Reading Re-Cap

I’d love to tell you that my absence of posts from this blog has been because I’ve been off on exotic travels, but nope. There’s been adventure—domestic, not exotic. But thrilling (and time-consuming) nonetheless. This adventure has brought many changes to our schedules and has reminded me how important it is to be able to bend and adapt.

That said, I have been reading. It has been and always will be my number one choice of escape. I’ve been trying to get caught up with books off my TBR list, both print books from my home library and those that I’ve been collecting on my ereader. 

I do keep track of the books I read during the calendar year through Goodreads and I participate in the annual reading challenge. This year I am aiming for 65 books read in 2022. Currently, I’ve read 48, so I’m ahead of schedule and that’s okay by me. If you’re interested in seeing my full Goodreads 2022 Book Challenge the link is below. 

https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/31397664

But, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about some of the books I’ve read recently. Maybe you’ll find something in my list that will spark interest or a new-to-you author that you can get to know. 

Middle Grade Books

Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White

Perfect for summer! Spooky but not too creepy, and I absolutely liked the 12 yr old twins, Alexander and Theo and their big sister Wil. Likeable characters, an interesting mystery, and a few chills made this book very enjoyable and I’m definitely going to pick up the next book when it’s available.

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This book was a serious delight for me and kid-Barb would have savored every word and then quickly reread it, but it’s exactly the kind of mystery I loved at that age. I also enjoyed immensely as an adult. Premeditated Myrtle is smart, funny, and is written to keep you guessing. Another series that I will continue reading. 

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

If you’re looking for a magical middle grade fantasy adventure with smart, fun, relatable characters who capture your heart, then Witchlings is a book you don’t want to miss. 

Claribel A. Ortega has created an immersive and imaginative world. It’s not without its problems, but her trio of witchlings have the moxie to set some very disturbing things right. I loved the world-building and was completely enchanted, but it’s the characters and how their friendships develop that won my heart. Unlikely friendships, strong family ties, and plenty of twists and turns are just a few of the elements that made this book a winner for me.

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury

Katryn Bury has created a more than likable character who is smart, relatable, flawed, loyal, and funny. If I were a kid, I’d want to be friends with Drew. I thought the mystery was solid with clues for the reader to follow, plus it touched on issues many kid readers can relate to: bullying, body shaming, chronic illness, and divorce. While some of the issues/themes are most definitely heavy, the story never sags and it’s infused with humor and hope in just the right places.

Young Adult

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater

Bravely continues the story of Merida as originated in the Disney film “Brave”.  The book is a whimsical yet poignant fairy tale steeped with historical tidbits (be sure to read the author’s notes at the end) and filled with what I like to think of as Merida-moments. It’s YA but there is no language or sex, and really no romance plot. While it’s about growth and change and stagnation, the book is filled with heart, hope, and family—both blood and found.

Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood by Ellen Conford

Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood was one of those books from my childhood/preteen years that I read multiple times. So many times, actually, that I wore my copy out. A couple of weeks ago, I found a copy in decent shape in an antique shop and it had to come home with me.

It’s a quick read, a fun summertime story about a young girl at camp for the first time. You get to experience her fears, first love, and even how she learns to stand up for herself against a bully cabinmate. It was fun to reread it after all these years and I’m really happy to have a copy for my bookshelf, purely for nostalgia-sake.

Killing November by Adriana Mather

It’s an action-packed read filled with intrigue, suspense, and humor at just the right moments. I went into the book expecting a school-for-assassins/spies type story and was thrilled to find so much more.

November, for me, was a likable character. Her cluelessness of her true situation gave me just the right level of anxiety and it was fun watching her develop and learn her place while figuring out what the hell was going on. November has a lot to unpack—not only the “why” of her dad sending her away to this remote/hidden boarding school, but his connection to the school, her family history, and how everything she thought were games were actually training for who she’d one day have to become.

Hunting November by Adriana Mather

Hunting November was the perfect sequel to Killing November. If you’re looking for a spy-style adventure with deceptions, action, and a bit of romance, this is the book to pick up. Definitely read Killing November first. The books should be read in order. 

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

As a life-long fan of Agatha Christie, I had looked forward to The Agathas and was excited to start reading. The authors didn’t disappoint with the Christie references and I particularly enjoyed the quotes from Christie’s books at the beginning of the chapters.

It’s whodunit, complete with murder, lies, red herrings, and clues the reader can pick up if they’re looking. The contemporary mystery is set amid the haves and have-nots of a California high school and it’s told in dual POV, which I enjoyed. We get multiple subplots, teen angst, and maybe a bit too much about the adults who do play an integral role in the story and the overall mystery.

Adult

Nightwork by Nora Roberts

Nightwork is a suspenseful thriller-mystery told from the perspective of a very talented thief. If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts’ suspense novels, this one won’t disappoint. 

Hide by Kiersten White

Definitely horror. Definitely dark. The book is set in an extremely creepy, abandoned amusement park where contestants on a reality/game show have been brought to compete. Except, nothing is as it seems. It was a page-turner and I really liked it. 

