The Last Windwitch

Author: Jennifer Adam

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 13/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

This is one of those stories that continues to stay with me after it’s over. I miss it, and wish I could visit Brida and her world again. It’s also one of those stories that I hate to try and review it, because I know my words won’t do it justice.

Brida is an apprentice to a hedgewitch named Magdi, who adopted her an infant. Although she has magic, it doesn’t quite work the way Magdi’s does; she follows her instincts instead. As the weather around Oak Hollow becomes more tumultuous, Brida discover the legendary stormhorses that control it are real, and being pursued for their magic. She desperately wants to protect them, but her magic has drawn the attention of Queen Moira, and she goes into hiding to avoid a summons to the castle. She meets new friends along the way, and discovers a secret about her family that puts her in even greater danger, but she learns she might have the power to defeat the dark magic consuming the land.

What I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written. The description of the stormhorses, the beauty and decay of the land, the secrets woven into the history of Brida’s family, and the haunting creatures that rose from the ground were so well developed. I felt like I was part of Brida’s journey, travelled the miles along with her, and was invested in her mission to free the stormhorses. I loved watching her begin to understand her magic, and trust her instincts as she ran into situations where she called upon it to help her. I also appreciated that she had to combine her talents with others to make the magic stronger, rather than being the sole heroine of the story, and her tenderness and kind-heartedness endeared her to me even more.

This book was the perfect escape from reality, and though I often have trouble picking up a long book, it’s one I miss now that it’s over. I felt completely immersed in it, without the niggling details that often pull me out a story when they don’t sit right with me. I would definitely recommend this story to fantasy lovers who enjoy a quest rich in detail and adventure, filled with magic, where good strives to triumph over evil.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Unsettled

Author: Reem Faruqi

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: May 11/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

5 stars!!! What an absolutely beautiful story. This novel in verse comes out in May 2021, and is perfect for fans of stories like Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga.

Nurah and her family live in Pakistan, but her father find works in the States and decides to move the family for job security and better schooling. Nurah doesn’t want to leave her grandparents, friends, or the life as she knows it. Although she already speak English, she feels like she stands out because of the way she dresses and the color of her skin. She joins the swim team at school, where she desperately wants to prove herself, but is always in the shadow of her athletic brother, Owais. Adjusting to life in the US is challenging for each member of her family in different ways, but like the stages of plant life referenced in the headings of the parts of the book, Nurah eventually finds a way to bloom in new soil.

This is one of the most poetic and beautifully written novels in verse I’ve read. I wrote down so many quotes that jumped out at me with vivid language. I loved not only the nature imagery, but also the way she describes skin colors. I’m amazed at how much the author was able to communicate with such few words, and the story moves very quickly because of the format. It’s inspired by many of the author’s real life experiences immigrating to the US, and the feelings ring true and honest. I love how watching Nurah grow, enduring challenges and disappointments, but continuing to develop into her own unique person.

Although I read the book in eARC form, the illustrations inside the book are absolutely beautiful. Soumbal Qureshi did the cover design, and I believe she was responsible for the artwork throughout the novel, which truly makes this book a work of art.

I highly recommend this story, and think it would be a wonderful read aloud for middle grade classrooms.

Recommended: Gr. 4-7

What is an Options Pile?

Like many of you, I often find my library holds come in all at once. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with books that have due dates, in addition to the books on my shelf at home that want to read. Here’s what my pile looks like today after my latest library run. It’s not out of control, but it could easily stress me out if I actually planned to read them all.

Did you hear that? If I actually planned to read them all. I have no intention of reading all of these books, and I’m totally OK with that. Why? Because a lot happened in the weeks since I put holds on many of these books. I spent a lot of time examining how I feel about what I read, and what I want that part of my life to look like in 2021. I watched two classes from Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy about examining our reading lives and setting intentions for the new year, and I feel I have a much better sense of who I want to be as a reader. Some of these books just don’t fit what I want to be reading right now, and I’ll return them without any guilt. They didn’t cost me anything, and I helped my library’s circulation statistics for the month.

