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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Review: Akata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2)Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

A year has passed since Sunny first discovered she was a part of the magical Leopard Society and along with her friends, Orlu, Sasha and Chichi, formed the youngest Oha Coven ever.

Now a little older, and a bit more experienced, each of the four kids have been selected by a powerful Leopard mentor to oversee their studies and continue strengthening their powers.

Sunny’s mentor, Sugar Cream, is a wise older woman with incredible power. She’s tough and I loved reading their interactions with one another. You can tell that Sugar Cream sees something very special in Sunny.

Through it all, Sunny continues to try to understand her visions of a coming apocalypse. What can she possibly do to prevent the horrific things she envisions from happening?

In the midst of all of this, her older brother departs for college. When he arrives home unexpectedly, late one night bloody and battered, Sunny knows she needs to do something.

Enlisting Chichi’s help, the two girls head off to the University to set things right. Their escapade causes Sunny to break one of the Leopard Society’s rules however and detection is swift.

Her punishment consists of Sunny being locked in the library basement, which trust me, is not as magical as it sounds.

It is during this time of isolation that Sunny begins to feel more compelled towards her quest.

Along with her friends, she must find the secret town of Osisi, facing off against mortal enemies along the way in order to stop the end of the world from coming.

I flew through this story. There is so much going on. Sunny is basically living a dual life. She has her home life with her family and regular school, as well as all of her dealings within the Leopard world.

I enjoyed watching her relationship with her family change as she changes and grows more confident in herself and her powers. Particularly, her relationship with her older brother.

The friend group, again, is the highlight of this story for me. I love the way the four personalities play off of one another.

There’s more drama in this installment as the relationships veer out of friendship territory and more into romance. Although this wasn’t my favorite plot point, I think it was executed naturally and therefore, I didn’t mind it.

In addition to the characters and relationships, I loved the world so much. It’s actually quite dark and dangerous. Our protagonists definitely do not have an easy go at it.

Okorafor uses excerpts from books that Sunny is studying to help educate the reader on the lore, history and magic system of the world. I thought that was such a fun way to develop the story.

I did get a little lost towards the end, but I think it was because I was reading so fast. I was anxious for everyone to be okay and I let that get the best of me!

The ending was so satisfying. Initially, before picking up this sequel, I wished there were more books in the series. Now that I have completed it, I couldn’t be happier with how Okorafor left Sunny.

This is odd to say, but I am proud of Sunny. Her growth and accomplishments. I am okay with leaving her here and moving on.

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Review: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

Over the Woodward WallOver the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seanan McGuire, writing as A. Deborah Baker, brings a book within a book to life with Over the Woodward Wall.

For those of you who haven’t read Middlegame, first…

I’m kidding, I just couldn’t resist using that gif.

Moving along, A. Deborah Baker is a character first introduced in Middlegame.

She is in fact the author of a book called, Over the Woodward Wall; snippets of which you get interspersed throughout Middlegame.

My recollection, although hazy, is that Baker was high-up in the alchemical world and was involved in some way with Roger and Dodger and other children like them.

In Over the Woodward Wall we follow two children, Avery and Zib, who live in the same town, on the same street, attend the same school, but have never met one another.

One morning on their respective walks to school, they both encounter a detour. Said detour leads them to a wall, the only option is to go up and over.

They do and find themselves in an entirely different world with no immediate evidence of a way to return home.

From there, the kids are forced to become acquainted rather quickly as they work together to survive the somewhat hostile fairy tale landscape known as the Up and Under.

Meeting an intriguing cast of side characters along the way, including talking owls and a girl made entirely of crows, Zib and Avery, come to trust in and rely on one another. A far jump from where they started.

This story is absolutely enchanting. There are so many fine details, I know I didn’t get everything I could out of this first read.

McGuire is a master at making every sentence count. Every word is placed for maximum impact. It’s truly an impressive display of skill.

Do I think people who haven’t read Middlegame can enjoy this?

Absolutely, 100%, yes!

You could compare this to so many things, yet it is like nothing else. I feel Alice in Wonderland. I feel The Wizard of Oz. I feel The Chronicles of Narnia. But at the same time, it is different.

If you have read and enjoyed any of McGuire’s, Wayward Children series, you should definitely pick this book up. I feel like it could easily be incorporated into that series.

I have so many thoughts on this, but as you can tell, they’re a little discombobulated.

As always, I appreciated McGuire’s subtle social commentary with regards to gender roles and the effects of unnecessary expectations placed on children, not just by parents, but by society as a whole.

