Review | The Curse of the Crystal Cavern

The rollicking Pathfinders Society treasure hunt continues as the five campers from Mystery of the Moon Tower get swept away in a new adventure. This action-packed graphic novel is full of fun, magic, and friendship–sure to appeal to fans of the Last Kids on Earth and Lumberjanes series.

Fresh from their hair-raising adventures in The Mystery of the Moon Tower, Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate are now hot on the trail of something big! A secret staircase leads down into the unknown, setting them on an exciting chase for clues left by the wealthy explorer Henry Merriweather, who was rumored to have hidden away a priceless treasure. Are the legends real? Where will the five friends end up? And what dangers will they encounter along the way? Because as they’ve come to learn, everything comes at a price…

In this exciting graphic novel adventure series, richly illustrated by Eisner-award-winning artist Steve Hamaker, the Pathfinders go ever deeper into the labyrinthian Merriweather mystery–and hope they’ll come out the other side!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this one since I read the first book and am so glad I grabbed it! I’m not going to go too much into the story as it picks up right after book one finishes, but we are following the same group of pathfinders as they are continuing to decipher the riddles left behind as well as deal with occasional time jumps, dangers from outsiders and more. I really liked how they came together even more in this one and leaned on each other for their unique strengths. This is a great middle grade adventure story and I can’t wait for the third one to come out.

Happy reading!

Q&A | Ally Malinenko

Happy release day to Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Ally about the book and her writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for Ghost Girl. Also, huge thanks to Ally for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

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Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New 

York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.com

Now let’s get to the questions!

It says that this book is based on some of your own experiences, could you share a little bit about that?

Yes! I can see ghosts! Just kidding. Ghost Girl is based a lot on my childhood in the Hudson Valley. My best friend and I would spend a lot of time making up stories and wandering through the woods. Even drawing eyes on trees to mark our favorite spaces as protected. Like Zee I loved spooky stories the most. I practically memorized everything in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Also though I have two sisters and Zee only has one, my sisters and I are very close and I wanted to show that between Abby and Zee. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

I wrote this book quickly actually. Probably about six months. But I wrote it to nurse a broken heart after the YA science fiction book I spent 7 years on, the one that landed me an agent, was rejected by pretty much all of publishing. I felt like a failure. So I decided to go back to the stories I loved the most. The stories that made me love books and dream about being a writer. All of those stories were middle grade, many of them were spooky. 

Could you tell us a little bit about Monroe and how it inspired the setting of Ghost Girl?

Monroe is a lovely small town nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley but when you’re a kid and you can’t drive and you live too far to bike to the center of town where the library is, you get a touch bored, much like Zee does. The development I grew up in is surrounded by woods so, my best friend and I definitely spent a lot of time in there, making up stories and pretending. Monroe is a little bit bigger than Knobb’s Ferry but sadly, it is lacking a giant cemetery. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

After GHOST GIRL my next book is called THIS APPEARING HOUSE also published by Katherine Tegen Books. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend who get trapped in a haunted house that is more than it seems. It’s also an exploration of trauma and illness that was compared to A Monster Calls. It’s a very personal story for me so I’m both excited and nervous about it being in the world. 

There are a lot of powerful themes in this book that many kids deal with in real life, what would you say to your readers who are struggling with things such as gender roles and fighting common stereotypes?

I’m so glad you asked me that because talking about gender, and specifically about breaking gender barriers was really important to me. Zee spends a lot of time aware that she is expected to be quiet and small as a girl and that doesn’t fit how she feels inside. There is even a scene where she smashes mirrors in a symbolic breaking of the glass ceiling. One of the other stereotypes that was important to me is Elijah’s weight and his body positivity. Elijah’s father struggles to connect with his bookish son and instead wants him to do more things with his hands – more things that are stereotypically male. He winds up focusing on Elijah’s weight thinking that if he were fit they would be able to connect more. I wanted kids to see all kinds of bodies in Ghost Girl and it was very important to me that while Elijah was hurt by his father’s actions, it was clear that he himself was not ashamed of who he was. 

So to any of the kids that might be struggling with these kinds of things, I want them to know that they are GREAT the way they are and they, like Zee and Elijah and Nellie, should always stand up for themselves and their friends. There is room in this world for every type of person.

What are your favorite writing tools?

