises the profile of the series as a whole, but most people will want to start from the start.

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Yes and no. On one level, sitting down to write book two, I already had a pretty clear idea who my characters are, what their voices sound like to me, what they want from life. I’m starting from a very different place than at the start of The Ascension Machine, but that’s true for my characters too. Grey’s found family is, well, found. There would be no point telling that story again. For The Crossover Paradox the question became what next? For Grey the problem is no longer not having a place to belong, and has become the consequences of having people around that rely upon him. It’s new ground for him, and it’s what keeps it interesting for me. Grey is still growing, still changing, and there are new discoveries (and a backslide or two) for him to deal with in the sequel.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

The main problem I had is that my cast was already so big! Adding a new set of characters into the mix was quite a daunting task. Still, the principle that each book of the series is set during a new year at the Justice Academy let me think back to the start of my second year at university (a long time ago, into the last millennium!). We were a close-knit group of friends in my first year, but as new students arrived, some of those relationships shifted, different priorities emerged, some brought us closer together, some took us further apart. It’s just life, and that’s what I wanted to capture in The Crossover Paradox.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

Well, I get to cheat a little. The galaxy in my series has thousands of populated worlds, so if I’m having problems with some established worldbuilding, I can just shift the action to another world. No, but so far, it’s not been a problem for me. The main beats of the trilogy have been in my head since before I wrote the first word of The Ascension Machine, and as long as I’m sticking to that path, I’m happy to adapt and work around. There are certain places, people and organizations that I mentioned in book one because I knew I’d need them in later books, so it’s fun to start paying them off in The Crossover Paradox. And to plant a few more things for book three of course.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Not really. I did have a couple of moments of the opposite, where I realised I’d already written something in the first book that I could totally steal and use in the second.

Not quite what you were asking but there were a few things in book two that did give me pause for another reason.

For example, the main tower of the Justice Academy. When I came to describe some scenes in book two, I found my notes were not as detailed as I’d hoped. I had to scour book one again to find any references to its entry hall to make sure I didn’t contradict anything. And then I found myself starting a spreadsheet to note what was on various floors so I could keep details straight in this book and the next. 

I do love a good spreadsheet.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Gosh. I’m not sure that’s for me to judge. You tell me! 

I will say I felt I was writing more confidently this time. I’d proved I could start and finish a whole novel already, so doing it again was less daunting. I’d like to think I’d learned some lessons too. One bad habit my developmental editor had to drum out of me in book one, was not to undercut my own stakes. I’d like to think that people didn’t see much of that in the finished product of The Ascension Machine because my editors helped me with it. And won’t see it in The Crossover Paradox because I’ve learned my lesson. Certainly, my editors and beta readers didn’t highlight it as a problem this time around.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

I thank you for the suggestion that I plan things! Actually, in this case, I did have at least a concept in my head for the whole trilogy before I started. I think calling it a plan would be overstating it somewhat, but I knew my direction of travel at least. I also know that Grey is a con artist and habitual liar and that the books are told first person, so, there’s that.

I’m actually somewhat intimidated by writing book three because it needs to pay off things I’ve been dropping hints about since the very first line of book one. There are a couple of moments that don’t make sense in the first two books until you get later revelations. Most people won’t spot them, but they make me happy knowing they are there. And that much planning of this series was completely necessary. There are probably other parts which don’t make sense because they just don’t make sense, of course. But if we all pretend that’s me playing mind games, that would be nice.

Still, outside of the metaplot, I do tend to just bumble around seeing what happens in the book I’m currently writing.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Not often. Twice in the first book, once in the second. In The Ascension Machine, I had one character surprise me by existing. Lucy, also known as Sky Diamond, was not in my original concept of the series, but she turned up during the editorial process of The Ascension Machine, and now she’s a really important part of the story. The revelation that one of my cast was a librarian before coming to the Academy – which written like that doesn’t feel like much of a revelation, but really helped me understand the character better – surprised me. In The Crossover Paradox, there is a moment near the end of the book that surprised me. I won’t say what, for obvious reasons. I will say I’m not talking about the very end of the book, that’s been part of the story since day one.

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

Oh, the trauma I had about this! I went back and forth on this question so many times. Also, how much of a recap of book one is needed in book two for people who haven’t read the first one in a hot minute? How much do I need to describe what a Welatak looks like again?

Where I’ve come down is that the book is readable as a standalone, you do get a complete story in there, but some aspects will have more weight if you’re coming from book one.

