Review | Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand by Donna Galanti

In Book 2 of the series, Sam and Tuck are on their way to becoming unicorn protectors when they discover new secrets about the island that threaten unicorns’ existence! From Epic! Originals, Unicorn Island  is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts.

Sam can’t believe how much her life and luck have changed since she came to Foggy Harbor: First, she discovered that unicorns are real, and now she’s on her way to becoming an actual unicorn protector! With her new friend, Tuck, by her side during Uncle Mitch’s lessons, Sam finally feels like she’s home.

But as the long-buried dangers of Unicorn Island begin to surface and a mysterious scourge spreads throughout the herd, Sam learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After reading the first book in this series I was excited to see where the series may go and was not disappointed with this continuation. I really enjoyed how this story not only picked up some loose ends/questions from the first book, but introduced new elements as well. The illustrations are whimsical and fun, like they were in the first book and the writing style I think this is a perfect story for young readers, especially those who love animals or unicorns.

Happy reading!

Review | Thirteens by Kate Alice Marshall

A sleepy town with a dark secret–and the three kids brave enough to uncover it.

Twelve-year-old Eleanor has just moved to Eden Eld to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was killed in a fire. Her birthday, which falls on Halloween, is just around the corner, and she hopes that this year will be a fresh start at a new life. But then one morning, an ancient grandfather clock counting down thirteen hours appears outside of her bedroom. And then she spots a large black dog with glowing red eyes prowling the grounds of her school. A book of fairytales she’s never heard of almost willingly drops in front of her, as if asking to be read. Something is wrong in the town of Eden Eld.

Eleanor and her new classmates, Pip and Otto, are the only ones who see these “wrong things,” and they also all happen to share a Halloween birthday. Bonded by these odd similarities, the trio uncovers a centuries-old pact the town has with a mysterious figure known as Mr. January: every thirteen years, three thirteen-year-olds disappear, sacrificed in exchange for the town’s unending good fortune. This Halloween, Mr. January is back to collect his payment and Eleanor, Pip, and Otto are to be his next offering…unless they can break the curse before the clock strikes thirteen.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Having enjoyed Rules of Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall, I’ve been wanting to pick this one up for a while. Now I’m kind of mad at myself for not picking it up sooner because I loved it. While the setting and story took some time to come together, I felt it was a good pacing for the intended audience. This story contained just the right amount of spooky and wrongness to set up the curse upon the town and was a strong beginning to a series. Marshall’s writing style had a great flow to it and I felt had just as much atmosphere as her writing for slightly older audiences. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series since I have to know what happens with Eleanor, Pip and Otto!

Happy reading!

Review | Wingbearer by Marjorie M. Liu

A young girl must stop a threat to her magical world in this epic graphic novel from New York Times bestselling author Marjorie Liu and remarkable debut illustrator Teny Issakhanian.

Zuli is extraordinary–she just doesn’t realize it yet. Raised by mystical bird spirits in the branches of the Great Tree, she’s never ventured beyond this safe haven. She’s never had to. Until now.

When a sinister force threatens the life-giving magic of the tree, Zuli, along with her guardian owl, Frowly, must get to the root of it. So begins an adventure bigger than anything Zuli could’ve ever imagined–one that will bring her, along with some newfound friends, face-to-face with an ancient dragon, the so-called Witch-Queen, and most surprisingly of all: her true identity.

This captivating middle grade graphic novel, the first of a series, is perfect for fans of the Amulet books and the Wings of Fire series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After reading some of Liu’s Monstress, I was excited to pick up her middle grade debut, especially when I read the synopsis. I really enjoyed the world being built as the story went along and the lyrical storytelling style that it began with. Zuli is a compelling character whose personality is endearing. She’s courageous even when she’s afraid and full of curiosity. Along the way she meets a number of different characters, both friends and foes – and has to find out the hard way sometimes which side they are on. This was a fantastic introduction to a lush fantasy world and hopefully there will be more to come!

