Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Historical Fiction Middle Grade

The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane (Audiobook Review)

Thanks to the author for letting me listen to and review the audiobook of The Witches of Crannock Dale! I’ll also be interviewing Thomas Kane on the Sunday Brunch Series soon so keep an eye out for that 🍳🎤

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Witches of Crannock Dale
  • Series: Mara of the League #1
  • Author: Thomas M. Kane (Nar. Stevie Marie)
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, 2019
  • Length: 288 pages (11h48m run time)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for middle grade fans!

Synopsis:
Spies. Witch-hunts. A little girl who asks dangerous questions.

When invaders threaten, eleven-year-old Mara must grow up fast. All her life, her homeland has been on the brink of war with the Commonwealth of Waan. But as bells warn of approaching enemies, her own realm’s knights arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft. This prompts her to rethink much of what she has been taught about her country. When adults ignore her points, she teams up with unlikely friends in a bid to rescue her aunt and protect her village. Mara must make sense of grown-up politics if she is to save the people she loves.

This is Book One of the political fantasy series Mara of the League.

I thought that for a middle-grade, this one checks pretty much all the boxes for me.  I can’t speak for the rest of the series yet but Mara is 11 here, and the content stays 100% age audience appropriate. Although she is 17 in book two I believe it remains a middle grade age level throughout.

Mara is a very smart and brave little girl who eventually becomes a spy for her country in later books. Here in Witches we are introduced to Mara and her family and learn about the plots and political conflicts happening in the world.  Told in the first person point of view of an 11 year old, I think it’s a marvel that Kane had me interested in the imposter bandit king and how the war will eventually unfurl.

Mara is an easy character to root for as she becomes involved in local issues.  I liked her brother too and the rest of the family.

As I’m obviously not 12 anymore (🤣🤣🤣), when reviewing for middle grade, I tend to look more at whether the book is fast paced (yes), interesting (yes), repetitive (no), and age appropriate (yes). I think it will hold their attention well. It’s also extremely well edited for a self published book so that’s helpful!

Are the themes something I would want my little niece reading? Yes, absolutely. Mara has to navigate complicated adult politics while still doing what she thinks is right. She also learns  that sometimes rules do have a time and place in society, and that actions can have severe and unintended consequences.  I like the sense of responsibility she has towards family and even town & country.

The issue I had is that the audio itself did not hold my interest, likely due to the Authors Direct app and a few challenges that it presented. That was an experience related issue though and I think Stevie Marie was a pretty solid, clearly spoken narrator. I did end up reading on Kindle Unlimited though and was then lucky enough to see the map and drawings.

Overall: I’m excited to keep reading to see how Mara and the war develop.  It’s a solid middle grade read that I think YA can enjoy too since Mara ages fairly quickly in the books. Stay tuned for the author interview!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal

Dark Days by Derek Landy (Book Thoughts)

Yesterday here in WNY another person with terrorist ties made their way to the area and did something terrible.  First the Buffalo massacre, now this attack on Salman Rushdie, it seems insane that crazies are coming from hours away to do their business here.  My head is in knots and I am probably going to write a separate post about the actual vs figurative power of words, something weighing heavily.

So…. Dark Days

There’s not much to say about the book that I haven’t said about the series already. I would reiterate a point I made that Landy definitely expected the readers to age with the protagonist, as the content and themes are getting a little darker in each book.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Days
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #4
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins Children’s Books, January 2010
  • Length: 414 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I do like the series, and the audios.

A Quick Note on the audio:  8:08 narrated again by Rupert Degas.  This is his last in the series apparently, sadly. I love his narration. This installment dropped the musical soundtracks which made it feel a lot shorter

Here’s the synopsis:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant: detective, sorcerer, warrior.

Oh yes. And dead.

Skulduggery Pleasant is gone, sucked into a parallel dimension overrun by the Faceless Ones. If his bones haven’t already been turned to dust, chances are he’s insane, driven out of his mind by the horror of the ancient gods. There is no official, Sanctuary-approved rescue mission. There is no official plan to save him.

But Valkyrie’s never had much time for plans.

The problem is, even if she can get Skulduggery back, there might not be much left for him to return to. There’s a gang of villains bent on destroying the Sanctuary, there are some very powerful people who want Valkyrie dead, and as if all that wasn’t enough it looks very likely that a sorcerer named Darquesse is going to kill the world and everyone on it.

Skulduggery is gone. All our hopes rest with Valkyrie. The world’s weight is on her shoulders, and its fate is in her hands.

These are dark days indeed.

The books in general are getting darker and Valkyrie is now training and fighting with necromancy. While Skulduggery was gone she was working with a necromancer who is trying to recruit her to their cause. I like the Shadow magic, it’s a little more interesting than the elemental magic and going forward we will have to see which branch of magic she chooses to specialize in.

There’s a found family theme too that I like between Valkyrie and Tanith.  We got to see the real Kenspeckle.

The stakes are getting higher and the villains are getting nastier. This was still action packed and fast paced, just darker. There is still plenty of humor too, like naming the bad guy club and Skulduggery’s changing 💀

I think the funniest part was how the zombies couldn’t stop squabbling over dumb things and were absolutely not terrifying at all. Poor guys lolol.

And Valkyrie got a boyfriend! Haha ish.  Her role is starting to change too as she has finally established herself as much more than a sidekick, able to seek her own resources and set some of her own missions.

With visuals of parental death, torture, and more detailed violence that does balance well with some more hopeful themes, I would still recommend this book to upper middle grade. The first three would be fine for almost any age.

