Friday, April 5, 2024

The Mystery of Locked Rooms by Lindsay Currie


West, Hannah, and Sarah, referred to as "The Deltas" are a threesome intent on finding a treasure rumored to be hidden in an abandoned funhouse. Of course, the building is off-limits but that doesn't stop the trio from trying to solve the hardest puzzle of them all! Having honed their skills at numerous escape rooms, the friends join forces to do what no one has done before. Why risk life and limb? Because Sarah's family is in dire financial straits and friends do all they can to save the day!

As the friends move through the funhouse, each one has a chance to use skills they are good at and as they learn to appreciate the strengths of each other, they gain a perspective on how differences can be a good thing and weaknesses offer opportunities to show compassion and support. Putting aside the obvious trespassing the children did, the book was an imaginative story that will resonate with middle-grade readers. What child hasn't fantasized about finding a long-lost treasure?!  Sprinkled within the pages are logic, problem-solving, and conflict resolution--skills every reader can always improve on! If you enjoy puzzles or mysteries, you'll want to check out The Mystery of Locked Rooms.

On the author's website, readers can take a quiz to see which Delta they are most like. I am hoping the author will write more mysteries of the "not spooky" type.  The various challenges within the funhouse reminded me of the Mysterious Benedict Society so fans of that series should love this one. I would have loved to have seen a map of the funhouse layout (even better would be an interactive tour on the author's website with different challenges to try).

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Mystery of Locked Rooms from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Ghost in the Garden by Alisse Lee Goldenberg


Sophie Madison, 12 years old, is moving to the small town of Stratford, Ontario. She can't help compare her new small town to all the exciting parts of Calgary that she loved so much. Her guidance counselor father thought a smaller school would be beneficial but Sophie was not convinced. The only silver lining is in the form of a very cool turret bedroom in her new house. The house even comes with a garden and if Sophie's eyes do not deceive her, a resident ghost!

That's not the only "ghost" in her life. Sophie's best friend, Tina, seems to have ghosted her. Thankfully she meets a neighbor boy her age, Fitzroy, who offers to show her around Stratford. He also proves to be a great ally in trying to solve the mystery of some very strange occurrences happening in Sophie's house. Fitz calls on the help of a teacher with an interest in the paranormal and discovers that there may be more than one haunted place in Stratford. Eventually, Sophie comes clean to her parents about the strange nighttime events and they are portrayed in a positive, supportive way. 

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from The Ghost in the Garden. I thought it might be along the lines of an imaginary friend who helps Sophie cope with moving. Tabitha does fit that description but there is a second spirit of a decidedly more sinister nature which added a good bit of scare factor to the story. Given that the story involves a 12-year-old, I would say this is best suited for middle school readers. I think younger readers may find some scenes rather frightening (especially if they have a vivid imagination!). I really liked the interactions between Fitz and Sophie and enjoyed exploring the town through Sophie's eyes. The author had some end notes explaining some things unique to Canada and the inspiration for the story setting. 

For the reader who enjoys a bit of fright fiction, this story offers good doses of friendship and a strong family to help offset the scary parts. Nothing Sophie will face at her new school could be half as frightening as the summer she survived! Sophie offers readers a great role model of a courageous heroine who learned to face her fears. That's a skill we could all benefit from!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Ghost in the Garden from Reedsy Discovery for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Beanstalk by Linda Nosul and Catherine Travers


Jackie has been moved to a new community--again. His family has been moving around to accommodate his mother's medical training and residencies. His dog, Ollie, and his love of math and skateboarding have been constants in his ever-changing life. When he meets Pete, he finds they don't have a whole lot in common until after they both get mysteriously sucked down a hole in Jackie's yard. Pete doesn't hesitate to try to help and hops in right after Jackie.  

They end up in the underworld (the Kingdom of Ondergrondse). Made up of four provinces: Fairiehaven, Gnomestead, Meadowood, and Ogreville the boys encounter [not surprisingly] fairies, gnomes, and ogres. A prophecy has warned that the princess of Ondergrondse is in danger and must be taken to Upworld (the world humans inhabit). The two boys find it a challenge trying to convince her that she is in danger and why she should trust two "little" boys.

Jackie and Pete are faced with physical and mental challenges as they try to rescue the princess who has been kidnapped by an ogre seeking to take control of the underworld by marrying the princess. Readers will be drawn into the suspense and adventure from the first chapter until the final resolution. The conclusion has a hint of ambiguity, which allows for a subsequent book. 

Beanstalk offers a perfect mix of adventure, problem-solving, and a heroic quest on the level of a middle school reader. It's a nice length for advanced younger readers or older struggling readers. The length limits the development of the Ondergrondse setting but perhaps a further adventure will flesh out more details later. 

A few cautions as a parent. There were several misuses of God's name;"oh my god" was used four times (the repetition of that made it stand out more). I was also concerned about a reference to Stranger Things (a program with mature content that I would not recommend for a middle school audience). Another reference was made to Twilight Zone which may not be understood by younger audiences. 

