Review: Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee

Pahua and the Soul StealerPahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

11-year old, Pahua Moua, is a bit of an outcast amongst her peers. Because of this, she spends her summer days babysitting her little brother, Matt, and hanging out with Miv, a cat spirit no one else can see.

That’s fine with Pahua though. Matt and Miv are her best friends, who else would she want to hang out with.

Pahua’s Dad left them, so her Mom has to work a lot, leaving Pahua and Matt home alone quite a bit. That makes Pahua sad and she frequently wonders why her Dad went away. Her Mom has never really offered up an explanation.

As a Hmong-girl, living in a mostly white town in Wisconsin, Pahua also has that setting her apart from those around her; making her feel isolated at school and in her neighborhood.

Pahua also carries a secret. She can see spirits!

One day, exploring near the local haunted bridge, she notices a little ghost girl. Pahua tries to be friendly to her, but this is no innocent appariation and before she knows it, her brother’s life hangs in the balance.

Matt has fallen into some sort of deep sleep and cannot be awoken. Pahua must risk it all and travel into the spirit realm, battling all sorts of unknown dangers, in order to try to save him.

Surprising no one, I absolutely adored this story. The Rick Riordan Presents imprint is such a gift. Giving Readers the opportunity to learn about myths, legends and cultures from around the world through engaging, action-packed, heart-warming stories is so special.

Lori M. Lee’s Middle Grade debut, Pahua and the Soul Stealer, is actually one of my favorite releases thus far and I have read almost all of them.

Pahua is an incredible character. Her spirit, determination and strength, in the face of terrifying odds, never faltered. Her love for her brother kept her going, pushing through some really difficult obstacles.

The entire story was full of the perfect mix of humor, heart and action. From the very first chapter, I was laughing and grew so attached to Pahua as her narrative played out. I listened to the audiobook and it was so well done; highly recommend that format!

I feel like I am forgetting a ton of things that I wanted to say about this, but in the end, that’s probably for the best. Everyone should go into this knowing as little as possible.

Let the fun and adventure wash over you. It’s a heck of an entertaining, soul-warming, nail-biting ride!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Audio and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy to read and review. It was so much fun!

I am looking forward to more releases in this world with Pahua and friends!!!

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Review: What Once Was Mind (Twisted Tales #12) by Liz Braswell

What Once Was MineWhat Once Was Mine by Liz Braswell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

What Once Was Mine is the 12th-installment in Disney’s long-running Twisted Tales series. So far, I have read 10 out of the 12 books and definitely have plans to read them all!

If you are unfamiliar with this fantastic series, you can read these books in any order. Each one tackles a different Disney story, twisting one major plot point and then examining what would have happened because of that twist.

In this volume, Liz Braswell twists the tale of Rapunzel, or the movie, Tangled, if you prefer to look at it that way.

Worried about the life of their ailing Queen, pregnant with her first child, the citizens of Corona search for the infamous Sundrop flower to cure her, but end up picking a Moondrop flower accidentally.

Because of this one tiny error, the baby girl, Rapunzel, has silver hair, the color of the moon, dangerous to the touch.

In order to keep everyone safe, the Queen and King make the heartbreaking decision to have Rapunzel locked away in a Tower, far from the kingdom proper, and watched over by a powerful goodwife, Mother Gothel.

Rapunzel dutifully stays put for 18-years. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the pull of seeing the floating lights on her birthday is just too strong.

She sets out on an adventure of epic proportions with two theives, Flynn and Gina, on a search for her happily ever after.

Y’all, this book is an absolute blast to read. Dare I say, the BEST TWISTED TALE YET!!!

If you love the story of Rapunzel, the cute and quirky characters within it, or you think that the movie Tangled is a true gem to be watched on repeat because of its glorious good humor, you absolutely have to get your hands on this book!

I have never jived with Braswell’s writing as much as I did with this one. She really shines here, bringing this story and these characters to life in a whole new ((moon))light!!

A hearty thank you to the publisher, Disney Books and Disney Audio, for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review. It absolutely filled my heart!

What Once Was Mine will be released on Tuesday, September 7th!!!

