Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review


Earlier this year our school librarian was thinning out the shelves to make room for new books, and I quickly scooped up a book by a familiar author. I’d read two books by Matthew Cody before–POWERLESS and THE DEAD GENTLEMAN–and I’d been meaning to read WILL IN SCARLET. I mean, who doesn’t love a Robin Hood story? Anyway, it completely lived up to my expectations, and I’ll be passing it along to my son, too. Here’s the cover and description.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will Scarlet is on the run.

Once the sheltered son of nobility, Will has become an exile. While his father, Lord Shackley, has been on the Crusades with King Richard, a treacherous plot to unseat Richard has swept across England, and Shackley House has fallen.

Will flees the only home he’s ever known into neighboring Sherwood Forest, where he joins the elusive gang of bandits known as the Merry Men. Among them are Gilbert, their cruel leader; a giant named John Little; a drunkard named Rob; and Much, an orphan girl disguised as a bandit boy.

This is the story of how a band of misfit outlaws become heroes of legend – thanks to one brave 13-year-old boy.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The history – I love how the setting comes to life in the story through both Will and Much’s points of view. The reader gets a clear sense of what it was like to live in the twelfth century, and I especially appreciated how Will goes from his privileged life of nobility to seeing the plight of the serfs and wanting to do something about it.

2. Will himself – I really enjoyed Will as a character. He felt very true to me as a thirteen-year-old trying to be a man–particularly in a time when you had to be a man much sooner–and yet still with so many of the sensibilities of a boy. I loved his sense of justice and how that played out in multiple plot lines.

3. Much – Much, the other POV character, was also fantastic. I mean, I’ve mentioned before that I love when girls disguise themselves as boys, right? But this story wasn’t a romance; it was Much finding a way to keep herself alive. I loved her spunk and her fierce determination to prove herself.

4. The action – This story is full of action–hunting wolves, sword fights, sneaking into castles–everything you’d expect from a tale involving Robin Hood. Only Will is the one initiating most of the action rather than the legend. The action isn’t without cost, but it’s exciting!

5. The pacing – As soon as I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. The pacing is fantastic, with Will and Much jumping from one adventure to another. A definite page-turner!

I highly recommend WILL IN SCARLET for anyone who loves a good adventure story. If you’ve read it, let’s discuss in the comments!

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review


Several years ago I won a contest for a signed copy of Matt Myklusch’s first book, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, and I became an instant fan. I loved all three of the Jack Blank books and passed that enjoyment on to my husband. I look forward to sharing them with my kids soon. (You can read my review of the final book in the series here, but be warned of spoilers.) My seven-year-old was already eyeing the cover of Mr. Myklusch’s latest, SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE, with interest. Check it out.

Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt MykluschWhen 13-year old Dean Seaborne runs afoul of the Pirate King, he is given one last chance to redeem himself before he gets thrown to the sharks. His orders are to find and steal the treasure of Zenhala, a mysterious island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince, but the longer he stays in Zenhala, the more he questions his mission—and himself.

Forced to undergo intense and fantastical trials to prove his royal lineage, Dean can’t help but wonder if he really is the lost prince he’s pretending to be. With sea serpents, assassins, and danger on all sides, he might not live long enough to find out.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The humor – I tried to find a good passage to demonstrate the humor, but it’s not really one-liners or even paragraphs at a time that make the humor in this book. Sure, those happen, but it’s more about the situations Dean finds himself in.

2. The adventure – Sea serpents! Kites that skim across the ocean! Kayaking and soaring over waterfalls! Pirates! I mean, this story is all about adventure.

3. The dialogue – The dialogue is clever throughout, but I especially liked the interchange between Dean and one of his seconds in the trials because of how it could be interpreted multiple ways.

Dean nodded. “Fair enough. I hope you’ll make it easier than your brother did.”

“The regent told my father you had only good things to say about Junter’s service.”

“I was being polite.”

Jin grimaced. “No need for that. Junter’s performance yesterday was an embarrassment. He disappointed my father and brought shame to my family. Rest assured, I will not fail as he did.”

“Good man,” Dean said. He studied Jin, trying to get a read on him. He was more talkative than his brother and said all the right things, but what he left unsaid rattled Dean. He wouldn’t fail in what?

