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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Holy smokes!!! That was a debut?

Y’all, Tristan Strong is a hella ambitious first novel that felt like an entire world being built in front of your eyes. I am really dang impressed with this!

Okay, now with the initial swooning out of the way, let’s get into it.

Tristan Strong is a 7th grader who has had a tough time of late. After losing his best friend, Eddie, in a horrific bus crash, Tristan is struggling with his grief and feels like no one understands him.

His parents decide to send him to Alabama for a month with his grandparents to help with his recovery.

Yeah, he’s not super crazy about the idea either. Nonetheless, he heads off with them with only his best friend’s journal to truly remind him of home.

On his first night there, the most bizarre thing happens. Some sort of little doll baby thing steals Eddie’s journal from him and takes off.

Tristan gives chase. It’s all he has left of Eddie. He needs that thing back. He follows the doll baby into some creepy woods and around the mysterious bottle tree.

There as he is wrestling to retrieve the journal, he inadvertently punches a hole in the fabric of the universe, opening up a hole to another world, named MidPass.

This is where things get crazy. I can’t even go on to describe all that happens next, you will just have to read for yourself. This story is full of action, African folklore, mythology, African-American history, the power of words, stories coming to life and a boy finding the hero within himself.

I was so impressed with the level of Mbalia’s writing. So detailed, so funny, so engaging. All of the things. You may wonder why I decided to give this 4.5-stars versus a full 5 and really it boils down to the scope.

I think the book was a little long for my taste. I sort of feel like this story could have been broken down into two books. There were moments too, that there was so much going on, I felt a little confused.

However, with that being said, that is such a minor thing and totally personal preference. This is such a fantastic, important story. I urge everyone to pick it up!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I greatly appreciate it. Kwame Mbalia is a gift to the world and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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Guest Post: Author Chat with Kwame Mbalia

On Tuesday, October 15, 2019, the latest edition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, is set to be released. Pitched as a Middle Grade version of American Gods, this fast-paced, fantastical novel is a debut for author, Kwame Mbalia.

I had the opportunity, thanks to, CAKE LITERARY, to ask Kwame a few questions about his work and what this release means to him. Before we get into that however, for those who may not be aware, let’s go over a bit about the Rick Riordan Presents imprint; its purpose and why its so important.

I think we would all agree that being able to see yourself in a story, to be able to relate to characters in some way, can be an important part of the reading experience. Unfortunately, not all readers are able to easily access books that they can relate to in this way. The Rick Riordan Presents imprint was developed with this issue in mind.

Their goal is to publish stories from Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds. The stories are heavily inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage. This imprint, a part of the larger Disney-Hyperion Publishing family, provides a huge platform for these much needed, underrepresented stories to find a wide audience of readers.

I have greatly enjoyed the books released from this imprint so far and many of you may have read reviews for these titles on this blog. Tristan Strong has been one of my most anticipated releases, mainly because it is inspired by West African mythology and African-American folk tales, something I rarely have the opportunity to read about.

I can tell you, as I am currently reading it, this is one of the BEST releases yet! Kwame Mbalia has a fluid, organic writing style and is clearly a very gifted storyteller. Without further ado, let’s get into my questions for Kwame and his responses:

Meg: I would love to know what advice you have for young people who may want to grow up to become writers themselves?

Kwame: The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be a writer is to write. Write write write. You can’t get at something, whether it’s a sport or a skill, unless you practice. Writing is no different. Find something you enjoy and write about it! Essays. Poetry. Fan fiction. Start with different elements of the craft, like dialogue or description, and just write!

Second to that is to read. Read in the genre you want to write, and then read outside of it. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read short stories and novellas as well as novels. There are some brilliant writers out there and whenever I feel the need for inspiration, I look at what others have done and are doing.

Meg: Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose  to write in the Middle Grade genre specifically?

Kwame: There’s a special sense of wonder and exploration that you find in the Middle Grade genre that appeals to me. There’s this idea that you’re just realizing how enormous the world is, and you learn how varied and diverse the different people and creatures that occupy it, and combining that idea and that wonder with a little bit of history and magic brings me joy.

Meg: What does it mean to you to have your debut story out in the world?

Kwame: Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, don’t remind me!!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ MY WORDS!!! How dare y’all? No one informed me this would be the case. I would like to crawl back into my bed and pretend the floor is lava.

