Review | The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz

A Young Teen Falls in with the Mob, and Learns a Lesson About What Kind of Person He Wants to Be

In The Prince of Steel Pier, Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents’ struggling hotel in Atlantic City, a tourist destination on the decline. Nobody in Joey’s big Jewish family takes him seriously, so when Joey’s Skee-Ball skills land him an unusual job offer from a local mobster, he’s thrilled to be treated like “one of the guys,” and develops a major crush on an older girl in the process. Eventually disillusioned by the mob’s bravado, and ashamed of his own dishonesty, he recalls words of wisdom from his grandfather that finally resonate. Joey realizes where he really belongs: with his family, who drive him crazy, but where no one fights a battle alone. All it takes to get by is one’s wits…and a little help from one’s brothers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I found the concept of this book interesting, featuring a young teen in a transition period of his life, in a transition time period in Atlantic City. As a character Joey is very compelling and I could see how kids in the same age range would really identify with him. Joey is the third of four sons and really struggling to find his place in his family and in life itself, he feels like no one gets him and like he’s sometime invisible or an afterthought – which is a feeling I think a lot of young readers may struggle with at some point. Throughout the story is the theme of Joey not only figuring out things about himself, but also determining what is right and wrong when he’s exposed to some individuals associated with the mob.

He goes through a lot of growth in a small amount of time while also solidifying his place in a lot of ways. He learns a lot about life in general as well as his family and how society treats people they see as different than them. This book does touch on discrimination and while I don’t know a lot personally about the Jewish faith, I appreciated the snippets of information throughout the book and really appreciated Joey’s questions and contemplation on his own faith.

While some of the little twists were a tad predictable for me, I think they were perfect for the targeted age range for this story. I really enjoyed reading Joey’s story and seeing how he grew along the way.

Happy reading!

Review | A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.  

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Just from the description I knew this was going to be a cute read, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised at how deep it went into subjects such as family relationships. Leo is the youngest of five and is struggling with the fact that all of her older sisters seem to be included in family activities that she’s excluded from. She immediately picks up that there are secrets not being shared with her and thanks to the little voice of insecurity and anxiety inside of her, she’s worried that the reason she’s being excluded is that there’s something wrong with her or that she’s not good enough. The book is full of life lessons for someone her age, about following the rules, friendships and more. It was an adorable read and I definitely look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Happy reading!

Review | So You Want to be a Viking? by Georgia Amson-Bradshaw

Kate, Eddie, and Angus are dazzled by pictures of Viking warriors’ deadly axes and blingy swords in their library books. But when they’re transported back in time to Scandinavia in 991 CE, they must figure out if they have what it takes to become Vikings themselves.

A big, burly Viking called Bjorn initiates the kids in the ways of wielding a battle ax, plundering and looting, and soon they learn all sorts of other tricks as well, including how to get shipshape and navigate the seven seas with just a stone, how to recite rude poems, and how to scare enemies into submission before a battle even begins. Hervor, the haunted shield-maiden, is also on hand to share her tips on how to take off with a handsome ransom and how to make it into Valhalla in the afterlife.

So You Want to Be a Viking? features the field’s latest scholarship and is illustrated throughout with zany illustrations by Japanese cartoonist Takayo Akiyama. Any kid who’s ever daydreamed about being a fierce Norse warrior will love this interactive guide.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I got this book in an Owlcrate box and have wanted to at least give it a read through since it looked like a fun book for a middle grade audience. The art style is quirky and fun as you go through the book, learning little tidbits about Viking life and beliefs. It’s got a lot of good information that is written in a way that is easily digestible and was a fun read overall. I would definitely recommend it for its intended age group and then they would find the illustrations engaging and the text intriguing.

Happy reading!

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!

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!