Aru Shah and the End of Time

EAFF298A-3849-4A3E-B4E3-BF84134D7CEEThis is the first in the “Rick Riordan Presents” series, where Riordan turns the wheel over to Roshani Chokshi for an entertaining romp through Hindu mythology. The basic premise is similar to the Percy Jackson series, only this time it’s the Five Pandavas (demigods) who are reincarnated and must save the world. The interesting twist here, and a somewhat controversial choice for a book based on Hindu mythology, is that this generation of the Five Pandavas consists of girls. And these girls are Heroes for sure! We follow the adventures of Aru and Mini as they are claimed by their parent gods, go on a quest, enter the Underworld, and attempt to save the world from The Sleeper, who is destined to bring about the end of the world.

It’s all good storytelling, with a compelling plot, entertaining characters, and a fascinating villain. The relationship between Aru and Mini drives the story forward as it develops. The writing is more juvenile than Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicle series, but no problem there – it’s just aimed at a younger audience. What I did find annoying and disappointing, though, were the many references to current pop culture (BuzzFeed, Donald Trump) which will ultimately date the book. The Hindu mythology is fascinating, and I have been prompted to learn more about it. Overall, this is a good start to a new series. Recommended.

Publication Date: March 27, 2017
Published by: Disney Book Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

January Micro-Reviews

956CB410-2B16-4E46-A846-46296A0499F1The Black Painting by Neil Olson – Can paintings be possessed? The family at the center of this story thinks so. They’ve been haunted by a Goya painting for years, and blame it for the horrible things that have happened in their lives. Goya’s work *is* startling in its rawness (Saturn Devouring His Son is pictured here) but it’s the evil perpetrated by the living that startles me the most. Good book….

Published by Harlequin/Hanover Square, January 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers. Literary Fiction.

93103035-7177-40E3-B1F7-E4CFC9654173Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell – Juliet Blackwell’s Lily Ivory is back in another delightfully witchy adventure, along with all the colorful characters we have come to expect from this series. Blackwell’s breezy, engaging writing and twisted, intriguing plotting create the atmosphere fans have fallen in love with in previous entries. Here, we learn more about Lily’s past, get to meet her amazing grandmother, and wring our hands over her “will they/won’t they” relationship with Sailor. If you haven’t read the Lily Ivory books, get them all out of the library and binge-read them on a cold, snowy day. It will be the best day of the year, I bet! Highly recommended.

Published by Berkley, May 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers.

90FCB44E-B2B9-47F5-ADF1-5706EF2330E3Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle – Tuttle offers a new adventure featuring Jesperson & Lane, the crackerjack investigation team that includes a well-heeled young man and an outspoken young woman. They are dropped headfirst into their new case when a man pounds on their door in the middle of the night, proclaims he is pursued by witches, and drops dead in their front hall. Their investigation takes them from London to the country, where they encounter an unusual collection of “cunning” men and women, pious preachers, curious scholars, and even “little people.”

While the plot is interesting, with a variety of twists & turns, it’s bloated. A bit more than halfway through, I found myself losing interest. Jesperson’s annoying habit of assuming Lane knows what he’s thinking, causing her to drag every bit of information out of him got old really fast. They never seemed to click for me as a pair of investigators, or as a couple, or whatever they are supposed to be to each other. I did enjoy Miss Lane’s character, however. She reminded me of a young Amelia Peabody. While this is far from the worst thing I’ve read lately, it’s also not nearly the best. The text needs editing, and I found the whole subplot around the stolen baby to be completely unnecessary. I will probably pick up another in this series when looking for a quick, easy read, just to see if Jesperson & Lane find success in their investigative business.

Published by Random House-Hydra, October 2017. Mysteries & Thrillers; Sci-Fi & Fantasy

6A72661D-37B9-4BB6-B5E5-643A21EBBD59Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano – This is a pleasant enough story. The lead character, Aurelie, is likable and plucky, the “leading man” is mysterious but kind-hearted, and the relatives are appropriately boorish. The basic story is familiar – disadvantaged girl gets shipped off to unknown wealthy relatives after father’s death, meets handsome but mysterious man, uncovers devastating family secret – all in a grand manor house in the English countryside. What makes this stand out is the action around Aurelie becoming a writer, which is wonderful. What made this less enjoyable for me was the heavy-handed religious overtones, making this highly reminiscent of 19th century gothic romance pedantic style. All in all, a pleasant enough story but not one that I will remember.

