Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Great middle grade fantasy in two giant graphic novels: Scales & Scoundrels!

Fantasy fans have so much to read this year, but make space on your shelves for a graphic novel duo: Scales and Scoundrels is a fantasy series that will resonate with fantasy role-playing gamers and fantasy fans alike. Publisher TKO Studios released definitive versions of Volumes 1 and 2, which include the collected issues plus incredible, new material. I wasn’t familiar with the story until I saw these on Edelweiss, but I am so glad I rectified that.

Scales & Scoundrels Definitive Edition Book 1: Where Dragons Wander , by Sebastian Girner/Illustrated by Galaad, (July 2021, TKO Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 9781952203220,
Ages 8-13
Luvander is a female treasure hunter who sets off for the fabled “Dragon’s Maw”, where she hopes to find riches beyond comprehension. (Naturally, that whole “Dragon’s Maw” business also suggests that maybe there’s a dragon who will protect their hoard, but she’s not going to let that stop her!) She teams up with a group of adventurers, including a prince, his bodyguard, and a dwarf, and together, the group sticks together while fighting monsters and braving dungeons, but Luvander has a secret she’s not sharing just yet… is this her epic journey, or just a simple treasure looting operation? A heroine’s journey filled with excitement, adventure, great dialogue and an inclusive cast of characters, the writing and the fantastic artwork make this aces for your middle grade and middle school readers. Display and booktalk with Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Kazu Kazubuishi’s Amulet series, James Parks and Ben Costa’s Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo series, Faith Erin Hicks’s The Nameless City series, and Robin Robinson’s No One Returns From the Enchanted Forest.

Scales and Scoundrels Definitive Edition Book 2: The Festival of Life, by Sebastian Girner/Illustrated by Galaad, (July 2021, TKO Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 9781952203237

Ages 8-13

The second Scales and Scoundrels volume, like the first, contains a wealth of new material, and picks up the adventure from where we left off in Book One. Luvander continues on her journey to break her curse; it’s a quest that will bring her to a monastery that guards a secret entrance to The Dragon Dream, where few have dared to enter. She and her group of friends face dark trials ahead, including demons and their own deepest fears. An introspective adventure that prompts conversations, this is an excellent companion to Book One. The artwork is gorgeous, with bright and vibrant colors, movement, and beautiful fantasy artwork. There’s great world-building – seriously, you can create a Dungeons and Dragons adventure based on the information contained in these two books – that readers will return to time and again.

To paraphrase School Library Journal, the Scales and Scoundrels books roll a natural 20 – and that’s pretty awesome.



Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelsen brings us back to Enchanted Norway!

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven (Zaria Fierce #5), by Keira Gillett, (April 2018, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750093

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second Aleks Mickelsen adventure – and the fifth book in the Zaria Fierce series – is here! Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven continues the adventure started in last year’s Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. Aleks, a changeling raised by his human family, has to work with his fae sister, Nori, and his best friends to stop the chaos dragon Fritjof from wreaking havoc on the fae and human worlds. This time, Aleks has to negotiate with his treacherous fae relations and undergo a series of tests – Harry Potter fans, you’ll love this – to save his friends. Thank goodness he’s getting better at working with Airi (pronounced eye-riii), his white raven.

Everything you love about the Zaria Fierce books is here: the strong friendships, the nonstop adventure, the magical creatures, and the hero’s quest are all here, waiting for fantasy lovers to join them. There are increasingly complex relationships to navigate, with a little love triangle brewing between Filip, Henrik the Stag Lord, and Zaria emerging as a continuing subplot; Aleks continues to have an up-and-down relationship with his fae family, particularly Nori, whose own quest to reunite the fae courts under her family puts the two at odds throughout the book.

Keira Gillett’s at the height of her storytelling here; she starts off the book with fun and friends, easing us back into the fantasy world of Niffleheim, where the group is camping on their quest to find and stop Fritjof. Don’t get too comfortable, though; the action starts quickly and takes you right along for the ride. Keira’s storytelling is rich in imagery and fully realized characters who have grown with each book in the series. She lets her characters retain the essence of who they are, while letting them be formed by their experiences. She understands that they’re now firmly in their teens, and takes that into account by navigating complex feelings and relationships with one another. Alex’s own stress about the potential loss of his unique changeling abilities is at war with his lifelong desire to be “normal”, and if that isn’t the story of being a teen right there in a nutshell, what is?