Exactly! This conversation is one of many where the choice of words is key.

4. The twists – Is Dean the lost prince? Who wants him to be? Who doesn’t? There are so many rabbit trails in this book, but I’m not surprised. That’s one of the things I loved about the Jack Blank series as well–always a twist on the horizon! I’m sure there will be more in the rest of the series.

5. The stakes – Just when you think you understand what’s at stake for Dean, things step up a notch–but not necessarily in a life-or-death way. Yes, he has to face life-threatening trials, but the stakes end up hitting him even harder than his life as he has to decide who he wants to be as a person. Very well-done.

Have you read this book yet? Or the Jack Blank series? Let me know if you’re a Matt Myklusch fan in the comments!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I started reading TRUST ME, I’M LYING on the plane back from Alaska, continued in the summer school carpool pickup line, and then breezed through the last 40 percent in a single night. I probably would have read that first 60 percent much more quickly if I hadn’t been trying to catch up from vacation. In any case, I am now anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series, which is accurately compared to Ally Carter’s Heist Society series.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth SummerJulep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.

But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – I was hooked from the very beginning, and the voice is so perfect for the character. This might seem like a strange sample to share, but for some reason this particular paragraph stuck out to me as I was reading. It’s from an action scene, when Julep has just been rescued from a burning building, but you just get such a great sense of her character.

“I shudder as I pass through the back door and into the crisp, ice-cold air of the alley. I cough and hack and wipe off black stuff, and all the while I’m breathing in the sweetest, most delicious scent of gradually decaying garbage and rat excrement. I’ve never been so happy to see an alley in all the days of my life.”

2. The romance – I love the way she’s all twisted up from the moment she meets Tyler. Isn’t that how teen romance is supposed to be? Plus, this gives me another opportunity to showcase the voice.

“Wait, what did I just say? Crap! I meant to say, ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘just a prank’ or anything else that would put him off. Not ‘it’s freaking dangerous and you should definitely be interested now.’ Is some errant part of my psycho-girl psyche trying to show off for him? Without permission? I mentally smack that part of me back in line. Unfortunately, it’s not in time to avoid piquing Tyler’s curiosity even more.”

3. The cons – I love a good caper. I don’t care if it’s believable or not, but for the most part, I bought the cons Julep and her friends pulled. Sure, some of them were outrageous, but that’s what makes it fun.

4. The mystery –  In addition to the cons, there was also a mystery woven throughout the story, a set of clues Julep’s father had left her to follow. Part of the fun was that the reader had no idea what they led to, so it was sort of a double mystery.

5. The twists – I actually chatted with Ms. Summer on Twitter, anticipating one of the twists, and she warned me there would be one everyone expects and several that would catch me by surprise. She was so right! For the last 10 percent of the book (I was reading on my Kindle), I was saying, “No! What? No! Seriously?” These were good twists, folks. Some planted and some not, but wow.

On that last point, I’m really holding my tongue (fingers??) here. If anyone wants to discuss, email me! But definitely check out this book.

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review


Today I’m continuing my reading roundup with middle grade books–because of course my reading extravaganza included a few of those. I wish I had the time to give them full reviews, but alas, still speed-reading.

Of course I have to start with the book by MMGM founder Shannon Messenger. EVERBLAZE is the third installment (and thankfully not the last!) in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series. You can read my reviews of books one and two for an idea of why I love this series so much. Basically the same reasons hold true for this third book, and I’m excited to see where Shannon takes it in the next book (and maybe even more??)!

Everblaze by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is ready to fight back.

Her talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers—before they come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves her world teetering on the edge of war, and causes many to fear that she has finally gone too far. And the deeper Sophie searches, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that her most dangerous enemy might be closer than she realizes. 

In this nail-biting third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion, before they destroy everyone and everything she loves.

THE FIRES OF CALDERON is the first in the Balance Keepers series by Lindsay Cummings, and I can tell it’s going to have wide appeal. My first thought upon finishing the book was that I needed to make sure our school library has ordered it because I could already think of some kids who would like it. It has adventure, magic, creatures, friendship–all the great things an MG reader loves. A must-read!

