Monsterious Book 1: Escape from Grimstone Manor had been on my radar since it was first announced and I was super excited when I won a copy from the amazing Writers With Wrinkles Podcast giveaway! I highly recommend their podcast to anyone who writes or reads books!
But back to the book! I love a fast-paced, scary middle grade story with awesome friends and a fun, yet creepy setting. Escape from Grimstone Manor, the first book in Matt McMann’s Monsterious series, gave me all that and more. This is a book 10-year-old Barb would have loved to read under the covers at night by flashlight and then again the next day, sneaking reading time during math class. (Yes, I used to do all that.)
A cool setting: amusement park + Gothic haunted mansion ride.
Super creepy backstory: necromancer who lived in the spooky mansion where the ride now sits and who may or may not still be around.
Awesome monsters: werewolf, lizard person, mummies, and skeletons!
Three fantastic friends: Zari, Mateo, and Taylor.
When the three friends get trapped overnight in the haunted mansion ride, they have to find their way out. During their search, they stumble on a hidden staircase that leads them into a crypt that shouldn’t be there. A crypt! Yikes! And then there’s the monsters. The kids not only have to fight real monsters, but they need to find the courage to face their own inner fears and even each other, because even for the best of friends, some things are just too much.
Beyond the great action scenes and spooky moments, what I loved most was the friendship between Zari, Mateo, and Taylor. They’re three very distinct characters, but right from the start you could feel their connection with each other and I knew they were going to need to lean on each other to make it through the night.
Escape from Grimstone Manor was a fast read for me and I totally enjoyed each page. If you or the kids are into books like Goosebumps, then McMann’s book is a must-read for sure. Grab your copy and keep an eye out for the other books in this series. Book 2, The Snatcher of RavenHollow is already out, book 3, Terror in Shadow Canyon releases in August, and book 4, The Beast of Skull Rock, is set to release January 2024.
My husband and I enjoy day trips exploring new-to-us towns, museums, and attractions. We’ve lived in the Kansas City area for less than 10 years and we’re continually finding amazing places. Recently, we hit a total gem!
The National Museum of Toys & Miniatures is located on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, just a few blocks south of the popular Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district. Parking for the museum is off 52nd Street. There is a fee to get in and be sure to check for hours of operation before you go.
I have to tell you that I’ve always been a lover of all things miniature. When I was nine years old, my parents built me a VanBuren Dollhouse from a kit and it was AMAZING. My dad built a bunch of the furniture and mom crocheted rugs and sewed curtains. We all had a blast making tiny food for it from salt-dough. I loved my dollhouse! Visiting this museum with an entire floor of tiny things and dollhouses was a dream for me. My husband also appreciates the artistry and immense skill that goes into these pieces, as do I. Stunning craftspersonship!
By the numbers the museum has:
2 centuries of dollhouses on display
21,000+ fine-scale miniatures
1,000+ tiny chairs
And the collection is continually growing.
One exhibit that made my reader/writer heart swell, was a beautiful dollhouse designed as a rendition of Miss Marple’s cottage. Yes, that Miss Marple—the one and only fictional detective created by Agatha Christie. Below is a picture and it really doesn’t do it justice. It was gorgeous! The attention to detail blew me away and it’s just so much fun.
Morningside Cottage, a representation of the home of the fictional character Miss Marple. Created in 1990 by artist Pam Throop.
I wish I could remember who recommended I pick up TWELFTH by Janet Key because I’d really like to thank them. Mysteries are my favorite and expanding my middle grade mystery shelf is one of my favorite things to do.
A 60-year missing diamond ring, a Shakespearian play, and a series of riddle-like clues help set the stage for a mystery-adventure that quickly ensnares Maren, a first-time camper at the Charlotte Goodman Theater Camp. While TWELFTH delivers a solid and satisfying mystery, it also gives the reader complex, realistic, and diverse characters that we need not only in middle grade fiction, but in all stories.
Set in a theater arts camp, the story is told in dual timelines with the “present day” set in 2015 — and there is a reason for this particular year as it ties into the stories. As a former theater kid and as a kid who went to summer camp, I found this book incredibly immersive with fabulous details and insights into what it’s like to rehearse a play and prepare for a performance.
For readers of all ages, TWELFTH will resonate. It deals with the complexities of mental health, bullying, and gender diversity. I highly recommend reading all of the Bonus Material at the end of the book as the interview with Dr. Jennifer Feldmann on gender diversity is wonderful.