Published by Revell, October 2017. Historical fiction.

F097E807-9118-49E4-9788-ECF16AF22F57Ludlow Lost by Kate Robinson Dunne – What a refreshing change! A book about fairies that isn’t dripping with with wide-eyed sweetness! Ludlow and Harry make a dynamic duo for the ages. Their unexpected (and unwanted) friendship becomes the anchor in this witty tale of kidnapping, betrayal, and revenge. I was reminded a bit of the Artemis Fowl books, but just a bit. This is new, fresh, and just plain fun.

Published by Two Pigeons Press, March 2018. Middle grade fantasy.

3B06A232-5038-4D11-8FF4-E44BB31AE3FABook of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle – I’m sorry to say, I did not get past the second chapter of this confusing, muddled story. The description intrigued me, but the two opening chapters were so unconnected and rambling that I could not connect. This is a translation of a French book that has received high praise, and Goodreads reviews are mixed.

Published by Candlewick Press, February 2018. YA fantasy.

Thanks to NetGalley for review copies of all these titles.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

667421B5-924F-4182-94A9-07CB4F318AE1Sunny, an American girl, finds herself transported to Nigeria when her family decides to move back to their home there. Being American is the least of Sunny’s challenges. Sunny is albino, which means she can’t go out in the sun without an umbrella to protect her skin. Sunny also experiences odd visions which thoroughly frighten her. She becomes friends with a boy in her class who then introduces her to another girl, who puzzles Sunny with her secretive behavior. Eventually, Sunny is revealed as a powerful witch, and she goes on to explore her heritage and powers.

This book was described by multiple sources as a “new Harry Potter” which is what made me request an advanced copy from Netgalley. The premise is similar – a young outcast discovers she has magical powers and must use those powers to defeat a powerful enemy. That’s about the only similarity to HP, and I think it is a mistake to compare these two richly imagined stories because they really are nothing alike.

Akata Witch introduces a whole new world of magic, raw and powerful, and a new cast of characters who (Hallellujah!) are young Africans, two of whom are girls! The language and culture of the story and the characters provided a palate cleansing freshness, and an intriguing, clever plot. There is nothing here not to love and I predict kids will devour this book. Highly recommended.


Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

EE9F519E-E2AB-403F-A09B-3E3937C398BDMilo is back in a new adventure in Greenglass House, the coolest place in all of Nagspeake. Some of the characters from Greenglass House return (Georgie, Clem & Addie) in a similar setting. Milo is desperate for a quiet Christmas break with his family, but their lone guest just won’t leave. Milo just knows his vacation is going to be ruined as, once again, more people show up. The plot is similar to Greenglass House in that unexpected guests show up, get stranded, and are all looking for something special. What makes Ghosts different is the fascinating introduction of the concept of the Raw Nights performers, a troupe of “actors” who travel around performing and telling stories during the “raw nights” before Christmas when magic is wild. As a lover of folklore, this aspect of the story totally sucked me in. The usual hijinks ensue as Milo, Addie, Georgie, Clem, and the others search for hidden treasures in an effort to find a famous device created by a notorious smuggler that maps the Nagspeake shoreline.

Milford continues to build the fictional world of Nagspeake and it’s colorful inhabitants and ancestors, even going as far as creating a whole gorgeous website on Nagspeake tourism. The story is very similar to the first book in the series, but Milford continues to develop Milo in a really intriguing way. Milo has some issues with anger (e.g. feeling the scream building inside him) and Milford uses that aspect of his personality to let readers know it’s okay to be angry and that there are lots of ways to express that anger. In that way, this story can easily be labelled “bibliotherapy” (if you’re the kind of reader who likes to label things!). This will definitely appeal to middle grade readers. Highly entertaining and recommended.

