Review: The Witch Boy

In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.

When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help — as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.

I’ve heard great things about this graphic novel and am so glad I finally picked it up. It’s so wonderfully diverse in so many ways, without being in your face about it. When looking at diverse reads I really look for it to just be natural instead of purposely pointing out every little bit of diversity and this one perfectly showed how that can be done. I fell in love with so many of the characters and really enjoyed the progression of the story and how things were resolved. Also, while this could have easily been a stand alone I’m eager to check out the next volume.

I really enjoyed the artwork style and the vibrant colors were perfect for the age group this is aimed at, but I think it’s a great read for all ages. I really want to check out all of Ostertag’s work now and look forward to what comes out in the future.

Happy reading!

Review: The Crowns of Croswald

In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret…

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic—and her life—is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.

This book was such a fun adventure! I hesitate to compare any books to Harry Potter, because I know that such a suggestion can bring certain preconceived notions to mind, but if you’re looking for something about a magical world including a school setting then this will definitely fit the bill.

I love that a good chunk of this book is world building and that special attention was paid to fleshing out different aspects of the magic system. I’m super excited about the future books and getting to learn even more about the history of this world and its magic and creatures.

Ivy as a character is very impulsive, but driven by an inner purpose. Her moments of vulnerability are understandable and fitting for her situation. While she didn’t always full think through her decisions, she knew that there was a reason for the things she had to do and let herself be led by her instincts, which was both bad and good. While only a couple other characters were truly fleshed out, most of those who had a voice were distinct and individual.

All in all this was a great adventure full of twists and turns and I can’t wait to read more from this series!

Thank you again to Stories Untold and D.E. Night for sending me a copy of this book. D.E. Night’s books can be found on Amazon, or purchased through her website at DENight.com.

Happy Reading!

Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

Anyone who knows me knows that anything based on mythology will pique my interest, so when Rick Riordan started the Rick Riordan Presents line I was super excited. I finally got around to picking this one up and was not disappointed.

Chokshi’s writing is beautiful and the personalities she creates for her characters are very individual. Aru grows a lot in this book, but she still has flaws and still has things she needs to work on. This is something I really appreciate as it keeps her more human and easier to identify with.

I can’t wait to get to the second book and see how the characters grow even more. I have a feeling even more backstory will be revealed and we will learn more as the series goes on.

Happy reading!

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

I was so pleasantly surprised by this story and it’s mixed cast of characters. We are following multiple perspectives in this story and the way Barnhill weaves each of those perspectives together is beautifully done. Each character has a purpose and a different journey that they must take which is leading them to the climax of the plot. All of the characters are wonderfully sketched out and easily recognized, at least when talking about the main characters.

The world building and backstory was revealed in bits and pieces, which at times could be frustrating, but in the end all came together. There were definitely points where I wanted a little more, but it’s a wonderful coming of age story that addresses many aspects of mob mentality, fear and other difficult topics. The fantastical setting helps to soften these subjects and make them more digestible to a younger audience.

Happy reading!

Review: The Missing Barbegazi

Synopsis: Tessa has heard her grandfather’s stories about the fabled barbegazi since she was little. Now, after his death, she’s determined to see the gnome-like creatures for herself and prove her grandfather wasn’t just a confused old man.

When Tessa discovers Gawion, a young male barbegazi, she’s overjoyed. She can finally show everyone that her grandfather was telling the truth. But Gawion needs her help. His sister is missing and may have been captured by humans. As the two form a friendship, Tessa realizes that uncovering the truth about the barbegazi carries great responsibilities—and sometimes things have to remain a secret.

This was such a cute story! In it we follow Tessa who is dealing with the recent loss of her grandfather and is desperately trying to find evidence of the barbegazi, who he swore saved him years ago from an avalanche. We also follow a family of barbegazis who are dealing with the disappearance of one of their family members.

The book is peppered with lore about the barbegazis and their habits/mythology which I thought was a really nice touch. Throughout the book there are some times and Tessa makes impulsive decisions that aren’t the smartest, or has thoughts that are a tad selfish but it’s good to see her reason through those thoughts or think retroactively about her decisions and their consequences. For the age that she is her behavior and thoughts are appropriate.

The family dynamics and friendships in this book were really charming and authentic. It touched on a lot of harder subjects such as grief (and the effects thereof), slight bullying and others. It’s a fun winter adventure with a lot of twists and turns and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

If it sounds like something you would like to pick up be sure to check it out. It’s coming out from Jolly Fish Press on November 12th.

Happy reading!

Review: The Circle

When I was offered this book I was immediately interested, anything with fairies immediately draws my interest, especially when they weave in some of the different aspects of fairies. The Circle introduces us to Calum who is living with guilt over the disappearance of his cousin and who is trying to figure out his place in not only the world of the Sidhe but also in the human world. The story really gets going when he meets Lauren, a human girl.