Visit author Janet Key at her website for more information about where you can get a copy of TWELFTH and to find out about her other upcoming projects.
CHAOS RISING is everything I wanted from a Thrawn book. Timothy Zahn weaves a believable backstory for one of the iconic characters of the Star Wars universe. I absolutely enjoyed the “memories” chapters with a young Thrawn and his early student/cadet days plus the insight into his original family and connections with the Mitth family.
I loved every scene with his analysis of artwork as insight to battle tactics, something that we expect to see from Thrawn and Zahn didn’t disappoint. The character development of young Thrawn to Captain Thrawn also worked for. I particularly liked his interaction with Thalias and the young sky walker Che’ri.
“There were dangers out there in the darkness, hidden worlds and tyrants who sought conquest and destruction.” (chapter one, page 17)
“Art mirrors the soul, from which tactics arise. One can see in artwork the strengths and weaknesses of those who created it.” (Thrawn)
“. . . negative information was still information.” (Thalias musing about Thrawn)
“All beings possess imagination to varying degrees. It can be encouraged and nurtured, or can sometimes shine out in moments of stress. But curiosity is a choice. Some wish to have it. Others don’t.” (Thrawn)
“The cautious path merely guarantees a slow slide to irrelevance.” (Mitth Patriarch)
GREATER GOOD dives deeper into Thrawn’s days as a Senior Captain in the Expansionary Defense Fleet. Book two of the trilogy continues the search for the mysterious enemy that has set out to destroy the Chiss. The enemy deftly begins to sow discord among the Chiss Nine Ruling Families and the Forty Great Houses, forcing Defense Fleet warriors to choose: Family or Military.
Again, the “memories” chapters were artfully constructed and some of my favorite pages as they allowed intriguing insight into the moves and countermoves of the enemy. As always, Thrawn doesn’t disappoint. His tactics intrigue me and I enjoy the reactions of the enemies as well as his peers as they try to figure out what he’s doing and if it will actually work. If you enjoy reading space battles, GREATER GOOD has plenty and the action keeps the pace moving.
One of my favorite aspects of this book, and of the trilogy as a whole, is the detailed immersion into the Chiss family structures and how it’s intertwined with the politics and military. GREATER GOOD is a solid book two in the trilogy, ending on a “what?!” moment that I loved.
“We don’t do things just because they’re easier. We do things because they work.” (Mid Captain Samakro)
“It can be tactically advantageous for an enemy to believe in limits that don’t actually exist.” (Thrawn)
“The odds are never impossible, merely unfavorable.” (Thrawn)
From the inside book cover: “But the truth of a family’s legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.”
LESSER EVIL concludes the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. It is moves and countermoves, family versus family, and a series of what seem like inconsequential events that ultimately lead to the potential fall of a civilization. However, Thrawn will look into the deep past of the Chiss to save its future.
The “memories” chapters in LESSER EVIL are my favorite from all three books. I loved the story they told and it provides essential insight into who Thrawn is at the core and that makes it easier to understand the Thrawn we know from his Empire era. Author Timothy Zahn paints a clear picture of Thrawn and his relationship with Thrass, the one Chiss who truly becomes his friend, his brother.
The longest book of the trilogy, LESSER EVIL packs a punch with intense battles, twisty political ploys, back-stabbing family games, and still manages to weave in lighter moments at just the right time with banter on the starship bridge and insightful moments from our main character. Book three expertly wraps up the multitude of storylines, big and small. The final 100 pages were some of my favorites as Zahn gives the reader closure where it’s needed.
I knew going into the trilogy that somehow it would set things up for the next stage of Thrawn’s career, namely his exile and immersion into the Star Wars world as we know it. As a reader and long-time fan, I like the way the book concludes and how it leads us into what we know is coming next, especially if you’ve read THRAWN by Timothy Zahn (published in 2017).
“In my experience, superior wisdom can stand on its own merits. It does not require a warship to force acceptance.” (Thrawn)
“Never throw away a possible weapon when it’s unnecessary to do so.” (Thrawn)
“And if there was one thing Ar’alani had learned about power, it was that for far too many people a small and fleeting taste wasn’t nearly enough.” (Admiral Ar’alani)
“Allies of convenience are still allies.” (Thrawn)
“. . . I feel myself exhale. For the next few hours, I will be Maven. Just Maven. I will not have to hide what I know or think. I will have the opportunity to speak when I want to and listen when I don’t.”
