Book Review: ONE GIANT LEAP by Ben Gartner

Author Ben Gartner has packed a galaxy of heart-pounding, sci-fi action into an unputdownable middle grade book that will capture the hearts and imagination of all ages. One Giant Leap is a book that 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting. I immediately connected with Fin Scott, loved the idea of the StellarKid Project, and was enthralled with every detail Gartner exquisitely incorporated into this thrilling story.

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

One Giant Leap by Ben Gartner

Fin Scott has won a place in the StellarKid Project and it’s an out-of-this-world opportunity! He’s blasting off to the International Space Station en route to the Gateway outpost that orbits the moon, but issues begin even before lift-off. When the team finally is in space, the unthinkable happens—a collision with space junk that immediately turns their epic journey into a race for survival. 

While my readers and social media followers may associate me more with mysteries and thrillers, I am also a science fiction fan and I especially love realistically space stories. One Giant Leap is exactly that, a space adventure story that feels completely real on every page. The research conducted for this book amazes me, I highly recommend reading the author’s notes at the end.

I am grateful to Ben Gartner for offering me an ARC of One Giant Leap and I can’t wait to get my hands on a print copy when the book releases on February 21, 2023.  Definitely add this middle grade book to your reading lists! 

Pop over to https://bengartner.com/ to read more about One Giant Leap and how to pre-order your copy today. Be sure to take a look at Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra series too, it’s a historical adventure through time that you don’t want to miss. 

Book Review: UNMASKED by Lorien Lawrence

I love the FRIGHT WATCH books by Lorien Lawrence! I pre-ordered my copy of UNMASKED (book 3) but then I held onto it, waiting to read it at the perfect time. That perfect time was on a flight to my family reunion. I read UNMASKED in one sitting and I was so into the story I couldn’t tell you a thing about anything that went on during that flight.

The third installment of the series more than lives up to the previous two–it’s frightfully fun filled with humor, heart, and scares perfect for a Halloween read (or any time of the year!) The story follows Marion, a talented creator of monster makeup and masks, who finds that one of her creations may be more than she intended. Marion is smart, funny, and very easy to relate to, especially for anyone who has or is dealing with any type of anxiety.

We get to spend time with Marion’s family (who I really liked as well), meet the boy she’s crushing on, and we get to connect with some of the Fright Watch series regulars. When Marion has to chase her creation down at the middle school Halloween dance, who else but Quinn and Mike of Goodie Lane are on hand to help. After all, they do have some experience with the supernatural and spooky.

UNMASKED was a joy to read, the perfect combination of scary and laugh-out-loud moments. You don’t need to read books one and two first, but I highly recommend both The Stitchers and The Collectors as well as UNMASKED.

Be sure to check out all of Lorien Lawrence’s books on her website at lorienlawrence.com.

Book Review: Fractured & Renewed by Natalie Cammaratta

Fractured & Renewed by Natalie Cammaratta

First: how gorgeous is this cover??? I love it!

Second, but equally important: this is how you complete a trilogy!

FRACTURED & RENEWED was everything I wanted as the third book of Natalie Cammaratta’s Falling & Uprising series: fast-paced, action-packed, and a total roller coaster ride of emotions.

As a personal rule, I don’t give out spoilers in any of my reviews, so I’m going to hold back on a critical event in this book, BUT, I have to say that there is a very specific relationship that made my heart happy — lots of swooning on my end as Natalie wrote each moment beautifully!

There is a LOT going on this book, but the intrigue, action, and relationship dynamics effortlessly blend for a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the last page. On that note, I also have to say that the epilogue was perfect as well — I wanted to be there with everyone enjoying the special event and the lives that they’ve been able to build for themselves after such a tumultuous time.

If you love dystopian YA filled with espionage, action, romance, and fierce relationships, then you should definitely read all three books in the FALLING & UPRISING series.

Please go visit Natalie at her website: nataliecammarattabooks.com

I did receive my copy as an ARC from the author and I’m very grateful.

