Review: Shinji Taskahashi and the Mark of the Coatl by Julie Kagawa

Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl (Fiction - Middle Grade)Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Julie Kagawa never fails to completely capture my attention with her stories. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl is no exception. This Middle Grade Adventure story was an absolute blast to read!

When he was very young, Shinji Takahashi lost both of his parents in a devastating house fire. Since that time, he has lived with her Aunt Yui.

Aunt Yui and Shinji travel the world in their boat, The Good Tern, searching for rare treasures for her business. In a way, they’re real life treasure hunters. It’s an interesting life; Shinji can’t complain, even though he is a bit surly at times.

While in Africa, they visit the small village of Abenge. Shinji goes exploring while his Aunt does some work. She gives him a bit of cash, so he can pick out a treasure of his own.

In a dusty old shop, he comes across an idol that will change the course of his life. A magical object that binds itself to Shinji and tattoos the Mark of the Coatl on his arm.

Almost as soon as he has the object in his hot little hands, a pair of menacing men approach Shinji and try to get the object from him. When Shinji refuses, it looks like things may turn violent and Shinji decides to run for it.

He’s not sure what exactly he has, but obviously it’s valuable as heck because these dudes aren’t giving up.

Before he can even make sense of it, Shinji is captured and whisked away to an unknown location. Once there, he is able to befriend a girl named, Lucy. She fills him in a bit on the people behind his capture, the mysterious Hightower Corporation.

Lucy seems to be some sort of tech prodigy and Shinji likes her right away, but can he trust her?

It seems Lucy is an ally. She aids in his escape from Hightower and leads him to some people who she thinks will be able to help and protect him: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers, better known as SEA.

It seems the tattoo on Shinji’s arm, the Mark of the Coatl, is actually a curse of sorts. In order to break it, Shinji must return to the source of the magic’s power and return it.

A team from SEA is assembled, made up of Oliver Ocean, Maya Griffin, Professor Carrero and Zoe Kim, participating via her drone, to help Shinji and Lucy on their quest.

Along the way, the group faces many obstacles, both natural and magical. They’re forced to face human villains, as well as creatures of legends. It’s a wild ride!

This was such a easy story to get into. Kagawa is a gifted storyteller and this one drew me in from the very start.

I loved Shinji so much. He truly embodies all of the characteristics needed in a hero. Additionally, I loved learning more about the secret organization of SEA. Hardcore Disney fans will find some Easter Eggs in this one. That made it extra fun, but really this story can be enjoyed by anyone.

The intensity builds in a nice, steady pace throughout the story, all leading to an epic showdown in the temple of the Coatl.

There were some scenes where I was biting my nails, edge-of-my-seat, praying for my favorites. Kagawa did a fantastic job of incorporating various folklore from around the world into this, as well as providing a strong message on the importance of protecting the world’s cultural artifacts.

This ended in such a great spot for the continuation of the series. I have no idea how many books are slated to be included in this series, or even if there will be multiple authors contributing. Either way, I am in for the long haul.

Bring on more SEA!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was an excellent start to another fantastic Middle Grade series!!

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Review: Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

Daughter of the DeepDaughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Would you be shocked if I told you this was the first book I have ever read by the fabulous Rick Riordan?

Well, it’s true. I can’t believe it either, but it’s true.

Luckily for me, I picked the perfect book to start with. I mean, honestly, this book has it all. I loved it.

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a school for all things of the sea. Ana’s older brother, Dev, is also a student at the school.

Due to an accident taking her parent’s lives two years ago, Dev is all the family Ana has left. He means everything to her. They are very close.

The pinnacle of Ana’s freshman year is a weekend trial at sea; think of it as a very serious field trip.

Ana has no idea what lies in store for the weekend. She can only hope that she’ll be successful, but all of that goes out the window when the Freshman class witnesses a violent and tragic event. They’re lucky to be alive.

They learn a rival school, Land Institute, may be responsible, but why? What could possibly be behind such vicious animosity?

Ana and the rest of her classmates are now on their own. They need to figure this all out and somehow out smart and out last their enemies. Along the way, they learn a lot of school history and Ana learns some quite interesting things about her own heritage as well.

Daughter of the Deep is such an exciting, fast-paced and heart-warming story. I loved the connections to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as well as the setting and overall vibe.

Riordan grabbed my attention from the very beginning and that never changed. I was completely engrossed in all that was evolving on the page.

I adored this cast of characters, how they grew to rely on one another and really became an excellent example of a found family. You want to be with them; one of the team.

Additionally, although the circumstances for our characters are quite serious, there was a great vein of humor running throughout this story. I found that aspect extremely engaging; it kept me focused.

I’m not sure what the plan is for this. If this will become a new series or not. I certainly hope it will be. I cannot imagine this being the last I read of these characters. They’re all so fantastic and there is so much more room for them to grow. I want more!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Audio, for providing me with a copy of the audiobook to listen to. The narrator was terrific and I feel like audio is great format to take in this story.

Keeping my fingers crossed that this will not be the last we see of Ana and friends!!!