The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay CummingsWhen eleven-year-old Albert Flynn follows a mysterious map deep into the woods, and then under the woods, he discovers he’s a Balance Keeper—someone with special magical skills for keeping harmony in fantastical underground worlds. Together with his teammates Leroy and Birdie, Albert must master his magical talents in time to stop the fires in the Calderon Realm from destroying New York City above.



I requested this last one because an agent I follow on Twitter (can’t remember which one now) said how much she(?) loved it even though she doesn’t usually read middle grade. (Really wish I could remember who to thank for the recommendation!) I loved the two main characters, Fin and Marrill, the magical places they visited in their quest to find the various pieces of the map, and the unique way the map itself worked. Plus, the ending left me wanting more. Actually, now would be good :). Definitely pick this one up!

The Map to EverywhereTo master thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere — but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if Fin and Marrill can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!

Have you read any of these yet? If not, I hope I convinced you!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE PERILOUS SEA by Sherry Thomas

I don’t often review the second book in a series because the things I love are the often same things I loved in the first book. But every once in a while I read a second book that completely blows me away in new and different ways and I just have to gush about it. Such is the case with THE PERILOUS SEA by Sherry Thomas. However, if you haven’t yet read THE BURNING SKY, I urge you to leave this post right now and go read it first because there are spoilers even in the description for THE PERILOUS SEA.

That was your warning. Still reading? Ok, then, I’m about to post the blurb …

The Perilous Sea by Sherry ThomasAfter spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by a blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.

Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that makes him question everything he previously believed about their mission. Faced with this devastating realization, Iolanthe is forced to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother’s prophecies—and forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The twists – Oh. My. Goodness. I can’t believe how twisty this book was. I was reading in the car during a road trip and caused my husband to look askance at me more than once. So well done. I can’t wait to see what Ms. Thomas has in store for the third book. I have a few theories …

2. The alternating timeline – I loved the way the book played with time, jumping back and forth between the desert and what had already happened at school. It was such a great strategy to build tension and keep the reader wondering both what would happen next and what had already happened to lead them to that point.

3. The backstory – Oh, yes, I am going there because Ms. Thomas does such a great job of revealing just the right amount of information at just the right time. There is so much the characters don’t know about their own histories, and uncovering those mysteries will help in the present. I did not see some of these revelations coming.

4. The pacing – This is a long book, and I read it in two days. Ok, it helped that I was stuck in a car for eight hours one of those days, but still. I would have set aside the time for this book because it was so gripping. Part of that was the way it was set up with the dual timelines, but also there was a ton of action.

5. The romance – Ok, I had to keep this one point the same because it’s doubly good in this book for reasons I can’t explain until you’ve read it. I mean, I probably wouldn’t be giving anything away, but still. Titus and Iolanthe’s relationship gets tested and it’s just brilliant.

Who else is reading this series? What are your thoughts?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review


So, I usually wouldn’t review two books by the same author in the same series so close together, but I can’t help myself. It’s been a while since I read a book and just had to read the next, and the next right away. But that’s how I felt about the HALF UPON A TIME series. I read all three books within two weeks. It helps that I didn’t start the series until the third book came out :).

This review is actually going to be more of a series recommendation, but here’s the description for ONCE UPON THE END. It’s a bit spoilery for the first two books, so you might want to skip over it. I’m going to keep my actual points spoiler-free.

Once Upon the End by James RileyAfter the events of TWICE UPON A TIME, May’s trapped in a house with an evil stepmother, unable to leave without the Wicked Queen finding her. Phillip’s doomed to a boring life as a prince, his adventures over. And Jack … actually, Jack’s doing pretty well. He’s just on the wrong side, having joined the Wicked Queen’s elite group of spies, the Eyes.

How can this possibly end happily? Particularly when, between Jack and Phillip, one is destined to betray May and the other is destined to die?

Here are the five things I loved most about the series as a whole.

1. Everything ties together – There are loose ends in the first book I’d completely forgotten about until they got tied up in the third book. I can only assume James Riley planned this as a trilogy from the beginning, because I don’t know how it would all work so well together otherwise.

2. The fairy tales – I can’t believe how many fairy tale characters he inserted into these books, making them completely familiar and yet giving them a spin that makes you think the storytellers are the ones who were wrong before. Among the characters who make an appearance: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Snow White, the Wicked Queen (of course), Malevolent (or Maleficent), the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Mermaid, Peter Pan … I could go on a lot longer.

