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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Published by First Second

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, 240 pp, RL 4

Summary:  Snapdragon believes a woman in her town is a witch, and when her dog goes missing, she’s afraid the witch has eaten him.  An angry confrontation winds up being the beginning of an unusual friendship.  The “witch”, Jacks, turns out to be a lonely old woman whose business is rescuing roadkill and rebuilding their skeletons to sell online.  Snap and Jacks bond over their love of animals, but as they get to know each other better, Snap discovers that Jacks has a deep connection to her own family from long ago.  Not only that, but the woman turns out to possess some of the magical powers Snap first suspected her of having, and Snap begins to learn some magic herself.  When Snap’s mom’s abusive ex-boyfriend shows up, it’s up to Snap and Jacks to use their magic to save the day.  Jacks finds herself back in the family again, and it looks like there just might be a happy ending for everyone.  Includes pages showing the process of early sketches and turning them into the finished pages as well as some other book cover ideas. 240 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Kat Leyh packs a lot into this graphic novel, with an ambitious story and lots of interesting characters including the two main ones, as well as Snap’s mother and grandmother, and Lulu, her transgender best friend.  She masterfully cuts from one scene to the next, keeping the action moving quickly.

Cons:  The ending wrapped up pretty neatly, and I don’t see any sign of a sequel.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Review: Contagion

contagionThe Great War has ended but a new war has begun. It is through fourteen year-old Charlotte’s daily diary entries that the story is told.

The end of 1918 is nearing. Charlotte’s dad has returned from the war a broken man. His experiences are locked inside him. He is grumpy and resentful of everything. Charlotte cannot understand why he has changed so, nor can anyone else.

Life goes on the same as before for the rest of the family, but frustration at Dad’s unbearable attitude is added to their daily burden. Charlotte’s only confidant is Florence, her neighbour, best friend and daughter of the local GP.

Mum, a nurse, works night shift to feed her four children. A large part of the household chores fall on Charlotte alongside her studies. She dreams of becoming a nurse too. To learn something about her father’s condition and the medication he is taking, she secretly borrows some medical books from Florence. If people don’t tell me anything, then I shall have to find out for myself.

With a sharp mind and an interest in everything, Charlotte’s potential is recognised by the doctor. With permission for her to accompany him as helper on his rounds during school holidays, Charlotte is given more opportunity to learn.

It’s not until mum’s brother, Donald, comes home from overseas just before Christmas, that change occurs. Charlotte overhears dad and Donald discussing traumatic and sometimes gruesome details of war life. She at last understands why her dad is the way he is.

The New Year brings new challenges. An influenza pandemic has hit Melbourne and all the area is infected. On her home visits with the doctor, Charlotte is confronted with death for the first time, and poverty far beyond what she could have imagined. She is forced to disinfect before she goes home. Everyone must wear a mask.

When her sister dies, and the other two girls, Mum and Donald get infected, Charlotte is filled with fear. Will dad stand up at last in this do-or-die situation, and finally give his family the attention they need?

This reality took place one hundred years ago. Reading it is like hearing what is currently taking place in the world. There is little difference. But as all things that have gone before, this tragedy too, will pass.

Contagion is based on true happenings and is part of the brilliant My Australian Story series which opens the pages to our country’s history.

Title: Contagion
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Scholastic, $ 16.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760975562
For ages: 9+
Type: Historical Fiction

 

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Review: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

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Have you ever dreamt of travelling to another world? I certainly have, but 12-year-old Flick really hasn’t. She’s a no-nonsense kid who doesn’t need bedtime stories and knows magic isn’t real.

But when Flick discovers a strange travel agency while exploring her new town, everything changes.
Flick discovers she can see magical tears in the universe (or multiverse to be more accurate), and the Head Custodian of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, 18-year-old Jonathan Mercator, invites her to join the Strangeworlds Society.