Eoghan Kerrigan’s illustrations are as breathtaking as ever, giving this series classic fantasy artwork to engage our imaginations; fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz’s maps guide us along a wonderfully secret tour of Enchanted Norway. Hmmm… it may be time to consider a scavenger hunt for my Summer Reading program… how about Find the Water Wyvern? (I could never get through a Keira Gillett review without mentioning my beloved Norwick in some form!)

Take your time, treat yourself, and enjoy Aleks Mickelson and the Call of the White Raven, and get ready for Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, due later this year.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Cucumber Quest: Bunny Siblings Save the World!

Cucumber Quest, Vol. 1: The Doughnut Kingdom, by Gigi DG, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626728325

Recommended for ages 8-12

If you’ve never read the webcomic Cucumber Quest, now’s your chance to dive in. The seven kingdoms of Dreamside are in trouble when the evil queen Cordelia plans to unleash some serious havoc. Cucumber – who’s all packed and ready to start his studies at Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted – gets a letter from his dad, telling him that it’s up to him to save the kingdoms. His brave and way-more-heroic sister, Almond, offers to go in his place, but their mother and father seem to have some pretty outdated ideas about gender, and tells her it’s too dangerous for her. Almond joins Cucumber’s Quest, regardless, and the two head out in search of the Dream Sword: the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Cordelia’s supernatural thug, the Nightmare Knight. On the way, Cucumber and Almond meet a batty Dream Oracle, a trio of hare-brained guards, and a host of other wacky characters.

Beginning life as a webcomic (that you can still read online), Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom collects the first 137 pages of Cucumber Quest (the Prologue and chapter 0); Cucumber Quest 2: The Ripple Kingdom will continue collecting stories from the online archive. Forty pages of additional comics, including Reader Q&A for various characters, and short bios for each character, complete with ability ratings in trading card format, concept art, and a tour of the world of Dreamside, home to the seven kingdoms.

The story is light and fun; the artwork is cute and Chibi-inspired. Manga fans will love it, as will adventure fans. Give this to your Adventure Time and Steven Universe readers; for your fantasy fans that want some lighter summer reading (or aren’t really passionate readers… YET), this will be a welcome addition to shelves.

Want to learn more? Check out the Cucumber Quest wiki and Cucumber Quest page, where you can access the complete comic archive and learn more about the characters.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well reunites Zaria Fierce and friends!

Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (July 2017), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750086

Recommended for readers 9-13

Keira Gillett couldn’t leave us hanging after Zaria Fierce’s last adventure, Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Slippers. And thank goodness! The friends have reunited for a new adventure, but this time, Aleks, a changeling approaching his 16th birthday – and the deadline to decide whether to embrace his human family or retain his fey abilities – is the star of the show. It all starts on a crazy morning: Aleks’ mom loses her car keys, which he finds in the fridge. It’s only the first in a series of increasingly chaotic events that culminates in his unpleasant fey sister, Nori, making an appearance; she tells him that Fritjof, a chaos dragon, is trying to escape and wreak havoc on the world and that he and his friends must help stop him. Aleks finds himself pulled into an adventure that he really didn’t want to be on, dealing with a sister he really doesn’t want to know in this latest installment.

I have wanted to know more about Aleks since I first read that he was a changeling – and that his grandmother is, too! Readers won’t be disappointed; we learn more about Aleks’ origin here, and I love the inner conflict raging with Aleks as he realizes that there is no black and white situation: he initially thinks it’s not a big deal at all to give up his fey gifts, but learns that not only can his ability to find things be a huge help, he learns that his fey side is very much a part of him. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone? Aleks may just have to learn that lesson that hard way. I loved seeing how the group of friends has matured – crushes are a big part of the story now! – and how new friends from the previous series are now part of the group, like Hector, the Hart of the Forest. Big plus: my favorite wyvern, Norwick, is back, as is my favorite curmudgeon, Mr. Brown(ie). Take a look at this graphic, from illustrator Eoghan Kerrigan’s DeviantArt page:

A fellow blogger, Brenda at Log Cabin Library, put it perfectly when she said, “There’s just something so comforting about returning to Zaria and the gang”. I couldn’t agree more. Keira Gillet’ts writing gently draws you into a fantasy world via modern-day Norway; the group of friends are as familiar to me as they are to one another. I enjoy reading their back and forth teasing, and catching up with what they’ve been up to since I last spent time with them. When the action starts, I’m ready to join the group on their new adventure. Eoghan Kerrigan has outdone himself with his beautiful fantasy illustrations, and fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz provides a map that really helps make this world more real; there’s a lovely Narnian/Tolkienesque feel to a book that starts off with a good map.

