Category Archives: Book Reviews

Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer

Last time I promised you my favorite Emblazon title from over the winter. This one takes top honors!

arrow of the mist

This book is a textbook example of what I love most about the children’s genres: a strong lead, incredible fantasy world, an imaginative plot, absolutely gorgeous prose, and a lingering depth to the story that I can take away with me and mull over later. I can’t think of a single negative. I was completely captivated by this one.

Lia has a botanical gift. She knows the ancient names, ancient uses, and ancient lore for every plant. Unfortunately, the king has outlawed such practices as well as entry into the mystical lands of Brume that lie hidden behind the curtain of mist. But when Lia’s father and several others contract an unknown sickness, she and her cousin must journey into the unknown land to find the cure. There Lia learns secrets of her family’s past, abilities she never would have imagined, and dangers beyond her worst nightmare.

I loved that Lia’s ability to wield magic stems from ancient herb lore. She’s a fantastic lead, strong, brave, and heedless of the disapproval others might have for her. Instead, her focus lies on the job she must do. Her cousin, Wynn, isn’t quite as developed, but he’s loyal and brave and makes a necessary accompaniment to Lia on her travels. And their path takes some wildly unforeseen turns. Brume is an incredible, well thought out world with mysterious characters at every turn.

And now to share some examples of Christina’s beautiful writing style:

“Lia turned her head from their scorn and swallowed down the retort growing bitter on her tongue.”

Squeaky Award“Dunley Meadow sprawled out in front of them, a blanket of golden stalks bending to the whispering breeze.”

“When he stopped and answered her, his words were slow and deliberate, like a steady drizzle of rain seeping deep into the soil.”

“The day dragged against the sky, and the dimly lit sun melted into the horizon.”

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The ending implies another episode to follow. I’ll be standing in line.

Want to grab a copy? It’s just .99!

Breaking news! I’m pleased to announce that Arms of Anu, the sequel to Arrow in the Mist, just released in March! I’ve already gotten my patties on it. I’ll give you the low-down very soon. :)

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christina mercerChristina Mercer, writes fiction for children and young adults and is a member of Emblazon. She’s also a CPA, a Certified Herbalist, and a beekeeper. Other random facts: she’s ambidextrous and she doesn’t eat mammals (they simply don’t taste good). Writing credits include placing in the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and taking Writer’s Best of Show at an SCBWI Regional Conference. She enjoys life in the Sierra foothills with her husband and sons, a pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees.

New Today!!

the stolen kingdomYou may recall a post I did last year announcing Ross Rosenfeld’s then new release, The Stolen Kingdom. I did not do a review simply because I had begun guarding my writing time so closely and did not have time to read it before I posted. (If you want a review, see Erik’s post over on This Kid Reviews Books.) You can read The Stolen Kingdom free on Kindle.

TODAY, Ross released a companion story to The Stolen Kingdom entitled The Greenest Valley. Again, I’m just making the announcement. I have not read it yet. Here’s the blurb on Amazon.

the greenest valleyIn this first companion story to the novel The Stolen Kingdom, you’ll go along with Winkle on an adventure like none you’ve ever heard before. Forced to live underground for hundreds of years due to their deformed appearances, the Pooglians find themselves faced with the prospect of starvation when a harsh winter makes animals scarce and crops nonexistent. Young Winkle and a band of seven other Pooglians are selected for a desperate journey to find food. What they find is danger, lurking behind every mysterious twist and turn. Expect many unusual surprises as you travel along with them. Recommended for ages 12 and up. Contains significant violence.

Interested? Have you read the novel? You can grab The Greenest Valley  Kindle edition for just .99.

The Gypsy Pearl

Here’s another Emblazon title that I read this winter. I’m really, really excited about these next two. This one is my second favorite. It’s by one of my favorite authors–cheerleader extraordinaire and soon-to-be black belt, Lia London. You’ll have to tune in next time for my top favorite.

Okay, I wrote up a fantistic review for this one right after I read it and promptly lost it. A few weeks later, I wrote this one. I feel like it doesn’t quite do it justice. But the book was an easy five stars.