As strange as it sounds, this means jumping in and out of suitcases to travel to other worlds — fantastical, magical, enthralling worlds where you must be careful not to tell fairies your true name and being a thief is an actual profession.
But amongst the fun and curiosities of the multiverse, a threat is looming. Streets are disappearing, outposts have been ransacked and something has happened to Jonathan’s father.
Flick wasn’t even sure she was ready to accept the existence of other worlds, how can she be ready to face dangers she doesn’t even understand? But face them she must, or she may never make it home again and her home may not even be there when she does.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is a magical middle grade novel for other world adventurers. Truly stunning and uber engaging, this story pulls you into a suitcase and makes you never want to return.
Mysteries throughout keep you guessing until the end, and twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat. If you love a fantastical adventure, you must check this one out.
 
Title: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency
Author: L D Lapinski
Publisher: Hachette, $16.99
Publication Date: 28 April 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781510105942
For ages: 8+
Type: Junior Fiction, Middle Fiction 

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Kenny and the Book of Beasts by Tony DiTerlizzi

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KENNY & THE BOOK OF BEASTS
by Tony DiTerlizzi
Kenny & the Dragon, Book Two
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Fantasy
224 pages
 
COMING…
SEPTEMBER 22nd!!!
 

In this highly anticipated sequel to New York Times bestselling and Caldecott Honor–winning author Tony DiTerlizzi’s Kenny and the Dragon, Kenny must cope with many changes in his life—including the fear that he’s losing his best friend.

What can come between two best friends?

Time has passed since Kenny Rabbit’s last adventure with his best friend, the legendary dragon Grahame, and a lot has changed in the sleepy village of Roundbrook.

For starters, Kenny has a whole litter of baby sisters. His friends are at different schools and Sir George is off adventuring.

At least Kenny still has his very best friend, Grahame. That’s before Dante arrives. Dante is a legendary manticore and an old friend of Grahame’s. Old friends spend a lot of time catching up. And that catching up does not involve Kenny.

But there’s a Witch to defeat, a pal to rescue, and a mysterious book to unlock. And those are quests for best friends, not old friends. Right?

MY TIDBITS

This is the 2nd book in a series, but it can be read as a stand alone, which I did since I haven’t yet quite had the time to read book one. I will be, however, since I really enjoyed this read!

Kenny is a rabbit, who’s ending his school years and has 12 younger sisters. He’s already thought of as something special, since he met his best friend, a dragon, and managed to prove that dragons won’t eat everyone they see. Now, that life has settled down, he’s off to the fair with his family and dragon friend. There he’s lucky enough to become the owner of a fix-it-upper automobile…but he has no idea how good it is that he acquires a car, since a new adventure is about to begin.

This book is so cute and fun and adventurous and simply a lovely read! Kenny and his friends are a wonderful bunch, full of warmth and a bit of humor. His mother is careful. His father warns. And his dragon friend speaks so properly and yet, has a lot to learn. Kenny is the perfect rabbit for an adventure.

This book runs at a nice pace, starting out with a few scenes to let the reader sink into the life and characters before taking off in adventure. Its a bit slower than some novels, but still is never boring and definitely holds in the pages. When the adventure starts, there’s a bit of tension, a bit of gruffness and a wonderful dab of humor filtered in. It’s hard to put the book down, and even harder not to love these characters.

As an extra bonus, illustrations are heavily spread through the pages. These black and white sketches add so much to the fun and life. But then, I’m a huge fan of illustrations in books…and these really are very well done.

Summed up, this is a book I can highly recommend and believe it is a series, which many readers will love.

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Two Very Punny Whodunits by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Teaching kids about puns hasn’t always been the easiest lesson I’ve had to teach. Explaining that a pun is simply a joke that uses the different meanings of a word or phrase in humorous ways isn’t always sufficient, even when I’ve begin the lesson with the old joke: Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9.” However, Tara Lazar has taken that dusty old joke and turned my lessons into a fun way to teach and learn about the concept of puns.