You don’t need to have read Zaria’s trilogy in order to jump in with Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well – there’s enough exposition throughout the book to update you – but if you want to feel more a part of things, I’d highly recommend it. A nice addition to middle grade fantasy shelves. Ms. Gillett had a midnight release party for her latest book that I, sadly, had to miss (I was so close, too… darn need to sleep); if you missed it, too, you can watch it right here, thanks to the magic of YouTube. Sign up for Keira Gillett’s author newsletter and get 10 free downloads of Eoghan Kerrigan’s work, too!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Sacred Geometry: Rebel Genius

rebel-geniusRebel Genius (Geniuses #1), by Michael Dante DiMartino, (Oct. 2016, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723368

Recommended for ages 10+

When the co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra writes a new middle grade fantasy series, you read that book ASAP.

In an Italian Renaissance-inspired fantasy world called Zizzolan, we meet 12 year-old Giacomo, a young artist who’s living on the streets after his parents’ death. He lives in a society where Geniuses – animal muses that inspire humans to creativity – are outlawed. When Geniuses are taken from their humans, the humans become empty; dead inside – Lost Souls. This was Giacomo’s parents’ fate. When a Genius discovers Giacomo, he knows he’s in big trouble. He tries to get the bird companion to leave him alone, but the Genius isn’t having it. Just when Giacomo’s luck is about to run out, he’s rescued by a group of teens and tweens that bring him back to the studio where they are students of Pietro Vasari, who trains the kids and their Geniuses in sacred geometry, which will allow them to channel their creative powers. Before Giacomo is able to train for long, though, Vasari tells the group that a renegade artist named Ugolino is on the search for the Sacred Tools that will give him the power to destroy the world and anyone in his way; they need to find him and stop him. Ugolino won’t be so easy to bring down, though – he’s accompanied by his own monstrous work of art: Zanobius, a golem-like sculpture brought to life to carry out Ugolino’s bidding. Giacomo and his new friends set out on a quest that may cost them their lives and their Geniuses – can they save the world?

This is a deep book. DiMartino dives into some massive ideas here, particularly, Sacred Geometry: universal patterns used in the designs of everything in our reality. Think of a spiral: there are spiral galaxies; there are spirals in shells; a chameleon’s tail curls into a spiral, and when you look at it from above, a hurricane appears as a spiral. That’s sacred geometry: math, art, proportion, it all comes together in music and nature. That DiMartino chose such a weighty subject shouldn’t be a surprise; both Avatar and Korra; two hugely popular animated series, delved deeply into Buddhism, religious and cultural conflict, immigration, and identity. DiMartino isn’t afraid to talk to kids about weighty matters; he’s able to communicate layered, complex concepts to his audience. That said, while this is a book aimed at an 8-12 audience, some readers on the younger end of the range may struggle. I’d definitely booktalk this to my 5th and 6th graders, and I’d push this on my teens, too; this is a good crossover to YA. Black and white illustrations add interest and depth to the book, and help illustrate some more abstract concepts.

This is literary fantasy, and it’s beautifully written fantasy. If you’ve got fantasy readers, I think this would be a great book to introduce them to, and it would spark some great discussion. Wnat to read an excerpt? (You know you want to read an excerpt.) Head over to the Rebel Genius Tumblr and download one.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

New Legends of Orkney: Kalifus Rising

kalifusKalifus Rising (Legends of Orkney #2), by Alane Adams, (Sept. 2016, SparkPress), $24, ISBN: 9781943006052

Recommended for ages 9-14

In this sequel to 2014’s Red Sun, Sam Baron has freed Orkney from the Red Sun, but is now a prisoner of Catriona, leader of the Volgrim Witches. She’s determined to bend Sam to her will and use his half-god, half-witch power to mold him into the formidable force that will crush Odin and help her gain rule over Orkney and beyond. Fortunately, Sam’s not alone; his three best friends, Keeley, Howie, and Leo, find themselves drawn back into the fray to help save Sam. Each given their own quest, the three friends will learn more about themselves in this adventure.

