Book Lover’s Day Feature | Middle Grade Series from Simon and Schuster

Hello readers,

While we are in the midst of the fall season, spring will be here before you know it and as we “spring forward” I wanted to share with you the return of a selection of some incredible series from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in celebration of National Book Lovers Day today! Readers are due to revisit the fantasy world of Wilderlore, travel internationally with the beloved City Spies, time travel with the kids of Broadway, and hunt down witches. Excited to hear more? Check out the books below and don’t forget to add to your spring TBR!

The Weeping TideWILDERLORE: THE WEEPING TIDE by Amanda Foody

Publication: 2/1/22

In this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea. This series is perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Forbidden CityCITY SPIES: THE FORBIDDEN CITY by James Ponti

Publication: 2/1/22

In this third installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies help a fellow agent in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Boulevard of DreamsFEARLESS: BOULEVARD OF DREAMS by Mandy Gonzalez

Publication: 4/5/22

Better Nate than Ever meets Love Sugar Magic in this spooky second novel in the Fearless middle grade series from Hamilton and Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez about a group of young thespians who time travel back to 1950s Broadway.

THIRTEEN WITCHES: THE SEA OF ALWAYS by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Publication: 4/5/22

Perfect for fans of Newbery winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon, the adventurous and utterly relatable second book in the haunting and magical Thirteen Witches series from New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson follows Rosie as she hunts the remaining witches.

Happy reading!

Review | Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy–the best magic school in the realm–even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t–beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This graphic novel was an absolute delight to read – in it we follow Sophie, who is finally getting the opportunity to further her magic and possibly go to a famous magic school. She battles that little voice inside her head that tells her she’s a failure, while also trying to find her place and learn where she really lies in her family. When she meets Lir and learns about the consequences of actions things get a bit more complicated. I really loved the story as it unfolded and Sophie learned more about herself and about interacting with others. The artwork is very Ghibli-esque with an extra dash of cute and perfectly fit the story overall. The color palette had a softer feel to it which I felt was great for the seaside setting and the whimsy of the world.

Wendy Xu is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist with several upcoming graphic novels from HarperCollins. She is the co-creator of Mooncakes, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Lion Forge Comics/Oni Press, which has been nominated for Hugo, Ignatz, and GoodReads Choice awards. Her work has been featured on Catapult, B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, and Tor.com, among other places. Visit her online at www.artofwendyxu.com.

Make sure to check out Tidesong when it comes out on November 16th! Happy reading!

Review | Hex Vet: Witches in Training by Sam Davies

Have you ever wondered where witches’ cats go when they pull a claw? Or what you do with a pygmy phoenix with a case of bird flu? Nan and Clarion have you covered. They’re the best veterinarian witches of all time—or at least they’re trying to be. When an injured rabbit with strange eyes stumbles into their lives, Nan and Clarion have to put down their enchanted potions and face the biggest test of their magical, medical careers. Hex Vet: Witches in Training is an original graphic novel suitable for kids of all ages! From popular web cartoonist Sam Davies (Stutterhug), this book explores a truly spellbinding story about sticking together and helping animals at all costs. Perfect for fans of The Tea Dragon Society and Steven Universe!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This was a super adorable graphic novel perfect for young readers! In it we follow two very different apprentice veterinarian witches as they have a day full of unexpected issues. It was a fun adventure and was a great introduction to the characters and their differing personalities/challenges. It was a fun, quick story and a great set up for further volumes. The colors were more of a restricted palette, but fit the theme perfectly and suited the setting and characters. The perfect word for it really is adorable and I look forward to seeing more of the series and characters.

Happy reading!

Review | Keeping it Real by Paula Chase

Marigold Johnson is looking forward to a future full of family, friends, and fashion–but what will she do when it all explodes in her face? When she discovers that her entire life is a lie?

Paula Chase, the author of So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point, explores betrayal, conformity, and forgiveness–and what it means to be family–in this stand-alone novel perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Ren�e Watson.

Marigold Johnson can’t wait to attend a special program at her family’s business, Flexx Unlimited, for teens who love fashion. But Mari quickly realizes that she’s out of place compared to the three other trainees–and one girl, Kara, seems to hate her on sight.