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

IMG_0301Elizabeth and Zenobia are inseparable. Light and dark. Timid and brave. Yin and yang. So when Elizabeth’s father decides to move the family to Witheringe House after Elizabeth’s mother runs off with an opera singer, of course Zenobia comes along. The key, though, is that no one but Elizabeth can see Zenobia. Her father *knows* about Zenobia but dismisses her as an “imaginary friend,” even as he plays along with his daughter’s insistence that Zenobia is real.

When they arrive at Witheringe House, Elizabeth finds a dreary, dusty, isolated old house. Zenobia is thrilled at the decrepitude of the house because it fits perfectly with her current fascination, which is making contact with a “Spirit Presence.” Eventually, they uncover a mystery involving Elizabeth’s Aunt Tourmaline, her father’s sister who mysteriously disappeared at age seven. As the girls work through a number of clues, they discover what happened to Tourmaline, and ultimately rescue her from a dark and dangerous place.

Miller cleverly creates a world where Elizabeth and Zenobia certainly seem like two independent girls, while at the same time creating this undercurrent of emotion that suggests they are one in the same girl. Light and dark, timid and brave, yin and yang. Elizabeth is a timid child. She feels unloved and ignored by her botanist father, who would rather spend his time searching for plants in the fields than with his daughter. Zenobia fills a void in Elizabeth’s life. She is everything Elizabeth is not, until Elizabeth finds her courage, a moment captured in this lovely quote:

There is one good thing about hearing your deepest fear spoken out loud – nothing else that made you afraid before will ever seem so large or so terrible again.

Zenobia represents all the anger and hurt Elizabeth has experienced – her mother’s abandonment, her father’s disinterest in her, and her own fear…of everything from the black keys on a piano to certain types of food. Miller does a good job of conveying Elizabeth’s insecurities, and gradually builds her up until she takes charge of a very thrilling and scary situation. Middle grade readers will enjoy this. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Abrams Kids; Amulet Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy



I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.

Shadow Weaver by Marcykate Connolly

IMG_0159Marcykate Connolly has begun a wonderful new series with Shadow Weaver, which tells the story of Emmeline, a child blessed with talent bestowed by a comet that passed overhead when she was born. Emmeline’s talent is, as the title suggests, the ability to control shadows. However, Emmeline’s parent consider her talent more of a curse than a blessing, and have kept her hidden away on their estate for years. Emmeline is an outcast in her own home, reviled and avoided by family and servants alike, with no friends other than her shadow, Dar. When Emmeline’s parents invite strangers into their home who claim they can cure her of her talent, Emmeline and Dar run. Emmeline is running from the very real danger posed by the strangers, emissaries of the much-feared Lady Aisling, while Dar is running for a very different reason. As Emmeline encounters others with talents and begins to understand that she is not alone, Dar becomes increasingly cantankerous and sly, urging Emmeline to help her escape the shadowland and become flesh once more.

Connolly has begun building a compelling but familiar world, where people with special talents are hunted by those who wish to use them to achieve power. It’s a familiar construct, but Connolly has done an excellent job of introducing readers to a new world populated by likable characters. There is potential here for this to grow into a well-loved series, with many possible storylines for Connolly to explore. Here, we meet a shadow weaver, a light bender, a wind whistler, and a shape shifter; and we hear about a fire breather and a magic eater. I look forward to seeing what other talents Connolly creates!

The story moves at a fast pace, with enough nail-biting action to keep even a reluctant reader engaged. Character development is good, with Emmeline receiving the most attention. We watch her grow from a sheltered, easily led child into a caring young woman who is becoming self-aware, loyal, and brave. I hope that Dar’s story is developed more in the next entry; I would love to read about how she and her sister fell out and Dar became a shadow. Overall, this is a winner and one I would recommend to readers in grade 6 and up. Well done!

Best of 2013 for Children

The third and last of my Best Of 2013 posts includes a variety of selections for children.

Hold Fast by Blue Bailliet – Tonia Burton (Central Library) – From NYT bestselling author Blue Balliett, the story of a girl who falls into Chicago’s shelter system, and from there must solve the mystery of her father’s strange disappearance.

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country.

Journey by Aaron Becker – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) & Tonia Burton (Central Library) – Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Everything you need to know about finding, keeping, and training your very own pet train.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance.

Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay and Sheila KeenanAdrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Everyone knows what a toilet is for, right? But what exactly happens after you flush? Where does our waste go, and how is it made safe? With his unique blend of informative text and illustration, David Macaulay takes readers on a tour of the bathroom and the sewer system, from the familiar family toilet to the mysterious municipal water treatment plant.

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty & Stephen Kellogg – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – “If you decide to go to the moon,” writes Faith McNulty, “read this book first. It will tell you how to get there and what to do after you land. The most important part tells you how to get home.

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – On a trip to the farmers’ market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes…. What’s a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble?

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi MoralesAdrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño—popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor!

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – When Alex gets a silly, sappy picture book called Birthday Bunny, he picks up a pencil and turns it into something he’d like to read: Battle Bunny. An adorable rabbit’s journey through the forest becomes a secret mission to unleash an evil plan–a plan that only Alex can stop.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – New York Times Best Seller Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, Newbery Medalist for Moon Over Manifest, is an odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – In a near wordless masterpiece that could only have been devised by David Wiesner, a cat named Mr. Wuffles doesn’t care about toy mice or toy goldfish. He’s much more interested in playing with a little spaceship full of actual aliens—but the ship wasn’t designed for this kind of rough treatment. Between motion sickness and damaged equipment, the aliens are in deep trouble.

Disclaimer: All the links go to Amazon, and the annotations have been borrowed from there as well.

Arrow of the Mist

Arrow of the Mist by Christina Mercer

Heading to Northern New York always means a few days of pretty much doing nothing but reading, and the last four days did not disappoint. I loaded my tablet up with several advanced reading copies from Netgalley and hit the road on July 3. The first ARC on my list was this lovely little book from Christina Mercer. I don’t read a lot of fantasy anymore, so I am always pleasantly surprised when I find a new book that pays some homage to classic fantasy, but has enough originality to hold my interest.

Arrow of the Mist introduces us to Lia, daughter of Carin and Dylan, a young herbalist determined to keep the old crafts of potion mixing and magic alive. She is well-taught by her Granda, who in turn learned from Lia’s magical Grandma Myrna. Lia lives in Rockberg, a village bordered by a mysterious, fog-bound land called Brume. She tends a beautiful garden planted in a labyrinth pattern around a huge crystal rock formation. Lia and her Granda are suddenly faced with finding a cure for a terrible illness that is striking down the men of the village, including Lia’s father. Lia and Granda are convinced the only cure lies within the land of Brume, and, accompanied by Lia’s cousin Wynn and his friend Kelven, they embark on what becomes a life-changing experience for all of them.

As soon as Lia enters Brume, she knows something has changed. She alone can hear the whispers of the shades that guard the fog. While in Brume, Lia and Wynn come to understand that they are descendants of royalty and it is their responsibility to bring magic back to their world. As Granda is stricken with the same poison attacking their home, Lia and Wynn embark on an adventurous quest to find the 13 ingredients needed to brew the curative potion. Along the way, they meet dwarves, unicorns, enchanted trees, and the master of the evil shades, Draugyrd, who has bound the spirit of Lia’s Grandma Myrna to his bidding. Will Lia and Wynn triumph? Will Lia and Kelven’s blossoming romance get legs? Will magic come back to Rockberg? Read this and find out!

It is clear that this is the start of a series, which promises to be very good. All the elements of a great fantasy are here – good against evil, three children rising up against oppression, fantastic creatures, communion with nature, and a beautifully drawn fairyland – all knit together by skilled storytelling. There are some echoes of Piers Anthony and even a little Terry Pratchett, but Mercer’s Brume is all her own. The characters are likable, the plot captivating, and the writing whimsical and evocative.

Highly recommended for middle school and up.


I attended the always wonderful Antiquarian Book Fair yesterday at the Monroe County Fairgrounds and came away with a nice little haul. I managed to add three books to my collection of early mysteries for girls and didn’t break the bank! I walked away with two Judy Bolton’s by Margaret Sutton – The Warning in the Window and The Black Cat’s Clue – and a scarce Mildred Wirt – The Shadow Stone. Just checked current sales on these titles and found I got some great deals, not to mention some awesome stories!