Although, the ending was a little too abrupt for my tastes, and I would have enjoyed a bit more to the story, overall, I did really enjoy it.

I will end up rereading this at some point, maybe simultaneously with a reread of Middlegame. I am also hoping we see more of Zib and Avery’s adventures in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I certainly appreciate the opportunity and will continue to pick up anything this author writes, under any name!

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Review: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Destroys The World (Tristan Strong, #2)Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tristan Strong Destroys the World was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2020.

I had so much fun reading Kwame Mbalia’s debut, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, last year. I fell in love with Tristan, as well as Mbalia’s wit and compelling writing style.

I was blown away by the fact that it was a debut. The quality of the story, as well as the world-building, were top notch.

The Tristan Strong series is published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.

If you aren’t aware, this imprint is focused on publishing novels that allow Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds tell stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their heritage.

I have read many of the books published through this imprint and I must say, each and every one has been absolutely fantastic.

If you are sleeping on the Rick Riordan Presents books, I highly encourage you to give one a try. There is truly something for every Reader among the releases.

My biggest observation of Mbalia’s writing is that he writes with HEART.

Tristan is such a well-imagined character. I absolutely adore his perspective, his humor and the many admirable qualities he is developing as he grows through the adventures held within these pages!

In this second installment, Tristan is forced back to Alke, the magical land of African Gods and African American folk heroes, after his beloved Nana is stolen away by a mysterious villain out for revenge.

There he is reunited with many old friends from the first book, including my favorite, the dynamic Gum Baby.

As with the first book, this installment offers up nonstop action and humor.

I was biting my nails in anticipation, while simultaneously laughing at Tristan’s thoughts or witty dialogue.

This book ended with a lot still at stake. I am so excited for the third book. It honestly cannot come soon enough.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, now is the perfect time to do so. Tristan Strong Destroys the World is releasing October 6th, so you have just enough time to get in the first book before its release!

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

I appreciate it so much and also appreciate the thought and dedication that goes into this entire imprint.

I have been exposed to so many new myths and legends from cultures around the world through RRP and for that, I am truly grateful!

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Review: Akata Witch (Akata Witch #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Nnedi Okorafor’s, Akata Witch, is an absolute treat for any YA or Middle Grade Reader who loves a magical school trope!

I was absolutely blown away by how invested I became in this story. The lore, the action, the relationships were all beautifully done.

Sunny, a 12-year old albino girl, who recently moved from New York city to Aba, Nigeria, has a hard-time fitting in. When people look at her, they seem to immediately pass judgement on her because she looks different.

At school, there are some kids she always seems to be butting heads with.

The one person who seems to accept her, full stop, is a boy named Orlu. They begin spending time together and he introduces her to a vibrant girl named, Chichi.

Chichi doesn’t go to their school as she is home-schooled by her Mom.

When Sunny first goes to Chichi’s home, she’s astounded by the number of books. The house itself seems to be built of books and on such interesting topics.

It is through Orlu and Chichi, and their afternoons together, that Sunny ultimately learns of the Leopard People, a group of magical individuals living amongst them.

Sunny is then told, that she herself, is one of these people. It is then that Sunny’s education truly begins.

Orlu and Chichi have been learning about their gifts as Leopard People for a while, so Sunny starts out a little behind.

In spite of this, she learns quickly and begins to relish her new found powers.

Together the three kids are joined by Sasha, a boy from America, and they form the youngest Oha Coven ever.

They are tasked with hunting down a serial killer, Black Hat Otokoto, kidnapping and killing children in their area.

The fearsome-foursome go head-to-head against some truly dark forces to try to protect life as we know it.

I loved this friend group so much. Their relationships blossomed over the course of the story and I grew to love each and every one of them.

I loved how Okorafor weaved the magical realm seamlessly into our own world. It was so believable. It made me believe anyway.

If you are someone who loves a strong friendship group, coming together in the face of evil, with magic, heart and humor, you absolutely need to pick this book up.

It’s so much from the very start. Super engaging, full of action and interesting characters.

I also loved the the way the folklore and legends were introduced into the story. I thought it was such a clever format for learning about the world.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book, Akata Warrior, very soon.

Is this really only going to be a duology? I feel like there is so much room this story to grow. I never want to say goodbye to Sunny, Orlu, Chichi or Sasha. Damn. I’m getting emotional already and I’ve only read the first book…

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Review: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean GetawayClean Getaway by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Clean Getaway follows 11-year old, Scoob, as he goes on an unexpected RV adventure with his beloved Grandma, nicknamed, G-Ma.