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7 Ate 9: The Untold Story (Private I #1)
written by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown BFYR, 2017, 32 pages
 
It all begins when a very scared 6 runs into the office of Private I of the Al F. Bet detective agency and tells him that word on the street is that 7 ate 9 and now 7 is after him. After taking the case, Private I tells 6, “Stay here. I’ll get to the root of this.” “I hope so!” says 6. “I fear my days are numbered.” What follows is a caper that sounds like it is straight out of a 1940s film noir mystery as Private I tries to find clues about 9’s disappearance. It has the same kind of hard-boiled old school way of speaking, but with the slangy language is replaced with punny language. And the number puns never stop. And Ross MacDonald’s bold, colorful illustration, digitally created with colored pencils, and watercolors, are as energetic as the caper itself. This didn’t work with my younger readers, but it was a real hit with older kids who are already somewhat math savvy. They really enjoyed finding and talking about the math references. Their favorite – Cafe Uno where customers can get a slice of .
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The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City (Private I #2)
written by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown BFYR, 2019, 32 pages
Capitalizing on the fun of her first book, Tara Lazar returns to the Al F. Bet detective agency for another caper. It seems Question Mark was all bent our of shape because all the uppercase letters in Capital City has gone missing and to emphasize his point, he had brought along Exclamation. Would Private I take the case? if he didn’t solve this one, with all the capital letters gone, there would be incomplete sentences dangling everywhere. What results, as Private I tries to solve the case, is a punny introduction to punctuation when he tries to interview them. They are all too busy to talk, only the Quotation Twins are willing to talk: “Yeah, something’s definitely up, besides us…But don’t quote us on that.” This is written with the same kind of hard-boiled film noir mystery way of speaking and illustrations as 7 Ate 9. Once again, I found it did not work with my younger readers who are 4-5 years-old, but it did work better with kids 6+. My favorite part was the appearance of the Grammar Police represented by Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.
My older readers had some fun trying to come up with their own punnny jokes after reading these books. Both of them are delightfully funny, punny, fresh ways of helping students understand puns and word play and are ideal additions for classroom or home school libraries.

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What Lane by Torrey Maldonado

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

What Lane? - Kindle edition by Maldonado, Torrey. Children Kindle ...

Summary:  Stephen wears a bracelet that reads “What lane?”, a basketball reference to staying in your lane, which is something he doesn’t want to do.  He’s curious about the world, and eager to move between all different lanes.  But then he starts to see that it’s not that easy for him as a biracial kid who tends to hang out with the white kids. He begins to notice that he’s often treated differently by adults, often coming under suspicion in a way his white friends aren’t.  A new group of black friends give him a new perspective, and all his friends come to his rescue when he’s the victim of bullying by a new kid in town.  Stephen has some hard truths to learn, but he’s also fortunate to have good support from his white mom, black dad, and good friends.  144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A quick read that’s a great reluctant reader pick and an excellent catalyst for conversations about racism.  Stephen’s voice rings true, and most of the kids in his circle are trying to do the right thing.  A definite awards contender for 2020.

Cons:  There was a lot packed into 144 pages. The plot felt at times like it was driven by the agenda, without as much of an opportunity to develop the storyline and the characters as a longer book would have offered.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

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It’s the summer of 1974, and the Watergate scandal is all the news. But for Nell Sanders, 12, there are other worries. Five months ago, her mother had walked out, leaving Nell to care for her depressed father Ronnie, a short order cook, three brothers, and the house. Mom may be gone, but her father’s dream of taking his family to see Mt. Rushmore isn’t. It”s such an important monument to him that he named his three sons after the presidents carved there. Well, all except Abe Lincoln. That should have been Nell, instead she was named after Susan B. Anthony.