Gypsy PearlCaz doesn’t mean to get in trouble, but trouble always seems to find her. When a choice of punishments includes a penal institution on the Surface, she jumps at the chance. She’s always hated life on the Arxon, an Interplanetary City Station and has dreamed of visiting the Surface. This is her long-awaited opportunity! But she doesn’t count on the transport ship filled with gypsies. Or the bloody encounter with their creature and its life-altering results.

This is my favorite Lia London book so far (and I’ve read them all), but I’m not sure I can actually pinpoint why. Ms. London’s writing is always beautiful. She’s an artist who paints in words. The prose is always smooth and easy to read.  I do believe she’s getting better and better. Perhaps it’s because Caz is my favorite character. I quickly identified with this quirky kid. I sympathized with her, and I laughed out loud at some of the outrageous things she said. The adventure is definitely part of it, as well. The plot led in some unexpected directions. But the ordinary gets a special touch, too. I especially loved rediscovering wind and smells and dirt with someone who had never experienced them before.

Squeaky Award

The mystery has me to eagerly await the next installment, which leads me to my one complaint. Three times Lia has written book one of a series. I want to read a book two. :)

This one, please!

Grab a 3.99 copy on Amazon.

Lia also wrote Magian High, which just got an awesome new cover, designed by Emblazoner Mikey Brooks. You can see it and my review here.

Allegiant (Divergent, 3), by Veronica Roth

cover_allegiantWow! This was a very powerful, emotional ending to a kick-butt series. After being somewhat disappointed in book two, book three made a strong comeback. I regret having to read them each a year apart. I forgot a lot in between. Someday, I’ll go back and read them all again the same week.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series (probably not many left after the movie—which I thought was excellent), book one, Divergent (my review), sets up a futuristic world where factions are set in place to maintain order after a devastating war several generations back. We meet Tris and Four, our heroes. It is the story of Tris’s very difficult decision to leave her family and enter the faction of her choice, only to find she is Divergent—her genes are different than the norm—and the Divergent are being hunted. Then one faction rises above the others, initiating a war. In book two, Insurgent (my review), the factionless—destitute, bottom-of-society folks—rise, plunging the city into a new revolution. But new secrets are revealed, hinting that there is far more to their history, and far more to the world beyond the city. Book three takes Tris and Four beyond the city and uncovers the mystery of how the factions began—genetic manipulation. And reveals the horrible plans the government has for the city they grew up in. Plans that throw our heroes into action for a third time.

I know that was not very detailed, but I don’t want to give anything away—rather tricky when talking about a third book. Suffice to say that this series is extremely engaging, with a bit of romance and non-stop action. It’s one of those books that ignites the writer within me to try for such tension, such emotion, in my readers. I highly recommend it.

Some further thoughts. This series is violent. There is a lot of power-grabbing and insurrection going on. There are also some moments of intense kissing. And it hits on some tough subjects. I put an easy 14+ age limit on it in our house. But Tris and Four are both honorable, and Ms. Roth, while she doesn’t write a squeaky clean book, does exhibit a great deal of restraint in the areas of sex and language. And—I love this—she makes the relationship between Tris and Four very real. They are both seriously imperfect, and their interaction reflects that. Unlike most teen romances, Ms. Roth doesn’t create unrealistic expectations for girls looking for Mr. Right. They won’t live happily ever after just because they get married. This is one of my favorite quotes:

“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.” That’s not fairy tale. That’s real.

In conclusion, if you haven’t read this series yet, it’s intense. Easily one of the best YA series I’ve read. If you like dystopian, make this one your next library choice.

Faery Swap, by Susan Kaye Quinn

During the rest of March and April, I’m going to feature my four favorite titles by Emblazon authors that I read over the winter. The first one just so happens to be Faery Swap by Susan Kaye Quinn. You may remember she wrote the posts for Middle Grade Week back in February. She’s now hosting a blog tour, which I’m participating in, because I read the book like four months ago and it was time I got my review posted! Sue is also sponsoring a Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post. Today is the LAST DAY to participate.

faery swapDrawing on her background in the sciences, Susan Kaye Quinn has created a fun world in which “mathematicks” is the most important ingredient in stopping a scheme by a mad faery king that could result in the loss of countless lives, both faery and human.