Happy reading!

Review | Dark Waters by Katherine Arden

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After loving the first two books in this series I was really excited to get to this one and unfortunately didn’t love it as much as the previous two books. I still really enjoyed the continuing story and the way things unfolded but did feel like the ending was rushed and didn’t love all the actions different characters took throughout the story. This story definitely felt like it’s a bridge between Dead Voices and the last book, so to me it felt a little rushed and incomplete. I did really enjoy the unfolding story and lore that went along with this story, as I have liked the storytelling in the last two books and that’s part of what keeps me reading. Keep in mind there are trigger warnings in this one for potential loss of a parent and if you have an issue with snakes you should probably know going in that this book features one. I definitely can’t wait until the last book comes out and can’t wait to see what happens to our favorite group of friends and the Smiling Man.

Happy reading!

Review | A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow

Sure enough, the sea woman will come for what’s hers.

Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the beaches of St. Rita. But when she discovers a different kind of treasure, she accidentally summons an actual mermaid—the wrathful Ophidia.

Ophidia makes Kela a bargain: her ancient comb, in exchange for a wish. And though Kela knows that what she wants most is her mother back, a wish that big will exact a dangerous price…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I will reach for pretty much any book that incorporates mythology or aspects of different cultures, so as soon as I heard of this book I wanted to pick it up. I really enjoyed the writing style and the distinct perspectives the story is told from. I was immediately drawn into the story and loved the overall atmosphere of the book. I was even surprised by some darker moments, but loved the journey. The grief that was felt by Kela over the loss of her mother was genuine and a consistent theme throughout the book.

The world and culture portrayed felt vibrant and developed, giving a unique view at everyday life in the Caribbean as well as a deep dive into Caribbean folklore. All in all I felt this was a solid middle grade that will thrill readers with dynamic folklore elements as well as teach important lessons along the way.

Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Growing up, she was a voracious reader, and books took her to places where her imagination could thrive. She writes for her twelve-year-old self, the kid waiting to be the brown-skinned hero of an adventure, off saving the world. Lisa’s work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. She received the inaugural Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award in 2019 for an earlier draft of A Comb of Wishes. Lisa is a middle-school teacher and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.

A Comb of Wishes comes out on February 8th, so be sure to pick up a copy! Thanks again to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

Happy reading!

Q&A | Shawn Peters

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

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

What inspired this story?

I wish I could say,  “This one thing happened and suddenly I was inspired to write,” but it didn’t. The books really grew out of three different things coming together at the same time. The first was my own personal experiences as a pre-teen. I was a kid with a semi-photographic memory— I could remember fine details of things I’d read and even recall where I’d seen them on the page— and I loved comic books, obsessing over the heroes’ and villains’ powers. So about seven years ago, when all the Marvel and DC movies were coming out months apart, the 12-year-old nerd inside me was in superhero heaven. The second was that around the same time, I was noticing how people’s views of neurodiversity were shifting to a strength-based understanding. My wife was a 5th-grade teacher at the time, and she’d come home with stories of how kids with Asperger’s Syndrome — now known as part of Autism Spectrum Disorder— were thriving when in an environment where everyone wasn’t expected to learn the same way. Our best friends at the time had a son who’d been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and over years of our families spending time together, my conversations with him always sparked my imagination because of the way his mind worked. And the last piece was that at that time, I had one child who was just starting to age out of middle grade books while the other was just entering his tween years. So I was reading so many wonderful stories, both from my own childhood and the new generation, but I wasn’t seeing kids like my friend’s son as the heroes in these adventures. So that’s where the idea of a neurodivergent orphan with a one-in-a-billion memory getting adopted by superheroes all mashed-up and became this book. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