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Review: Star Wars: Midnight Horizon (The High Republic) by Daniel Jose Older

Midnight Horizon (Star Wars: The High Republic)Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

The High Republic era continues with Midnight Horizon from veteran Star Wars contributing author, Daniel Jose Older.

This installment features a huge and varied cast of characters, many of whom will be familiar to Readers of previous HR books.

The main action is set on the planet of Corellia and more specifically in its capital of Coronet City. Jedi Masters Kantam Sy and Cohmac Vitus get sent there, along with Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jamoram, to investigate a possible Nihil attack on the Core Worlds.

Known for its massive shipyards, Corellia would be a tantalizing target for the evil Nihil raiders.

It’s on Corellia that Reath and Ram run into Crash, a bold young security specialist who lost one of her close friends during the recent attack.

The young people team up and infiltrate the Coronet City night life, including a wacky ruse involving an intergalactic pop star, while the Masters pursue more mainstream channels of investigation.

This book was so packed full of action my head is still spinning. This is definitely one that I will need to read again in order to be able to pick up on all the finer points.

Older’s passion for the Star Wars galaxy is evident on every page. You can absolutely tell this is a person with vast knowledge of the world, characters and lore.

It’s not just action, however. This story is full of insights into many popular HR characters.

Since this era began, the characters we have come to know have been through so much. There’s a lot to process. I like getting the chance to go along with them on that journey.

Some of you may be wondering about my 3.5-star rating; although rounding up to a 4, it may seem low to some.

Basically, for me, I wasn’t as swept away in this installment as I have been with earlier works. I rate novels based off a comparison to other novels in the same genre that I have read. Star Wars, in my opinion, being a genre unto itself, that is what I am comparing this reading experience with.

I’ll be honest, I did get lost at times trying to keep up with all the characters and action. Additionally, I found my attention sort of waxing and waning amongst the separate lines of the plot.

With this being said, I fully accept that may be more of a me problem, than a problem with the actual book.

I respect this author’s contribution to this world so much. I think the level of content here is fantastic. I just may need to read it again in order to be able to soak it all in.

It’s really good though, so I actually wouldn’t mind…

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

I have absolutely adored my time spent with the new High Republic materials and definitely recommend them to any Star Wars fan.

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Review: Star Wars The High Republic: Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland

Star Wars The High Republic: Mission to DisasterStar Wars The High Republic: Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Mission to Disaster is a Junior Star Wars novel set in the era of the High Republic. Releasing on March 1, 2022, this novel is part of the second wave of HR materials set to be published by Disney and LucasFilms Press.

The events in this novel follow those of the 2021-HR releases, but still 200-years prior to The Phantom Menace.

After the startling events of the Republic Fair, the galaxy has been put on alert. The Nihil are much more of a threat than the Jedi initially anticipated.

They’re cunning and calculated, seeming to have influence everywhere.

Kicking off this novel, I was quickly reunited with one of my favorite new characters from the HR releases, Avon Starros.

Avon, the daughter of a Senator, is gifted in science and invention. She’s currently stationed at Port Haileap, due to her mother’s wishes, but is finally getting the opportunity to research kyber crystals, so that’s a win.

Avon hopes to discover new ways to harness the power of the crystals in a way that will help everyone; think clean energy research. She finds herself in her lab on the day the spaceport comes under attack.

After receiving an alert call from Port Haileap, Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan, Imri Cantaros, get sent to investigate.

Arriving to Avon’s lab, Vernestra and Imri are able to discover a survivor of the attack, but she tells them Avon is gone, perhaps captured by the Nihil!

Following clues discovered during their investigation, Vernestra and Imri find themselves on Dalna in the Outer Rim Territories; a known area of operation for the Nihil.

There they work with the government and people of Dalna to the best of their ability, to find Avon and any other children the Nihil may have captured. They face some difficulties there, as the people of Dalna aren’t too fond of the Jedis.

Avon, for her part, is in fact a hostage of the Nihil. Even worse, she is made to aid the Nihil’s version of an evil scientist, Dr. Mkampa, in assembling horrifying weapons.

It’s a race against time, as the Jedi try to help the people of Dalna and hopefully defeat the evil Nihil organization once and for all. Will they be able to rescue everyone before true disaster strikes?

I had such a great time reading this story. I actually listened to the audiobook and as is known with Star Wars audios, the production was magnificent. All of the sound effects really make you feel like you are part of the action!

I was excited to get another HR novel from Justina Ireland. She puts a lot of heart into her stories. The characters are so well developed. I loved being reunited with many characters from this era. I feel like I am really getting to know them.

Following the Great Disaster, the galaxy has become unstable and these young characters have had a lot to deal with. I feel like they’ve shown incredible growth in these stories, now rivaling the maturity level of the adults around them.

This was super fast-paced and exciting. There was never a dull moment. Additionally, I loved learning more about the mysterious Nihil. The full picture is really starting to become clear as far as they are concerned.