Fourteen-year-old Finn has recently moved to England. Since his mother’s death, his father has “checked out” and Finn has become the primary caregiver for his younger sister, working hard to keep them both out of the hands of social services. As he’s dropping her off at school, he’s approached by another teen wearing odd clothes and speaking in a funny accent. Little does he realize the teen is a faery prince, and that when they touch, Finn’s body will be stolen and his soul launched into the faery realm.

I always have a hard time adjusting to fantasy worlds with physical properties different from our own, and this one was no exception. But Quinn’s writing is brilliant—crisp, efficient, vibrant, her words well-chosen. The characters are strong, the plot unique, and the stakes high enough to please any kid. A rift between two worlds? Stonehenge and spells? Faery warriors? (Arrogant, sassy faery warriors, I might add.) It’s a kid-pleaser, all right.

Are you a teacher or homeschooler? Sue has put together some really cool classroom resources for Faery Swap, which she conveniently provided for me below…

March 3rd – March 21st
A little about Faery Swap
 KindleNookPrint

Warrior faery princes can be very stubborn. Especially when they possess your body.
Fourteen-year-old Finn just wants to keep his little sister out of Child Protective Services–an epic challenge with their parentally-missing-in-action dad moving them to England, near the famous Stonehenge rocks. Warrior faery Prince Zaneyr just wants to escape his father’s reckless plan to repair the Rift–a catastrophe that ripped the faery realm from Earth 4,000 years ago and set it adrift in an alternate, timeless dimension. When Zaneyr tricks Finn into swapping places, Finn becomes a bodiless soul stuck in the Otherworld, and Zaneyr uses Finn’s body to fight off his father’s seekers on Earth. Between them, they have two souls and only one body… and both worlds to save before the dimensional window between them slams shut.

NOTE TO TEACHERS: Check out the Virtual Author visit video and Common-Core-Aligned Teacher’s Guide for Faery Swap here.

Blog Tour Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Card

Signed Paperback of Faery Swap

Two Faery WandsENTER TO WIN


Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction. Faery Swap is her foray into middle grade, which is her first writing love. Her business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist” and she always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can subscribe to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or stop by her blog to see what she’s up to.
Faery Swap
Kindle | Nook | Print
Fourteen-year-old Finn is tricked into swapping places with a warrior faery prince and has to find his way back home before the dimensional window between their worlds slams shut. 

The Smoke, by Lars D. H. Hedbor

downloadI’m thrilled to announce the January release of the latest edition in Lars Hedbor’s Tales of a Revolution series. I’ve come to be pretty good friends with Lars, but it’s a friendship that began through a shared love of American history and mutual respect for each other’s work. In 2013, dissatisfied with a small press, Lars decided to take publishing into his own hands. I’m so glad he did! He’s proving himself quite prolific. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one of his books.

The Smoke is a thought provoking look at the clash of cultures that took place during one of the most world-changing events in history–the Revolutionary War. In a microcosm of the broader conflict, Hedbor focuses on the challenges facing the Iroquois Confederacy (an alliance of five Indian nations), and more specifically, the Tuscarora tribe within the alliance. Historically, this powerful force sided as a whole with the British, but when the British failed to keep old promises and the American army became a greater threat, some tribes within the Confederacy allied themselves with the Americans in an act of self-preservation, effectively splintering the long-held cohesion.

The Smoke very effectively illustrates the pressures facing the Turscarora people: the continuing encroachment of American settlers and loss of Indian land, the long arms of an American/European conflict that was not their own, the tough decision to choose against the larger Iroquois council, and the struggle to hold on to a culture doomed to extinction by a stronger invader. But Hedbor does more than just paint a picture, he makes the “savages” human. “They are but people, whose ways are strange to us, without a doubt, but they laugh, love and lose just as we do.”