As tension builds and the stakes at the program get higher, Mari uncovers exactly why Kara’s been so spiteful. She also discovers some hard truths about herself and her family.

Paula Chase explores complex themes centering on friendships, family, and what it means to conform to fit in. Keeping It Real is also a powerful exploration of what happens when parents pick and choose what they shield their children from. Timely and memorable, Paula Chase’s character-driven story touches on creativity, art, fashion, and music. A great choice for the upper middle grade audience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I haven’t read anything by Paula Chase before, but I fell in love with this one. I really enjoyed that this is more of an upper middle grade age, which is something that you don’t see a lot. The writing style and overall narrative voice were well crafted and had a really good flow, I didn’t really have any spots where I felt like the pace slowed down.

The characters were also well crafted and I really enjoyed the portrayal of different aspects of familial and friend relationships, different youth experiences based on class regardless of friendships and the cultural aspects in the novel. While there were definitely parts of this story that I personally couldn’t identify with, it was still a beneficial story for me to read and experience. Overall this was a great story, with a few twists that were heart wrenching, but so wonderful to read. I will definitely be checking out more of Chase’s writing in the future.

Happy reading!

Review | The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

A fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.

If no one notices Marya Lupu, it is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost I really enjoyed the world that Anne Ursu created in this story and could see other stories set in it, the world building and setup were really wonderful (even if the society didn’t have the best standards or norms when it came to the place of females). I enjoyed the theme within this book where Marya isn’t will to accept what society expects of her and other females. It very much lends to breaking expected gender role and challenging societal norms. She’s not willing to just go along with things and is constantly questioning the expectations set upon her.

Ursu’s writing is beautiful and while the pace isn’t super fast, the language used and phrasing is a pleasure to read. There were a few sections that I felt were a tad slow, but the writing more than made up for that. The characters are fully fledged and have multiple layers to them, making them seem more real and easier to identify with.

This story is full of strong themes of feminism, knowledge is power and bucking societal norms, which was nice to experience in a fantasy setting. Though it is longer than most middle grades, it is a great story that I’m sure younger readers will devour.

Happy reading!

Review | The Mermaid Queen by Alane Adams

Abigail and Hugo have just helped restore the balance of power in Orkney by defeating the powerful alchemist Vertulious when Abigail discovers that Capricorn, the mermaid queen she trusted to help them, has unleashed the powerful Midgard Serpent named Jormungand―who, years ago, encircled the world of mankind and held it captive until Odin banished it to an underwater prison. Capricorn is determined to force Odin to make her goddess of the seas over Aegir, and she’s ready to use the massive serpent to bend him to her will―threatening all of Orkney. Abigail and Hugo must embark on an adventure across the seas to Odin’s island sanctuary to find a way to stop Capricorn and return Jormungand to his watery cell. But when Abigail finds that her powers are not enough, she has to tap into her dark magic again and again. As she is drawn further down this path, a dark presence makes itself known to her―one that may alter her path forever.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost, make sure you check out my reviews for the last three books in the series:

Also, happy book birthday to The Mermaid Queen!

This book picked up almost immediately after the ending of the 3rd book, so things in Abigail’s world were pretty bleak while no one else thought anything was wrong. It was great to see her friends band around her to lift her spirits and find out what is wrong. While Abigail was still the main character, it seemed like her friends were able to take on more central roles which was nice. I also liked that with each book we seem to get more figures from Norse mythology. I really enjoyed the story and feel like this series with its mythology driven story will be loved by younger readers. Abigail is easy to identify with, especially with how human she is with her emotions, self doubt and more – but other characters such as Hugo, Calla and yes, I guess even Endera have qualities that can be identified with and understood. Another fast paced and exciting installment to this series – I can’t wait to read more!

Thanks so much to SparkPress for sending me the books in this series so I could review them all. Happy reading!

Review | Witch Wars by Alane Adams

Abigail’s second year at the Tarkana Academy has been an all-out disaster. She’s just unwittingly helped Vertulious, an ancient he-witch and powerful alchemist, destroy Odin’s Stone and restore his powers, and now all of Orkney is caught up in the threat of war as the witches prepare to destroy the helpless Orkadians. Determined to set things right, Abigail and Hugo set off for Jotunheim, the land of the giants, to find a weapon to restore the balance. All they have to do is track down the God of Thunder and convince Thor to turn his hammer over to them.