But when her father discovers that the money he worked so hard to save is gone for their trip, he’s sure their mother took it when she left. Depressed and angry, Ronnie takes to his bed. Left to fend for herself, the house and her brothers George, 15, Tom, 10 and Teddy, 6, Nell is determined to replace the missing money so that everything will once again be A-okay, as her dad would say.
And as if she hasn’t enough to do, Nell and Teddy rescue a dog that is being abused, even though their father has made it clear – no dogs allowed. Naturally, they name the dog Abe. As if George becoming surlier, Tom withdrawing more into the basement to build models, and Teddy becomes needier isn’t enough, Nell’s best friend has become boy-crazy, causing a rift between them. But not before Nell comes up with a brilliant way to make some replacement Mt. Rushmore money with Maya’s help.
To top all this off, Nell finds out that it was George who took the money in the first place and gave it to their mother for her new apartment in Boston. Then, when their dad finds this out, the rupture in the Sanders family just keeps widening, to the point where even Nell begins to lose hope.
The Sanders family is certainly dysfunctional, but not because mom left. She has always made it clear she did not want to be there, did not want kids, did not want to be married. But while she was often mean and insulting to her family, her presence is still missed.
Now, Nell is thrown into the role her mom should have fulfilled, because, as she says, “Mom had ducked out on cleaning and cooking and kid watching and I got stuck with it because I was the girl.” Yet, Nell is extraordinarily kind to Teddy, giving him the motherly care and attention she so desperately needs herself. The clearest example of that is when her body begins to change, and there is no mom there to help and support her.
Kalmar includes a number of important themes in Stealing Mt. Rushmore. It is interesting that she chose to tell Nell’s story against the backdrop of Watergate. Both involve disillusionment, Nell in her mother, the country in Nixon; relinquishment, mother and family relinquishing each other, Nixon relinquishing the presidency; and both of these things result in change for the family and the country.
But there are also themes of  neglect, a father who sleeps his depression away, and racism directed at Nell’s friend Maya, whose family was from the Azores and whom Nell’s neighbor refers to as “that foreign girl,” but neither of these themes were explored with any depth. I also found that some of the language and some of the topics had a more modern sensibility – for example, a hippie telling Nell about how Mt Rushmore was stolen from the Native Americans living there. On the other hand, I loved all the period details, and there were plenty giving the setting a real feeling of authenticity, making this a good choice for anyone interested in historical fiction.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was gratefully received from Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media
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Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.

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Summer and July by Paul Mosier

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It’s July 1st and Goth girl Julliet, 12, is on a plane with her mother traveling from Michigan to Ocean Park, California, where her mom, a doctor, will be working in an ER. Julliet’s parents are divorced, and her dad is in Switzerland with his new younger girlfriend. Julliet is also a girl who is fraught with fears, all shared with her best friend Fern, whom she is forbidden to hang out with after a misunderstanding.

On her first morning, Julliet finds a note from her mom listing possible goals for her, including exercise, fresh air and work on her fears. Later, she meets Summer, an energetic surfer girl who wants to be friends. At first reluctant, Julliet, whom Summer insists on calling “Betty,” slowly begins to warm up to Summer, and Summer for her part, patiently puts up with Julliet fears, while slowly, and even more patiently helping her deal with them.
At first, they simply walk around town, checking out stores and just hanging out. Summer, who lives year round in Ocean Park knows everyone. Like Julliet, she’s mostly on her own because her parents both work. Eventually, Summer gets Julliet to go to the beach and into the water, introducing her to surfing culture. Always at her side when Julliet confronts a fear, the two begin with skateboarding at the beach, then graduate to boogie boarding, all the while continuing to pal around, visiting to Santa Monica pier, and just having fun. But once in a while, Summer isn’t available and Julliet wonders why. It seems Summer has a secret and isn’t ready to share it with Julliet, at least not until Julliet is ready to finally try surfing.
I don’t think I’ve read a good surfing book since I found my sister’s old copy of Gidget in the late 70s. So surfing culture isn’t exactly something I’m up on. But I am a girl who spent summers on the Jersey shore, and I do love the ocean, and enjoyed reading a book that is set in an ocean community. In fact, the setting in Summer and July is so realistic, I could practically feel the sand and smell the salty ocean breeze.
I loved reading Julliet’s transformation as she became more of a Betty, as her “fears” dropped away and she seemed to feel a much less antagonistic towards her mother. Her summer with Summer gives her a confidence that she lacked before arriving in Ocean Park, even allowing her to explore her sexuality. To his credit, Mosier never lets the reader think that Julliet’s fears and her Goth look are anything more than an affectation she’s picked up from Fern and defense mechanism which suits her anger at her parents for divorcing and the way they dealt with the aftermath of that divorce. Right from the start, it’s clear there is someone else under the heavy black eye make up and clothing.
Summer, on the other hand, is such charming, natural, and kind character without any of the shallowness you might associate with pretty blond surfer girls. Summer has an inner strength that enables her to face everyday with a smile and a positive attitude, despite what has happened in her family. And it’s this inner strength that she uncovers in Julliet. I also think that by always calling her Betty, she gives Julliet the freedom she needs to find herself away from her everyday life.
Summer and July is an textured, multilayered coming of age story that turned out to be one of the most satisfying books I’ve read this summer.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+

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Review: The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks Dubois

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THE PLACES WE SLEEP
by Caroline Brooks Dubois
Holiday House
Middle Grade Historical
272 pages
ages 8 to 12

 

A stunning debut novel in verse about a family divided, a country going to war, and a girl desperate to feel at home.