Some books I’ll keep on my pile, but I still might not read them. A trick I learned is to stop thinking of this as my “to-be-read” or TBR pile, and to think of it as my “options” pile. I find this helps take the pressure off the need to read them all, and instead presents me with a pile of interesting books from which I can choose. I like to have a variety of genres and lengths to appeal to my different reading moods. If a book sits there for a while, I’ll eventually return it to the library, but I know that I can request it again at any time (I’ve been known to have the same book on my options pile many different times, waiting for the right mood to read it). It feels less stressful to have an options pile, and easier to return the books without regret that I didn’t get a chance to read them all.

I’d love to hear if you use this idea, and how it works for you.

The Last Shadow Warrior

Author: Sam Subity

Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

I heard this book referred to as Beowulf meets Percy Jackson, but I have to be honest, I never read Beowulf in school and didn’t know the story. Fortunately, it wasn’t a requirement to enjoy this book. The Last Shadow Warrior is a story that puts a spin on Norse mythology the way that The Lightning Thief puts a spin on Greek mythology, and it’s an excellent book to recommend to those fans.

Abby’s mom was a Viking warrior known as an Aesir, and after her death, Abby held on her to desire to follow in her footsteps. When she is attacked at their home by a creature she suspects is a Grendel, the same monster that killed her mom, she and her dad immediately take off to Minnesota to go into hiding, where Abby can attend the same school her mom did. Unfortunately, they are in an accident just as they arrive, and her dad is seriously injured and taken to the hospital unconscious. As she tries to deal with his condition, she is taken to her new school, Vale Hall, which she quickly discover is not an ordinary school. But no one believes that Grendel’s still exist and are hunting Abby. In fact, the Viking Council plans to make Aesirs obsolete. Abby and her new friends must figure out a way to save Abby’s dad from his mysterious injury, convince the Council that Grendels do exist and are wreaking havoc, before Abby is their next victim.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Abby and her dad. This can be a difficult time for girls to stay close to their dads, and there’s still a strong bond between them that I loved to see. I also really liked Abby’s friends Gwynn and Grimsby, and how they offered support when Abby was suddenly thrust into a world about which so knew so little. There is also a lot of humor in this story, with monsters doing unexpected things (like playing ping pong) that will make readers laugh. Most of all, I love seeing authors take classic stories and find ways to present them to today’s young readers that will pique their interest in the subject. With a mix of engaging characters, an action-packed and humorous storyline filled with monsters and magic, I think this story will find many readers who will enjoy it as much as I did.

I think there’s so much potential for this book to become the start of a series, so I hope readers love it and allow the author to keep telling us Abby’s story.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?) – Jan 11/21

This was one of the best weeks I’ve had in several months. I fell head over heels in love with a writing project, and I read five really enjoyable books.