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

I picked up Nine Lives because it was recommended to me by another mystery book lover. It’s a well-woven mystery with multiple threads, a solid plot, and the right amount of well-placed clues but balanced with twists to keep you guessing.

As an avid mystery reader, in particular Agatha Christie, I immensely enjoyed the references and because of my Christie knowledge I had a fair idea of the “who” and even a general idea of the “why”—but I wasn’t sure at all on the “how”. This made it a fun read for me.

Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain

It’s rare for me to read non-fiction and I’m so glad I picked up Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain. First, I absolutely loved her on GBBO and I have watched and re-watched her show on Netflix because I find her not only smart and funny, but calming. And in the chaos of this world, it’s been exactly what I needed.

This book was a fast read for me because it felt like I was sitting down and chatting with Nadiya Hussain over a cup of tea (or coffee for me). It’s charming, heartbreaking, eye-opening, and a book I’m just happy that I read.

Middle-Grade Reading: The Eye of Ra Series

I love stories with time travel, so when I saw a middle grade book featuring time-traveling siblings and their first adventure was to ancient Egypt, I was all in. 

In November 2020 I read the first book of the The Eye of Ra series (book one is the same title as the series) by Ben Gartner. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was an action-packed, historical romp in time. Book two in the series is Sol Invictus and I had the opportunity to read an ARC in January 2021. It’s equally action-packed with even higher stakes. I loved the book, reading it in less than two days!

When Ben offered to send me an ARC of the third book in the series, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I have reviews of the first two books up on Goodreads if you want to check them out. Below are my thoughts on the third book: People of the Sun.

People of the Sun by Ben Gartner whisked me away on a time-traveling adventure filled with humor, heart, and history. This story is book three in the “The Eye of Ra” series featuring a sister and brother duo who find themselves traveling back in time to help save the future.

Sarah and John have traveled back to the ancient Egyptian town of Saqqara via a cave portal in Colorado and to the ancient Roman town Aventicum via a portal at a museum in Washington D.C. People of the Sun opens with the siblings hiking in California with their aunt when an earthquake hits.

I love that author Gartner immediately hits the reader with action—the earthquake, the arrival of two mysterious older individuals, and a quick trip into the future. The roller coaster of time travel action kicks into high-gear for John and Sarah from here, as they’re assigned a mission to go back to the ancient Aztec civilization.

People of the Sun effectively wraps up the time travel saga that began in “The Eye of Ra” giving readers the final reveal about why and how the kids have been selected for these missions.

It’s a fun story!

Gartner balances heart-thumping action sequences with smart dialogue, vivid descriptions, and history lessons that never feel like actual lessons. I highly recommend People of the Sun and the full “The Eye of Ra” series for any middle grade reader and for the adults who enjoy well-crafted stories.

You can find more information about “The Eye of Ra” series on author Ben Gartner’s website. Go check it out and make sure to get your copies of these fantastic middle grade books.

Reading: Looking Back at Books Read

I’ve always enjoyed book recommendations from other readers and writers. It’s fun to see what you’re reading, and it’s a great way to add new-to-me authors and books to my TBR. Last year, I logged in 59 books read over at Goodreads and you can see those books here: Barb’s 2020 Goodreads Challenge.

What I’m going to do is go back and pick a few of my favorite reads from last year, and post them here on the blog under Book Reviews. Up first is: SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie.

I read “Scritch Scratch” by Lindsay Currie in September 2020. Fantastic middle-grade ghost story!

The following review was written and posted to Goodreads on September 5, 2020.

I had been looking forward to reading SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie for months (I had my preorder in back in January) and I’m super excited to report that I loved this book every bit as much as I thought I would when I first read its blurb! I thoroughly enjoy a good spooky ghost story, and always have.

This is totally a book 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting (took adult me two because life/responsibilities) and then pre-teen me would have gone back at reread it a week later (I’m thinking I’ll do my reread in October on a dreary day while snuggled under a blankie & sipping some hot chocolate.)

[And did she actually reread it in October? Yes. Yes, she did, enjoying it just as much the second time.]

SCRITCH SCRATCH is set in my favorite city: Chicago! Author Currie gives a well-constructed story told from the POV of 12-year-old, budding scientist Claire who has a mom with a baking business, older brother who can be annoying, and a dad who’s obsessed with Chicago ghost stories. It’s her dad’s obsession and job as an author of historical ghost books and the operator of a ghost-themed Chicago bus tour that throws Claire into something that takes her out of her comfort zone. One night when helping her dad during the ghost-themed bus tour, Claire actually encounters a ghost.

When that ghost begins to haunt her at home and at school, she’s faced with a tough decision: tell her dad and suffer the world’s worst embarrassment when he makes a huge deal out of an actual ghost (something she does not want her classmates to know) or try to figure out why she’s being haunted by a little boy ghost dripping with water before the spooky stuff hurts her or her family.

There’s so much to like about SCRITCH SCRATCH–from the haunting scenes that took me straight back to my own kid fears of being alone in my room thinking I wasn’t actually alone to the family dynamics, on-point middle school anxieties and friendships, and Claire, a character that I genuinely liked and who kid-me would have loved to hang out with years ago.