It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.

I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.

Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves based on her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.

And then it’s September 11, 2001. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s first period arrives.

Like a punch to the gut / like a shove in the girls’ room / like a name I won’t repeat.

Abbey’s family falters in the aftermath of the attacks. With her mother grieving, and her father preparing for active duty, Abbey must cope with the tragedy – and her body’s betrayal – on her own.

Written in gorgeous narrative verse, Abbey’s coming-of-age story portrays the military family experience during a tumultuous period in American history. Perfect for fans of sensitive, tender-hearted books like The Thing About Jellyfish.

MY TIDBITS

Abbey is an Army kid, needs to find new friends as she starts a new school but is facing more than just that. Not only has 9/11 hit her family hard, but she’s facing her own changes, bullying, and first romance.

This book is written in prose and is well done. The author flows through the thoughts, situations, events, emotions, and heart-ache with beautiful finesse. It hits the gut and allows Abbey’s feelings to come across in ways that usual story-telling simply can’t achieve. And this is a deep book, which hits upon many difficult themes.

Abbey does find a wonderful friend with this new school, but with the new friendship, there’s also bullying. I did find this area stumbling on cliche as Abbey and her friend bonk heads with a trio of popular, mean girls. That they bullied Abbey’s best friend for being overly athletic and not interested in boys was a new take, handled pretty harsh, but will resonate with some readers. The friendship  was inspiring and did pull out the heart-strings until the last page.

While this book is beautifully written and runs deep, it’s going to target a very specific type of reader. The prose weighs a little heavy, mostly since the other characters really don’t receive the depth they’d need to keep up with Abby. Also, the plot end suffers a little, since this one is more an exploration of Abby’s innermost workings as she tries to steer through the complexities of the changes in her life as well as the troubles facing her family thanks to the loss of a loved one. It’s a book for upper middle graders, who love to dive into feelings, and that for three-hundred pages, which even for me, meant a few breaks to get through. It wouldn’t have been something I would have picked up at that age, but there were one or two girls I knew who would have.

I do enjoy the style and respect how this book takes this type of prose to a younger audience. There will be readers who truly enjoy diving into it and exploring their own feelings at the same time, and those will enjoy accompanying Abbey as she steers through life.

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Review: Toro by Andrew Avner

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TORO
by Andrew Avner
Black Rose Writing
Middle Grade Fiction
142 pages

 

COMING…
SEPTEMBER 17th!!!


Alicía Catalina Cortés is a fast and fiery Spanish cow who desperately wants to run with the bulls in Pamplona. But since she’s a cow, tradition forbids her to partake in the fiesta of San Fermín. Through her journey, Alicía learns that to be noble and brave, she must follow her dream and her heart, even if it means defying tradition.

Toro is set in the colorful backdrop of Pamplona, Spain during the fiesta of San Fermín and the running of the bulls, famed as one of the most exhilarating, dangerous, and spectacular events around the world.

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TORO is also available as audio book!!!
MY TIDBITS
 