  • Unleashed by Amy McCulloch (Jan 5/21). I just finished the first book, Jinxed, last week, and I was thrilled to find out that the sequel was available on Edelweiss+. In this story, we find that Lacey is in the hospital and has no memory of how she ended up there. As she starts to recover and pieces of her memory return, she discovers that without her level 3 baku, Jinx, she’s been expelled from school. She decides to upgrade her beetle…until strange things start to happen with it, and also with her mom. As Lacey, her best friend, and her former teammates work together to understand what’s going on, they uncover a massive plot for corporate takeover that affects countless unsuspecting citizens. It’s a race against the clock to find the missing CEO and stop the unthinkable from happening. (4 stars)
  • Don’t Check Out This Book by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise (March 10/20). A big thanks to Laurie for recommending this book; it’s a 2020 release that I missed. I loved this story, and the unique way in which it’s written. It’s told in emails, letters, memos, and newspaper articles. It’s also extremely funny. A new librarian, Rita B. Danjerous, is hired at Appleton Elementary School. The inept principal, Noah Memree, doesn’t even remember hiring her. She brings her own books with her, including the green dot collection that students can borrow without checking them out and deal with topics that kids might be embarrassed to ask about. When the one and only school board member, Ivana Beprawpa, finds out that students are staying up late reading, she starts a campaign to deal with this unconventional librarian and her dress code-breaking daughter. But Ivana has other problems to deal with, like an outstanding loan that needs to be repaid, and soon her desperation leads her to take extreme measures (like buying thousands of dollars of pickles to resell to students) and force change that backfires on her. This is a short, quick, light, funny read that I think young readers would love. (4.5 stars)
  • Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander (October 5/20). If you have a kid who enjoys The Crossover series, I highly recommend you pass this book their way. Told partly in prose by Cassius’s friend, Lucky, and partly in verse from Cassius himself, we see how this charismatic young boy with a drive to be the best started on his journey toward a successful boxing career. I found the story inspiring, as many kids dream of becoming a household name from a professional career in sports. This demonstrates the hard work that went into training, but also shows the bullying, school struggles, and choices he made to put boxing over the other types of things kids his age were doing. I think sports lovers will enjoy this story, but the historical perspective of a Black male athlete is also important. (4 stars)
  • Meow or Never by Jazz Taylor (Jan 5/21). I really enjoyed this story about Avery, a girl with social anxiety who signs up to be part of the school play to be around her crush and to calm her dad’s fears about her panic attacks, and is horrified to discover she is cast as the lead role. Avery has to first deal with her difficulty speaking to others, and then must figure out how to sing and act in front of an audience, with only 6 weeks until the play. Fortunately, she makes some friends along the way that support her, including a cat who lives in the closet of the school’s theatre. But will it be enough to help her get up on stage and perform the night of the play? Although this has a very cute cover, but there’s a lot of depth to this book which deals with race, sexuality, and mental health. (4 stars)
  • Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (Jan 12/21). Wow. This upper middle grade memoir looks at Gary Paulsen’s difficult childhood. It gives us a glimpse of the many challenges he experienced, and where his connection to nature came from. It also touches on the librarian that fostered his love of reading and writing, and gave him a way to express the word pictures in his head. The book reads like one of his fiction stories rather than a fact-filled biography, but may be triggering for some readers who come from neglectful homes. I’m extremely glad I read it, and would definitely recommend it, although it’s not right for every reader. (4 stars)

Happy Reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of childrens’ lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday join in on the fun, by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading.  Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.  

Meow or Never

Author: Jazz Taylor

Publisher: Scholastics Inc.

Release Date: Jan 5/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Scholastics Inc. for an eARC of this book.

I really enjoyed this story about Avery, a girl with social anxiety who signs up to be part of the school play to be around her crush and to calm her dad’s fears about her panic attacks, and is horrified to discover she is cast as the lead role. Avery has to first deal with her difficulty speaking to others, and then must figure out how to sing and act in front of an audience, with only 6 weeks until the play. Fortunately, she makes some friends along the way that support her, including a cat who lives in the closet of the school’s theatre. But will it be enough to help her get up on stage and perform the night of the play?

This is a very cute cover, but there’s a lot of depth to this book. I really appreciated that it’s a story about a Black girl written by Black author. I liked that Avery’s crush is on Nic, the prettiest girl in her school who also becomes her friend. I also felt the anxiety representation was very good. Avery’s friends learns to help her with her panic attacks, and offer support rather than judgment. We clearly see that her physical reactions are not a choice, and the process of preparing herself for the play feels very realistic. I especially like the resolution of the story. Avery works hard to face her fears, and many of the techniques she uses will be helpful for young readers. I loved watching her persistence and determination, continually making steps toward her goal even when it’s hard.

