Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kicking off 2022 YA with a bang: The Bone Spindle

The Bone Spindle, by Leslie Vedder, (Jan. 2022, Razorbill), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593325827

Ages 12+

This fantasy YA is heavily inspired by Sleeping Beauty, with a touch of Red Riding Hood, and a lot of adventure. Fi – short for Filore – is a treasure hunter with a curse on her head. Actually, it’s on her hand, but it’s a terrible one. Shane is an exiled female warrior who loves fighting and pretty girls. The two unlikely partners end up working together to free a kingdom when Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and discovers Briar Rose, the prince whose kingdom is under a sleeping curse until Love’s first kiss awakens him. Briar’s body is asleep, but his magic allows him to appear to Fi, leading her to his kingdom: if she can make it through the perilous thorns and other dangers that await.

The first in a new YA fantasy duology (or trilogy!), The Bone Spindle is a fantasy adventure that flips traditional fairy tales and gender roles, giving readers strong and smart female protagonists and a gentle hero with a mysterious dark side. Fi is afraid to fall in love after a terrible ex left her in a bad spot, but Briar is so awkward and sweet that she wonders what will happen when she finally gets to his kingdom to deliver his kiss. Shane comes from a warrior kingdom, but she’s chosen exile. She loves the heft of her axe and the smile on a pretty girl, but her partnership with Fi means she’ll put herself at risk for a friend. Fantasy readers, LGBTQ+ readers, romance readers, all will find something to love in The Bone Spindle – enjoy spotting the influences as you read.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, geek culture, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Reading Rundown, Reading Challenge!

There are SO many great books coming out over the next few weeks, WOW. My reading mojo came back with a vengeance, thankfully, about a month ago, and I have been working on the TBR; everything I pick up has been really good stuff. I’m also starting to come out of an overall blue period (like Picasso, but not as talented), so I’m hoping my blogging can keep up with my reading habits. Let’s give it a whirl.

Con Quest, by Sam Maggs, (June 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250307279

Ages 9-13

The first book is Sam Maggs’s middle grade novel, Con Quest. If you already know Sam Maggs, I welcome you, my geek friend. If you don’t, this is a great place to start. She’s a geek girl who’s written comics, nonfiction about fandom, and awesome women in history, but this is her first middle grade novel. And what a novel it is. It’s a love letter to fandom and con life; to Supernatural fans and quests for charity; to friendship, family, and that first blush of a new crush. If you dig fandom, are in fandom, or are fandom-adjacent, you’ll recognize the players here. At a con that’s remarkably similar to San Diego Comic Con, twin siblings Cat and Alex are competing in an intense quest, run by one of their fave celebs, to benefit a charity. The big prize is getting to meet the celeb, but first, they have a gauntlet of geeky challenges to complete, all while dodging their older sister, who is SUCH a drag. There are great, realistic characters here – con life is truly stranger than fiction, friends – and moments you’ll recognize and love. The characters are fun and diverse, with a diversity in gender identity and culture; one of the main characters, Alex, is autistic and Sam does a good job at describing how he experiences things, as opposed to his slightly intense (and sometimes frustrating) sister, Cat.

Introduce Cat and Alex to your readers, then get a (virtual) library con up and running to introduce them to the joy that is fandom. Hey, Free Comic Book Day is running for most of the summer!


Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed, (July 2020, Random House Children’s), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593174470

Ages 9-13

All hail the middle grade superhero novels! We are – hopefully – getting our long-awaited Wonder Woman 1984 movie this October, so TALK THIS UP. Our tweens and teens have Tempest Tossed, a phenomenal Wonder Woman original graphic novel; middle graders and tweens now have Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed. Here, Diana is a tween herself, a princess forbidden to learn to fight, despite living on an island of warrior women. She’s hoping to persuade her mother, Queen Hippolyta, this year… maybe during the festivities, when her best friend, Princess Sakina arrives, they can plan an approach? Before the festivities begin, Diana discovers a stowaway – a BOY – on Sakina’s mother’s ship, and learns that the entire island of Themyscira has been put under a sleeping spell. Diana and Sakina, the only two awake on the island, must travel with this boy to his island, where a demon lies in wait, wanting to capture Diana.