G-Ma is an extra special lady, one who Scoob loves to be around. She always seems to understand him and have the right thing to say.

Scoob’s Dad has been pretty tough on him lately. Particularly after he got into a little trouble at school just prior to Spring Break.

As far as Scoob and his Dad are concerned, any plans Scoob may have had for fun during Spring Break are cancelled.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, G-Ma arrives in a legitimate house on wheels and tells Scoob they are going on an adventure.

He packs a bag and off they go. It seems G-Ma has a plan, the specifics of which are a mystery to Scoob.

Once on the road, G-Ma gives Scoob a copy of a book called, The Green Book. She tells him that she, and his Grandpa, had to use this book while traveling together in the 1960s.

The Green Book was used as a guide by black people in the United States initially, and then I believe in other countries around the world, seeking safe lodging and amenities during their travels.

While I knew of the existence and use of The Green Book, I have never read about it as part of a fictional story.

I thought this was a tremendously clever plot device to open up communication between the characters. I think as a discussion point for adults, with children, it is an easily understandable way for children to begin to learn about the history of race relations in our country.

Scoob is initially surprised by the book. Sure, he knows a bit about the Civil Rights Movement and the people involved, but he never really considered the real life implications on his own family.

As an interracial couple in the 1960s, G-Ma and Grandpa faced a lot of hostility and discrimination when they were seen together in public. Scoob begins to understand that more as him and G-Ma are given nasty looks when they stop at a diner in a remote town.

Apparently, a white woman together with a black boy can still raise some eyebrows. Scoob doesn’t like the feeling at all, it makes him so uncomfortable. Later, thinking about it more, he even comes to fear that some of the hateful people from the diner may follow them with the intent to do them harm.

Yeah, as you can tell, there are definitely some serious issues tackled in this book. Scoob and his G-Ma have some great, candid discussions about things that G-Ma has experienced and I think Scoob learned a lot about his family and himself over the course of the story.

Stone is such a gifted writer. Her stories, while full of serious, topical issues, also contain such wit and humor. It really makes them so accessible to every reader.

Scoob is a sweet, funny, caring boy; a great protagonist to follow along with. And don’t get me started on G-Ma. I love that woman.

Although this is a fairly short story, even for Middle Grade, it packs a serious punch. There is so much emotion and heart in this story. It is truly lovely. I just find Stone’s style of writing so engaging. It is more than writing, it is absolutely storytelling in its purest form.

I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. I do feel that this would be a great book for parents to read with their children this summer though!!!

So, add it to your summer reading list and prepare for a great adventure! Don’t forget to pack your tissues.

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Review: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

King and the DragonfliesKing and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poignant Queer Middle Grade.

After Kingston’s brother, Khalid, unexpectedly passes away, King is convinced he has transformed into a dragonfly.

He spends his afternoons down by the bayou where the dragonflies flit about in great numbers. He’s constantly searching for the one. The one that is Khalid.

One of King’s most distinct memories of his brother was when Khalid told him he should stop hanging out with his close friend, Sandy Sanders.

The reason, people think Sandy is gay. Khalid urges King to stay away from him because, ‘you don’t want people to think you’re gay too, do you?’

This hurt King. He never thought his brother could hurt him, but this did and he doesn’t truly understand why.

Now he fears something in him is wrong. There’s a pretty girl at school, his friend Jasmine, that likes him. King’s not sure he likes her that way though. He knows people expect him too, but it doesn’t feel right.

When Sandy goes missing, the entire town begins to search.

King is surprised when he ends up finding Sandy in a tent in his backyard. Sandy tells him his Father, who also happens to be local law enforcement, has been physically abusing him.

Devastated to hear what Sandy has been suffering through alone, King vows to help him. As the two rekindle their friendship, King begins to vocalize how he is feeling about himself and his sexuality.

This is such a beautifully told story with so many great discussion points for young readers. And let’s be honest, older readers as well.

In addition to being a story of a boy discovering his truth, there are also examinations of grief, race and power.

I enjoyed the scenes between King and his parents, who are both struggling with their own grief after the loss of Khalid. The conversations between King and his Father were especially moving.

Callender did a phenomenal job of writing King’s character in regards to his feelings of trying to fit the mould that others expected him to fit; like trying to fit a circle into a square hole.

His inner dialogue as he tried to work out for himself what he was feeling seemed so real. I wanted to grab his hand and tell him it would be okay, but in our world, maybe that’s not true. I want to believe that it is and Callender definitely makes it seem like that is possible.

I highly recommend this story, well, to the world.

Everyone should read this.

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