I’ve tried to keep the story in each book as a separate thing. Book one is a story about a long con. It’s a heist, with all that brings with it. Book two is a murder mystery, or at least happily wears the trappings of one. Book three is… not written yet.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Let’s say I’ll be scouring other March of the Sequels interviews for suggestions. Do all the things you did for book one, though hopefully you have some contacts you can speak with this time around.

I guess, remind people that book one exists (that’s The Ascension Machine, available now!) on the run-up to book two’s release. And then remind people that book two is coming. (It’s called The Crossover Paradox).

The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards

For March of the Sequels (a fantastic event created by Sue’s Musings), I’m excited to be reviewing The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards, book two in the Justic Academy series.

Return to the Justice Academy, the galaxy’s premier college for superheroes!

Back for his second year, Grey wants nothing more than to spend time with his friends and maybe take a class or two. A normal student life. Instead, Grey’s friends are all distracted by their own problems and somebody is trying to break his nemesis out of jail.

When tragedy strikes the Academy, Grey finds himself stuck between the roles of investigator and prime suspect. Chased across the galaxy and back, Grey must face a dark secret from the Academy’s past. Grey cannot hope to defeat it alone, but cut off from his friends, can he trust an unexpected crossover?

That paradox alone could kill him. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Crossover Paradox will be available for purchase on March 8th. I will do my best to avoid giving spoilers, but it is a sequel, so there is a slight possibility that something will sneak through. You’ve been fairly warned.

I loved The Ascension Machine, book one in the Justic Academy series. You can find my review for book one here. Book two continued on excellently, with new obstacles to overcome and even bigger danger. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

The main character, Grey, is a roguish character who is trying to make a clean try after lying to everyone for the majority of the previous year. He is back at the Justic Academy, under his own name (well-not really, but that’s a mystery yet to be solved), ready to put the last year behind him. Unfortunately, someone has other plans. When someone is murdered, it is up to Grey and his group of friends to find the real killer- before Grey takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit.

The story went in unexpected ways, keeping me invested and highly entertained. I loved seeing how smart Grey was, and the way his unconventional past aids him in the situations he finds himself in. He’s such a great character! For a mostly reformed conman, he has a strong sense of right and wrong which I loved. I’m all about the morally complicated characters, but I really do love a character who is more good than not. He’s an easy character to root for.

The Crossover Paradox introduces a few new characters, but some of the original group see less time. While I missed one of the characters (no names given), there was major setup for a future storyline involving him that I’m both excited and scared for. The rest of the supporting cast, so to speak, continued to elevate the book and take it in new directions. I loved that they were all important throughout the book and each character could offer something unique.

This book is meant for middle grade readers and did a great job of remembering that. While there is some violence and a bit of romance, it avoided going over the top with either. Instead, author Rob Edwards balanced each element of the book and tied it all together wonderfully. At the same time, there was a real sense of danger and no character was “safe”, which added to the enjoyment of the book. The Crossover Paradox is a fantastic continuation of the Justice Academy series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Book Review from a Middle-School Reader

I recently had my oldest write a book review for The Call of the Wild by Jack London. It made me laugh so hard that I am sharing it here with all of you (with his permission). All the spelling and language have been kept the way he wrote it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Call of the Wild by Jack London is a book. It has interesting bits, slightly violent bits, and some bits that I skimmed over.

All jokes aside, The Call of the Wild is one of those books, you know the type, the so-called “classics” that everyone is required to read at least once, and therefore very few people actually read for fun. But to be honest, I actually enjoyed this one! Although, I think the version I was reading was the easy mode version.

Anyways, C.O.T.W., as I apparently like to call it seeing as I just typed it that way, is a book with a theme of, well, the WILD (dun dun dunnn)! Basically, the entire book is about a dog named Buck who, at the start of the story, is your average owned-by-a-wealthy-and-dignified-judge type of a dog. But he is kidnapped (or is it dognapped?) and shipped off to new owners in the far, far north.

He is quickly put to work as a sled dog, but it isn’t all running around pulling things, no. Not only does he develop a deep hatred for Spitz, a rival sled-dog and all-around jerk, but he also has to deal with fights, changing owners, and food shortages.

Eventually he ends up under the ownership of a man named John Thornton, who he develops a great deal of affection for. But while under his care, Buck meets and befriends a timber wolf, who leads him to wonder about his ancestors’ wild nature, and his own wild side.

The last straw comes when John Thornton is killed by the Yeehats, a local tribe of Native Americans. This event causes Buck to fly into a rage, kill several Yeehats, and then abandon humanity altogether to join the wolves as the leader of the pack.