A lot of the first half is world building and setting the story and characters, but in a first book in a series that is understandable. The second half of the book moves pretty quickly as we discover that the different events in their lives are likely tied together.

I’m eager to see where the rest of the series takes these characters and could definitely see how seemingly minor characters could play a larger part in future books.

The Circle is out now from Vulpine Press. Thanks again to them for offering me a copy of this book. Happy reading!

Review: Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl

After reading Cogheart and loving it I was super excited to get a chance to read Moonlocket. Moonlocket picks up about six months after the end of Cogheart. Though this is a new adventure for Lily and Robert, it still deal with a lot of the fallout (mostly emotional) from the first book. Lily is dealing with not only feeling like she’s different than everyone else, but also feels a little smothered by the people around her. Robert on the other hand is trying to figure out what his place in the world is while also dealing with grief.

Bunzl’s writing is descriptive while also being easy to relate to. I love the world he’s created and the soul that he gives to the mechanicals. This story really delves into the past and reveals more about not only the central characters, but the world that they live in. 

This is a great coming of age story (or on the way to coming of age) that discusses things such as family and found family and how different or alike each can be. Subjects such as grief and those family ties can be hard subjects to adequately express and explain, but Bunzl does it perfectly. Each character has depth and personal stories that make them real to the reader and relatable. The adventure has a ton of twists and turns that make the story just fly by. I can’t wait to see what else Lily and Robert get themselves into in Skycircus.

If you’re interested in this series, be sure to pick up the first book Cogheart as well. Moonlocket is available now from Jolly Fish Press.

Happy reading!

Author Q&A with Tara Gilboy

UNWRITTEN ThumbnailIn 2018 I was given the opportunity to read an e-arc of Unwritten by Tara Gilboy.  Unwritten is a story about Gracie, who knows that she is a character from a story but doesn’t know much more than that.  Frustrated with a lack of information she takes it upon herself to find out more, which sets a number of adventures in motion.  Throughout the story Gracie has to face many facts and situations that teach her who she is.  She gets to learn more about her story and how it lines up (or doesn’t line up) with who she believes she truly is.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Tara and ask her some questions about her writing process, Unwritten and its upcoming sequel.  It was lovely to get the opportunity to communicate with her and I’m definitely looking forward to checking out more of her stories in the future.  Check out her answers below and make sure to give Unwritten a read before the sequel comes out!

Q| What do you enjoy about writing children’s books?
A| Everything! Middle grade novels are my favorite books to read, and I think that’s why I am so drawn to writing them. Most of all, I love the playfulness and freedom of writing for children. As children’s book authors, we can write about wizard schools and chocolate factories and talking animals and fairy tales come to life…. As long as we are telling a good story, we are only limited by the bounds of our imaginations. No concept is too far-fetched or magical. I also love how full of hope and wonder children’s books are. As adults, we get a bit more jaded, I think. And I love how children’s books focus, first and foremost, on storytelling. Child readers don’t put up with long passages of purple prose; everything unnecessary must be pared away. Kids want exciting, well-thought-out plots and strong characters they love (or love to hate).

Q| What inspired the concept of Unwritten?
A| Because of the premise of the book, people often assume I must have started with the “story-within-a-story” idea, but that actually wasn’t the case. At the time I started writing Unwritten, I kept having this recurring nightmare where some sort of supernatural entity was coming after me, and I had to pack up whatever I could fit into my car and run away. That dream was initially my starting point in the story; in the early drafts, the story opened with a stranger arriving in the middle of the night and telling Gracie and her mother that they have to flee. (I think my original opening line was “The pounding shook the house” as this stranger knocks on the door.) Later, as I continued working on the novel, I realized that in order for readers to feel invested in that moment, they needed to know more about Gracie first, so the scene got pushed back into what I think is now chapter four or five, and it eventually evolved into something completely different. But the origin of this story was me exploring who Gracie was running from and why. That same summer, I was spending a lot of time at my dad’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and I would jog every day in the woods up there. I noticed the woods reminded me of a fairy tale setting, and I started thinking: “what if Gracie was trapped in a fairy tale?” In the early drafts of the book, Gracie actually did travel into the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Q| What are some of your writing rituals? Do you have certain things you do before sitting down to write or brainstorm?
A| I always need some sort of caffeine: coffee in the morning, or tea in the afternoon. If I am stuck, the best thing I can do before I sit down to write is to read a novel I love for half an hour. It always puts me in the mood to write and gets the creative juices flowing. If I am writing, I am usually on my laptop, and when I’m brainstorming, I do it with pen and paper, on cheap yellow legal pads. I have a nice desk, but I never sit at it. I’m usually writing on my couch, often with my dog, Biscuit, in my lap.