Here’s some interesting reading I found about the series not taking off in the U.S. originally and was reissued with the new covers, in 2018

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/76749-he-s-baaaack-harpercollins-reintroduces-skulduggery-pleasant.html


Skulduggery Pleasant so far

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
  3. The Faceless Ones
  4. Dark Days

 

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade

The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

I am going to keep the next Derek Landy reviews a little more vague since I try really hard not to put spoiler content here.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Faceless Ones
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant, #3
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2009
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ if you even remotely liked the first two books yes:

Audio: 7hours, 47 min from HarperCollins.  Narrated by Rupert Degas! I’m loving the audio experience.

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The third bone-breaking, belly-busting adventure in the series that puts the “funny” back in, um, funny series. That didn’t really work, did it?

If you’ve read the previous Skulduggery books then you know what the Faceless Ones are — and if you know what the Faceless Ones are, then you can probably take a wild guess that things in this book are going to get AWFULLY sticky for our skeletal hero and his young sidekick. If you haven’t read the previous Skulduggery books then what are you doing reading this? Go and read them right now, so that you know what all that stuff in the previous paragraph was about. Done? Good. So now you’re on tenterhooks too, desperately awaiting the answers to all your questions, and instead you’re going to have to wait to read the book. Sorry about that.

So I am now three books into my Skulduggery Pleasant audio binge and have no regrets. I think Landy finally hit his stride here in book three because The Faceless Ones is far, far better than the first two! Another action packed story with better writing, nonstop action, mature villains, and an engaging storyline with more depth now.

I think the humor got good reception in book one so he ended up overdoing it in book two. Here he finally hit a good balance. There was a great mix of humor and serious content, with an overall darker tone.

Similar to other middle grade / young reader series like HP, Landy is getting into tougher subject matter as his protagonist gets older. Valkyrie is (I think) 14 now. I like watching series grow up with their characters and I hope Landy continues this trend.

Continuing with the ever present theme of moral grayness, there’s a clear line between the good and bad guys in this one. The bad guys got more serious though and even the good guys are willing to get dirty.  There’s no happy ending, some significant character deaths, and the Dr is truly laying into Skulduggery for putting Valkyrie in danger.  At the end of the day she is literally just a child and I like that Landy isn’t letting Skulduggery off the hook so easily as a morally gray character wreaking havoc on a child’s life.

Throughout the book we get hints of dark times to come, concluding with a surprisingly bleak ending.

The only thing missing? I wish Landy would do more with Ireland as the setting! Why not engage the middle grade audience with Irish things! The book could take place in Chicago or Berlin or Vancouver for all we know except he keeps mentioning Dublin, and it seems like a terrible waste.

Overall this is by far my favorite of the series so far.  It stays age appropriate. Great audio too with Rupert Degas still narrating; he said he stays for the first four books so that’s exciting.  Definitely recommend for Middle-grade/YA


Here are a few favorite quotes!

“You don’t treat me like a child”

He smiled. “Of course I do, but you seem to have this ridiculous notion that being treated like a child means to be treated with less respect than an adult


I’m sophisticated, charming, suave and debonair, Professor. But I have never claimed to be civilized.


I will heal your wounds,” he said, “but I will not facilitate your battles.


My series reviews so far: 

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
  3. The Faceless Ones
Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal

Playing With Fire by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

Whewww I am getting burned out on writing reviews this month, thankfully I’m almost caught up!

As a “fun for all ages” middle grade read I like the Skulduggery Pleasant series quite a bit. Playing With Fire is a fast paced, snarky sequel that I jumped into right after finishing the first book.

Let’s get into it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Playing With Fire
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #2
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, May 2008
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of the first book! *Not a standalone*

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Skulduggery and Valkyrie are facing a new enemy: Baron Vengeous, who is determined to bring back the terrifying Faceless Ones and is crafting an army of evil to help him. Added to that, Vengeous is about to enlist a new ally (if he can raise it from the dead): the horrible Grotesquery, a very unlikable monster of legend.

Once Vengeous is on the loose, dead bodies and vampires start showing up all over Ireland. Now pretty much everybody is out to kill Valkyrie, and the daring detective duo faces its biggest challenge yet.

But what if the greatest threat to Valkyrie is just a little closer to home?

I have to admit the book became a bit repetitive after reading the first two back to back.  The audio was once again entertaining – and Rupert Degas said hi on Instagram so that was cool – but again, the music is also getting slightly less fun after hearing it so many times in short succession.

I want to keep reading but I’m going to space the next book or two out a bit.

Not to say it’s bad though. Playing With Fire had more one liners and banter and wit, plus we got a little more motivation from the individual “good guy” characters.  I liked seeing a little more of what keeps Skulduggery going, and how Valkyrie is regretting her time spent away from home too.

There were quite a few bad guys and henchmen in this one. I  couldn’t keep their names, abilities, affiliations straight, and that’s totally on me.  It didn’t detract too much and I loved the Billy Ray jokes.

The evil also felt a lot more cartoonish in this one, even for a middle-grade series. I did like the continuing theme of good vs bad vs gray zone though as the team navigated shifting alliances.

Overall: age appropriate, action packed, funny, and seriously grim at times. I can see these books being fun for all ages. There are a few gory horror elements but a strong middle grader would have no problem with these books.

I stuck with the audio as my Libby only has that available. Rupert Degas continues to delight and I’d definitely recommend that route if it is available.


Lastly, here are a few favorite quotes:

If you don’t see me in five minutes, then I’ve probably died a very brave and heroic death. Oh and don’t touch the radio–I’ve got it tuned right where I want it and I don’t want you messing that up.


‘Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight
‘And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight’


Bravery, after all, isn’t the absence of fear. Bravery is the acknowledgement and the conquering of fear

My Reviews of the series so far:

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
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.

Screenshot_20210309-164901

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!