This is the first in a Wonder Woman trilogy, and Aisha Saeed wastes no time getting to the action. Diana and Sakina’s friendship is well-written and realistic; she creates larger-than-life figures and makes them very human; the girls are giggly best friends who plan to sleep in the same room so they can stay up all night, and yet also ready, at a moment’s notice, to go on a dangerous mission to fight a demon and free their mothers. It all comes together beautifully, with great world-building, pacing, and storytelling. I can’t wait for the next book.

Follow the DC Comics Kids Twitter and Instagram for DC Kids Camp activities. There are coloring sheets, videos, and crafts that everyone will love: you know you want to color, too.


Rise of Zombert (The Zombert Chronicles), by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536201062

Ages 8-12

This first book in a new middle grade series is a good one for kids who want to read something creepy, but not TOO scary. In a corporate town where everything is owned and run by YummCo Foods, a black cat escapes a lab. He’s found by a girl named Mellie, who discovers the filthy, ragged cat in a dumpster and takes him home to nurse back to health. She names him Bert and decides that he’s going to be the pet she’s always wanted… but Berg wants blood. He has a taste for heads, in particular; after decapitating Mellie’s stuffed animals, he heads out for less stuffy game. As cats would do, Mellie discovers Bert’s version of sharing a meal with her, when she keeps finding headless birds and mice left for her. Mellie’s best friend, Danny, is convinced the cat is a zombie, and readers will get the feeling that there’s a lot more going on at YummCo than the oh-so-friendly representatives will let on. And Bert? Well, he can’t really understand why Mellie isn’t appreciating his gifts, he still feels something for the girl, but nothing can stop him from his mission: revenge and freeing the other animals in the lab.

I loved how this book built and built up the suspense, but it ended so abruptly, I had to check and make sure I wasn’t reading an excerpt. It’s a fast-paced read, and will definitely invest readers right away. The black and white sketches add to the moody atmosphere of the book, and the ending will leave everyone waiting for the sequel. Kara LaReau is the author of the Infamous Ratsos series, so she knows how to write for a younger audience and get things moving along quickly. Ryan Andrews illustrated another book I love, The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.


The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536207613

Ages 9-13

I LOVE a good creepy book, and this one is amazing. If you’re a Mary Downing Hahn reader, run to your computer and request or buy The Mulberry Tree. Ten-year-old Immy (Imogene) and her parents have moved from Australia to the English countryside as her father battles depression. They decide to rent an adorable thatched English cottage, but the realtor – and the town – have their misgivings about anyone living there. You see, there’s an cursed mulberry tree in the backyard; a tree that’s rumored to have stolen two girls away on the eves of their 11th birthdays. People cross the street rather than walk by the tree, and when Immy’s father speaks out on the ridiculousness of a tree kidnapping girls, Immy finds herself even more of a pariah at school. But when she starts hearing a strange song in her head, and seeing the tree move, she begins to wonder whether the rumors may be true after all. What’s the story of the tree? Immy’s going to have to do some investigating to find out, and she’d better hurry… her 11th birthday is coming.

This book hooked me from the first page. It deals with depression and grief, and how it can drive a wedge into a family; a spooky tree with a cursed history, and mean girls. If you have readers who love a bit of the creepy, with some supernatural thrown in, give them this book. I read this one in one night, because I refused to put it down until I was done. The setting, the pacing, everything built at such a wonderful pace, and the resolution… chef’s kiss good. One of my favorite Quarantine Reads so far.

Allison Rushby wrote 2018’s The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery; an historical fiction ghost story. It’s a good one; pick it up if you haven’t had the chance yet.


Last but not least, a reading challenge! What better way to keep track of all of the great books you’ve been reading with your kids (you are reading with them, aren’t you?) than by working through reading challenges together? I just received an email with seven printable challenges, all free, all downloadable, through Redbubble. There’s Book Bingo; a Cross-Genre reading list; a Habit Tracker; a Create Your Own Reading List; and my favorite, a Reading Coloring Sheet where you can color in books on a bookshelf as you read (and, if you’re like me, try to write itty bitty names on the spines). These add a little bit of color to the same old boring reading logs the kids get sent home with every summer, so try one or two out. You can view all the reading challenges here.

As always, I received eArcs of all the books I talked about in exchange for reviews. Thanks for reading, and go get some books!