So I know a lot of people love books like Save the Cat but I’m a terrible pantser (the opposite of a plotter) and never really know what a book is really about until I’m halfway through it so to be honest one of my favorite writing tools, outside of my occasionally temperamental laptop, are my feet. I walk five miles to my librarian job and whenever I am stuck on a plot point or a new chapter, it is always on these long walks that things really start to come together for me. I highly recommend to other writers when you’re stuck and you’re done crying on the floor, throw on your sneakers and go for a walk. It really frees your brain up.  

Could you tell us a little more about your secret writing closet?

Yes! So my husband and I are both writers and when we moved to NYC many years ago we could only afford a one bedroom. I figured I would just stick my little desk in the corner of the living room and that would be fine. But while the agent was showing us the apartment, he opened a door to a walk-in closet/storage space and my eyes fell out of my head. It had a bunch of built in bookshelves that the last person crafted and a little spot underneath that fit my desk perfectly. It was wired with electricity and it became my little writing nook where I wrote everything for the last 14 years. I loved it. We recently moved and have since upgraded to a second bedroom so now my little closet is an adorable little room that I also love. But I will always have fond memories of all the poems and stories and novels, including Ghost Girl, that I wrote in my secret writing closet.

What takeaways do you want your readers to have from this book?

Oh that’s a good question. Well ultimately, I hope that kids love it and have a spooky adventure in the realm of what I call “safe-scared.” Meaning, it’s fun because you can always walk away from the scares. But beyond that I hope this book shows kids that the way they are is the way they’re meant to be. That, even thought it’s scary, standing up for your friends is important and that sometimes the kids who are the meanest might also be struggling. So be like Elijah and choose kindness.  

Who would you recommend this book to?

My book was recently reviewed by School Library Journal and they cautioned that this is not a book for a kid who claims to want horror but really wants suspense or an adrenaline rush. And I have to agree with that. I wrote a spooky book, emphasis on the spooky. So the best reader of Ghost Girl would be a kid that loves to get scared, knowing they can always close the book, and loves a good adventure with a lot of heart. If you want to root for some characters, Zee, Elijah and Nellie will definitely give you the chance. 

Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?

I’ve had a few people raise an eyebrow when I tell them that I write horror for children. Something in that expression doesn’t compute. And I get it. But I also worked as a children’s librarian and I know the kids that have read every copy of Goosebumps 1500 times. The thing is kids know that the world is scary. Scary books provide a safe place to navigate that. A place to be the hero. Kids need to explore fear in a safe way because it’s already a part of their lives. Scary books let kids examine their fear and their anxiety. They get to hold it up to the light and understand it. These are valuable lessons and when we shame kids for liking horror we’re just telling them that their fears are something they should be ashamed of. 

Scary books let them defeat the monsters on the page so that they’ll learn how to recognize the ones that will – inevitably – appear in their lives one day.

Check out Ghost Girl on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Ally for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading her answers as I did. Make sure you check out Ghost Girl!

Happy reading!

Review | Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s middle-grade debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story—with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!

Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend, Elijah, believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was not expecting to fly through this one as fast as I did, but it was definitely a one sitting read. I really have a soft spot for Zee as she tries to navigate school, friendships, bullies, the death of her mother and absence of her father and more. Elijah was also a wonderfully crafted character as he dealt with the pressure he experienced at home and with expectations that are laid upon him. A lot of the characters in this story had clear voices and were able to be seen easily in the mind’s eye as they went about their daily lives while also trying to figure out what was happening in their little town. There are a lot of real issues that kids deal with featured in this book and honestly I think a lot of people in the target audience would be able to see themselves in at least one of the characters.

Malinenko’s writing is easy to read and flows really well, while there are clear breaks between chapters and scenes, everything flows together really well. I also felt that the three main characters she put together played off each other really well, even if they struggle to be friendly at times. This is definitely a great spooky middle grade that is fun for young readers while still having depth and real world issues woven in.

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Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New 

York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.com

Thanks so much to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review. Make sure to check back on release day, August 10th, for a Q&A with Ally!

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne | Review

Meet Josephine, the most loveable mischief-maker in Barbados, in a magical, heartfelt adventure inspired by Caribbean mythology.

Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team. She’ll get to play her favorite sport AND make sure her fisherman daddy is too busy attending her matches to date.

But when tryouts go badly, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .
The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, she doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss–she sings in a strange language, eats weird food, and seems to exert mysterious control over everyone she meets.

