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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Review: Camp Murderface by Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell

Camp MurderfaceCamp Murderface by Josh Berk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

It’s 1983 and Camp Sweetwater is ready for its grand reopening.

A summer camp in rural Ohio, Sweetwater mysteriously closed its doors 30-years ago, but now it’s refreshed and ready to take campers again.

Corryn Quinn and Tez Jones are two such lucky campers.

As frightening as the prospect of summer camp is, being shipped away from home, alone, with no contact with your family, Corryn and Tez are both ready to leave their regular lives behind for a while.

They meet on the bus trip there and its pretty much decided. They will be best camp friends. It’s at least decided for Tez.

Once at the camp and divided into their respective cabins, the kids go about starting the most epic summer ever. They hope.

It doesn’t take long however, before very spooky, scary things start occurring.

There’s a mystery afoot. One Corryn and Tez vow to get to the bottom of.

This story is hilarious. I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend. From the very beginning, I was giggling aloud.

The story alternates between Corryn and Tez’s perspectives. The narrators did such an incredible job bringing this to life. The timing of the jokes, the intonation, it was all superb!

As this is Middle Grade, the story itself isn’t super complicated, or overly dark, but I think it is wildly creative and definitely channels all the spooky vibes that are perfect for young readers.

I loved this, as it gave me such nostalgia for the spooky content I used to enjoy as a kid. I was feeling Scooby-Doo, I was feeling R.L. Stine; it’s just a ton of fun.

Camp Murderface leaves off at a great spot for a continuation of the story. I will definitely pick it up if one is published.

I loved Corryn and Tez both so much! They are just the best. Super clever and sincere. I will go on any adventure with them; no matter how scary.

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Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet #1) by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet, #1)Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

12-year old, Aru Shah, doesn’t quite fit in. It’s not just the fact that she lives in an actual Museum, The Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.

She attends a school where the vast majority of children are very wealthy. Aru is clearly not.

Her Mom frequently travels procuring artifacts for the museum, but even when she is around Aru doesn’t garner much attention from her.

This aspect of the story was fairly frustrating to read about actually. I wanted to grab her Mom and shake her, but I digress.

Aru feels lonely and frequently embellishes stories about her life, in order to gain attention or acceptance from her peers.

Unfortunately, she does it so much, she has a bit of a reputation as a liar.

When three classmates show up at the museum and challenge Aru to prove the validity of one of the stories she has told, that the Lamp of Bharata is cursed, she feels compelled to light it.

A lamp she has been told, numerous times, in no uncertain terms, to never, ever light. Yeah, she lights that.

Even though it is only for a moment, this one act ends up putting the entire fate of the world in jeopardy by freeing the demon trapped inside.

The demon, known as the Sleeper, is tasked with awakening the God of Destruction, who, as the name implies, will destroy everything. Luckily, the rest of the world is frozen in time, providing Aru with a chance to undo what she’s done.

Aru sets out on an epic quest, along with some new friends, to try to stop the Sleeper.

Tying in the legends of the Hindu epic poem, The Mahabharata, Aru Shah and the End of the Time is a fast-paced adventure, full of heart and valuable lessons.

I had a lot of fun with this story and can definitely see why it is so popular.

Parts of it were a bit too chaotic for my tastes, but overall, I felt it was really well done.

Aru, as a character, was interesting. I had so much sympathy for her. I felt bad for her. It hurt my heart how alone she felt in the world.

I am hoping in the next book, her Mother redeems herself a little bit, because after this one, I’m pretty much furious at her. Sure, I understand she had her reasons for what she did, but they’re not good enough for me.

I did love the relationship between Aru and Mini. It was so pure. Pretty much every moment with Mini filled my heart with glee. She’s just so precious.

I definitely plan to continue on with this series. I am hoping to learn so much more about these characters, this world and the myths and legends behind it.

Honestly, I feel the whole Rick Riordan Imprint is a gift.

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Review: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key (The Blackthorn Key, #1)The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

In 1665, London, Christopher Rowe is a young apprentice to apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn.

Blackthorn saved Christopher from a no doubt, harsh and uncertain future, by adopting him from a local orphanage. Since that time he has acted as a caring father figure and mentor to the young boy.

Christopher is very clever, adept at following chemical recipes, deciphering puzzles and reading complex codes.

Along with his good friend, Tom, the baker’s son, Christopher gets himself into all sorts of wild hijinks with his experiments.

When the city’s apothecaries begin being systematically killed off, it is up to Christopher to figure out who is behind it and stop them before he too, falls victim.

Relying on his knowledge, acquired through his Master’s many lessons, as well as his own ingenuity, Christopher slowly pieces together the mystery of the Cult at the heart of the matter; putting his own life in danger along the way.

I really enjoyed so much about this story. It’s such a strong start to a Middle Grade series.

I loved the historical setting and the relationship between Christopher and Tom most of all. Tom was a perfect, lovable side kick, and those can go a long way in this type of story.

This does get really dark. I was living for it and even as a Middle Grader, certainly, would have been living for it. There are murdery bits, and evil villain bits and actually, fairly scary bits.

If you are a reader who is sensitive to that type of content, just go in knowing you will find that here.

As a science lover, I also enjoyed those elements included in the story. There were even codes for Christopher to work out, left for him as clues.

The narrative really made science exciting and I love seeing Young Readers exposed to a science is cool storyline. Not only is science cool, it saves the day.

I’m really excited to continue on with this series. I am definitely down for going on more adventures with Christopher and Tom.

If you are looking for a fun, fast-paced, slightly dark, Middle Grade Mystery series, I suggest you give it a go as well. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

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