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Promo Spotlight: A Curse of Ash & Iron


A Curse of Ash and Iron by Christine Norris

Release Date: May 21st 2015, Curiosity Quills Press

Summary from Goodreads: Benjamin Grimm knows the theater is much like real life. In 1876 Philadelphia, people play their parts, hiding behind the illusion of their lives, and never revealing their secrets. When he reunites with his childhood friend Eleanor Banneker, he is delighted. His delight turns to dismay when he discovers she has been under a spell for the past 7 years, being forced to live as a servant in her own home, and he realizes how sinister some secrets can be. She asks for his help, and he can’t refuse. Even if he doesn’t believe in ‘real’ magic, he can’t abandon her.

Ellie has spent the long years since her mother’s death under the watchful eye and unforgiving eye of her stepmother. Bewitched and hidden in plain sight, it seems no one can help Ellie escape. Not even her own father, who is under a spell of his own. When she sees Ben one evening, it seems he is immune to the magic that binds her, and her hope is rekindled along with her friendship. But time is running short. If they do not find a way to break the spell before midnight on New Year’s Eve, then both Ellie and her father will be bound forever. 

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Excerpt from A Curse of Ash & Iron 

Ellie entered. She stopped for a moment, her eyes wary, and her hand against her stomach as if she were holding in her breath.

“Ellie?” Ben called her. “Ellie Banneker?

Her shoulders relaxed, and her breath came out in a whoosh. She paused for another breath before making her way down the center aisle toward Ben. The door closed behind her with a muffled thump, shutting out the murmurs of those who remained in the lobby. The theater dropped into an eerie quiet. Now that they were face-to-face, Benjamin’s excitement was replaced by overwhelming self-consciousness. He ran his sweaty palms through his hair, smoothing the runaway brown locks his mother would say needed trimming. He was suddenly aware of the way he was dressed―he looked like a ragamuffin compared to the upper class men Ellie must be used to. Her chestnut hair shone in the light, her green eyes wary but bright.Ben stopped near the first row, a lump in his throat, hoping she wouldn’t notice the scuffed tops of his shoes and his frayed shirt cuffs, and let her approach him.

“Benjamin Grimm? It is you.” Her smile widened, and it was as if the curtain had gone up in her eyes. The sadness Ben had seen before lifted, and she became a girl of seventeen. She reached out to him with her bare hand.

His nervousness evaporated like morning fog. He wiped his hand on his pants and then grasped hers tightly, catching the slight scent of soap and rose water.

Ben had expected the soft hand of the daughter of a prominent banker; hands used to doing embroidery and playing the piano. But there were calluses on her palm, the nails short and ragged. Her skin was pink and chapped. His expression must have given away some of his surprise, because when he released her hand, Ellie tucked it into the folds of her skirt. “I can’t believe that you… It’s been so long, Ben. You’ve grown.”

The look in her eyes made Ben decide to keep quiet about her hands. He was glad she had come in to see him. Having spent years under her stepmother’s care, he had worried she might have turned into a snob. “As have you, my lady.” His grin was large as he bent over in an exaggerated bow.

“Oh, please don’t. Ben, stop it this minute.” Ellie put her hands to her blushing cheeks, as if trying to hold back her smile. Ben stood, laughing, and thrust his hands in his pockets. “I was hiding in the loft above the lobby and saw you come in tonight. I… didn’t recognize you at first. You’ve, uh, changed.” It was his turn to blush again as he remembered what he had been thinking about her curves.

“You’ve changed, too.” She squinted and looked closely at his face. “I can’t see any dirt. So your mother finally wrestled you into submission about keeping clean.”

Ben didn’t answer, only smirked and scratched the back of his head. “I tried to think how many years it’s been since I saw you last.”

“Seven.” Ellie’s reply was so soft he almost didn’t hear it. “Seven years. The last time I saw you, we were both ten, after…” she hesitated. “After my mother died.”

Ben’s smile faltered. “Yes, that’s right.” He felt stupid for forgetting, even more stupid for making her bring up something so obviously painful. His own mother had cried for days after her employer’s passing. Ellie’s mother had been a lovely woman, who had provided him with a seemingly endless supply of sweets.

Ellie shook her head as if shaking herself free of the edge of melancholy that had dropped over the conversation. “How is your dear mother? And your little brother? I’m sure he’s no longer the chubby-cheeked baby I remember.”

