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: 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: Star Wars The High Republic: Race to Crashpoint Tower by Daniel Jose Older

Star Wars The High Republic: Race to Crashpoint TowerStar Wars The High Republic: Race to Crashpoint Tower by Daniel José Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Race to Crashpoint Tower is another fantastic Junior Star Wars novel set in the era of the High Republic; the golden age of the Jedi.

The recently released HR books all take place around the time of a galaxy-wide event known as the Great Disaster.

This catastrophic event caused a bit of chaos as ships were launched out of hyperspace, moons were destroyed and great amounts of debris were spread about.

To put it in a timeline perspective, these High Republic novels predate all previously released Star Wars Canon materials.

This story is set on the planet of Valo, after the Great Disaster, where a Republic Fair is about to take place.

Jedi Padawan, Ram Jamoram, is working diligently in his garage when a security alarm sounds from the communication center known as Crashpoint Tower.

Ram sets out with his trusty droid, V-18, to investigate. Once there he discovers the tower has purposefully been tampered with; blocking all communications. Nihil sabotage!

Now Ram must warn the Jedi and seek help as the planet comes under siege. With the galaxy teetering between balance and chaos, can order be restored?

Luckily, another young Jedi Padawan arrives from off-planet, Lula, and she joins Ram as they try to repair the comms, so they can notify the Republic they’re under attack. Perhaps Starlight will send reinforcements.

The Nihil raiders have also joined forces with other dark force beings from the wider galaxy, raising the stakes and the difficulty level of Ram and Lula’s mission significantly.

This was such a fun story. I loved seeing the connections between this and the other stories within the new High Republic materials.

There was even character crossover, as one of my favorite characters from A Test of Courage advised on this mission.

As always with the Junior Canon novels, I found this to be easy to follow, fast-paced, funny and an excellent introduction to the belief system of the Jedi and the workings of the galaxy in general.

I am really glad I had a chance to read this one. The audiobook is incredible, as the Star Wars audiobooks always include great narration and fun sound effects.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney LucasFilms Press, for providing me with the audiobook of this to read and review.

It was a ton of fun and I cannot wait for the next releases in the High Republic content!

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Review: A Test of Courage (A Star Wars Junior Novel) by Justina Ireland

A Test of Courage (Star Wars: The High Republic)A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Test of Courage is a super solid Junior Star Wars novel set in the era of the High Republic; the golden age of the Jedi.

The recently released High Republic books all take place concurrently in the year 232-BBY.

As determined by these novels, this is the year of the Great Disaster, a catastrophic event that caused numerous ships galaxy-wide to be suddenly, and violently, launched out of hyperspace.

It also destroyed moons and created a great amount of debris causing further problems for ships and navigators.

To put it in a timeline perspective, these High Republic novels predate all previously released Star Wars materials.

In early 2021, Disney released three of these novels; one Adult, Light of the Jedi, one YA, Into the Dark, and this one, a Junior novel.

This story follows a group of kids who after their transport ship is destroyed, find themselves stranded on a dangerous jungle moon.

Venestra, Avon, Imri and Honesty are completely on their own. Outside of all adult supervision, they need to not just survive, but take on enemies much older and more experienced than themselves.

This novel took me completely by surprised. Ireland went much deeper than I expected.

This group of characters were so interesting and fun to learn about. Venestra is a Jedi prodigy, the youngest Padawan to pass Jedi trials in generations. She stole the show for me and definitely fell easily into a leadership role.

Additionally, I loved Avon! A Senator’s daughter who wants to experiment on kyber crystals. That’s my kind of girl.

A Test of Courage is fast-paced, action-packed, full of deep space adventures and wonderfully nuanced characters.

The Star Wars audiobooks are known to be incredible, with fun sound effects and great narrators. I am happy to report, this one is no exception.

I highly recommend the audiobook for this. It is super engaging and is a great way to take in this content. I was super impressed with the entire production.

I’ve been loving the new High Republic content and recommend them not just for long-time Star Wars fans, but also to those who may be interested in the books and are unsure of where to start.

This is a great jumping off point. I think this story is a wonderful example of the type of deeply compelling material that can be found within the Canon novels.

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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: Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night BrothersAmari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, yes, yes!!! Middle Grade Fantasy at its best!!!

I love Amari. I love the world. I love the magic system and humbly request at least ten volumes for this series.

Is that too much to ask? I think if you pick it up, you’d agree.

13-year old, Amari Peters, lives with her Mom in the Rosewood housing project. She had an older brother, Quinton, who was smart, fun and brave. He meant a lot to Amari. He was her best friend.

Quinton has gone missing and Amari doesn’t understand why it isn’t a bigger deal. Why isn’t it on the news? Why do the police act like if something happened to him, it was probably because he was up to no good?

Amari knows better. She doesn’t care what they insinuate about him, Quinton is the best person she knows and she is going to find out what happened to him, whether others believe her, or not.

Upon arriving home after an especially trying day, Amari is surprised by a visitor who gives her a clue that may help; the answer to which lies in a briefcase hidden in her missing brother’s closet.

She can’t believe what she finds. The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs? Is this for real?

Quinton has nominated her for a try-out? The prospect is sort of scary, but Amari knows this may be her best, perhaps only chance, of getting to the bottom of her brother’s disappearance. She’s got to go.

Thus begins Amari’s introduction to the hidden supernatural world around her. She also discovers the power within herself.