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Review: Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares (Paola Santiago #2) by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Paola Santiago and the Forest of NightmaresPaola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Half a year has passed since Paola Santiago took on the legendary spirit, La Llorona. Since that time, a lot has changed in Pao’s life and she wouldn’t say for the better.

She has grown distant from her two best friends, Emma and Dante. Truth be told, she barely speaks to them anymore. Add to this the fact that her Mom has an annoying new boyfriend practically living at their house. Yeah, not great.

Additionally, Pao’s still having nightmares. This time set in a dark, creepy forest where her Dad plays a role as a recurring character. The Dad she really knows nothing about and barely remembers.

When Dante’s abuela collapses right in front of Pao, some things she was saying just prior, prompts Pao to believe the two occurrences, her dreams and Dante’s abuela’s mysterious illness, are connected. Pao also believes that her father may be the key to saving Dante’s abeula.

It’s a race against time as Pao, begrudingly joined by Dante, hits the road to Oregon to try to track down her Dad. Luckily, the two are able to pair up with their old friend, Ninos leader, Naomi, who contributes quite a bit on their journey.

Again the kids must face down incredibly dangerous and frightening supernatural entities on more than one occasion. This book got scary, y’all. I mean it!

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares is an incredible sequel. I felt like with this novel, even though it is packed full of action, I got to know the characters more.

Pao in particular. In the first installment, I felt a bit disconnected from her. There was so much action, it was chaotic and I never felt like I really understood her.

I was so focused on what was going on in the periphery. But with this novel, I feel like learning more about her family, her feelings of loneliness and self doubt, I truly came to care for her.

She is such a soft, sweet, yet strong character, who grew by leaps and bounds over the course of this story.

Mejia does a great job of tying creatures of folklore into a modern, compelling tale. It’s evident from this book that there is a lot more of Pao’s story to tell. I feel like we are just scratching the surface of complications for this spunky girl.

In short, this is a super fun Middle Grade adventure story, perfect for Readers who enjoy a bit of darker, don’t turn out the lights, content in their stories!

I am greatly looking forward to meeting up with Pao again and going on another adventure.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

As always with books found within the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, this dazzled me with its high-stakes, page-turning content. Well done by Mejia!!

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Review: The Last Fallen Star (Gifted Clans #1) by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star (Gifted Clans #1)The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Riley Oh has never felt like she fits in. She loves her adoptive family with her whole heart, but while they are a part of the Gom clan, a powerful line of Korean healing witches, Riley is a saram; one without magic.

When her sister Hattie is about to be initiated into the clan, earning her Gi bracelet and the ability to perform spells without adult supervision, Hattie comes up with a plan to share her magic with Riley.

While that sounds like a great idea, like many great ideas before it, things don’t quite go as planned.

With Hattie’s life hanging in the balance, Riley must now go on a seemingly impossible quest to find the last fallen star. Obviously, it would be helpful if Riley even had the slightest clue what the star is, or how to find it.

Along with her best friend, Emmett, the two work against the clock, challenging everything they believed about their world, in order to try to save Hattie.

I absolutely adored this story. Riley was such a sweet little gumdrop. She was so easy to get behind and support.

I really appreciated the growth Riley made as a character and the way Kim incorporated so many true to life, coming of age issues into this fantastical story.

I thought there was a lot of great content in here for young readers concerning things like the meaning of family, friendship, being true to yourself and who you are meant to be.

This story left off in an incredible spot for a continuation of the series. I am really, really, really looking forward to the next book, set to release in 2022.

I highly recommend this action-packed, Korean-mythology inspired Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure. Yes, it has everything! Such an impressive debut!!!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I will be praising this one to the rooftops for a long time to come!! Available now!!

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Review: Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale) by Jen Calonita

Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale: Hercules)Go the Distance by Jen Calonita
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5-stars rounded up**

Picking up directly after the events of the Disney animated movie, Go the Distance follows Megara as she fights for her right to be with Hercules.

After Herc regains his godship, the couple are ready to celebrate. As Hercules is called by his parents to return to Mount Olympus, however, they run into a problem. Zeus quickly points out that Meg cannot go, as she is a mere mortal.