Q| I’ve heard that Unwritten will have a sequel, how long of a series do you hope it will be?
A| At this point, I’m not sure! I just finished a draft of the sequel, which will be titled REWRITTEN, and I know I definitely have ideas for a third book. Based on what happens in REWRITTEN, there are definitely more stories I want to tell about Gracie. Right now, I hope there will be at least three.

Q| Will we be seeing the same characters in the sequel, or will we be introduced to new characters?
A| The main characters are all there, but we meet some new characters as well. Gracie and Walter are the main characters of the sequel, but two new characters also have a large role. I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything!

Q| Do you prefer to outline first, or dive right into your first draft?
A|  I used to not outline at all. I am a terrible outliner. When I outline, my writing suffers for it because I find I am always trying to force characters to do things that don’t seem natural for them simply because those actions work for my plot. So I used to write my first drafts without an outline. However, that takes a really long time, because when you write without an outline, you end up throwing A LOT of pages away and having to rewrite a lot. Now I kind of do a combination of writing and outlining. I start writing, then I might stop and outline the next couple scenes, write some more, make changes to my outline, write some more, and so on. I may have a general idea of where I am heading, but I usually don’t know my climax and ending until I get there. The climax of REWRITTEN came as a complete surprise to me up until the day I actually wrote it. There is a quote, I think by E.L. Doctorow, who says “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s how I feel about outlining. It only works for me if I outline a teeny bit at a time. When I proposed REWRITTEN to my editor, I had to create a detailed outline of what the book would be about, and of course, most of it changed by the time I had finished the book. I was a little nervous to break that news to my editor, but thankfully she liked the changes I made!

Q| What are some of your favorite writing tools that you can’t live without?
A| Coffee, legal pads, and purple pens. I don’t know why, but I love writing in pretty colors!

Q| Do you have any other series or stories you are working on?
A| Right now I am focusing on REWRITTEN revisions, but I also have some other story ideas I’ve been playing with. I was working for a while on two stories: one was a YA about these kids who went to a school run by a group of philosopher-scientists, and the other was a historical middle grade about a mermaid. They’ve been sitting in the drawer for a while, but I hope to one day bring them out again. I’d also love to try writing some nonfiction.

Q| Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A| Read a lot, write a lot, and find a workshop group full of people you trust. It will be your most valuable asset as a writer. They should love your work but also push you to make it better. I have a very difficult time developing a revision plan on my own, and my critique partners are always helping me, by closely reading my work, suggesting what needs to change, and also helping me find the “gems” in my stories – the best parts that I can flesh out more and bring to the forefront. The people in my workshop group have become some of my dearest friends, and we are always cheering one another on, commiserating one another on failures, and chatting for hours about storytelling. They are the best! I don’t think I could have written this book without their support. It can be tough to find the right workshop group, though. My number one rule is this: you should always leave a workshop session feeling energized and excited to get to work on your revisions. If you feel dispirited and discouraged, something may be off about the dynamic of the group. They shouldn’t be giving only praise, but they should definitely be telling you what you are doing WELL along with what needs to change. And that’s not just because of ego or hurt feelings. There is no way a writer can successfully revise without being aware of what parts work well and resonate with readers. Those are the parts we want to expand on and strengthen.

TARA GILBOY HEADSHOTTara Gilboy holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia, where she specialized in writing for children and young adults. She teaches for San Diego Community College District and is the author of Unwritten and its sequel REWRITTEN, which is forthcoming in spring 2020. You can find out more about her at taragilboy.com.

Once again, a huge thank you to Tara for taking the time to answer my questions. Please make sure to check out her book and future projects! Happy reading!

Review: Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

cogheart cover

There are a number of words or topics that I would consider buzzwords for me, one of them being steampunk. Any books that include steampunk elements can peak my interest, so I was very excited to receive a copy of Cogheart by Peter Bunzl from NetGalley. Though I had never heard of this book, the synopsis was enough to draw me in. This middle grade steampunk adventure was full of twists and turns and interesting characters.

Cogheart follows Lily Hartman, the daughter of a famous inventor who has gone missing in an airship crash. Very quickly the reader is made aware of nefarious characters having ulterior motives towards Lily and her father. Lily is a feisty girl who pines for adventure and to be the heroine of her story. Throughout the book she is accompanied by her new friend Robert and her mechanical fox, Malkin, whose quick wit and sharp tongue made me laugh more than once.

The story itself was a tad predictable regarding the final outcome, but the journey to get there was worth it and full of character building and depth. Bunzl’s descriptions of settings, vehicles, different people and mechanicals were rich and full of the whimsy that I love to associate with steampunk in general. With such vivid details it was easy to see the story play out in one’s mind and made the read even more enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a fun middle grade adventure that is sure to suck the reader into a unique and whimsical world I would definitely recommend picking this up. I greatly look forward to getting the opportunity to read the following stories as well.

Cogheart is being released by Jolly Fish Press on February 12, 2019, be sure to check it out!

Happy reading!