Under the guise of attending a ‘leadership camp’, Amari is able to stay at the Vanderbilt Hotel with the other Bureau trainees. There she is fully immersed in learning, training and competing. Did you hear that? Learning, training and competing.

It’s a MAGIC SCHOOL trope! I know, it’s called ‘camp’, but it’s a magic school, only one of the best tropes ever created.

The Reader learns along with Amari the ins-and-outs of the world and magic system. The good guys, the bad guys, the history. It’s all beautifully constructed and paced out.

I was totally engrossed in this while reading it. As first books in a series go, this is top notch. It definitely left me wanting more and I can’t wait to see how Amari grows in future books.

If you are looking for that good old-fashioned, kid discovering they are actually part of a magical world, then learns about it, competes within it, and fights evil forces, kind of book, you NEED to pick this up. There’s not even an option.

You can thank me later.

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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: Don’t Turn Out the Lights, Jonathan Maberry, Editor

Don’t Turn Out the LightsDon’t Turn Out the Lights by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t Turn Out the Lights is a Middle Grade Horror anthology curated by bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry, as a tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

The collection is comprised of 35-scary stories penned by an impressive list of authors!

I know what some of you may be thinking, Middle Grade though?

I can assure you, quite of few of these stories legit creeped me out. They’re quick, fun and each one left me wanting to continue reading.

There really is something for everyone in this collection.

No matter what your fears are, you will find a story that works for you. Some things you may not even know you are afraid of until you read this book, like toys, for example.

Although I have always been afraid of certain toys, but I digress. There were a lot of stories in here that I really loved.

The standouts for me were: The Carved Bear by Brendan Reichs, The Golden Peacock by Alethea Kontis, Tag, You’re It by NR Lambert, The Cries of the Cat by Josh Malerman, The Umbrella Man by Gary A. Braunbeck, Brain Spiders by Luis Alberto Urrea and Rosario Urrea, and Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board by Margaret Stohl.

I did listen to the audiobook and highly recommend that medium. There are two narrators and they both did a fantastic job bringing every story to life.

Overall, this is a very solid collection with plenty of chills and thrills for readers of all ages. If you like to give yourself the heebie-jeebies, you should definitely pick this one up!

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Review: Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Quartet, #2)Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aru Shah and the Song of Death is somehow even more exciting than the first book!

In this installment, the second in the Pandava Quartet, evil is afoot in the Otherworld.

The God of Love’s bow and arrow have been stolen and the thief is creating an heartless zombie horde they can control for their own sinister purposes.

The Gods suspect Aru of the crime, but she had nothing to do with it. Seriously, she is telling the truth this time, but they want her to prove it.

She is given until the full moon to find the thief and return the arrow, or risk being banished from the Otherworld forever.

Luckily for Aru, she is not facing this task alone. She has her Pandava soul-sister, Mini, with her, as well as the recently discovered third reincarnated Pandava brother sister, Brynne, and the cute new boy across the street, Aidan.

Together, this quartet will do whatever it takes to prove their innocence and return the Otherworld to normalcy.

They travel through dangerous territories, battle scary creatures and learn to love and trust one another; although somewhat begrudgingly.

I thought the inclusion of Brynne and Aidan added a great deal to the story. It felt like it grew so much complexity just by adding their personalities into the mix.

This entire story had the classic quest feel that I live for and I enjoyed the little LOTR references thrown in; a charming nod to one of the most epic quests of all time.

I am really looking forward to continuing on with this series. After the first book, I could have stopped there. I enjoyed it, but could have been happy with it as a standalone.

I continued on because this one had such high ratings and I am so glad that I did.

I am completely attached to these kids now. There’s no turning back. I will be with them until the end. Pandavas unite!

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Review: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Ghost SquadGhost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Ghost Squad, Claribel A. Ortega’s debut novel, is a shining example of why I love reading Middle Grade.

This story follows 12-year old, Lucely Luna, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with her father.

He runs his own business giving walking ghost tours of the city. Regardless of the fact that that sounds amazing, business is not going well.

It seems like no matter what he does, he just can’t make enough money to keep afloat. In fact, they are in danger of losing their home.

When Lucely overhears this news, she is beyond worried. This is the house she grew up in. The ghosts of her ancestors live here.

That’s right. Lucely can see and interact with the ghosts of dead family members. They’ve become dragonfly spirits and she believes that magic is tied to the property.

They cannot lose it.

Together with her best friend, Syd, the girls try to figure out a way for Lucely’s Dad to get the money he needs to hold off the bank foreclosure.

Unfortunately, the girls inadvertently cast a spell that awakens malicious spirits, who then wreck havoc, threatening not just them and the dragonfly spirits, but the entire town.

From there we follow the girls as they try to figure out a way to undo what they have done.

They seek assistance from Syd’s grandmother, Babette, who happens to be a witch, and her fat tabby cat, Chunk, who I loved.

This entire book was full of action, heart and humor. I loved Lucely and Syd’s relationship. It was so pure. They showed unconditional love and care for one another, it filled my heart.

Syd’s gradmother, Babette, was a great character as well, as she guided the girls in the magical arts.

Ghost Squad is based on Dominican folklore and I really enjoyed how that cultural influence could be felt throughout the story. In addition, there is mystery, intrigue and some chilling, spooky moments.

Personally, I think this book can be enjoyed by all readers, regardless of age. If you love spooky stories, with ghosts and magic, you should definitely give this one a shot!

I am looking forward to seeing what Claribel A. Ortega comes up with next. I will 100% be picking it up!

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