Apart from an immaculate application of history, Hedbor demonstrates his ability to write artistic prose. I love his consistent use of animal word pictures to help readers get into the heads of the tribal people, my favorite being: “His speech sounds like a bear smacking a fish on a rock.” That quote also gives a taste of the humor speckling the tale. And as always, his particular gift for historical vernacular shines through.

I have two reasons for not awarding this one 4.5 stars instead of a solid five as I did for books one and two, and both reasons are very minor. First is an abundance of commas that I found a little disruptive to the flow of thought. And second, the main American character Joseph undergoes an all-encompassing change, an embracing of the tribe that is very appropriate to the story but happens too strongly, too quickly, in just one winter. I had a hard time believing that he could so soon forsake his own culture and even dream in the Indian speech.

Overall, I give The Smoke my highest recommendation. It’s a fascinating glimpse into one tiny corner of the world’s first global conflict and one of the best books I’ve picked up this year. If you enjoy American historical fiction as I do, this one is a must-read. All all Lars’ books are under five bucks!

(The Tales of a Revolution series is not necessarily kidlit, but they are totally appropriate for a 14+ audience, the high rating due mostly to vocabulary and some war-related context.)

The Prize
The Light
The Smoke

The Unicorn Chronicles, by Bruce Coville

Whoops! I found one more post that didn’t make it from my old blog to my new. This is the last Friday repost–for real this time! But first…

Ali Cross (pen name Alex Banks–one of my Emblazoner partners) is involved with IndieReCon. She just mentioned that they are sponsoring a couple of contests this year. I wasn’t going to bother, since it’s judged by reader votes instead of a panel of judges, and my reach for such a popularity contest is zilch. I’m also not into begging for votes. However, she reminded me that 12,000 people visited the IndieReCon website last year. Just getting a title or two on there would be terrific exposure. Problem is, I can’t nominate myself. So–and I’ll only put this out to you guys once–if you’ve read my work and think its worth nominating, you can do so on the IndieReCon website. It’s really easy to navigate. There is nominating form with title, author, category (mine are all “children’s fiction”), and year of publication. The link to the form is right on the home page. And no, the $5.00 entry fee is NOT for nominations. It’s for authors who want to enter their covers in a second contest.

Just in case anyone feels the spirit moving, here are my books and publication years to make it easy. Please don’t feel obligated; I’m not begging. Just making it easy if anyone feels so inclined. If a book is nominated twice, the second one is chalked up as a vote.

Song of the Mountain (2012)
The Candle Star (2011)
Taylor Davis and the flame of Findul (2013)
The Quill Pen (2011)

(The first three are all free now, by the way.) Okay, that’s the last I’ll say about that. On to the book review…

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The Unicorn Chronicles is a series written by Bruce Coville, a high quality epic fantasy stories for middle grade readers. I was directed to the Chronicles by Patricia Tilton of Children’s Books Heal. The creation of the series spanned ten years and includes four books. They reveal the monumental happenings in of the world of Luster, a land created for magical creatures to escape to when mankind began to look suspiciously on—and even disbelieve in—magic. But all is not well in Luster. Behind all four books lies the threat of Beloved, a woman of vast power with an ancient grudge, who has stepped up efforts to destroy all unicorns. But one twelve-year-old girl finds herself thrust into the story and pulled strongly by both sides.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series. It’s sweeping in its scope, with all the elements of high fantasy: dragons, kingdoms, races, magical creatures, wizards, quests…it’s got it all. It’s entertaining and well-written, with snappy dialogue and plausible plots. Though I wouldn’t rate it as highly as The Chronicles of Prydain or Narnia, I was never bored. It features a girl protagonist, but the magic, the creatures, the male unicorns, the quest will all appeal to boys.