Ben shrugged. “Mother’s fine. She keeps busy running the bookshop. Harry is… he’s a little brother.” Ellie wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes.

“Being as I have no little brothers, I’ll have to assume you mean you love him dearly and can’t imagine life without him.” “Not exactly, but I don’t want to ruin your image of me as a wholesome young man, so I won’t tell you what I really think about him. It wouldn’t be proper for me to say in front of a lady, anyway.”

“You think I’m a lady, do you? You might be surprised at some of the words I’ve used when no one is listening.” Ellie’s gaze wandered over the theater’s ceiling. There was a teasing note in her voice. “I never thought I’d see you working here. If I remember correctly, you said if you were going to be in the theater, it would be in front of the footlights. A magician, I believe it was?”

“I’m still working on that.” Ben’s reply was touched with defensiveness. “But now it’s illusion instead of straight magic, don’t you know that? It’s all the rage in Europe. Until I can find a backer, I need to work. My father, he’s the stage manager now. He got me the job, said it would do me good to learn a real skill.” He rolled his eyes.

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “He doesn’t approve of your career aspirations?” Ben shook his head. “He lets me keep my workshop, but thinks I’m wasting my time.” He shrugged. “It’s better than the brickyard.”

Ellie laughed out loud, a pretty sound that rolled around the inside of the theater. She covered her mouth and glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one else had heard. When she stopped giggling, she looked at Ben and sighed. “I can’t stay, Ben. I don’t want to keep my stepmother waiting.” She glanced over her shoulder and back to Ben. “It was so good to see you again.”

Ben felt the words were weighted somehow, like a current pulling beneath the calm surface of a river. “It was good to see you again, too, Ellie.” There was so much more Ben wanted to say, seven years’ worth. He didn’t dare ask to see her again, though, and resigned himself to only having this stolen moment.


About the Author

Christine Norris is the author of several works for children and adults, including the Library of Athena series and the Zandria duology. When she’s not out saving the world one story at a time, she is disguised as a mild mannered substitute teacher, mother, and wife. She cares for her family of one husband-creature, a son-animal, and two felines who function as Guardian of the Bathtub and Official Lap Warmer, respectively. She has also done several English adaptations of novels translated from other languages. She reached a new level of insanity by attending Southern Connecticut State University Graduate School’s Information and Library Science program, so that someday she, too, can be a real Librarian. She currently resides somewhere in southern New Jersey.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Hamster Princess is back, and she’s saving twelve dancing princesses!

hamsterprincessHamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon (March 2016, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780803739840

Recommended for ages 8-12

Babymouse fans, where are you? Come on over and check out the adventures of Princess Harriet Hamsterbone, a hamster princess with enough snark and sass to stand toe to toe with our favorite Mouse.

Written by Dragonbreath series author Ursula Vernon, Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic is the second book in this new series about a hamster princess who has a battle quail, a poncho of invisibility, and a best friend, Prince Wilbur, who she totally does not like like that, okay? She’d rather be cliff-diving than sitting at court any day of the week.

Of Mice and Magic finds Princess Hamster bored stiff now that all the local monsters have retired. She happens upon a fairy who tells her about twelve mice princesses – daughters of a very odd king with loads of issues – who are cursed to dance all night long. She offers to help break the curse, but she may have gotten herself in too deep when she comes up against a witch that’s really calling the shots.

This series is fantastic! I’ve been a fan of the Dragonbreath series for a while, and the kids at my library agree; the series is in constant circulation. I can’t wait to introduce them to Hamster Princess – she’s awesome for boys and girls alike, thanks to Ursula Vernon’s snappy dialogue, loaded with side-of-the-mouth snarky comebacks and a great graphic novel/chapter book hybrid format. It’s everything we love about Danny Dragonbreath, with a new twist on a beloved fairy tale. Where Dragonbreath’s art is largely green, black, and white, Hamster Princess glams it up a bit, with shades of purple and pink thrown in with the black and white. Princess Harriet is a great heroine – she’s smart, independent, can think on her feet, and can fend for herself. I love her, and I can’t wait for the kids in my library to meet her.

Ursula Vernon writes the Dragonbreath series, along with other great books for kids. Her website offers an FAQ, her blog, and a shop where you can check out some of her amazing artwork. While Of Mice and Magic won’t be out until March 2016, you can get started with the first book in the series, Harriet the Invincible, right now!