(The Wolf’s Howl by A. L. Tait)
Lady’s maid Maven and squire Reeve forged an unlikely friendship when they had to find a stolen jewel and discover who murdered an innocent man. Having solved those intertwined mysteries, they are together again, on the road with the newly married Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. This time they’re searching for a missing cook while unraveling secret codes, political alliances, and loyalties. With help from the mysterious Beech Circle, the duo may be able to save the cook and themselves.
I loved The Wolf’s Howl as much as I did The Fire Star(book one). I enjoy a good duology because it gives me more time to spend with characters I like and it offers a chance to see the characters continue to grow. Add in a mystery, a secret society, political intrigue, kidnappings, and you have a book that kept me turning pages.
As a YA mystery from one of my favorite authors, The Wolf’s Howl goes on my shelf as one of my favorite reads of the summer.
Here’s a quick break-down:
Book two in the Maven and Reeve Mysteries
YA with two main characters, ages 15 and 16
Told in dual POV (which I loved!)
Medieval fantasy world setting
Mystery that includes a missing cook, treason, a mysterious society, and kidnappings
Intricate plot with political intrigue and mortal danger
Themes relevant to today including the status of women
I will always recommend reading a duology (or series) in order. It makes it easier to see (and enjoy) the characters’ development. I felt like I connected with Maven and Reeve in book one and that connection grew stronger in The Wolf’s Howl. Author A. L. Tait has a talent for creating complex, yet likable characters who are smart, brave, and loyal. However, they’re never perfect and that’s what I like best.
In The Wolf’s Howl, Maven and Reeve have traveled with Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick to the isolated Glawn Castle. The castle sits in a region where an ever-present howling, gusting wind sweeps through the landscape that’s dotted with windmills. When they arrive at Glawn Castle, they’re immediately thrown into a mystery. The cook has gone missing and a search party must be dispatched to find her.
“There is more to Glawn that meets the eye.” (The Wolf’s Howl, page 81)
There also is more to Maven than meets the eye as well. She’s clever, capable, and a member of the Beech Circle. Being a young woman of intellect and drive, she’s in constant danger. Women like her are not acceptable. Reeve is an ambitious young squire with his own set of special skills. He respects Maven and is indebted to the Beech Circle. He’d never give away their secrets. Together, they are a formidable pair and have forged a deep bond of friendship. As I mentioned in my review for book one, I love that Maven and Reeve are friends instead of love interests.
A quick recap of the Beech Circle because they play a prominent role in this story:
A group of girls and women who are connected. They help each other and those who need help. They are educated, self-reliant, and they’d be eliminated if their existence was discovered by the men who desire to keep all women complacent and silent. (from my review of book one)
If you love books with strong female characters, friendships built on trust and respect, and political intrigue amid a medieval setting, then grab a copy of The Wolf’s Howl by A.L. Tait.
Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) drew me in more than a decade ago when I found her website. I connected with her writing style, humor, and kindness and have been a fan of her books ever since. She is an internationally-published, bestselling author of two middle-grade adventure series and the YA Maven & Reeve mysteries. She’s a writer, teacher, speaker, and co-host of the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Allison lives in Australia and can be found on social media via links from her site.
The first Agatha Christie book I ever read was And Then There Was None. I was 10 or 11 and my mom picked it out for me because I had read all the Nancy Drew books, all the Trixie Belden books, and I wasn’t into the Hardy Boys. Mom was a mystery book lover and Agatha Christie fan. After And Then There Was None, so was I.
Over the years, my Agatha Christie book collection has grown, depleted as I’ve worn out copies, and then grown more as I discovered how much I love the cover art on some of the older versions. My husband and I enjoy poking around antique and vintage shops on weekends and it’s become my habit to keep an eye out for old books that may fit into my collection, in particular, any Christie books.
I’ll admit, I’m picky. I won’t pick up any copy. It has to have cover art that catches my eye, be one of my favorite titles, and I try to rescue those fabulous older pocket novels because they have so much character.
Recently, we were exploring the amazing stores in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City. If you’re into vintage, antiques, and historic buildings, most definitely plan a visit when in the K.C. area. We began our exploration of the multi-story shops early, enjoying the wide array of displays. There really is something for everyone here, and so much to see, that it can almost be an overload. But it’s worth it.
At our second stop, Martin’s Memories, I was browsing through a display of furniture and spied a bookcase. Of course, I had to take a look and see what was on the shelves. A quick glance and I saw “Agatha Christie” on a spine. Well, that got my attention. I looked closer. There was another one. And another, and another, and another.