The tale of Luster is revealed in four volumes. I’ll briefly touch on each, without giving too much away from the next.

into the land of unicornsInto the Land of Unicorns: Readers are introduced to Cara Diane Hunter, a young girl who’s been abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother. While fleeing from an unknown adversary, Cara is given an amulet that opens a gateway between Earth and Luster. She is befriended by Lightfoot the Unicorn; the Squijum, a cat/squirrel-like creature; and the Dimblethumb, a creature like a half bear/half man. Readers share Cara’s confusion as she tries to figure out her own past and deliver her grandmother’s message to “The Old One,” the queen of the unicorns.

song of the wandererSong of the Wanderer: The queen of the unicorns has sent Cara on a mission back to earth to bring back her grandmother. But there are few gates that link the two worlds. Cara, with the help of a few friends, must travel to the gate within a dragon’s lair before the window of opportunity is lost.

dark whispersDark Whispers: This is a tale of two quests: Cara Diana Hunter’s search for an ancient story that may unravel the secret of the long enmity between the unicorns and the delvers, and her father’s journey to free Cara’s mother from the Rainbow Prison. Cara’s journey leads her through the strange underground world of the delvers to the court of the centaur king, while her father must travel from mysterious India to the depths of the Rainbow Prison itself. (Summary taken from Amazon.)

the last huntThe Last Hunt: In the center of Luster stands an enormous tree called the Axis Mundi, the Heart of the World. But now that tree is wounded, pierced through by magic. And through that wound marches an army of Hunters, led by the sinister and vengeful Beloved. And they are all determined to destroy each and every unicorn. As the unicorns gather to defend their lives, the human girl, Cara, is sent on a mission to meet a ferocious and mysterious dragon. Faced with perilous danger, Cara must make a desperate decision that will change her life forever. (Summary taken from Amazon.)

I found one mild profanity in over 1,200 pages and no content that would exclude even third or fourth graders who can handle the length and vocabulary, which I’d estimate at about a fifth grade level. I highly, highly recommend The Unicorn Chronicles for kids who love sweeping fantasy world adventures.

Jump Boys, by Alex Banks

jump boysIt’s time I featured another Emblazon author!

Jump Boys is the first middle grade novel by young adult/new adult novelist, Ali Cross, aka, Alex Banks. I have to say, this is one of the most well-written indie books I’ve read. It holds its own against anything the big six put out. (I’ve said that about a lot of Emblazon books, but it’s true!)

Within, two brothers, Jayce and Valen Jump, are challenged by their horrible cousin to make a jump through space–a dangerous and illegal move for kids. You see, the earth was destroyed a generation ago, and those who escaped now live on a ship just off Jupiter. Upon leaving, the refugees jumped too far and lost their way in the multi-verse (multi-dimensional universe). They’re unable to return to earth. All efforts to figure the way back have failed. But when Jayce and Val take up the challenge, an error in their configuration lands them back on earth! It’s a horrible version of the planet they’ve heard about, and it’s inhabited by space pirates. When they intercept an SOS signal, they attempt a rescue, but their ship was damaged in the jump. Will they be able to return? And if they do, what consequences await them at home?

Alex has a real knack for smooth, readable prose and for getting this set of brothers into some real predicaments. The first quarter or so of the book leads up to the dare. It takes a while to develop, but it’s full of suspense. And then things really get rocking. I especially like the slang Alex creates (“molten,” “galaxy head”). It’s original and in keeping with the setting. Squeaky AwardAnd it also keeps the language in this one entirely appropriate for young readers.

Jump Boys does remind me tremendously of the Noah Zarc series. They have so much in common, they could almost overlap! But since I liked Noah as well as I liked Jump Boys, that’s fine with me.

If you like adventure, and you like outer space, try Jump Boys! It’s just .99!

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Ali CrossAlex Banks doesn’t live on Planet Earth. Alex lives on the Prime Colony Ship orbiting Jupiter or on a pirate ship off the Nova Scotia coast, or on a world called Insulunda where the land masses shift and move like clouds in the sky. Wherever there are dreams to be charted like stars, or fun to be had just down the street . . . that’s where you’ll find Alex Banks.

(Alex Banks is a pen name for YA/NA author, Ali Cross)
Jump Boys Site | Blog Facebook Twitter |Email

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan

I’ve reached the end of my Friday posts. Esperanza Rising marks the last of the content I wanted to save from my self-hosted site. I’ll now be posting only once a week again, as I’m almost finished writing Song 2 and I’d like to finish Song 3 before school ends. 