Meg can’t believe it. After everything they have been through, is this how it is going to end?

Hercules is shocked as well and advocates to stay with Meg. He’d rather be with her than have a life of immortality alone.

His parents aren’t going to stand for that though; no way. Hera, seeing how happy Meg makes her son, offers Meg a deal; a way for her to earn her way into a spot on Mount Olympus.

All she has to do is complete a mysterious quest in 10-days. Unfortunately, the quest involves saving her ex-boyfriend’s, new wife’s soul from the Underworld.

Obviously, Meg has some mixed feelings on this, but she agrees nonetheless. We’re talking about eternity with the man she loves here.

Joining her for support is Philoctetes, better known as Phil. The coach to the Gods. If anyone can help Meg work through her quest, it is him. And let’s not forget Pegasus!! He’s along as well, to give Meg a helping hoof.

Meg needs to put her hurt emotions aside, as well as face her nemesis, Hades, again. She escaped his clutches once, could she be so lucky as to do it again?

I really had a fun time reading this story. I love Megara. She’s one of my favorite characters within the Disney universe. She’s smart, she’s snarky and she’s not constantly looking for someone to save her.

I enjoyed the backstory Calonita created for her. The loss of her mother, their relationship, her previous relationship with her ex-boyfriend and even Hades manipulation of her.

I thought the quest was fun. Having Phil and Pegasus along definitely made it more humorous. I loved watching both of them come to accept Meg for who she is.

Overall, I think this is a fun addition to this series. If you are a Megara fan, as I am, you should definitely give this one a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I always look forward to the new releases in the Twisted Tales series!!!

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Review: Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Hello, Cruel WorldHello, Cruel World by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Hello, Cruel Heart is an origin story of sorts for one of my favorite villains ever, Cruella de Vil.

The timing for this release is perfect for Cruella fans, as we also have a live action Cruella film releasing at the end of May, starring Emma Stone.

We all know, I just love when a villain gets her time to shine.

In this story, set in 1967-London, we follow a 16-year old, Estella, Cruella’s true name, as she branches out for the first time and tries to find her place in the world.

Orphaned at a young age, Cruella moved herself, and her sweet dog, Buddy, to London, knowing not a soul in the world.

It’s on that first day in the city that she meets Jasper and Horace. The three kids immediately bond while fleeing from the local police.

They’re inseparable from that point forward, doing whatever they need to do to survive. They become family and rely on one another for everything.

In her quiet moments, Estella dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer. She spends a lot of her time sewing and creating. She’s really good at it. She has an eye.

It is partly due to this special talent that she drifts onto the radar of wealthy twins, Magda and Richard, who sweep her into their world as a sort of pet project.

They’re posh, sophisticated and live a carefree lifestyle that Estella can’t even imagine.

She’s blinded by the money and social circle, thinking she can use their friendship as a jumping off point for getting her name, and fashion designs, out in the world.

Before she knows it, it’s all happening. Everything she ever dreamed of. She’s dating a rock star, for goodness sake!

She’s also keeping her alter-ego, Cruella, quietly subdued in the background of her mind.

Everything is going great, until it isn’t.

I had fun with this story. It reads incredibly fast. I read it in about 4-hours. I enjoyed learning about Cruella’s early life and gaining some insight into her motivations as a character. I see you, Cruella. I get it.

Although the story was quick, it did transport me. I was fully engulfed in the world while I was reading it.

With this being said, I did expect a bit more substance. I would have been here for even more detail and background. Especially coming from Maureen Johnson.

If you are a Cruella fan, a villain origin story fan, or even just a Disney fan, I would recommend checking this one out.

It is definitely a great way to get you in the mood for the upcoming movie. I know I will definitely be watching it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate it very much!

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Review: City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

City of the Plague GodCity of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

City of the Plague God follows 13-year old, Sikander Aziz, as he tries to save New York City from, Nergal, the ancient God of Plagues.

Sikander, known as Sik to his family and friends, spends most of his time outside of school working in his family’s deli. He enjoys his time there, but all of that is threatened when the deli is attacked one night by demons.

They’re searching for something. Obviously, it’s something very important, but Sik has no idea what it could be. He owns nothing that could possibly be of value to a God.