I think this is an excellent addition to middle grade collections, and I hope it’s available in Scholastic flyers so it reaches a larger audience.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar

Author: Payal Doshi

Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the author and Edelweiss+ for an eARC of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which is the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series by debut author Payal Doshi. Although this book doesn’t come out until May 2021, I’m excited to help spread this word about it and make sure that readers are aware of it.

Rea and her twin brother, Rohan, live in Darjeeling, India with their mother and grandmother. Rea resents the favoritism that Amma and Bajai show toward Rohan, and that Rohan isn’t including her in the secret birthday party he’s planning on THEIR special day. She crashes the midnight cricket party, but discovers the next morning that her brother didn’t make it home and has gone missing. Rea desperately wants to find Rohan, so she enlists the help of her friend, Leela, go with her to visit the fortune teller she knows Amma recently visited in the hope of finding out more about his disappearance. She and Leela are given clues that lead them through a portal into the magical world of Astranthia, where they enlist the help of a barrow boy named Xeranther. Their quest to free Rohan involves battling deadly monsters, finding a missing flower petal, and wielding magic that Rea didn’t even know she possessed to stop the queen from using Rohan in her nefarious plans. But Rea also learns Amma and Bajai have been keeping a very big secret from her and Rohan, and suddenly her entire family, and the future of Astranthia, is in jeopardy.

I love stories that are set in countries different from my own, and seeing characters from different cultures be the heroes of stories. There is a lot of Indian culture that runs throughout this book, while incorporating fantasy elements such as magic, deadly creatures, and the necessity of developing special powers for good to triumph over evil. At the same time, it’s a story about family, friendship, betrayal, and taking risks to protect the people that you love. This story is so immersive because of the world that the author created, and how her descriptions were rich, imaginative, and detailed. I will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series so I can revisit Astranthia and these wonderful characters.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the Kiranmala series by Sayantani DasGupta, Aru Shah series by Roshani Chokshi (or any of the Rick Riordan Presents books, although this story is not based on Indian mythology) or anyone who loves reading an adventurous fantasy rooted in culture.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?) – Jan 4/21

Happy New Year! Like you, I was very happy to flip over the calendar to a new year, and I’m excited about all the wonderful books I have on my options pile to read this year. I have several holds placed at the library, a couple of book orders on their way, and a full Kindle of eARCs to enjoy. I’m taking part in the Bit About Books Winter 2021 Reading Challenge, and I have a small list of goals for the winter reading season, but I also plan to read at least one book per month from 2020 to keep the love going for authors who really didn’t get enough last year. I’ve set some reflection questions to think about at the end of the winter season, so I’m excited to continue my reading journal and reflect on the books I read.

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi (May 11/21) This is my first read of 2021, and I was blown away by the beautiful writing. I have so many quotes I wish I could share with you, but since it’s an eARC, you’ll have to trust me that the imagery and lyrical language are exceptional. This novel is verse is written from the perspective of 13-year-old Nurah, and follows her journey from Pakistan to a new home in the United States. (5 stars – full review coming on January 20th).

  • Over the Top by Alison Hughes (August 3/21) This is my first Canadian read of the year, and though it doesn’t come out until August, I really like the fact that it’s only 192 pages and will appeal to a wide audience. Diva is likes to live a life where she can blend in, but it’s difficult when she has a mom that’s over the top. Diva has to survive her mom’s great ideas, while also trying to avoid the wrath of the mean girl who lives next door. (3.5 stars)
  • Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E.F. Barone (Jan 5/21) This fascinating, extensively researched nonfiction book for young readers book is told from the perspectives of two races separated by over a hundred years. Captain Robert Scott and Roald Amudsen each manned expeditions to the South Pole in 1910, with the intention to be the first to reach the South Pole. Captain Louis Rudd and Cody O’Brady each set off to be the first to complete an unaided, unsupported solo crossing of Antartica in 2018. These four journeys are brought to life and show the reader the dangers, challenges, obstacles, losses, and triumphs faced by the individuals involved in journeying across this unforgiving landscape (4.5 stars)

I think the last book has also inspired me to think about my spring goals, and possibly reading a book set in each continent this year.