The little bookcase held all Agatha Christie books, and one Martha Grimes.
50 Agatha Christie books.
Now I had already bought two others at our first stop, but that most certainly wasn’t going to stop me from picking through this batch. As I started pulling the books off the shelf, I was struck by their good condition. A little dusty, but definitely in good condition for their age. The majority of the books were from the 1960s and 1970s. And the covers!
Oh my. I was in love.
We offered to buy the entire lot, and they were happy to sell us the lot. I was thrilled! My Agatha Christie collection consisted mostly of my favorite titles of her work, largely Poirot mysteries. This lot has many that I never had purchased plus some that I’ve never read. I’m looking forward to indulging in some reading time, but I wanted to share a few pictures of some of the fantastic covers.
If you’d like to see a full list of Agatha Christie titles, please visit AgathaChristie.com.
What is Children’s Book Week? Directly from the Every Child A Reader site, Children’s Book Week is:
“Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, young people across the country participate by attending events at schools, libraries, bookstores, celebrating at home, and engaging with book creators both online and in person.”
Maybe your kids will come home talking about it and the wonderful new books they’ve had the chance to read or look at. If you visit your local library this week, it’s likely there will be something fun going in honor of Children’s Book Week as well.
Every week is a good week to read to a child, but Children’s Book Week is definitely one not to miss. Enjoy!
Several years ago I downsized my book collection, and then regretted that action. Not right away. At first, it was like, “Oh hey look at all this lovely bookshelf space” and I took the opportunity to add new books to the shelves.
Fast forward to about three years ago when I found “Until the End” the trilogy that is Christopher Pike’s three books “The Party”, “The Dance”, and “The Graduation.”
“Until the End” by Christopher Pike
Once I reread it, I wanted the other Christopher Pike books that I had let go, but I wanted them with the original covers that I had as a kid. I’ve been on the hunt ever since. Antique shops are a great place to find books like this, and I’ve added “Chain Letter” and “Remember Me” to my collection.
But the one I really wanted was LAST ACT. And now I finally have it. It arrived today — I ordered it online from a bookseller, because I could not find it in any of the used bookstores or antique shops that I’ve explored.
It’s been a couple of decades since I read LAST ACT and I’m looking forward to the reread. Will it be nostalgic? Probably. Will it be as good as preteen Barb remembers? Maybe not, but you never know. I’m still looking forward to it.
Recently, someone asked me if I read every day, and I said, yes.
They seemed surprised. So I asked them if they watched TV or a movie every day.
They said yes, and seemed surprised that I’d ask that.
I said I don’t see any difference between picking up a book and reading for 30 minutes or sitting down and watching a sitcom for the same amount of time. I like to read. I also like to watch TV shows, movies, and other programming. But I usually feel like I relax more when I read.
I don’t think reading every day is strange, just as I don’t think watching TV daily is strange. Or listening to music.
My copy (with original cover) First book in the GONE series.
Reading makes me happy (most of the time). So yes, I do read every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
What am I reading right now? The GONE series by Michael Grant. It’s a reread for me, and I’m currently on book three: LIES. It’s a YA series that can be quite disturbing in parts, but it’s one of my favorites because of its complexities.
I have a few other books that I will be starting soon, in particular an ARC that I’m excited to read (keep an eye out for a post about that) and a beta read of an MG book written by one of my critique partners.
If you need me, I’ll be over here writing and always reading.
Some of the spooky MG books currently living on my bookshelves.
It’s Halloween week, but I enjoy a good spooky story any time of the year!
I’ve read several fantastic middle grade spooky stories this year, both in print and on my ereader, which include Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko, The Stitchers and The Collectors both by Lorien Lawrence. I totally recommend each and every one.
Here’s my Spooky MG list based on what I currently own and have read this year (it’s in no particular order.) Click on the author’s name to go to their website or book links. Add to your TBR and get ready to enjoy some creeps, chills, and thrills.
The last three in the list are not in the above pic because my copies are digital, but I’m thinking I’d like to add the print versions to my shelves. They’ve all got great covers!
This is just one small list of MG spooky books — there are so many great ones out there! Go visit these authors on their sites, check out their books, give them a read. It’s worth it. Looking for other titles? Head to your local library and ask a librarian for recommendations. Your librarians can help you find the perfect book to fit your mood any day of the year.
I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I did! And if you have any recommendations you want to share, let me know. Tweet me your favorites. Find me talking books, writing, and more on Twitter at: BarbH2014.