Josephine knows that Mariss isn’t what she seems … she might not be human! But who’s going to believe her? Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?

Book Links | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What can I say about this book that doesn’t start with the fact that I loved every second of it? It’s rich with culture, heritage and folklore – as well as a main character who speaks with such a clear voice that she’s practically three dimensional. It was such a fun and compelling read from start to finish with writing that just flew by and was completely immersive. There were so many times during this book that I was laughing and I truly enjoyed the glimpse into modern Barbados life and culture. I also really loved the dynamic between Josephine and her father, and the talk of her father’s heritage since he was from Guyana. This book was packed full of so much that I loved and I will definitely be looking for more from this author in the future.

Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian author and filmmaker. Her first feature film, the comedy-drama, PAYDAY, was screened throughout the Caribbean, USA and UK. She has written three films since its debut in 2013: Two Smart (writer/co-director), Next PAYDAY (writer/producer) and A Caribbean Dream (writer/director). A Caribbean Dream is distributed by Verve Pictures and had a cinema release in London in 2017. The film won several awards, including Best Drama at the National Film Awards UK,  Best International Feature at the Charlotte Black Film Festival and best UK Feature at the London Independent Film Festival.

Her short stories have been featured in many literary journals (see below). Her self-published collection of short stories, IN TIME OF NEED (2013), won the prestigious Governor General Award for Excellence in Literary Fiction. She was a finalist for the BURT/CODE Award for Caribbean Literature in 2018. The Caribbean edition of her middle grade novel, MY FISHY STEPMOM, was published by Blue Banyan Books (2019) and the North American edition, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in 2021.

She was  a Part-time Lecturer at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and is a Part-Time Lecturer in Screenwriting at the Barbados Community College. She currently holds Certificates in Screenwriting from the Barbados Community College and the University of Edinburgh, and an MA (Hons) in Arts and Cultural Management from Queen Margaret University.

Author Links | Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook

Make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour here!

Happy reading!

Review | The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As soon as I found out this had to do with Malay folklore and culture I wanted to pick it up. I loved learning about the different supernatural beings featured in that culture as the story went on and also really enjoyed the themes of friendship, families (and how experiences can make them different) and grief. All of these played a part in Suraya’s story where we saw a lot of growth in her as well as a bit of adventure when they came up against someone who didn’t have the best of intentions. There are definitely some darker parts to this when it comes to some of Pink’s actions, but that just added more to the story regarding what a pelesit is. While I don’t have any real knowledge of Malay folklore, it’s stories like this that make me want to learn more.

Happy reading!

Review | Cici’s Journal by Joris Chamblain

Cici dreams of being a novelist. Her favorite subject: people, especially adults. She’s been watching them and taking notes. Everybody has one special secret, Cici figures, and if you want to write about people, you need to understand what’s hiding inside them. But now she’s discovered something truly strange: an old man who disappears into the forest every Sunday with huge pots of paint in all sorts of colors. What is he up to? Why does he look so sad when he comes back?

In a graphic novel interwoven with journal notes, scrapbook pieces, and doodles, Cici assembles clues about the odd and wonderful people she’s uncovered, even as she struggles to understand the mundane: her family and friends.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I reallly enjoyed this story about Cici, her friends and the mysteries that she discovers and feels compelled to solve. At times she goes to the extreme to do this and learns the consequences of putting these mysteries above all else. She has struggles with friends, her mom and life in general while also navigating the mysteries and writing in her journal. Her journal itself includes pictures, drawings, newspaper clippings and other mixed media elements that will draw in readers and make it feel like an interactive experience. There are also a couple pages that younger readers could customize to feel like they are part of the story. The artwork (as well as what is included on the journal pages) is beautiful and full of whimsy, with a softer color palette that perfectly suits the story and Cici’s style.

Happy reading!

Review | Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody & Yoshi Yoshitani

Welcome to the magical, mystical, topsy-turvy world of the House of Secrets, where Zatanna embarks on a journey of self-discovery and adventure…all with her pet rabbit, Pocus, at her side.

Zatanna and her stage magician father live in a special house, the House of Secrets, which is full of magic, puzzles, mysterious doors, and storybook creatures-it’s the house everyone in the neighborhood talks about but avoids. Not that Zatanna cares, though, because she is perfectly content.