Book Review: The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor Namey

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS took me by surprise. To be honest, YA contemporary isn’t usually my thing and I can’t remember who recommend this book to me — but if it was you, THANK YOU! It’s been on my TBR shelf for a while and I picked it up this week because I needed a diversion from the chaos of life. It more than worked. It sucked me in and wrapped me up like a warm, cozy blanket as I became more and more attached to Darcy, Marisol, and Asher.

There’s so much I loved about this book:

–chapter titles and cool quotations
–Peter Pan
–tons of literary references
–amazing best friendship (teen me would totally want to be their friend)
–MC works in a book store
–slow burn
–layers of emotion and just the right amount of highs and lows for me
–the uncertainty of the future at 18, but with the promise of adventure, love, and hope

Do I recommend THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS? Absolutely! And it’s definitely going into my reread rotation because I know I want to revisit Darcy, Marisol, and Asher. Go now and check out this book and the others by Laura Taylor Namey.

Book Review: The Wolf’s Howl by A. L. Tait

“. . . 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.

You can find more information about author A.L. Tait at her website

I’d like to thank Kane Miller books and Allison Tait for sending me copies of The Fire Star and The Wolf’s Howl. My reviews and opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Fire Star by A.L. Tait

“But you are not witches?”

“No. Not unless witches are just women who choose to ask questions.”

(The Fire Star by A.L. Tait)

Maven, a lady’s maid, and Reeve, a knight’s squire, are thrown together by the theft of a priceless jewel. The unlikely duo has only three days to find the gem or both their futures will fall apart.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Fire Star! As my frequent readers know, I am a HUGE fan of mysteries, and I especially love a well-plotted YA mystery. And when the YA mystery comes from one of my favorite authors—it’s a major win-win for me!

So let’s talk about A.L. Tait’s young adult novel, The Fire Star. Here’s a quick break-down: 

  • YA with two main characters, ages 15 and 16
  • Told in dual POV (which I loved!)
  • Medieval fantasy world setting 
  • Mystery that includes a stolen gem and a murder
  • Intricate plot with intrigue and danger
  • Themes relevant to today including the status of women

It’s wonderful to escape into a far-away world and mingle with characters that are smart, articulate, compassionate, and relatable. A. L. Tait draws colorful and complex characters and then sets them in a richly drawn world—a kingdom in turmoil where the fight for what is right can take an individual to the brink of life or death.  

Maven is clever and capable with quick wit and strong drive. Unfortunately, in her world, a woman of intellect is simply not allowed. Women aren’t supposed to read, write, or think for themselves. Taught by her father, whose reputation and wealth has now depleted due to drink, Maven has lost her status and is now a lady’s maid and companion to Cassandra who is engaged to Sir Garrick, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. 

Reeve is a new squire to Sir Garrick and desperate to prove himself worthy. Reeve is smart and capable, especially at reading people. But he simply wants to do his job and stay out of trouble as he fears failure will send him across the sea to a life of misery, or worse—death.

When Maven and Reeve meet, possibly one of my favorite meet-ups that I’ve read (it involves some goats), neither anticipate how important they will be to each other in the near future. It’s fun to watch their friendship develop across the pages as they learn to trust each other, working together to find the missing gem and discover who killed an innocent man. I found it refreshing to read a YA mystery that focused on friendship versus romance with the two main characters. The mystery was engaging, plotting tight, and the pacing perfect for the story. 

I can’t write this review without mentioning the Beech Circle, 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. Without the Beech Circle, Maven and Reeve may never be able to solve the mystery and save multiple lives.  

The Fire Star is the first book in the Maven and Reeve mysteries and I most definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy strong female characters, friendships built on trust and respect, and intrigue amid a medieval setting. The second book is The Wolf’s Howl and I’ll be posting a review of that soon, so keep an eye out. 