Full disclosure: I didn’t read The Red Sun, and that’s to my detriment. While I could pick up the general gist of the story through exposition and dialogue that discusses previous events, I would have gotten more from Kalifus Rising if I’d read the first book (and now, it’s on my TBR).

This is a solid quest fantasy that your fantasy readers will love. I appreciated that it was a team effort to save Sam, and I love that each friend had a quest that taught them about themselves; some were given quests they didn’t feel cut out for, only to discover the inner strength to achieve the objective. It’s inspirational, which is the point of really good fantasy, isn’t it? The story concentrates on the importance and power of friendship: a key theme for middle graders; there are also great scenes where Sam reacts exactly like a tween/teen would when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. He tries to convince Catriona that he’s moved over to her side, while relying on his inner strength to remind himself where he really stands, but as Sam – and by extension, the reader – learns, going it alone can be a tough and scary thing; the danger of losing yourself is real and having people around you to remind yourself of who you are is important. (And so is having a kick-butt mom, if I may say so, myself,)

Kalifus Rising debuted as the #1 hot new release on Amazon, so ride the wave and treat your fantasy readers to the Legends of Orkney series. Booktalk and display with Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Jasmine Richards’ Secrets of Valhalla, Keira Gillett’s Zaria Fierce trilogy, and K.L. Armstrong’s The Blackwell Pages series.

There’s a great Legends of Orkney webpage that includes a link to BattleKasters, a downloadable game based on the series! You want to see the trailer, right? Of course you want to see the trailer.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

A fantasy quest: Grayling’s Song

graylingGrayling’s Song, by Karen Cushman (June 2016, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544301801

Recommended for ages 9-12

Grayling’s mother – a local “wise woman” whose remedies and healing songs are popular in their village – is in trouble, and only Grayling can help her. Their home has been upended, her potions and herbs scattered, her grimoire (spell book) stolen… and she’s turning into a tree. Teaching Grayling a song to sing that the grimoire will respond to, she sends Grayling off in search of other wise women to bring help. As Grayling sets out, she’s accompanied by a mouse who’s eaten some of her mother’s potions and discovers he can talk and shape-shift! She names the mouse Pook and goes on her way. Grayling meets other witches in what becomes a coming-of-age quest, including a weather witch and her surly apprentice, an enchantress, and a soothsayer who uses cheese to perform his magic.

Grayling’s song was a little lukewarm, as middle grade fantasy goes. It didn’t have the “bigness” of a quest novel, and it was missing the introspection of a coming-of-age novel. More often than not, the adventure consisted of Grayling being annoyed at the company she kept, and the entire company dissolving into bickering and wandering around, hoping to find the grimoire. There are some humorous moments and the book’s pace moves along nicely, but overall, this wasn’t my book.

Karen Cushman received a Newbery Medal for The Midwife’s Apprentice and Newbery Honors for Catherine, Called Birdy. Her author website offers a full bibliography, an author biography, FAQ, and “odd facts”.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction

Aaron Becker’s Journey trilogy concludes with Return (and a giveaway!)

Aaron Becker’s beautiful series of wordless picture books reaches a conclusion with the release of Return. Beginning with 2014’s Caldecott Honor-winning book, Journey, readers follow a young girl who escapes into a magical land, courtesy of her red marker. In Quest, the girl and her friend encounter a king that they must rescue, armed with their imaginations and their markers. Now, it’s time for the girl to return home – what final adventure awaits her?

The adventure begins with Journey

journey_coverA 2014 Caldecott Honor Book

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.


…and continues with a Quest

questAaron Becker, creator of Journey, a Caldecott Honor book, presented the next chapter in his stunning, wordless fantasy.

A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.


… and now, it’s time to Return.


