Categories
Fiction Middle Grade Paranormal

ARC Review: Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan

Here is another great feature for #MiddleGradeMarch !!

Thank you so much to Chicken House for the early copy of Asha and the Spirit Bird in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!  This is a fast paced adventure by an Indian author, set in the Himalayas. An interesting and appropriate for ages 8+!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Asha and the Spirit Bird
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jasbinder Bilan
  • Publisher & Release: Chicken House, February 2019
  • Length: 288 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ sure for middle graders and fans of!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India.

Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a wicked aunt arrives. She’s determined to seize the property – and the treasure rumoured to be hidden on the land. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan embark on a journey to the city, across the Himalayas, to find her father and save her home …

Asha and the Spirit Bird is a wonderful middle grade adventure story about a young girl on a journey to reunite her family.

I just thought this was a great story, focused on friendship, family, and Faith.  Little Asha is unshakeable in her beliefs and convictions.  It was touching watching her learn to trust herself, her friend Jeevan, and her spirit bird, as they journey across the Himalayasl together.

When debt collectors come crashing through their small Himalayan farmhouse, Asha knows her mama is in trouble. Her Papa left for the city months ago but stopped writing and sending money – where could he be? Is he alive?

With the help of her best friend, Jeevan, she runs away to find her father. Asha is a terrifically brave little girl, with the magic power to sense and be guided by her ancestors. I loved the Nanijee storyline, and how Asha learned to trust herself and her intuitions as well as embrace her family’s heritage.

There is plenty of danger and action in the plot too, from wolves to kidnappers.  I read the whole book in one sitting and think that kids will definitely enjoy this one from cover to cover.

The setting is well done too, with beautiful descriptions of the mountains, scenery, animals.  Weather and smells and sounds are also described.  I think my favorite parts were at the temple in the mountains, and how Asha’s little mango tree symbolized her faith and hope as well.

One HUGE thing that the book did well, and I think is absolutely essential in an ethnic book published in North America … is a glossary of foreign words and phrases. I hate feeling alienated when authors throw foreign terms and words in without translating.  Bilan not only translates but offers explanations, which is absolutely amazing and so much appreciated.

Overall: With clean content, no language and only one suggested hint as a possible future crush, this is a great story of friendship, faith, and family. Fully recommend for any young reader!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

ARC Review: Anders Reality by Adam Roach

Thank you so much to the author for the early copy of Anders Reality! This one published on March 5th and is a great low/urban fantasy pick for Middle Grade March, from an indie author!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Anders Reality
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Adam Roach
  • Publisher & Release: Indie, 3/5/21
  • Length: 288
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for the target age group!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

WHAT IF FOR SOME, WHEN THEY SLEEP, THEY DON’T SIMPLY DREAM, BUT FALL INTO ANOTHER WORLD?

As “Dreamers”, they’re sworn to protect a world called Luceria and that duty has never been needed more than now. There was a time when Luceria was a beautiful magical place, but has become dark and dangerous because of The Taker.

The Taker is a Dreamer who wants the magic of Luceria for himself and wants the ability to stay there forever and rule with those Lucerians he’s turned into his own army.

For the past six months, Ander has been having nightmare like daydreams that he can’t seem to stop or get away from. He doesn’t know where to turn or who to trust and its beginning to affect every aspect of his life. On the night of his 14th birthday after spending the day being tortured by the school bully, Ander goes to bed and shortly after falling asleep, he feels like he’s falling and lands in the abandoned looking, terror filled world of Luceria.

Is this the same place as his daydreams?
Why is this happening to him?
Are there others like him on Earth who can fall into this other world?
Where has everyone gone?

Ander has more questions than answers as he begins to try and navigate not only the notion of another reality, but who he really is meant to be.

ANDERS REALITY is a YA Low-Fantasy Novel and is written for ages 10 and up.

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I am reviewing this one through the lens of “appropriate for age 10+”, not so much as an adult critique!  It is definitely appropriate content wise for the target age range and I think they will enjoy the story. The main character just turned 14 and in general the book does read to the young side!

When Ander is asleep, and sometimes when he is awake, he travels to an alternate land called Luceria. Eventually we learn that it used to be a wonderful and magical place, until the Taker started corrupting the world searching for a key that unlocks a strong power.