So, there you go! I really enjoyed reading it (especially since I got the easy version). If I had to pick a favorite character, well, there was a dog in the book named Dave, and he pretty much just sat around and didn’t participate in anything when he wasn’t pulling the sled, and I thought that was funny. He also seemed really calm compared to the other dogs, and while Buck and Spitz were fighting like mad, he was just sitting there like, “Yeah, whatever”. So that’s why he was my favorite character.

As for my favorite part, I liked the part where John was betting that Buck could pull a 1,000-pound sled, and everyone else thought he couldn’t, but Buck managed to do it anyway. I liked that part because it was really exciting not knowing if Buck could do it or not and then all of a sudden- BAM! He’s totally doing it! It was kind of like watching a really, really close race and not knowing who wins. I enjoyed it.

Revenge of the Beast by Jack Meggitt-Phillips- The Write Reads Ultimate Tour

Lemony Snicket meets Roald Dahl in this riotously funny, deliciously macabre, and highly illustrated sequel to The Beast and the Bethany in which Bethany and Ebenezer try to turn over a new leaf, only to have someone—or something—thwart them at every turn.

Once upon a very badly behaved time, 511-year-old Ebenezer kept a beast in his attic. He would feed the beast all manner of objects and creatures and in return the beast would vomit him up expensive presents. But then the Bethany arrived.

Now notorious prankster Bethany, along with her new feathery friend Claudette, is determined that she and Ebenezer are going to de-beast their lives and Do Good. But Bethany finds that being a former prankster makes it hard to get taken on for voluntary work. And Ebenezer secretly misses the beast’s vomity gifts. And neither of them are all that sure what “good people” do anyway.

Then there’s Claudette, who’s not been feeling herself recently. Has she eaten something that has disagreed with her?
Genre: MG Fantasy
Length: 288 Pages
Publishing: 30th September 2021
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Revenge-Beast-2-Bethany/dp/1534478922
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58410828-revenge-of-the-beast

Thank you to Aladdin publishing and The Write Reads on Tour for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Beast and the Bethany: Revenge of the Beast will be available for purchase on March 22nd.

Delightfully wicked, The Beast and the Bethany: Revenge of the Beast had me roaring with laughter (as opposed to the Beast, who was possibly simply roaring for the fun of it), and happily devouring every word.

My favorite duo of not-quite-good-guys is back in this sequel to The Beast and the Bethany, and everything seems to be hunky dory. Or is it? Okay, so neither Bethany nor Ebenezer have any idea how to be do-gooders, there’s a fancy shirt that seems to have a mind of its own, and Claudette the bird is acting oddly…but those are all normal everyday difficulties that people deal with all the time. Right?

The author is back in fine form with this fantastic book, continuing the hijinks that follow Bethany and Ebenezer, while at the same time sneaking in themes of friendship and making good choices (it’s done so slyly that I promise your children won’t notice, parents). At the same time, it is incredibly entertaining. I found myself laughing aloud at parts.

New characters are introduced, and the reader is treated to a more complete look at old ones. While our three main characters are all wonderful, Ebenezer continues to be my favorite. In Revenge of the Beast, a little more is shown about his past and how the Beast came to be involved in his life. Ebenezer struggles with his newfound less-selfish outlook and watching him grow and develop as he deals with change is a joy.

As with book one, Revenge of the Beast would best be enjoyed by older children (and adults!), although it would be a fun read-aloud for younger kids who like a slightly macabre twist to their books. Think Roald Dahl and you’ve got the general idea.

Plan to run away from the Beast, but toward your favorite bookstore to pick this book up! Better yet, go ahead and pre-order it: I guarantee you’ll love it.

About the Author:

Jack Meggitt-Phillips is an author, scriptwriter, and playwright whose work has been performed at The Roundhouse and featured on Radio 4. He is scriptwriter and presenter of The History of Advertising podcast. In his mind, Jack is an enormously talented ballroom dancer, however his enthusiasm far surpasses his actual talent. Jack lives in north London where he spends most of his time drinking peculiar teas and reading P.G. Wodehouse novels.

Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed by Maleleine Roux

Welcome to Dungeon Academy, where monsters and creatures train for the dark world that awaits just beyond the dungeon walls! But Zellidora “Zelli” Stormclash is a bit—different. She’s the one thing monsters and creatures of the Forgotten Realms fear the most: Zelli is a human!
Knowing she’ll never be accepted, Zelli’s parents disguise her as a minotaur in hopes she’ll blend with the academy’s monstrous surroundings. Zelli does her work, keeps to herself, and becomes “invisible” to everyone. 
While in History of Horrible Humans class, Zelli learns of the great human adventurer, Allidora Steelstrike, who oddly resembles her. Could Zelli also be a Steelstrike? Seeking answers to her true lineage, Zelli embarks on a dangerous adventure.
But she won’t be alone. A vegan owlbear, a cowardly kobold, and a shapeshifting mimic will join Zelli on her quest for truth in a world that holds no place for them. And who knows? Perhaps these monstrous misfits may discover some truths of their own . . . (taken from Amazon)

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.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Middle Grade Edition

Today I’ve got some middle-grade books that would make great books! Some of them are books I’ve enjoyed this year, but the majority of them are books that my middle-grade reader loved, which means they’ve passed the “target audience” test. You can find list of middle-grade gift ideas from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-Grade Edition.

The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards

Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero? (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! There was action, adventure, a little bit of a mystery, and a great cast of characters. Plus, there’s the whole superhero college thing. You can read my review here. I think this would be a winner for most kids.

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

My oldest really enjoys Riordan’s writing. Although Riordan’s Egyptian-inspired series is his favorite, my oldest has loved reading the Heroes of Olympus books this year.

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost. Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?The fate of the world rests in his hands. (taken from Amazon)

This is the sort of book I loved when I was young. It has the magical feeling that readers get seeing Narnia for the first time, the sense of bravery and adventure found in Arthurian tales, and such wonderful characters. You can read my review here.

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

The beginning of a thrilling new dragon saga– now in paperback!
Clay and his friends have grown up under a mountain, secretly raised by the Talons of Peace to fulfill a mysterious prophecy. The five young dragons are destined to end the war that’s been raging between the tribes of Pyrrhia — but how they’ll do this, none of them knows.But not every dragonet wants a destiny. When one of their own is threatened, Clay and his friends decide to escape. Maybe they can break free and end the war at the same time — or maybe they’ll risk everything … (taken from Amazon)

My oldest fell in love with this series. It became a much-discussed topic in our house, and he even had a dragon-themed birthday cake based solely on his love of these books. Based on that, I feel pretty confident in recommending them despite not having read them myself.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

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)

My oldest and I both really enjoyed this one. It is so creative! The world building is great and the main character is a delight. The sequel comes out in April and my oldest and I will be racing to see who gets to read it first. You can find my review here.

What are some middle grade books you’d recommend? Have you read any of these?

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen-Storytellers on Tour

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war.

Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

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.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55880021-little-white-hands 
Amazon: http://mybook.to/LittleWhiteHands

About the 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.

Website: https://www.markcushen.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarkCushen87 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mcushen87/ 
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/mcushen87

African Icons: Ten People who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste

Meet ten real-life kings, queens, inventors, scholars, and visionaries who lived in Africa thousands of years ago and changed the world. 

Black history began long ago with the many cultures and people of the African continent.

Through portraits of ten heroic figures, author Tracey Baptiste takes readers on a journey across Africa to meet some of the great leaders and thinkers whose vision built a continent and shaped the world.

Illustrator Hillary D. Wilson’s brilliant portraits accompany each profile, along with vivid, information-filled landscapes, maps, and graphics for readers to pore over and return to again and again.  (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion, and for allowing me to join the blog tour. African Icons is available now.

I am a homeschool mom so I am constantly looking for good educational books to add to our curriculum. This has made the cut! African Icons is a useful, well-written look at a part of history that is often unseen.

Sometimes it seems that history only mentions figures like Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and Harriett Tubman. That leaves out so many interesting people, and so many fascinating moments in history. This book endeavors to fill in some of the gaps left in knowledge.

My youngest child is a history lover. Because of that, I was able to test whether this will hold a child’s interest. He was definitely interested, although this book is probably best for older elementary kids. The facts were delivered in a way that didn’t shy away from some of the darker parts of history, while also not glorifying violence. It is quite obvious that author Tracey Baptiste put both time and effort into crafting a book that was both informative and accessible. The pages were full of backgrounds, details, and even pronunciation guides, which I very much appreciated.

I really loved the collection of people chosen for this book. There were both males and females and it was fantastic seeing women get their due in a history book. It really doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. The illustrations were brightly colored and attention-catching, although I do wish there were more of them.

This will probably be a bit too wordy for most younger children (although my pint-sized history buff loved it), but I highly recommend African Icons for older elementary and middle grade children. It would also make an excellent resource for educators or parents who want to provide a more complete look at African history.

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.