Lindsay Currie has a distinctive writing style and I thoroughly enjoy her books. If you’ve not read her PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET, grab a copy. There’s even a nod to its ghost in SCRITCH SCRATCH. You can feel the love Currie has for Chicago and its rich history, in particular some of its forgotten history. I highly recommend SCRITCH SCRATCH for kids who love to read spooky stories and for adults too–totally a book that should be on the classroom fiction shelf and in the school library.

Book Review: “Amari and the Night Brothers” by B. B. Alston

book cover for Amari and the Night Brothers on e-reader

AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B. B. Alston officially ranks as one of my fav middlegrade books. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading it and when I finished, I wanted more—so glad it’s the first book in a series. Its title is listed by HarperCollins as Amari and the Night Brothers: Supernatural Investigations: Volume Number 1. 

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

There was much to like about the book, so here’s a bit of the what’s-what:

Amari Peters isn’t from a posh neighborhood and is on scholarship to her private school, a place where she’s bullied. Her older brother Quinton has gone missing, and now she’s in trouble at school for standing up to the bullies. Things are a mess. But when she receives a strange briefcase from her missing brother and a nomination for a place in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari goes on the hunt for Quinton. 

At the Bureau, she’s enrolled in the summer tryouts for Junior Agent and learning all about the supernatural and magical world that’s filled with magicians, dragons, fairies, sasquatches, and even talking elevators with their own distinct personalities. She’ll compete for a spot in the program against kids who’ve grown up in this fantastical world, while dodging enemies, and learning who she can and can’t trust. Not everything or everyone is as they seem. 

Amari worries she won’t have what it takes to make it through the Junior Agent trials, stand up to the bullies in her training class, learn how to use her own magic, and find her missing brother. 

So why did I like the book so much?

As I’ve said in my social media posts, I think AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS is immersive, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging to read. I was drawn in from the opening pages and had to read more. Amari is a kid I would have loved to have had as a friend when I was a kid. She’s smart, brave, compassionate, and fun. 

The magical elements in the book were fun and unique. I particularly fell in love with the elevators and I love Amari’s roommate’s inventions, especially the sneakandle. 

I most definitely recommend reading AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B.B. Alston. You can read more about the book here.

#PitchWarsParty2019

It’s here!

Today the 2019 Pitch Wars Mentee Class is kicking off our showcase party! We’ve all been working hard for three months making our manuscripts shine and now the mentors have submitted our official Agent Showcase entries, so it’s time to celebrate! The showcase entries go live on the Pitch Wars website on February 5. From the official website:

February 5-10, 2020: Agent Showcase

  • February 5: Adult entries are live on the Pitch Wars site
  • February 6: MG entries are live on the Pitch Wars site
  • February 7: YA entries are live on the Pitch Wars site

Today’s #PitchWarsParty2019 prompt is to introduce myself and my manuscript.

Hi, I’m Barb—MG writer, freelancer, avid reader, lover of the 3 C’s: chocolate, coffee, & cats. MURPH MEETS A DEMON is my showcase entry, a fast-paced contemporary fantasy about a 7th grader who learns she’s part of a demon-hunting family.

If you’re following me on social media (and you are following me?) I’ll be posting through Feb. 10 and you can get to know a bit more about my middle-grade book MURPH MEETS A DEMON.

Book Review: The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore

“Maybe fate and superstition were just our brains’ way of making sense of the world around us, creating a story to explain events.”

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapt. 5, page 34)

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore is the sequel to The Firefly Code, a middle-grade science fiction story set in the future. I love a sequel, especially when the first book captivated me with its story and characters.

Everyone is back in book two, Mori and her closest friends from Firefly Lane in Old Harmonie, the community run by KritaCorp. By the end of book one, we know new girl Ilana is a form of AI and the scientists from KritaCorp have decided to disassemble her. The kids decide to intervene and run away from Old Harmonie with Ilana on a mission to save her life. The Daybreak Bond opens with the Firefly Five outside Old Harmonie and on their own trying to make their way to Cambridge and the campus of MIT. At MIT, they hope to find Dr. Varden, the one scientist that may be able to help keep Ilana alive. 

I like stories where the characters/heroes are on a journey and must overcome obstacles, and The Daybreak Code delivers on that. Blakemore gives the reader five kids who leave their “utopian” community to brave the wilds of the countryside and rough cities where they know no one. On the 24-mile journey the face everything from dangerous dogs to electric fences and kids who know how to survive outside a KritaCorp community. Things get rough and not everyone comes through unharmed. However, the Firefly Five meet new friends and learn to trust others outside their group, while choosing to follow their hearts.

The Daybreak Code is a solid sequel to The Firefly Code, effortlessly combining lite sci-fi with dystopian elements and the universal truths of childhood friendships. I definitely recommend both books for middle grade readers and teens. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and as a parent it’s nice to have books that you can enjoy with your kids.

Be sure to visit author Megan Frazer Blakemore’s website for more information about her books.