I have been following Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) for more than a decade, having found her website online and was immediately drawn in by her writing style, humor, and kindness. I have been a fan of her books since I first read Race to the End of the World (Mapmaker Chronicles, book one). You can read my reviews of her other books, The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher books. I highly recommend those as well. 

You can find more information about author A.L. Tait at her website. Allison 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.

Many thanks to Kane Miller EDC Publishing and Allison Tait for sending me copies of The Fire Star and The Wolf’s Howl. This review reflects my own opinions and thoughts.

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.

My Agatha Christie Obsession

Agatha Christie books March 2022

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.

 Box of 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.

January & 2022: Time for Book Stuff

It’s 2022. We’re midway through January and things have been hectic. Hectic for me isn’t always a negative. After a wonderful holiday season, it was time to get back to work on January 4. Since that day, my freelance work days (and sometimes nights) have been full. Again, not a negative thing. But I do find that in order to keep a balance, it’s essential for me to take a step back every now and then. That’s what this week is for—a hiatus of sorts. 

So what’s on the calendar for me this week if not tip-tapping the keyboard with client words?

Book stuff!

  • Reading. Lots of reading!
  • Outlining a new middle grade mystery.
  • Writing! Working on zero-draft of the MG mystery.
  • Fine-tuning my query letter.
  • Tweaks to my MG book SEEN, based on beta reader feedback. 

Because I have a lot I want to share about the books I’ve already read this year and the ones that I’m planning to read in the next few weeks, that will be a separate post. Keep an eye for it, because you don’t want to miss it. 

New middle grade mystery? Yes, indeed! I’m super excited about this book, but I’m also not ready to share too much about it. I can tell you that my critique partners have read the opening chapter and the response was positive! 

And onto querying. Again. Last year at this time I had a tiny spark of an idea for a story, a fairytale retelling of sorts inspired by one of my favorite Disney movies: Tangled. By the end of January 2021 I had started outlining the book and once February hit, I had pages to share with my critique partners. I’m about ready to send it out into the world, off to agents with the hope that there is one agent out there that will fall in love with this story and want to sign me. 

This is not my first time in the query trenches and I’ve been thinking about sharing some of my journey here on the blog. Who knows? It may help someone and honestly, querying is hard and I do think it helps not to go it alone. I’m fortunate and have an amazing writing network and support group. But not everyone does. So if I can help even a tiny bit, I’d like to do that. 

What I’ll likely do is a weekly post about my querying journey with SEEN, including some helpful tips I’ve learned about querying. As I said, this is not my first time in the query trenches. I queried my 2019 Pitch Wars book for about a year, but was unable to find representation. I came close, but it didn’t happen. That’s part of this business—rejection. A lot of it. But you keep writing and telling stories. It’s worth it, at least I think it is or I wouldn’t do it.

I have several posts lined up for the next few weeks, including some book recommendations you do not want to miss plus the first posts about my querying journey. 

See you soon! And if you want to connect, I’m active on Twitter and Instagram.

2021 Books Read

I had an exceptional year of books read. According to my Goodreads challenge, I read 90 and this doesn’t include the beta reading I did for author friends. I typically read across three genres: Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), and adult.

By the Numbers

Pages read: 28,001

Average pages per book: 311

Longest book read: HUNGER by Michael Grant (590 pages)

MG books read: 26

YA books read: 44

Full series read: 7

For me, I find that when writing MG (which I was for most of this year), I gravitate more toward YA books for my leisure reads. However, 2021 was a FANTASTIC year for Middle Grade books! So many good ones! A few of my favorites include:

  • Fright Watch (The Collectors & The Stitchers) by Lorien Lawrence
  • Amari & the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston
  • Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley
  • Sol Invictus by Ben Gartner
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T Kingfisher
  • Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko
  • Much Ado About Baseball by Rajani LaRocca
  • What Lives in the Woods by Lindsey Currie
  • The Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad

If you’d like to see the full list of the books I read this year, it’s HERE.