3. The voices – I loved the way James Riley added a new character’s voice in each book. We started out with Jack in the first book, added May in the second, and then Phillip in the final one. Jack remained the character I identified most closely with, but I was ready to hear from these other characters, too.

4. The pacing – I couldn’t stop reading any of these books. The last one I read in less than a day. The format of switching POVs actually encouraged that because I’d get left hanging with one character, follow another, be anxious to get back to the first, then the second, then the third. You get the picture. It was a great way to keep me from putting the book down.

5. The ending – Ok, so this one’s about the final book, but I loved the way James Riley wrapped everything up for the characters and left a hint of more adventures to come. While I would gladly follow these characters around for another book, I’m completely satisfied with the way the series ended.

I will definitely be pulling this series back out again when my kids are a few years older. My 5-year-old loved the cover and wanted me to tell him all about it. He’ll get to experience it on his own one day.

What series have you read that you just had to finish right away? I’m always looking for suggestions!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review


I’m back! I took a couple of weeks off from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday to go on vacation and then catch up, but I do have a review this week. It’s a book I first heard about on Shannon Messenger’s blog. She recently reviewed the final installment in this series, and I had to check it out. Plus, you may have noticed I have a thing for fairy tale retellings. I don’t see myself writing one, but I do love reading them. Here’s the blurb for HALF UPON A TIME by James Riley:

Half Upon A Time by James RileyLife’s no fairy tale for Jack. After all, his father’s been missing ever since that incident with the beanstalk and the giant, and his grandfather keeps pushing him to get out and find a princess to rescue. Who’d want to rescue a snobby, entitled princess anyway? Especially one who falls out of the sky wearing a shirt that says PUNK PRINCESS and still denies she’s royalty. In fact, May doesn’t even believe in magic. Yeah, what’s that about?

May does need help, though–a huntsman is chasing her, her grandmother has been kidnapped, and Jack thinks it’s all because of the Wicked Queen…mostly because May’s grandmother just might be the long-lost Snow White.

Jack and May’s thrillingly hilarious adventure combines all the classic stories–fractured as a broken magic mirror–into one epic novel for the ages.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. Jack – I love this hero. The opening chapter does such a great job capturing Jack’s character and giving hints of who he’ll become come–and how much he needs to change to get there. The book is told entirely from his viewpoint, and yet his insight into the other characters was so clear I felt like I was seeing things from their viewpoints, too. I can’t wait to see what happens to Jack in the sequels.

2. Jack’s perception of the real world – So often books are about how it would be nice to live in a fairy tale. Jack has the opposite perception. He doesn’t know what May’s world is like, and yet when he dreams of a perfect world, it’s like the following:

When he fell asleep, his mind always seemed to wander to the oddest places. Places where magic didn’t work, and there wasn’t any royalty … places where everyone was equal, no one was better than anyone else just because of who their parents were. That’d be nice, a place like that. That’d be some kind of dream world …

I’m not saying all of that is true of the “real world,” but it’s closer than his own reality.

3. The familiar – I know I’ve mentioned this in reviews of other fairy tale retellings, but I enjoy how James Riley weaves in familiar tales and then changes things up. There’s enough familiar to make you think, “Oh, I know what’s coming.” But even when it doesn’t happen exactly the way you expect, it’s ok because of how he’s set it all up.

4. The adventure – It’s what you expect from a fairy tale, right? Well, this has it all–escaping a witch, a giant, a genie, a dragon, and more. The action never stops, and I love the way Jack, May and eventually Phillip bumble through it. Ok, Phillip doesn’t bumble. Jack doesn’t make perfect choices, and yet his actions and reactions all make sense within his character. That poor kid has the worst luck.

5. The twists – I love a good twist and this book has the kind that makes you reconsider everything you’ve assumed throughout the whole book. It’s such a hard thing to do, and James Riley nails it.

I’ve already requested the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see what happens to Jack, May and Phillip next, especially as they all have some prophecies to fulfill. And if you have any other fairy tale retellings to recommend, bring them on. Apparently I can’t get enough of them :).