Ander and his two friends are all freshmen and he has a bully. He seems to get along with everyone else but is super sensitive and does seem to cry easily. It was fun watching that storyline resolve. He has to choose to be brave in both realms, both to defend himself at school and to choose to save Luceria.

I liked the idea overall, just had a lot of questions as an adult about the world and the inhabitants, but I think these will go over the target age range’s head.

My questions were: why cats? Why did the tether takers have to maim themselves, or were they just humans dressed like cats while the Lucerians were real cat-people? Whose heads were on stakes? Where did that whole VR Gaming thing with the tethers and available items come from?  Why keep all the dreamers in pods? Oh…. What the heck, THAT guy was the bad guy? And so forth.  I don’t think kids will question these things and it was appropriate length, with fast paced action for middle grade.

Overall? A good story, with high school friendships and being at odds with parents, and bully problems.  A lot of kids will relate.  I liked the low fantasy elements.  Recommend for kids who like contemporary/urban scifi/fantasy!!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Book Review: The Severance Game by Geanna Culbertson

It’s Middle Grade March! So back in 2019 I won Crisanta Knight, book #2 – The Severance Game – in a giveaway, then never read it because I kept forgetting to get book one! So I finally read book one (click to see review here) and now I am digging into the series in earnest! I promise no spoilers!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Severance Game
  • Series: Crisanta Knight, #2
  • Author: Geanna Culbertson
  • Publisher & Release: BQB Publishing, December 2016
  • Length: 460pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for fans of book one, middlegrade/YA, and people looking for clean content!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A lot of questions ran through my head as I desperately clung to the roof of a magic train crossing over a gaping canyon. Like: How did I get here? What could I have done to avoid this fate? And, did I remember to shave my underarms before coming on this quest?

But even after taking on a witch in a gingerbread house, bloodthirsty actors, and a whole mess of magic hunters and other fairytale shenanigans, the biggest, most pressing question pulsing through my brain as my fingers started to slip and my enemy bore down on me was this: Could I really trust the person whose life I’d ruined to keep me from falling?

With antagonists closing in, inner demons threatening to consume me, and vivid nightmares chewing up my soul every time I shut my eyes, I was running out of options. I knew the moment to decide whether or not I could truly trust any of my friends was fast approaching. But my head and heart were stuck. For just like the precarious position I now found myself in, the pain of holding onto the path I’d chosen thus far was outmatched only by the worry I had over (gulp) letting it go…

The Plot/ story: per the end of book one, Crisa and friends are now on their quest to find the Author and change their fates. They escaped Century City, and book two starts the search for the lost mermaid princess of Adelaide’s heart. Travelling through the Forbidden Forest first, and eventually coming back to Adelaide, we see them confront all sorts of magic, beasts, and dangers.

Crisa’s dreams start to make a little more sense too as we learn about her spark of magic.  Despite the action and quest, dangers, antagonists, and more, this book took on a more personal nature for the characters and it’s mostly about Crisa coming into herself as a responsible protagonist.  

The main theme is that she wants to break the princess archetype of a damsel in distress, and be a hero. 

The World: unlike book one, now we are out in the world.  The woods of Red Riding hood, the grove of Hansel & Gretel’s witch, and even Earth of all places.  The sheer number of fairytale characters pulled into this book is amazing, and especially in the forbidden forest I liked how the world expands in both scope and magic.

The Characters: I hate to say but Crisa was such an insufferable brat in this book, it was hard watching her push her friends away.  She gets it into her head that she can’t trust them and has to do everything by herself in order to be strong… but is that how heroes work?

SJ and her potions keep the journey afloat, and she is patient while Crisa wraps her head around her problems.  Blue and Jason mostly sideline but reinforce the notion that the group should be working as a trusty unit. Daniel… Is just Daniel, he’s as bad as Crisa and… Dyhfgdhfvj no spoilers

The Antagonists omg I want more antagonists.  Arian and Tara and Nadia seem like a nasty lot, but we still don’t find out the motives in this book.