What are you reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of childrens’ lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday join in on the fun, by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading.  Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.  

Bit About Books Winter 2021 Reading Challenge – Welcome!

Welcome to the kickoff for the Bit about Books Winter 2021 Reading Challenge! If you want a full rundown of the challenge, please click on the link above for last week’s post.

Today we’d love to hear what books you’re contemplating for the prompts. Please feel free to share your lists here or on social media using the #bitaboutbooks hashtag and tagging Laurie and I in your posts. We’ll have some posts coming on Fridays in the upcoming weeks with suggestions for the different prompts in case you need some recommendations.

We also made one 11th hour change since I am math-challenged. The prompts add up to 170 points, not 200 points as previously mentioned. We’re offering 30 bonus points to each person who finishes all the other prompts so you can end with 200 points. Also, the first person to reach 200 points can pick two prompts for our spring challenge.

I (Kathie) am going to read eARCs that I have requested from Edelweiss+ (subject to change).

5 points: Read any book of your choice – LONG LOST BY JACQUELINE WEST

10 points: Read a book with 100-200 pages – OVER THE TOP BY ALISON HUGHES (192 PAGES)

10 points: Read a book with one word in the title – THRIVE BY KENNETH OPPEL

10 points: Read an author’s debut book – UNSETTLED BY REEM FARUQI

15 points: Read a book with an animal main character – THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ BY CORY LEONARDO

15 points: Read a book that has a direction in the title (eg. up/down/here/there/top/bottom/over/under, etc.) – TAKING UP SPACE BY ALYSON GERBER

15 points: Read a book published in 2021 – THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT BY CHRIS BARON

20 points: Read a book set in a country that is not where you currently live – THE GIRL WHO STOLE AN ELEPHANT BY NIZRANA FAROOK

20 points: Read a book that’s won an award – SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES BY CHRISTIAN MCKAY HEIDICKER (2020 NEWBERY HONOR BOOK)

20 points: Read a book with a person’s first or last name in the title – SAINT IVY BY LAURIE MORRISON

30 points: Read two books by the same author – STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD by Supriya Kelkar

Happy Reading, and we’ll do a check in again on February 1st to share our progress and see how many points we’ve earned so far.

The Gilded Girl

Author: Alyssa Colman

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

Although I’ve never read The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the classic story that inspired The Gilded Girl, I was intrigued to start with reading a modern day reimagining of it. I read Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe before I read its inspiration, Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, and enjoyed comparing the original to it rather than the other way around. I thought I’d try something similar with this story, and I enjoyed The Gilded Girl so much that I am eager to read the classic.

In this story, Emma is sent to Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic in preparation to kindle before her 13th birthday when her magic with otherwise be snuffed out. Her father is wealthy and well-respected, so despite her lack of obvious talent, she is treated as a special student at the school…until her father dies. Once Miss Posterity realizes she will not any more financing from him, she demotes Emma to an unpaid servant to pay back her debuts, and Emma realizes that her status and friends at the school are gone. She is forced is work with Izzy, a servant girl who’s had little use for her, but the pair realizes they have one thing in common…neither girl wants to lose their magic. They create a pact to help each other; Izzy will teach Emma how to be a servant if Emma will teach Izzy everything she’s learned about preparing to kindle. Together, the girls create other alliances to help them gather the knowledge and supplies they need, but when the day to kindle arrives, no one is prepared for the trouble that the winds bring with them.

What I enjoyed most about this story was the character development, especially that of Emma. She went from an entitled girl used to having things done for her, to one with strength and confidence. I also found Izzy inspiring as she grew from a jealous servant girl to a loyal friend who was willing to share her vulnerability and dreams with Emma. I wish the house dragon had played a bigger role in this story, but I will hope that this is a retelling that will have a sequel and pick up where this story left off.

I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 4-6