Dreams mix with the fantastic atmosphere of Pamplona and the bull run in this exciting adventure with unexpected and yet, inspiring characters, who won’t easily be forgotten.
Alicía Catalina Cortés is a cow with a very unique dream; she wants to run with the bulls. Unfortunately, as a cow, it’s impossible. Still, Alicia refuses to give up and is sure she’ll find a way. Across the pastures, the bull Diego harbors a dream of his own. He wants nothing more than to join the rodeo in the U.S. Both are willing to do anything to achieve their dreams, but both have no clue how they ever can. But things might change, when the two finally meet and devise a plan.
I’m not usually a huge fan of animal stories, but this one had me stuck in the pages until the very end. While the first chapter starts with a scene of an older bull telling a tale to calves, the book soon spins over to Spain and a very determined cow. Alicia is a character to root for. She desires to be more than what others tell her she has to be, and this is something young readers will easily identify with. It’s clear right away how impossible her dream is, and yet, it’s hard not to hope she finds a way to accomplish it. The plot holds quite a few unexpected moments, and each one has the reader hoping things will turn out all right in the end. It keeps the tension high and the outcome surprising.
It was a treat to visit Pamplona, the bull run, and learn about the bull fights…something not often seen in middle grade literature. The author manages to add information and bits of culture into the tale without ever breaking the atmosphere surrounding the life of the animals. Because the animals and their stories are inspiring. Not only is this one about dreams coming true, but also hits upon friendship, trust, lying and even family. And all of this goodness packs in at less than 150 pages, making it something that even reluctant readers won’t mind picking up.
In other words, this one gets two thumbs up from me.

And here he is…

Andrew Avner graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television. After working in Manhattan with Academy Award-winning producer David Brown, Avner relocated to Los Angeles to develop his own original material. He’s currently writing and producing short films for The Walt Disney Company while penning his next novel.
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The Itsy Bitsy Spyder by Apeksha Rao

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Itsy Bitsy Spyder
The Spyders #0.5
by Apeksha Rao
Young Adult / Espionage
15th to 17th August
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What do you do when your mother feels that you don’t trust her?
If you’re Samira Joshi, and your mother is an elite spy who works for RAW, the first thing you do is … hide the knives.
After that, you go straight to the therapist that she has chosen.
For, when your mother knows seventeen different ways to kill a man, you don’t argue with her. Much.
Unless she’s trying to destroy your dreams.
Then, you fight dirty. Like a spy.
Samira is sweet, sassy, and almost seventeen. She dreams of becoming a badass spy like her parents.
And, why not?
That’s exactly what her parents have trained her to be.
So, why is her mother suddenly acting like a typical Indian mom and pushing her to be a doctor?
Samira can swear on her stack of covert operative manuals that it has something to with her mother’s last mission.
Her therapist disagrees. She feels the key to the mystery lies in Samira’s childhood.
Between her mother’s drama, a trouble-making grandmother, and a confused therapist, Samira’s life is spinning out of control.
What’s a good spy to do when her dreams are in danger?

Goodreads * Amazon

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Meet Aaji

Samira’s grandmother can solve any problem, which is why she’s the toast of the Hindu Colony Bhajan Mandal.
Whether it’s a missing servant, a stolen diamond bangle or an errant husband, your one-stop solution for all your issues is Savita Joshi aka Aaji.
If only she could solve her family’s problems as easily.
She’s proud of the fact that her son is a spy, but she would prefer a more conventional daughter-in-law.
You know … one who doesn’t burn the kitchen down while making a simple omelette.
And, also … doesn’t know quite so many ways to kill someone.
Samira’s Aaji is tired of explaining all the gunshot holes in her daughter in-law’s clothes to curious maids.
She’d rather spend her time running her Bhajan Mandal, and reading the Obituaries page in the newspaper. There’s nothing as satisfying as knowing that you’ve outlived the snotty women who used to look down on you when you were younger.
If only her family would stop fighting. She’s so tired of screaming matches at the breakfast table.
Her grand daughter, Samira, is about to go postal, and rightfully so.
Samira’s mother is being very secretive, which means she’s up to something, and that means Aaji needs to find out what she’s up to.
Unlike Samira, Aaji doesn’t depend on listening devices to know what’s happening in her house.
Aaji. Always. Knows.

And here she is…

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Apeksha Rao is a multi genre author from Bangalore.
She is the author of Along Came A Spyder, which is the story of a seventeen year old girl who wants to be spy.
Apeksha has written many short stories based on the same series, The Spyders, which are available on this blog.
She is a voracious reader, and a foodie.
Apeksha’s current works in progress: A middle grade book, a chick lit featuring a detective, and a horror novel (the writing of which is giving her sleepless nights).
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Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron

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Dan%2BUnmaskedDan Sumner, 13, and Nate Templeton, 12, have been best friends since elementary school and their two favorite things in the world are playing baseball for the Mira Giants and comic books, but not just any comic books. They are devoted readers of Captain Nexus. In fact, each month, on the day the newest issue hits the stands, Dan, Nate, and the rest of their team gather in the Templeton basement along with Nate’s younger brother Ollie and Ollie’s new friend Courtney, the only girl.