Things spiral very quickly. The deli is destroyed and Sik’s parents become quite ill, victims of a new plague. The disease is spreading and Sik knows that Nergal is behind it. He needs to figure out why and stop him before all of Manhattan succumbs.

Luckily, Sik is not alone. He has a new friend, Belet, who just so happens to the be the adoptive daughter of the Goddess of Love and War, Ishtar.

Together they discover something quite interesting about Sik. He’s immortal and didn’t even know it! More than that, he holds the secret to eternal life.

I absolutely loved this story. As always with the books published under the Rick Riordan Presents Imprint, it is full of humor and heart.

Sarwat Chadda is an incredible writer. The entire story had a fluidity to it that was absolutely enchanting. The way it unfolded was just classic storytelling; so well done.

Having New York City as the setting was fantastic. Also, it was so nice to have a Muslim main character.

While this story is based around ancient Mesopotamian mythology, Chadda also incorporated Sik’s Muslim faith and Iraqi heritage in a way that was educational and organic.

Sik starts out as an underdog in many ways and watching him rise to the occasion, learn and grow, it was just so satisfying.

Overall, this is an absolutely riveting story. One I would recommend to Readers of all ages. If you love mythology, action, humor and New York City, you should absolutely pick this one up!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate it so much.

Now I need to go back and read all of Sarwat Chadda’s other books!

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Review: City of Villains (Book #1) by Estelle Laure

City of VillainsCity of Villains by Estelle Laure
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

City of Villains is the first book in an all new Fairy Tale-inspired Crime series from Disney Books.

We follow Mary Elizabeth, a teenage girl living in the Scar, an area where once magic was prevalent, but now supposedly no longer exists.

Having lost her family tragically, Mary’s main goal is to one day become a police officer. In addition to her schooling, Mary currently works as an intern for the Monarch City Police Department.

While her main duties generally involve pushing paperwork, when a classmate of hers, Mally Saint, disappears, the Chief actually assigns her to the case, partnering with a young detective, Bella.

Mary is over the moon to finally have the chance to prove to the Chief what she can do. She sees this as her opportunity to seal a position within the department after she finishes school.

Mary and Bella begin their investigation, but instead of gaining any clarity, the mystery only thickens.

After Mary’s best friend, Ursula, disappears as well, Mary knows something more sinister is happening than just kids running away from the Scar, but who will believe her!?

Even though I found this story intriguing, I did want to get to the bottom of the disappearances, the writing and overall plot are a little basic for my tastes.

I think this could have used another round of editing, perhaps cutting out some of the romantic aspects, changing Mary’s age, and allowing this to fall more into a higher Middle Grade, or Tween, category.

I just personally feel it is a better fit within that space than in YA; and that’s okay!

Tweens and Middle Graders deserve great stories as well!

I did like the appearance of some of my favorite Disney characters, Maleficent, Ursula and Captain Hook, with aspects of this story providing possible origin stories for all of them.

Overall, I think this is a solid premise for a series and I would be interested in picking up the second book. I’m not entirely sure where it will go from here, but I would like to find out.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: Lore by Alexandra Bracken

LoreLore by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I fully acknowledge Lore won’t be for everyone, I freaking loved this so much!!!

Greek Mythology meets The Hunger Games?

Every seven years, the Agon begins. Essentially a punishment, during the Agon, nine Greek Gods are forced to walk the Earth as mortals, all the while being hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines.

If a God is killed during the Agon, the hunter responsible for their death gets to seize their powers and immortality, thus becoming a New God.

Melora, known as Lore, is a part of the Perseous line. She is no longer participating in the Agon. Lore has left that whole world behind and kept herself hidden since the last hunt left her entire family dead in their home, including her two little sisters, murdered by a rival clan.

Living in New York City, Lore has done a good job blending in and has successfully flown under the radar of anyone related to the hunt. At least that’s what she thinks.

One night a blast from her past, her childhood best friend, Castor, ends up tracking her down. Their brief conversation intrigues Lore enough to make her question whether she really can leave that life behind.

Their interaction really rattles her. She has suspected that Castor was dead, so to have him just show up like that, it was a lot.