But at school one day, Zatanna stands up to a bully and everything changes- including her friends. Suddenly, Zatanna isn’t so sure about her place in the world, and when she returns home to tell her father, he’s gone missing, lost within their own home.

With thrilling twists from writer Matthew Cody and dazzling artwork by Yoshi Yoshitani, Zatanna and the House of Secrets will delight readers at the turn of every page-and the opening of every door!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I found this graphic novel to be very cute and while the bulk of it is more fantastical, there are definitely some real world middle school age issues that Zatanna deals with at the same time. The art style was cute and colorful, so it will definitely draw the eye. I would have liked some things to have a little more attention paid to them, such as the sub-plot with her friends and the events that happened with them. If someone is looking for a magical graphic novel with vibrant art and a great story for younger readers, I think this is a solid choice.

Happy reading!

Review | Stargazing by Jen Wang

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As I’ve enjoyed some of Jen Wang’s work before I was sure I would enjoy the art in this one, knowing that it had some personal elements to it made me even more excited to get to it. I was not disappointed at all with this one. Not only does it perfectly depict some of the struggles and emotions that young teens/tweens deal with when navigating friendships and finding their place among their peers – it also touched upon some large issues in the element that was Moon’s sudden health condition. I also really loved some of the cultural aspects that were included, such as different experiences that Asian Americans may have, as well as their family dynamics. There were moments that were joyful or funny but also some that tugged at the heart for both Christine and Moon while they figured out their emotions, friendships and life in general.

Happy reading!

Review | Starfell: Willow Moss & the Lost Day by Dominique Valente

The ordinary becomes extraordinary in this sparkling first book in the Starfell series, a modern classic perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The Land of Stories.

Willow Moss’s small magic has always seemed unremarkable. But when the most feared witch in the land of Starfell appears on the Moss family’s doorstep looking for help, it’s not Willow’s talented sisters she seeks, it’s Willow. Because Willow is a finder of lost things—and Moreg Vaine says that last Tuesday has gone missing.

Willow and Moreg set out on a perilous journey across the wilds of Starfell, looking for what they’ve lost. If they don’t discover what happened to the missing day, the repercussions could be devastating for the entire kingdom.

Can Willow find the day, to save the day?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Oh my heart – I loved this story about Willow who is able to find lost things (and doesn’t think that’s much of a magic power to have) going on a quest to find last Tuesday, which has gone missing. I immediately felt for Willow as you very quickly see how certain members of her family treat her because of how unremarkable they see her power, which reinforces Willow’s feelings. Throughout her adventure she meets a lot of interesting people and creatures and is able to grow and discover that maybe her power isn’t so bad after all. If you’re looking for a fast paced adventure with a young witch (especially if looking for alternatives to something else) this is a great one to pick up. Keep in mind there are trigger warnings for slight bullying and death of a loved one.

Happy reading!

Review | The Medusa Quest by Alane Adams

Phoebe Katz is back on a new mission to save Olympus and undo the fallout from her first visit. Damian has troubling news—the epic mythology stories in the books are changing. Instead of Perseus slaying Medusa and becoming a hero, the books now say he’s turned to stone. Worse, thanks to Phoebe slaying the Nemean lion and the Lernean hydra to complete the Eye of Zeus, Hercules failed his first two trials—which means he’s not the immortal hero he’s supposed to be. After speaking with the oracle who brought her to New York, Phoebe learns that without great heroes, the entire fabric of Greek mythology is in peril. She must go back to Olympus and right the history she wrecked. To do that, she must embark on a quest to collect the items she will need to help Perseus defeat Medusa, including the curved blade the Argus Slayer, the winged shoes of Hermes, and Hades’s Helmet of Invisibility, and convince Hercules to complete his new trials without giving up—despite the efforts of a powerful force that will stop at nothing to see the demi-god children of Zeus destroyed. Can Phoebe collect the items she needs and save Olympus once again?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After finishing The Eye of Zeus I almost immediately picked up the Medusa Quest as I was eager to see what Phoebe and her friends got themselves into this time. I liked the element of Phoebe having to face repercussions of her actions and it was great again to see her and her friends learning and growing as they went on their quest to correct things. I again really loved Adams’ writing style and the way the story flowed naturally. Yes there were immature moments, but that’s suitable for the age range this series is intended for. All in all I’ve really enjoyed both books in the series so far and will definitely read more from Adams.

Happy reading!