It’s funny, because the time it took to “write” the book and the time it took to get the book to “done” are sooo different. I outlined the book in less than a month and then I gave myself a year to write a first draft, committing to writing at least one page every day. As a full-time creative director in the marketing world, plus a father of two who was coaching town sports, on the board of my congregation, and a guy who still wanted to occasionally watch a Red Sox game, I felt like that was doable. One year later, I had my first draft, but then spent another six months revising, sharing with a few readers, and then finally tightening it up before I started the querying process. But still, it would take another four years of rejections, revisions, sharing it with my wife’s class full of kids and using their feedback to fuel more changes, plus a whole lot of general perseverance before I signed with my agent in the summer of 2019 and sold the book early in 2020, right before the world and the industry all changed in a big way.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The easy answer is I’d love to be able to fly, because I’m afraid of heights and I think that would go away if I had that power. But the deeper answer is that I’d love the ability to make an idea “real” all at once. Somewhere between what Green Lantern can do with his ring and what a lesser-known superhero named Firestorm could do by rearranging atoms. I’m an idea guy, and I come from an improv background. So the ability to go from concept to reality in a snap would certainly be something I’d sign up for. However, I don’t think it would necessarily help with my writing. You still have to create a book by writing words after word. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

I’m happy to report there’s a sequel to THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER that is due out from Harper Collins next year, though there’s no release date yet. The story picks up a month after book one ends, and we get to see the fallout of Logan’s first adventure as he and his found family are adjusting to their new lives together. Logan is in a new school, makes some new friends, and finds out some new information that might lead to unraveling the mystery of how he became an orphan, and who his real parents might be. Plus there’s a cute dog and a ton more awful dad jokes from his foster father. Beyond that, we will have to see if Logan’s story continues, but in the meantime, I’m working on another MG book about a kid who is having an ultra-rough start to a school year that could get a little better or a whole lot worse when he ends up in possession of a very special smartphone. That’s my current work-in-progress, but I’m learning quickly that it’s a writer’s job to always be writing the next thing.

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 neurodivergent and may see themselves in Logan?

Thank you! This means a lot to me, because while this book is a funny and action-packed adventure, I do believe it has an actual emotional core in it. I hope that neurodivergent readers and any other kid who feels that their strengths aren’t appreciated by those around them will relate to Logan. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to have more than 100 fifth-graders — my wife’s students at the time— read the book before I even had an agent. The enthusiasm they had for the book gave me a lot of faith in the story I was telling, but it was the reaction of her students who were on the spectrum that told me this was a book that I needed to get out into the world. They were the kids who kept raising their hands during our Q&A session, always asking the most insightful questions or proposing conspiracy theories about what might happen in future books. All that said, neurodiversity is… diverse. I know that Logan isn’t a fair representation of every kid who identifies as having ASD, let alone ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s and others; that would be impossible. But I do hope any and all readers get the message that everyone is the hero of their own story, and that every person has something in them that is a unique talent or strength, if they just lean into it and surround themselves with people who appreciate it.

What are your favorite writing tools?

I really don’t have any, other than an uninterrupted hour of relative quiet and focus. I outline, draft and rewrite in Microsoft Word, and when I revise, I often make a handwritten list of things I want to address and then put checkmarks— multiple sometimes— as I address them. Truly, I think feedback is my favorite writing tool. The opportunity to share it and hear what other people think is the gift a writer cannot give to themselves. It doesn’t mean I act on every single piece of feedback I get, but I view all of it as a potential source of making the work better. I’m pretty sure that isn’t something every writer feels.

How did you decide on the narrative style of the book?