I’m really looking forward to continuing on with the High Republic era. This was a quick one, but don’t let the length of this novel fool you. There is a ton of stellar content packed in here!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney and LucasFilms Press, for providing me with the audiobook to listen to. It was such a treat!

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Review: Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne

Feather and Flame (The Queen's Council, #2)Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Feather and Flame is the second book is Disney’s The Queen Council series.

If you are unaware, this series imagines what happened post-happily ever after for some of our favorite Disney Princesses. Each book is the story of a different heroine written by a different author.

This story follows Mulan after her victory on the battlefield at the end of the animated film.

As the story begins, Mulan is living a quiet life at home. Well, quiet if you consider training her own female militia quiet. But China is at peace and it is a good feeling.

When Shang arrives with an invitation to the Imperial City, Mulan has no idea that her entire life is about to be flipped on its head. Again.

Once there, Mulan is treated to a private counsel with the ailing Emperor. He tells her he has a plan for his succession and it is her. She will be named his heir to the throne.

Unfortunately, the transition occurs more quickly than Mulan would have preferred. She is terrified, but must do what she can to rule her country to the best of her abilities.

With enemies lurking around every corner and the Huns sensing weakness, will Mulan’s reign be doomed from the start?

Mulan is filled with doubt and she’s scared. She feels alone. What if she can’t do this? There’s so much at stake.

Luckily, the Queen’s Council is there to help Mulan find her true destiny. What is the Queen’s Council, you may be asking?

I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just call it Mulan’s Spirit Advisor. Not spiritual advisor, mind you, SPIRIT advisor.

I had a lot of fun reading this story. It was great to be back with Mulan and to get an extension of her story that I think was greatly needed.

I have always loved Mulan as a character. She has such a quiet grace about her. She is humble, strong and determined in the face of danger. I was so happy to see that she kept all of these wonderful characteristics throughout this story.

This is a highly political story, so for those of you who maybe don’t enjoy a lot of political maneuverings in your stories, you have been forewarned.

For me, I love political fantasy, so this worked for me. I would have been happy with a bit more depth, but overall, I was quite pleased with this one!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books. I look forward to getting the next installment of this series!

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Review: Evil Thing (Villains #7) by Serena Valentino

Evil Thing (Villains, #7)Evil Thing by Serena Valentino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Cruella DeVil, like many villains before her, is grossly misunderstood. In Evil Thing, Valentino does a great job building a backstory for one of my favorite villains.

Beginning when she is just a young child, Evil Thing explores the key relationships in Cruella’s life, particularly that with her Mama, Father and Anita.

Through the examination of these relationships, the Reader begins to understand how Cruella developed into the person we come to know through the original-101 Dalmatians animated film.

In fact, there is even a portion at the end that overlaps with the timeline from that original movie.

The narrative is told from Cruella’s perspective, as if she is recounting her life story. The narrator, Susanne Blakeslee, absolutely nailed Cruella’s voice and intonation. It was an incredible voice performance; highly recommend the audiobook.

Having read previous books in this series, I was actually surprised by the level of depth this one had. Pleasantly surprised.

Cruella’s story is a tragic one, full of disappointments, neglect and heartbreak. I felt for her, but I also wanted to shake her. She seemed to be blinded by love a lot of time; unable to see people for who they truly were, to her detriment.

Overall, this is an engaging and fast-paced story. If you are a Cruella fan, I definitely recommend checking this one out.

Also, please do listen to the audiobook if you have the opportunity. It really is a stellar Cruella performance.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I really enjoyed my time with it!

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Review: Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Tristan Strong #3) by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Tristan Strong #3)Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching is the third and final book in Kwame Mbalia’s courageous Middle Grade Adventure series.

This was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2021 and unsurprisingly, Mbalia DID NOT DISAPPOINT!

In this installment, which I won’t get too far into because it is the third book in the series, we see all of our old favorite characters return, including the absolute star, Gum Baby.

Unfortunately for Tristan and friends, however, we also see the return of one of the most heinous villains to ever grace the pages of a Middle Grade novel, King Cotton.

Starting at a family reunion, heading to New Orleans, then up the mighty Mississippi all the way to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago, this story is never want for action!

In addition to great action, these books contain enormous amounts of heart and humor. Mbalia doesn’t shy away from exploring important societal issues as well, making this a great book for parents to discuss with their children.

Looking back at the series as a whole, I am so impressed with Tristan’s growth as a character. He seemed to have a lot more introspective moments in this finale and I think those moments will be highly relatable to a lot of young Readers.

Mbalia’s ability to blend the serious moments with laugh out loud humor is really unmatched. If you want a action-packed series that will make you laugh, make you bite your nails in anticipation and make you think, look no further, Tristan Strong is where it’s at.

While I am really sad this trilogy had to come to an end, I am so happy with how it turned out. The Epilogue filled my heart to bursting.

I highly recommend this series to Readers of all ages. It’s a ton of fun, but more than that, it provides a necessary voice and an equally important hero for our time!!

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

I am a huge fan of this series and will carry it in my heart for a long time to come!!

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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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