Overall: A+ for another clean, middlegrade / YA appropriate read with practically nonexistent content. I have to say I liked book one better, but definitely plan to read book three sometime soon. Crisa’s internal monologue was just too repetitive and, similar to the thorough nature of the Far Forest Scrolls books – it takes a LOT of pages to advance the plot. Book one was a faster read and I hope that three picks up the pace again now that we have established the group as a unit!

What are you reading for Middle Grade March!?

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade

ARC Review: White Fox by Chen Jiatong (tr. Jennifer Feeley)

Thank you so much to Chicken House for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: White Fox
  • Series: White Fox, #1
  • Author: Chen Jiatong (translator: Jennifer Feeley
  • Publisher & Release: Chicken House, October 2020
  • Length: 288 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for middle graders and fans of animal protagonists!

This is such a great book for middle graders. Dilah, an adolescent fox with no friends, sets off on a quest after his parents die. All he has is a moonshine gem and some cryptic instructions, and his mother’s last words to send him on his way!

Along the journey Dilah meets some unlikely friends – a seal, weasel, horse, and rabbit. Each new friend shows him something about friendship and eventually two of them join the adventure. Ankel is a clever weasel who wants to learn everything and become a scholar, while Little Bean is a rabbit that has a great interest in medicine. The main message of the book seems to be to value your friends and their contributions.

Additionally Dilah learns that everything in the world isn’t so black and white as he originally thought. Of course he wants to become a human – but there are also very evil humans as well as the good ones. There are also bad animals.

The cover art is just beautiful and there are many great illustrations along the way too.  They are such cute drawings and I love foxes anyway.  I will break here to say that while the book is translated, it doesn’t feel choppy or difficult to me at all.  I believe that the version coming out in October is a hardcover, while a paperback has been available in the states since last year.

Anyway – ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, I totally think that middle graders will love this book.  I loved it and will be interested when the next installment releases for sure.  Content is appropriate but does mention parental death, someone is shot, and an animal is accidentally poisoned.

Do you love animal protagonists too?  Can you recommend any good translated works?  Thanks for reading along with me!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

ARC Review: The Door to Inferna by Rishab Borah

Thank you so much to the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Door to Inferna
  • Series: Elkloria #1
  • Author: Rishab Borah
  • Publisher & Release: Three Rooms Press, October 2020
  • Length: 236 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 sure for the middle graders!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Fourteen-year-old Khioneus Nevula is beginning to realize something strange is going on. Adopted from unknown parentage, he has always been marked as different by his purple eyes.

Now a winter break that should have been nothing but goofing around with his best friends is haunted by some other presence—ghostly apparitions appear to him in the dark of night, the surface of his mirror ripples like a pool of water, and he dreams of a girl with a long blue braid who invents fantastical devices.

Drawn into a mystical land, he meets his twin sister, a proficient mage, a slightly mad scientist, and a princess. In this land where he is a prince, he finds himself and his friends caught in a war between the inhabitants of Elkloria and an ancient and powerful evil.

I am extremely impressed that a tween/teenager wrote this book.  He started when he was 11 and is now 16 so thats a huge accomplishment. That said – I can tell it was written by a youth, and, I think he did an absolutely phenomenal job. The story is nothing new, a teen gets whisked away to an alternate universe and finds out that he is more or less a “chosen one”.

That said, I like how he took an interplanetary and inter-dimensional route with the story line. I think the universes and dimensions and layers folded on top of each other (hints of a Wrinkle In Time almost) are super interesting. The transporters make things a bit convenient but hey – it’s for middle grade.

I think Borah does a pretty good job with world building too, the gadgets and architecture and spells and those talking doors are all pretty cool. I liked that we hear about the food, natives, some lore, and some of the religion / myths of the world too, it gives it depth.

The characters are pretty standard.  There are strong friendships, trust shown, also mistrust, overcoming that – and one awkward moment where one character had to put down a romantic awkwardness. I liked the found family element and how close the group of friends are though. Honestly the last page was the only part that threw me off, since at no other point was Khi worried about being or sounding truthful and that last paragraph just came out of nowhere.

Anyway – I 100% recommend for middle grade readers. Totally age appropriate, good descriptive language, easy to picture scenery, and a moderately diverse group of friends make this a great fantasy read for the age group. I think if he keeps writing, and I hope he does, that he’ll put out some great fantasy some day!