Before Return is released on August 2nd, enter the Journey Giveaway from Candlewick Press for your chance at winning a prize pack, containing hardcover copies of Journey and Quest! One winner from the US or Canada will win. Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!


Giveaway details

1 prize pack includes:

1 hardcover copy of Journey by Aaron Becker

1 hardcover copy of Quest by Aaron Becker


Parents and educators, there’s a great Journey Trilogy Activity Kit with activities to stimulate your children’s imaginations!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Zaria Fierce brings Norse myth to modern adventure!

Take a timid girl, put her in a seemingly impossible situation, and you’ll find out what she’s really made of. Zaria Fierce, a 13 year-old living with her adoptive family in Norway, finds herself up against trolls and magical creatures of all sorts when she heads to school one morning and is confronted by Olaf, a troll – you got it – from under a bridge. She thinks she’s outsmarted the big creep, but he gets the last laugh when he kidnaps her best friend, Christoffer. Now, it’s up to Zaria and her friends to save Christoffer, but Zaria’s in for a wild ride with some big revelations along the way!

zaria fiere_1

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, by Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750017

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest lays the groundwork for a new series that brings elements of Norse myth to modern day. Neither Loki nor Odin are stirring up trouble here, though – we’ve got the trolls making trouble, some elves, and dwarves, enchanted forests, and magic items aplenty here. There are secrets revealed and some big decisions Zaria must make – and they’re not always the right ones. She’s a girl with a lot of heart and has friends who quibble with her and each other, but would do anything for her. 

zaria fiere_2

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Swordby Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750031

The story continues in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword. Armed with a better understand of who she and what she needs to do, Zaria and her friends are back and trying to fix a major mistake she made while trying to free Christoffer. We’ve got pirate ships and giants in this story, and a very creepy doppleganger making some trouble for Zaria. Can she get hold of the enchanted Drakeland sword and foil Olaf’s plans?

The stories are written and illustrated in a manner that recalls fantasy and adventure stories I read as a kid. The black and white fantasy sketches are beautiful and creepy – I love the white stag and the deliciously creepy Olaf – and brings a lot of imagination to the page.

Self-published by the author, the books can be purchased via Amazon (I’ve linked each title to its Amazon page below the cover shots). You can find a book trailer and Zaria Fierce coloring sheets on Keira Gillett’s website, sign up for her newsletter, and get a countdown to the next book in the Zaria Fierce trilogy. Keep an eye out for an author interview with Keira Gillett, right here, very soon!

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

A Tale of Light & Shadow – Good, old-fashioned adventure and romance!

neverak_1A Tale of Light & Shadow, by Jacob Gowans (2014, Shadow Mountain), $9.99 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1609079819

Recommended for ages 12+

The world of Atolas is a world where emperors and kings rule the land. Wealth determines one’s place in society, and social stations carry more weight with some of the populace than with others. Isabelle and Henry have grown up side by side and have fallen in love. Henry, a prosperous carpenter, wants to marry Isabelle, whose wealth is in name alone, but her father won’t allow it. When her father turns to a terrible way to get Isabelle out of the way and get to her mother’s gold, Henry comes to her rescue – and their group, including their siblings, Henry’s childhood friend, Ruther, and Henry’s apprentice, Brandol – find themselves on the run from the Emperor’s guard. There are rough times ahead for Isabelle, Henry, and their group. There will be betrayals, secrets, and a hard journey to freedom for them all.

I really enjoyed this book, the first in a new series by author Jacob Gowans. It reminds me of an old-school adventure, with the young lovers in peril, the hidden betrayer, an epic journey both in body and in spirit – each of the characters in the group goes through emotional upheaval through the course of the book – and a thread of magic that promises to grow stronger as we progress through the series. I love this book because it’s the kind of book I can give to my more conservative teens, my teens who love a good romance, and my teens who love an epic fantasy. It’s a relatively clean book – there’s some battle violence and references to concubines – but it’s within acceptable levels for teen reading. Fans of older movies will be drawn into the sprawling lands and hero’s journey that lays ahead. The ending of the book promises a sequel that will pick up where this first book leaves off.

Speaking of that second book, guess what’s next on my night table? So get ready, check out A Tale of Light and Shadow, and get yourselves up to speed for the next book in the series, Secrets of Neverak.