Overall, Beanstalk offers some good lessons about teamwork, friendship, courage, and compassion. With the inclusion of several elements of classic fairy tales, the story offers a bridge from childhood books into the greater complexity of middle-grade fantasy. For that reason, I think this book is a worthy stepping stone for a child's literary journey, offering an imaginative tale with a satisfactory conclusion.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Beanstalk through Reedsy for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Puzzleheart by Jenn Reese


I will start with the positives. I loved the cover and parts of the interior shown (cleverly in the shape of a heart--a hint the house is sentient, perhaps?). The winter scene and fantastic house let off vibes of Greenglass House. 

Perigree and Perigree's father have fallen on hard times and after many years of no contact, Perigree's father has reached out to his mother. The reunion was not the Hallmark variety. But Perigree's grandmother is not the only one turning a cold shoulder; the house itself seems to have something against the visitors. 

The book offers some puzzle-like challenges and readers will follow Perigree's progress along with a new friend made while staying at grandmother's. Through the process of solving the puzzles, the two young people are able to share with each other some of the pain they have both experienced. There are some perilous moments and near-death experiences that may be too intense for younger readers. 

Note: The main character, Perigree, had the preferred pronoun "they/their/them." Using a plural pronoun in a book is quite distracting because the reader is constantly evaluating whether the reference is in fact plural or just referring to Perigree. I went ahead and finished the book to complete this review.  The inclusion of plural pronouns is a deal breaker for me in a book. It not only muddies the clarity of language, but it forces upon the reader what I consider a false reality. I read for pleasure, not to be preached at or manipulated and I would caution parents to consider carefully what their children read. This is not one I can recommend.  

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Puzzleheart through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

A Ranger's Guide to Glipwood Forest by Andrew Peterson

The companion guide to The Wingfeather Saga by the same author, readers will be treated to part map, part history, and part travel guide. Fans of the series will eat up every page of this delightful book! 

The origin (and adventures) of the Glipwood Official Rangers Guild (GORG) offers fresh insight into the series. With this guide in hand, readers will feel like they are actually traveling through Glipwood. Complete with a beast guide, travelers will be well prepared to face all the dangers they may encounter. Landmarks and how they were named are also covered in this book along with a glossary of suggested gear to be fully prepared. 

Love the author's creativity in building the world of the Wingfeather series. With this step-by-step guide through the forest, I hope children will be inspired to explore their own forests with an equal measure of creativity and imagination. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of A Ranger's Guide to Glipwood Forest through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Story Orchestra: The Planets

Science and the arts are perfectly combined in The Story Orchestra:The Planets by Jessica Courtney Tickle. Siblings Tim and Helen have a fresh new space-themed bedroom which magically launches them on a space adventure through the universe!  Readers will learn about the solar system while also hearing musical samples from the movements of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" orchestral suite. 

I loved the bright and eye-catching illustrations. Children will love poring over the details of each page and the various planetary stops. The addition of music offers a multi-sensory experience--what a great way to foster interest in music and astronomy at the same time. Background on Gustav Holst is included at the end of the book and offers a great learning extension of the book. What a fun and engaging book to add to your library! 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital edition of The Story Orchestra: The Planets through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End by Lance Lee

Destined to be a Christmas classic, The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End will charm the socks off readers young and old--preferably enjoyed jointly as a holiday read-aloud. This book combined so many of my favorite things: talking animals (reminiscent of Wind in the Willows), a British setting, a home project, and a bit of magic sprinkled throughout.

An unusually wet season has forced Marvin's mole family to reroute their front door. Imagine the mole's surprise when the new door is adjacent to the den of Rufus, the resident fox of the neighborhood and known hunter of small animals. Marvin is wielding tools (handy defense should the fox become unfriendly), and explains that he does home repairs. Very serendipitous because Rufus' home has been utterly ruined with standing water everywhere. 

Rufus hires Marvin to do repairs and so begins the start of a tentative truce among the animals. Rufus' nephew, Rupert, will be visiting over Christmas and Rufus wants to make the best impression possible.

As the home repairs continue, Rufus finds that his hunting has been curtailed which gives him more time to explore the curious traditions that humans follow at this time of year. Lights and decorated trees appear and a festive spirit permeates the neighborhood that seems to cast a spell over even the animals. A feast is proposed and the animals agree to a period of harmony to share the holiday. When problems arise, Rufus calls upon his gift of second sight and seeks the help of Tinya the fairy. 

So many fun details and heartwarming aspects of this story. It will make a wonderful book to read as a family year after year. With 9 chapters, it makes the perfect run-up to the holiday--creating anticipation to know what will happen next while slowly ushering in the most magical time of year. 

I appreciated that while Santa was an obvious part of the story, the Christ child was also mentioned. And while the story is not particularly religious, it does offer a touching lesson on what makes Christmas special that anyone can appreciate. Pick up your copy today and be enchanted not only by the story but also the delightful illustrations drawn by the talented Meilo So. This review and others can be found at Reedsy Discovery

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Tale of the Animals' Chrismas in Crouch End from Reedsy Discovery for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.


The Mystery of Locked Rooms by Lindsay Currie

  West, Hannah, and Sarah, referred to as "The Deltas" are a threesome intent on finding a treasure rumored to be hidden in an aba...