Little does she know, things are about to get a lot more interesting.

Arriving home, she discovers the Greek Goddess Athena, one of the few remaining original Gods, injured on the steps of her brownstone, pleading for her help!

Before she knows it, Lore has rejoined the hunt, pairing with Athena and hoping to finally get revenge on the man she blames for the murder of her family.

Y’all, I loved this book from the start.

I was so intrigued about this whole concept and absolutely loved the characters.

I think Bracken did a great job of building this out and keeping the pace steady throughout. There was always plenty of action and intrigue to keep me wanting more.

Lore is a very strong character, but you can tell that she is hurting a lot. As her past is slowly revealed, through chapters focusing on her childhood and the end of the last Agon, my heart absolutely ached for her.

This girl has been through it.

Over the course of the story, you really watch her character evolve from a damaged soul to a true force to be reckoned with.

I loved the relationships within this story. The friend group, made up of Lore, Castor, Van, Miles and Iro, was so great to read. I loved their dynamic and the way their personalities played off of one another; particularly Miles, the only one not from an ancient bloodline.

The Agon, at its heart, really is a competition; one of my favorite tropes. There was a lot of danger. I mean really, the entire time, Lore and her friends are on the move.

They’re constantly in fear for their lives, which makes you constantly in fear for their lives!

This felt like a superhero story to me and I was living for it. Towards the end, there are all sorts of surprising twists and reveals. Lore is a blast to read!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I truly appreciate it.

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Review: Rebel Rose (The Queen’s Council #1) by Emma Theriault

Rebel Rose (The Queen's Council, #1)Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Rebel Rose is the first book in the new series by Disney, The Queen’s Council.

Each book will be written by a different author and follow the story of a different Disney heroine.

This first novel follows my favorite Disney heroine, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. The action picks up a few months after the conclusion of the Disney animated movie.

Belle and Lio have defeated the curse and his kingdom has been restored to its former glory.

The couple have since been married, although Belle refuses to take the title of Princess of Aveyon. One of their first orders of business as a couple is to travel to the beautiful city of Paris, with the hopes of restoring Lio’s relationship with the King of France.

Arriving in the City of Lights, Lio is reunited with his cousin, Bastien. They will be staying with him, which is fortunate for Lio, since as a Duc, Bastien is used to navigating the ins and outs of France’s ruling class.

Lio’s a bit out of his element, having been under the curse for a decade.

The year is 1789 and France finds itself on the brink of revolution. Belle is fascinated as she learns about the potential populous uprising.

She personally feels caught between the two worlds. She lived her early life as a commoner. It was only after being held prisoner at the enchanted castle, and starting a relationship with Lio, that she would ever be allowed to walk among the aristocracy.

She understands the plight and demands of the people and hopes that Lio will listen to her urgings to make their province a better place for all.

Returning to their own castle, Bastien travels along with them, trying to distance himself from the potential violence of the city. Lucky, Belle.

This guy is a creeper, y’all, and Belle can see if from the very beginning. She doesn’t trust him and the two are at each others throats.

What happens next is an odd series of events that leaves Belle and Bastien alone in the castle while Lio travels the province.

Things do not go well.

I really enjoyed this one, guys, and feel like this is a solid start to The Queen’s Council series.

I wasn’t sure going in what the connection of the series would be, but there were some reveals in here that provided insight into that. Let’s just say, I am really looking forward to continuing.

Theriault did a wonderful job of creating this historical world. I also loved how true to the characters she stuck.

I felt like it was a smooth transition from the movie content to this story. Belle, Lio and some other favorites, such as Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth, all behaved as you would expect them too and I appreciated that consistency.

There is quite a bit of serious subject matter within this story and I do felt it read fairly slow. There were some lulls in the action, or even some portions I felt could have been removed.

I love politics in stories though, so for me, it worked. I can definitely see how some people may not be as interested in those aspects however, or feel that the pace is too slow for their personal tastes.

Overall, I think this is a solid story and one that any Beauty and the Beast fan should check out. Particularly, if you are a fan of Belle’s strength, stubbornness and pure heart.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to the next book!

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