When I first was outlining this book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write it in the first or third person, in the present or past tense. That came after the actual story itself. I had recently read PANORAMA CITY, a brilliant novel by one of my oldest friends, Antoine Wilson, and I was struck by how strong the voice of the protagonist came through when it not only came from their own mind, but it was directed to a specific recipient. The more I thought about Logan, the more I realized he would want to relate the facts of his adventure in a very particular way, and the idea that he was catching up a long-lost relative seemed like motivation for why he’d be retelling it. In my first drafts, Logan was sharing the story with the mother he never knew. But it felt cliche, and a little off, and that was confirmed when I shared it with the kids in my wife’s classroom. I asked them if they felt Logan was speaking directly to them in the book and they admitted it didn’t… after all, none of them were possibly his mother. The second they said it, I knew he had to be writing to another kid; someone who could actually be reading the book. That’s when the entire “World’s Best Big Brother”  t-shirt came in, and I wove the idea that Logan was looking for their anonymous younger sibling into the entire book. It was a subtle shift, but it made a huge difference and brought his voice forward in all kinds of new ways.

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

I sort of hinted at it above, but I hope readers get that Logan is someone who finds people who like him — love him even — exactly how he is, and that the things that make him different are also what make him special, even if not everyone recognizes them. I’m hoping that for kids who relate to Logan, that will be a meaningful message and they’ll feel represented on the page. But I also hope it might open the eyes of kids who aren’t at all like Logan and create some empathy in the middle of all the dad jokes and Superhero action.

Who would you recommend this book to?

I so badly want to reply, “Anyone with at least one vowel in their first or last name” but that seems greedy and not very helpful. I’d say that this is a book for kids who are reluctant readers, but who do love comic books and graphic novels, as I think THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER is a bridge for those readers, especially with the wonderful art by Petur Antonsson sprinkled throughout the book. But I’d also say this book is one that teachers and librarians can share with kids who might see themselves as “different”, whether that’s because of neurodivergence or the simple everyday realities of being a tween, as Logan’s story should resonate with them. I also think this is one of those books that parents of those kids might enjoy too, whether they’re reading to their children or just interested in books for that age— because there are a lot of references in it that might speak to them even more than the kids.

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

Just that even though this is a fictional book, and I don’t have any valid reason to believe that superheroes are real, I am sure that superpowers are a thing. I mean, just look through TikTok and you see people who can do things that seem impossible: single-armed pull-ups, sketching an entire portrait of a famous person upside down in one minute, solving Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them, playing keyboards hooked up to computers so that when they play a song, it draws a picture on the screen. I tend to think most of us have something at least close to a superpower if we embrace it and work at it and share it with others. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t keep your superpowers to yourself.

Check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Shawn for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading his answers as I did. Make sure you check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster!

Happy reading!

Review | A Mystery at Lili Willa by Arathi Menon

Cousins Arj, Tam, and Mira are spending their summer vacation in Elathoor, a little village in Kerala when their family home, Lili Villa, is broken into and some jewelry is stolen. The Terrific Three set out to solve the mystery but soon discover that there is no shortage of suspects. Is it Pinching Kodavis or Dumdumchecchi, the milking lady? Is it the mean fisherwoman who starves the cat or the retired nurse who owns a luxury car? Or is it Mani with his upside-down Russian secret? Who could the thief possibly be?

In a throwback to unscheduled summer vacations, this cozy mystery will charm young readers with plenty of sibling sparring, some intrepid sleuthing, and an endless parade of mouth-watering snacks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This middle grade mystery story was adorable! I really loved all the lush descriptions of the characters, locations, food and more. Each new character that gets introduced has a unique personality and story, which is endearing as the children investigate the mystery themselves.

The kids were the best part of the story (as they should be, but still) and had very believable actions, attitudes and lines of thought. Yes, they had arguments and disagreements, but they were realistic and suitable for their age.

The mystery itself was well thought out, and the secrets that different characters had led to wonderful scenes. Overall it was a really fun mystery filled with lots of vivid scenes and descriptions.

Happy reading!

Review | The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters

Packed with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns between good and evil, The Unforgettable Logan Foster from debut author Shawn Peter shows that sometimes being a hero is just about being yourself.

Logan Foster has pretty much given up on the idea of ever being adopted. It could have something to with his awkward manner, his photographic memory, or his affection for reciting curious facts, but whatever the cause, Logan and his “PP’s” (prospective parents) have never clicked.