Esperanza_Rising_cover

Sometimes a book comes out that I really want to read, but for some reason or another I don’t get to it right away. It might get bumped down the tbr (to-be-read) list in favor of a more pressing review. Or the next book in a beloved series might come out that I gobble up right away. Pretty soon years have passed and I still haven’t read the book!

That’s what happened to Esperanza Rising. I’ve long heard what a wonderful book this is. I understood it portrayed some of the difficulties migrant workers faced in America early in the 20th Century. I knew it received all kinds of awards. And I’m familiar with Ms. Ryan’s beautiful writing style. This was a book I was certain I would enjoy. Well, I’ve finally read the book—thirteen years later!

So was it worth the wait? Definitely!

Esperanza Ortega is a young girl of privilege who suddenly loses everything when her father is killed and her two wicked uncles take possession of his property. She and her mother flee to America in hopes of a better life. Abuelita (grandmother), however, has been injured and must stay behind in Mexico. Abuelita sends Esperanza on her way with the beginnings of a crocheted blanket and the promise that they’ll be together again after the passing of many mountains and valleys.

In the migrant camps, Esperanza becomes fully aware of how far she’s fallen. She lives in tiny shack with many others. Her hands become rough and red. And her mother becomes deathly ill. She suffers the turmoil of workers’ strikes and the prejudice of the era. Yet through it all Esperanza learns and grows and keeps working on her blanket—ten stitches up, ten stitches down—a physical symbol of the life’s passing mountains and valleys.

And Esperanza suddenly realizes that Miguel, her long time friend and once her servant, is no longer on the opposite side of a social barrier. They are both poor. Together.

This is a remarkable story. It’s not an adrenaline rush or a nail-biter, just the amazing story of one child’s fortitude. And it’s written with the grace, beauty, and poetic metaphor of a master storyteller. It’s also based on the life of the author’s grandmother. One of my favorite books this year and highly, highly recommended.

(Now to read Holes, by Louis Sachar… Written two years before this one!)

The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis, 1956

This one also posted only on my old self-hosted site. I had to include it here to complete the set!

the last battleI’m always a little sad when I reach the end of a great series, no matter how many times I read it. Narnia is no exception. And The Last Battle certainly wraps up the series. It is the end of Narnia, the destruction of Narnia, the end of time.

I’ve read this so many time, yet I completely missed the parallels to Revelation. You’ve probably heard of the Anitchrist and his false prophet. Well, they’re in there in the form of an evil monkey and a fake Aslan. There’s a mixing of gods, and all religions are considered the same. I don’t know how I never saw it before. The Narnians have to choose up sides. Are the with the king and with Aslan? Or do they fear the false Aslan too much to join the small loyal band? Or have they stopped believing altogether? After all, Aslan hasn’t been heard from in person for a thousand years. Who can tell if the old stories are really true? This one is all about faith and End Time prophecy.

I have heard some complaints that this series is nothing but Christian propaganda. It is certainly true that it contains biblical parallels, sometimes even outright statements. For instance, Lucy says during a conversation about the magical interior of a stable, “In our world, too, a Stable once contained something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” So if you aren’t of the Christian faith, I can understand the complaint. (I feel the same way about The Golden Compass and its atheistic propaganda.) Yet Narnia contains so many adventures, so much magic, so much wonder that it is widely regarded as a classic. It’s just plain good story-telling.

The Last Battle is not my favorite book in the series. I hate that Narnia ends (though in a sense it lives on—you’ll have to read it). I don’t enjoy the hopeless, faithless tone. I’d prefer, like Lucy, a perfect Narnia that went on and on unendingly. It also has some weirdness in it very much like Revelation that is hard to wrap my mind around. Yet I enjoy how the children come out of the past to help the final king in his struggle. I like the deep friendship between the king and Jewel the unicorn. And I like how we meet all the friends of Narnia from our world one final time. It’s the back cover, the last bookend, the satisfactory ending to a phenomenal series. And like the entire series, it’s highly recommended.