When their former-friend-now-foe Robert Barconian arrives with a band of dwarves, intent on stopping them, Abigail and friends must unite to prevent a war that will destroy them all. But has Abigail made the biggest mistake of all by trusting in the wrong ally? 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So far this is my favorite book of the series. While Abigail, Hugo, Endera and others are still children, their emotional depth has grown as is really evident in this story. Abigail especially is struggling with the weight of what her decisions and actions have contributed to and suffers from a lot of personal guilt – while Hugo is steadfast in helping her and being her lifeline. Once again they go on an exciting adventure in order to set things right, which tests the bonds they have with each other and others. We see some familiar characters, but also some new ones along with way, as well as more figures from Norse Mythology which I thought was a nice touch. As with the other books in the series the book was fast paced and a fun read.

Happy reading!

Review | The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams

Abigail has just started her second year at the Tarkana Witch Academy and is already up to her ears studying for Horrid Hexes and Awful Alchemy! Worse, Endera’s malevolent spellbook has its hooks in her, whispering in her ear to use its dark magic. Meanwhile, the entire school is talking about the Rubicus Prophecy; a sign has arrived that the chosen witchling is among them, the one who will one day break Odin’s curse over them. When an Orkadian warship arrives carrying troubling news, Abigail and her friend Hugo are swept into a new mystery after a young boy from the ship, Robert Barconian, asks for their help retrieving a missing item.

Along with the former glitch-witch, Calla, the four friends end up deep in the catacombs beneath the Tarkana Fortress—a place where the draugar, the living dead, wander about. Abigail discovers there is more to the Rubicus Prophecy than anyone ever imagined. Can she stop it in time before she and her friends are destroyed?

Filled with magical spells, spine-tingling ghosts, and visits from the Norse gods, The Rubicus Prophecy pits Abigail against a sinister power greater than anything she has ever imagined.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Blue Witch, and I liked this one just as much if not more. I was a little worried that it could suffer from being a bridge book, but it definitely different. In this book we definitely see a lot of growth (both good and bad) in the characters. I felt like Endera definitely solidified in her character in this book, but after the events of this book we will see what happens with her in the future. Abigail is definitely struggling between good and evil, feeling the draw of the darkness, but knowing that it’s not what she wants. In this book we saw her friends (old and new) more cemented around her and supporting her, which was really nice to see even as they dealt with their own issues. As in the first one, Adams’ writing style flows really well and made this a quick and exciting adventure.

Happy reading!

Review | The Blue Witch by Alane Adams

Before Sam Baron broke Odin’s curse on the witches to become the first son born to a witch and the hero of the Legends of Orkney series, his mother was a young witchling growing up in the Tarkana Witch Academy. In this first book of the prequel series, the Witches of Orkney, nine-year-old Abigail Tarkana is determined to grow up to be the greatest witch of all, even greater than her evil ancestor Catriona. Unfortunately, she is about to fail Spectacular Spells class because her witch magic hasn’t come in yet. Even worse, her nemesis, Endera, is making life miserable by trying to get her kicked out.
When her new friend Hugo’s life is put in danger by a stampeding sneevil, a desperate Abigail manages to call up her magic―only to find out it’s unlike any other witchling’s at the Tarkana Witch Academy! As mysteries deepen around her magic and just who her true parents are, Abigail becomes trapped in a race against time to undo one of her spells before she is kicked out of the coven forever!

Rich in Norse mythology, The Blue Witch is the first of a fast-paced young reader series filled with magical spells, mysterious beasts, and witch-hungry spiders!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I went into this one knowing very little about it other than I’ve liked previous books by the author. This was an absolutely adorable story and a great beginning to a series. I enjoyed getting to know Abigail, Hugo and the others as Abigail starts her learning. I also really liked the little tidbits of figures from Norse Mythology and little tidbits of mythology here and there. It is definitely Abigail’s story, but also shows signs of tying into an even bigger mythos. Adams gave each character distinct voices and personalities, showing how some of them weave together really well. Abigail doesn’t always make the right decisions and sometimes stumbles – but has friends who are willing to help, even when those friends are from unlikely places.

Happy reading!

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!