Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Fablehaven Fans! The Dragon King will see you now.

The Wrath of the Dragon King (Dragonwatch #2), by Brandon Mull, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781629724867

Ages 8-12

If you’re a fantasy fan like I am, the first Dragonwatch book left you yelling at the pages, demanding more. That moment has arrived. Wrath of the Dragon King wastes no time in throwing readers right into the action, as Celebrant, King of Dragons, puts a terrible plan into motion that will put Seth and Kendra’s lives at risk. Celebrant first invites the siblings to his palace, insinuating that it would be an insult if they didn’t attend. Once they arrive, he declares war on Kendra and Seth, and anyone who supports them. Their griffin mounts are slaughtered, and they’re left to find their way back to Blackwell Keep alone in a land full of divided loyalties. Meanwhile, cousins Knox and Tessa have stayed behind, but are figuring things out pretty quickly and want to be where the action is – especially when a murderer is suspected among them. The two cousins discover the secret way to travel between preserves and head off in search of Kendra and Seth.

There’s more action, more battle, and more intrigue than ever in Wrath of the Dragon King. The stakes are high, and there are new players in the story, the most intriguing of which seems to be Ronodin, a Dark Unicorn that toys with his alliances and has his own agenda. I am thoroughly enjoying this series; it’s a more intense pace and story than the Fablehaven books, allowing readers to grow with the series. The Dragonwatch books can stand on their own, but reading them in order is suggested – most of Wrath of the Dragon King won’t work for readers who haven’t read Dragonwatch.

In short, Wrath of the Dragon King is nonstop fantasy, perfect for your dragon-loving fantasy, sword and sorcery, and magic-loving readers. Author Brandon Mull has an excerpt on his webpage, plus Dragonwatch downloadables that you can use to introduce the series to your readers. I’m already thinking of how to incorporate some of the happenings from Wrath of the Dragon King into my summer reading programming for next year.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Never That Far: They never really leave us

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams, (Apr. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-409-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

Twelve-year-old Libby is devastated when her best friend, her grandfather, dies at home. Crippled by grief, her father can barely get out of bed to work in the family’s Florida orange groves. On the night of Grampa’s funeral, though, Libby has a visitor: Grampa’s spirit shows up in her room, telling her that “the dead ain’t never that far from the living”, and that she has to search the lake for something he left for her. Sadly, he tells her that her father can’t see him; he doesn’t believe. To him, “the Dead are dead”. Libby joins forces with her friend, Bobby, to discover the treasure at the lake, but her father spirals further into grief and depression and threatens to derail Libby’s entire mission.

Never That Far has a touch of the supernatural set into a realistic fiction about grief, loss, and family. The Sight, Libby’s family gift, allows her to see and speak with dead family members. Her father has been worn down by grief, enduring the deaths of his siblings, wife, mother, and now, father; he has spent years arguing with his family about their “gift”, refusing to accept it for what it is. Libby’s revelation is unbearable to him, threatening an even greater rift between father and daughter when he tries to stop her from her mission. Together, Libby and Grampa, with some help from Bobby, work to save Libby’s father, who’s in danger of becoming a shell of a person and leaving Libby alone in the world.

The characters are gently realized, revealing themselves to readers little by little over the course of the book and packing powerful emotional punches as they come. Libby witnesses her grandfather’s grief at not being able to connect with his son in a scene that will have readers reaching for tissues. Taking place in the late 1960s in rural Florida allows the plot to remain character-driven. This is a moving story of grief, loss, and renewal that will appeal to certain readers: it’s a good book to have handy for your tough times lists, and for comfort reading. It’s spiritual, rather than overtly religious, and is soothing for readers experiencing loss and moving on.




Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade I read in January

I spent most of January with my nose in a book. I’m still catching up with books that pubbed in January, but here’s a quick take on a few good ones.

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters, Book 1), by Frank L. Cole,
(Jan. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62973-559-7
Recommended for readers 8-12

A brand new adventure/fantasy series for middle graders! Potion Masters introduces us to 12-year-old Gordy Stitser, a budding Elixirist. Elixirists are potion masters; think of them as modern-day alchemists with more than a little touch of magic, who use their gifts to contribute to society by pushing for advancements in medicine, technology, and, yeah, even weapons tech. Gordy inherits his gift from his mom, who’s on the Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide (B.R.E.W.), while his Muggle dad (no, they don’t call them Muggles; it’s my usage) is content to hold down things at home with Gordy and his twin younger siblings. But Gordy intercepts a package meant for his mother while she’s away on a “business trip”, and finds himself – and his family and friends – in the sights of an evil Elixirist who’s bent on destroying B.R.E.W. and destroying the world. It’s a fun fantasy read, with positive adult role models and friends who work together to save the world. This book disappeared from the shelf the day I put it on display, and hasn’t been back yet, so I’m calling this a win right now. Fantasy fans who love a good series can start with this one and claim they read it before it was cool.


Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean (Mixed-Up History #2), by Steve Sheinkin/Illustrated by Neil Swaab,
(Jan 2018, Roaring Brook), $6.99, ISBN: (978-1-250-15247-3)
Recommended for readers 7-9

From Steve Sheinkin, the man who brought you the Newbery Award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and National Book Award finalist Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, comes… Abigail Adams: Pirate of the Caribbean. C’mon, I made you laugh. Steve Sheinkin shows his sillier side with his Mixed-Up History series; his first book in the series gave us Abraham Lincoln leaving history to become a professional wrestler. In this volume, Abigail Adams, sick and tired of hanging laundry in the White House, uses time traveling technology to take to the high seas as one of Calico Jack Rackham’s crew. It’s up to modern-day siblings Doc and Abby to fix history again and get Abigail back to her own time. It’s not necessary to have read the first book in the series to jump in with Mixed-Up History; there’s enough exposition to get readers caught up. Black and white illustrations and a quick-paced narrative make for some laugh-out-loud moments, usually at our second President’s expense. Siblings Abby and Doc represent a blended family and Doc is a child of color. It’s a fun read for intermediate readers that will get them acquainted with some big names in history, but really, this is just for kicks. A historical note from the author assures readers that no, this isn’t something you can cite in a report. A good add to humor collections.


Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, by Angela Dominguez,
(Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5
Recommended for readers 8-12

Stella Diaz loves fish and underwater life, loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl. When her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class – including the new boy that she wants to be friends with, but is too afraid to speak to – she knows she has to work to get past her fears, and FAST. I love this kind story about a girl who has so much to offer, but is afraid to look silly or wrong. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and being brave enough to face challenges one little step at a time. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. I’m thrilled that Stella’s mom has an interesting job at a radio station and that Stella sees her mom as a positive force in her life, and I’m relieved to see that the middle grade “best friend meets a new friend” plotline is resolved in an upbeat manner, rather than devolving into two camps of kids being angry and upset with one another. Stella Diaz Has Something to Say is just a great book to read and share with your readers.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Choose Empathy. Choose Compassion. Read Mustaches for Maddie.

Mustaches for Maddie, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2017, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629723303

Good for readers 9-12

Maddie’s a 12-year-old kid who loves to laugh and make people laugh, and there’s nothing better for that – at least according to Maddie – than a fake mustache. She carries them around with her, always ready to hand out and pop one on to make an uncomfortable situation better, to add some bravery when a situation calls for it, or just to make someone laugh. She’s also trying to secure her spot within the school queen bee’s clique; Cassie dictates who gets to hang out with her, and demands favors of her “friends” in order to stay in her favor. When she tells Maddie not to hang out with a perfectly nice classmate for no other reason than she said so, Maddie struggles with it, but ultimately – at first – sticks with Cassie. The thing is, Maddie’s noticing her body acting weird lately. Her arm isn’t acting right; it’s curling against her chest. She’s tripping over her own two feet quite often. But she tells her mom it’s just growing pains. It can’t be anything weird, right?

Wrong. When she finally goes to the doctor, she and her family learn that she has a brain tumor that will require surgery. And Maddie just landed the part of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet! Maddie learns to face her fears – including her fear of not being in Cassie’s orbit – and embraces real friendship with those around her. When Cassie turns into a bully, Maddie focuses on the bigger picture: surgery and recovery. Her friends and family rally around her, and there are plenty of mustache moments to look forward to.

This book is brilliant. Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter – who is okay now, thank goodness! – this story, told in the first person from Maddie’s POV, is engaging and heart-felt. Maddie has a great sense of humor and a big heart, and strives to see the good in everyone: even a bully. Despite wanting to be in Cassie’s orbit, she enjoys embracing her quirky sense of humor, making her a lovable heroine – even moreso, when you realize she’s an actual person. SLJ calls Mustaches for Maddie a good readalike for RJ Palacio’s Wonder and I have to agree. I’ve booktalked it exactly once, and that’s because the second I put it on the shelf and talked about the plot, it was gone and hasn’t stopped circulating yet. The book’s website offers a free, downloadable reading guide with Common Core Connections, activities for the classroom and beyond, and CIA (Compassion in Action) activities. There are also fantastic extras, including downloadable mustache posters and greeting cards. I’m considering a CIA program myself, where I provide the kids with mustache templates that they can decorate and we’ll display in the library, along with a list of CIA intentions. If I can get the kids to join in, I’ll make sure to blog it.

In the meantime, this is a great book for discussion, for gift-giving, for just about everything. It addresses the need for compassion that our society needs some help with these days, and take on a special importance during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Join the Dragonwatch!

Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, (March 2017, Shadow Mountain), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-256-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

After a seven-year wait, the sequel to the Fablehaven series is here! Dragonwatch starts a new chapter in the Fablehaven saga. The dragons are sick of their sanctuaries. They feel like prisons, and they want their freedom. Celebrant, a dragon resident and co-caretaker of the Wyrmroost Sanctuary, is testing his boundaries a little too much for anyone’s comfort. The wizard Agad, tells Kendra, Seth, and Grandpa Sorenson about an ancient group, the Dragonwatch, charged with keeping the dragons confined to their sanctuaries. Agad is resurrecting the Dragonwatch, and he also needs new caretakers at Wyrmroost: Seth and Kendra. As long as they work and together, they are the next hope for Wyrmroost, but Celebrant isn’t going to take having children as his new co-caretakers that willingly. Seth and Kendra must work with the supernatural residents around them to secure a magical artifact before the dragons can overthrow Wyrmroost.

I picked up my first copy of Fablehaven years ago, and fell in love with the story: the characters, the worldbuilding, the action, and the story of a family living under some pretty wild circumstances. Imagine finding out that your grandparents were caretakers of a preserve for magical creatures? Dragonwatch is every single thing I love about Fablehaven and more. There’s new worldbuilding and mythology that builds on everything we know so far; there’s a new conflict on the rise that will test our favorite characters and introduce us to new ones, and there’s an enduring commitment to the heart of the series: the family at the center of the story. We meet two possibly recurring characters from that family: cousins Knox and Tess, who bring a little of the outside world back to the novel while getting their feet wet in the world of Fablehaven. We meet a host of new magical friends, including Celebrant, the powerful dragon at the heart of the new conflict.

You don’t need to be well-read on Fablehaven to dive into Dragonwatch. It’s a new series, so Mull touches on the main points that newcomers need to be aware of, while giving readers an entirely new story to fall in love with. Kids will want to read Fablehaven once they start Dragonwatch – they’ll need something to read while waiting for the next installment – but they won’t be left out if they haven’t read the previous books just yet.

Courtesy of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch pageBrandon Mull’s Dragonwatch webpage has an excerpt, readers’ guide, and the VR experience that I linked to back when we were getting Decked Out for Dragonwatch back in January. There’s also a downloadable event kit and a sneak peek at some of Brandon Dorman’s amazing black and white artwork that you’ll see in Dragonwatch. Fablehaven fans and newbies can enjoy getting caught up at the Fablehaven page.Fantasy fans, especially dragon fans, are going to love this series. Booktalk it, display it, print out goodies from the website and share them!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Let your imagination run wild with your Fablehaven guide!

book-of-imaginationFablehaven Book of Imagination, by Brandon Mull, (Oct. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-241-2

Recommended for ages 7-12

Fablehaven Fans, get ready! If you’ve ever wanted to draw your own magical preserve map, mix your own potions, or make an origami Olloch, the Fablehaven Book of Imagination is for you! It’s an activity book that has recipes, origami, writing prompts, and coloring pictures all through the book – anything to spark your creativity and imagination. There are quotes about imagination and creativity throughout the book; I was thrilled to see quotes from Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, and JRR Tolkien, who may well be considered my personal trinity. Fans who are waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Dragonwatch, the new sequel series to Fablehaven, can track down a secret message from Brandon Mull, hidden throughout the book. A note at the beginning explains how.

Make this book yours – color in it, cut out and make the beasties, color and frame the quotes. This is your journal: you even get to write your name on it. Librarians already know that this isn’t the type of book we can put in circ, but we can have entire programs using this book as a guide – hello, summer reading in Fablehaven! – let your kids create codenames, place classified ads for help with their magical preserves, make magical webs – everything you need to run a successful Fablehaven program is in here if you’re a librarian, and it’s a great stocking stuffer for anyone whose imagination likes to run wild. (I’m totally coloring Neil Gaiman’s quote page to frame at my desk.) There are games online at the Fablehaven Preserve; there are also downloadable educators’ guides, and videos to prompt discussion.


Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A Tale of Light and Shadow continues with Secrets of Neverak

Tale-of-Light-Shadow-BK-2_cover-product-picA Tale of Light and Shadow, Book 2: Secrets of Neverak, by Jacob Gowans (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-60907-978-9

Recommended for ages 12+

Book 2 in the Tales of Light and Shadow series continues with Secrets of Neverak, picking up immediately where the first book left off, after the battle that saw our group of heroes split up and facing danger at every turn. Henry, James, Maggie and Ruther have to travel across Neverak to find Isabelle; Isabelle must learn to survive her circumstances. The Emperor is setting plans in motion, seemingly unhindered by anyone – or is he?