Then everything changes when Gil and Margie arrive. Although they aren’t exactly perfect themselves–Gil has the punniest sense of humor and Margie’s cooking would have anyone running for the hills–they genuinely seem to care.

But it doesn’t take Logan long to notice some very odd things about them. They are out at all hours, they never seem to eat, and there’s a part of the house that is protected by some pretty elaborate security.

No matter what Logan could have imagined, nothing prepared him for the truth: His PP’s are actually superheroes, and they’re being hunted down by dastardly forces. Logan’s found himself caught in the middle in a massive battle and the very fate of the world may hang in the balance. Will Logan be able to find a way to save the day and his new family?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was a joy to read. As soon as it started I loved the writing style and Logan as a character. The way it is written means that the book moves along really quickly and there’s action pretty much from the get go. Logan is a unique character, being neurodivergent and always speaking his mind no matter what. His voice throughout the book is refreshing and immediately endears him to the reader.

The story itself is full of hijinks and action, full of humor and adventure. It definitely reads like a superhero movie or comic and constantly keeps you on your toes. I think it’s perfect for its target audience and think this will be a great series for young readers not only looking for adventure and laughs, but also looking to perhaps see themselves in someone like Logan.

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

The Unforgettable Logan Foster is out January 18th, If you want to know more about the author and read a Q&A with him, check the blog on release day!

Happy reading!

Review | The Ghoul Next Door by Cullen Bunn

Eleven-year-old Grey lives in the legend-haunted New England town of Ander’s Landing, and he can’t help but feel like a pair of eyes is watching his every move.

He discovers odd, gruesome bits and pieces from the graveyard that are left for him as gifts like art carved from bones or jewelry made from (hopefully not human) remains. Soon Grey is caught up in something bigger than he could ever have imagined.

He finds himself drawn into a strange mystery involving a race of reclusive subterranean creatures—ghouls, the eaters of the dead! Turns out, his secret admirer is a ghoul named Lavinia. An unlikely friendship forms between them. The only problem is, their friendship breaks traditions—and the punishment is a fate worse than death.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I went into this one based mostly on the title and cover, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen. We follow Grey as he experiences a number of mishaps and weird happenings after having an accident in the graveyard. From then on he gets introduced to the world of ghouls and their lore. The lore created in here about how ghouls came to be was really interesting and one of my favorite parts of the story. I would say if you have younger readers that might get disturbed by ghosts, ghouls and graveyards this one wouldn’t be for them, but it’s a fun story of unlikely friendships and adventure for those who enjoy the subject matter.

Happy reading!

Review | All My Friends are Ghosts by S.M. Vidaurri

Effie is lost and only feels like a ghost – till she discovers an actual ghost school in the nearby woods and begins an unforgettable journey of self-discovery.

Effie is lost, and feels like a ghost. She skips school because she doesn’t think anyone will notice, and doesn’t feel like she belongs, or that school offers her anything that she wants. Simply, she has stopped trying. One day, when she realizes no one will notice, she escapes from her every day life… and discovers a ghost school in the nearby woods. But just as she’s beginning to learn all about the amazing things that ghosts can do – like possession, poltergeist-ing, demon magic and more – Effie is asked by her new friends to help track down a mysterious spirit that’s been spotted. But if Effie’s going to succeed, she’ll not only have to show her friends that she’s got something special,but also learn to believe she’s got it too.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is a cute middle grade graphic novel about Effie, who is very awkward and a bit of an outcast among her peers. She feels out of place at school so one day she skips and discovers a world that exists within the nearby forest, making friends with an odd group of ghosts and deciding to try out their school. She’s sure she will fit in there, but learns some hard lessons along the way. This is great for younger audiences, especially if they are having a hard time figuring out where they fit in. Effie learns a lot about interacting with others and what friendship really is. It also teaches the lesson that sometimes you have to work to make friends and that it’s give and take and not always easy.

Happy reading!