But one afternoon, when Nate takes a fly ball to the head during a game, he suffers a traumatic brain injury, and ends up being put into a medically induced coma. Dan and Ollie are suddenly at odds ends with themselves and each other, sharing a sense of helplessness that at times feels overwhelming. Dan blames himself for what happened to Nate. They had been talking about how Captain Nexus might escape the Nexus Zone where he was stuck with his arch enemy the Hollow and get back to his family in New Mexico when the ball hit Nate.
Then Dan discovers that Ollie and Courtney are working on a fan-fiction Captain Nexus comic to surprise Nate for his upcoming birthday, hoping he’ll be awake by then. Dan has been invited to join them because of his excellent printing skills. Ollie isn’t athletic like his brother but he is already an accomplished artist, and Courtney is the talent behind the storyline. Dan begins to really get into the comic’s creation, impressed by Ollie’s art. Soon, though, Dan convinces himself that if Captain Nexus can escape the Nexus Zone, it would show him the way to help Nate come back from his coma. It may be magical thinking, but it’s all he has and Dan is desperate for answers. When he hears about a fan art contest sponsored by Tall Ship Comics, publisher of Captain Nexus, Dan talks Courtney into submitting Ollie’s work, sure it will lead them to a meeting with comic’s creator George Sanderson and the answer to Captain Nexus’s escape.
As if Captain Nexus magical thinking weren’t enough, Dan is convinced that if the Mira Giants win the championship that will also help bring Nate back. And he actually manages to convince the team that winning is the thing to do.
No one is more surprised that Ollie when he wins the fan art contest and George Sanderson, who was blown away by Ollie’s art, delivers the news in person. But as they get to know him and he gets to know them, some very painful secrets and truths are revealed. In addition, old relationships are renewed and new ones begin. But will any of this help Nate?
The combination of baseball and comic books in Dan Unmasked is sure to please young readers. And Dan, Ollie, Courtney, and even George Sanderson are very individualized and fleshed out characters, but I found the other characters are somewhat nebulous, including Nate, the reason everyone is pulling together, though we do learn more about him as the story goes on. I have to admit it did take me a while to warm up to Dan. In the beginning, I found him to be obnoxious and selfish, so it was nice to see him change over the course of the novel. I did think it was interesting that Sanderson only planned on publishing 16 Captain Nexus issues and stuck to that. Usually, a comic needs a little more that one and a half years to catch on. And I did like the way he incorporated his own life story in his comic, producing an exciting work, but without much cathartic benefit for him.
I’m not a baseball fan, and there was a lot of baseball talk in Dan Unmasked, but I suspect I’m in the minority on this point. Also, I took a hard ball on a fly hit by a grown man when I was ten and it left me with permanent damage to the right side of my head and ear. As a result, I have a real fear of speeding baseballs. Naturally, I could feel Nate’s pain and wondered he would have baseballphobia, too, when he woke up. I am more of a fan of comics, having grown up on a diet of Archie, Superman, and Little Lulu, so I did like that aspect of Dan’s story.
Dan Unmasked is an excellent story about hope, friendship, family, and learning to come to terms with the things we cannot change. Ultimately, what really got me was the strength of Dan’s magical thinking, which was as strong as his feelings for his best friend.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was gratefully received from Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media

 

Meet the Author:

 

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Chris Negron grew up outside Buffalo, NY, where he spent a huge chunk of his childhood collecting Comic books and loving sports. But it was the hours playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends’ basements that first gave him the dream of one day writing his own stories. That dream kept him company through college at Yale University and years of programming computers for big companies. Dan Unmasked is his debut novel, and he now lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Mary. Visit him at www.chrisnegron.com

You can also find Chris on Twitter and Instagram 

You can find an in-depth interview with Chris over at Literary Rambles, thanks to Natalie Aguirre

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Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.

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