We get much more character development in this second book in the series, and meet some new characters that encounter the party – for better or for worse. Every character has his or her own inner demons to fight, which makes for deep and textured reading; the main characters are accessible and likable. The Emperor is the classic, megalomaniacal villain that you want to see taken down. There’s not a lot of gray area with the characters – like the book’s title, you have light and dark, and the lines are pretty clearly drawn. The book’s ending left me knowing that the big finale is coming, and looking forward to it.

Teen girls will find adventure and a lot of melodrama. We’ve got tormented inner monologues and unrequited love aplenty in this volume! Not being a teenage girl, I preferred the adventure and intrigue, but girls who love romance will be thrilled with this second entry into the series. Parents and educators will be happy at the continued importance of morality and values in the book. Shadow Mountain puts out very clean books, and having them on the shelves is great for me to steer my more conservative readers toward.

Tales of Light and Shadow is a solid fantasy series for all readers. Check out my review of the first book, A Tale of Light and Shadow, to learn more.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Are you prepared to be Fablehaven’s newest Caretaker?

caretakersguideThe Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull (Oct. 2015, Shadow Mountain Publishing), $24.99, ISBN: 9781629720913

Recommended for ages 8-12

Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series is one of those series I can’t keep on the shelves. My middle graders love these books; they’re constantly checked out. When I mentioned to a few of my regulars that there’s going to be a new Fablehaven series coming out next year, there was chaos, especially when I had to explain that no, I couldn’t put the books on reserve for them now.

But I can get them this newest book that links the new Fablehaven series with the existing: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven is an exhaustive, beautiful book that offers pictures and descriptions of every artifact, creature, demon, dragon, location, and wizard in Fablehaven, as well as details on other magical preserves. Quotes from Fablehaven characters, particularly Grandpa Sorensen, and a comprehensive index rounds out this must-have for series fans.

If the kiddos in your life or library haven’t discovered Fablehaven yet, no worries: this book is a perfect companion for newcomers to the series, who could use a guide to flip through and refer to places and creatures he or she discovers along the way. The guide is comprehensive and includes clues to artifacts and creatures they’ll discover in the new Fablehaven series, Dragonwatch – and since the book isn’t due out until Fall 2016, it serves as a sweet tease to get readers excited about the book. (Reader’s Advisory tip: steer them toward Brandon Mull’s Spirit Animals series in the meantime.)

I enjoyed the Caretaker’s Guide – I’m a fan of these resources, because it makes introducing the series easier on newbies, who may be a little cowed by starting an established series like Fablehaven. The bite-sized descriptions and illustrations are perfect for quick look-ups, or getting someone acquainted with the world they’re about to enter.

There’s a great Fablehaven Preserve online, offering games and downloads for visitors. Brandon Mull’s author page also has a great Educators/Parents section with videos, educator guides, and book recommendations from Mr. Mull.

Introduce your fantasy lovers to this series! Shadow Mountain prides themselves on exciting, positive content that will appeal to your fantasy fans and keep your more conservative parents happy. I’ve been really happy with the books I’ve read coming out of Shadow Mountain thus far.

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.


Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Westly: A Spider’s Tale is a good, middle-grade fable

westlyWestly: A Spider’s Tale, by Bryan Beus (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $15.99, ISBN: 9781629720685

Recommended for ages 9-13

In a contained garden of a glass chandelier, a young caterpillar is born into royalty. Destined to inherit the crown of the Monarch Butterfly kingdom, he is spoiled and naïve until he emerges from his cocoon – and he’s not exactly what he expected. Instead of a regal monarch, he’s a spider. Horrified by his appearance and afraid he’ll be ostracized from butterfly society, he runs away and lives down below, among the “dirt eaters” – the bugs that live below, on the ground. Not knowing he comes from the arrogant butterflies, they take him in and teach him how to live – but what Westly doesn’t realize is that he holds the key to uniting both societies.

Blending a graphic novel feel with a moral fable storytelling voice, Bryan Beus’ debut novel is a great read for middle graders. It’s kind of A Bug’s Life meets The Ugly Duckling, with a kind-hearted, unworldly main character who goes on a classic hero’s journey to grow up, mature, and come into the leader he’s meant to be. There are wonderfully classic elements here: the villain, the wise old sage, and the curmudgeon with the heart of gold being just a few touchstones that children and adults alike with recognize and embrace. Black and white sketches throughout the book hold the reader’s interest and have a comforting, classic feel.


This is a solid choice for school libraries and classrooms, especially for middle grade read-alouds and units on fairy tales and fables. Animal fiction always does well in my library, so I know this one will be happily received.

Bryan Beus is the winner of the Kirchoff/Wohlberg Award from The New York Society of Illustrators. His author website offers a sneak preview of Westly‘s first two chapters, plus an adorable webcomic called Peter and Li. Westly is Mr. Beus’ first book, but I’m hoping to see more.