I can’t do that?

Well then, fine. I guess I’ll just thank everyone who has read or will read or wants to read my book. It’s been an incredible journey so far and hopefully it’s only just beginning.

I want to thank, Kwame, for being so kind as to answer my questions for him. I feel so blessed that CAKE LITERARY provided me with the opportunity to be included on this blog tour. Also, as always, a huge thank you to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with an early copy of the book to read and review.

I am seriously loving this one, guys, and am anticipating finishing up on Monday, at which time I will post my full review. All I will say thus far is that Mbalia’s writing style is super impressive and I love Tristan so much and the journey he is on. I hope to read more about him in the future!!!

This story can definitely be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so be sure to pick up your copy on release day, Tuesday, October 15th!!!

 

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweeping fable told through the lense of 1920s Mayan culture!!!

Channeling her inner-Cinderella, Casiopea Tun, is tidying up around her Grandfather’s quarters, as she does every day, when she unintentionally frees Hun-Kame, the Mayan God of Death, from his imprisonment.

Brought back to life after his brother slayed him and captured him in locked box, Hun-Kame is ready to get his life and his kingdom back. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for Casiopea, he needs her help in order to do so.

Tied together by an unnatural bond of flesh and soul, they set out on a quest to recover the parts of him stolen and hidden away by his brother. So begins the adventure of a lifetime for young Casiopea, who is finally able to escape the degrading clutches of her family.

This is such a beautifully told story. From beginning to end, Moreno-Garcia weaves the most intricate tale of love, power, forgiveness and sacrifice. I love her writing so much. It is simple and lyrical, flowing smoothly from chapter to chapter.

I first fell for Moreno-Garcia’s writing when I read, The Beautiful Ones in 2017. Even though that book was also beautifully written, this one is on a whole other level. Her writing has matured so much and this story truly transports you not only to the culture she is introducing but to the time period as well. Simply stunning.

I loved learning more about Mayan mythology and culture. I think anyone interested in more modern retellings of myths and legends will enjoy this one. Even if you do not think that is something you would be crazy about, at its heart, this story is a quest and it delivers in that capacity in spades.

Casiopea is such a wonderful character. Although raised in terrible circumstances, mistreated and abused by those around her, she has an incredible sense of will and resolve that she channels throughout her adventure. In her heart she has the strength of a lioness and that serves her well. I adored her, I adored Hun-Kame and the two of them together is pure magic!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and had such a great reading experience with this one. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a fan in me and I will definitely be picking up anything else she writes!

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Review: The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes

The Storm Runner (The Storm Runner #1)The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prepare for a gush fest people because I LOVED this book!

The Storm Runner is a new middle grade fantasy novel that is being published through the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. If you aren’t aware, sort of the purpose of this imprint is to provide a stage for diverse voices to tell stories based upon myths and folklore from various cultures around the world. This book is based upon Mayan Mythology and is full of angry gods, magic, mythological creatures and a ton of action and adventure.

Our main character, Zane Obispo, is a kid who has struggled a bit in his social life due to a limp caused by the fact that one of his legs is a little bit shorter than the other. Throughout school, Zane has had to deal with bullies and the feelings of inadequacy that can come when you feel like people are only seeing your faults, as opposed to the rest of you. Despite this, Zane is a sweet baby cinnamon roll who is full of good humor, love for his family and respect for his elders.

I truly fell in love with Zane’s character. I think he is an incredible role model for young readers and, heck, even adult readers. Not only is Zane a great character but he is surrounded by a whole flock of amazing side characters who bring humor, love, depth and drama to this adventurous tale. After witnessing a demon crash a plane into a volcano near his house, Zane ends up heading out on a quest to save the world with his new friend, Brooks (who also happens to be a shape-shifter) and his lovable Uncle, Hondo. Together these three battle scary enemies and plot incredible schemes to save all of humanity. Through his travels with his Uncle and friends, Zane discovers who he truly is and how powerful he can be.

There was so much action in this book. Literally, scene after scene of edge of your seat moments that keep you glued to the pages long after ‘lights out’ time has come! I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves middle grade stories and/or books based upon mythology. Additionally, I think this would be a great book for parents or guardians to read with the kids in their life. I think there are a lot of great discussions to be drawn from this book and a lot of fun that can be shared as well. Overall, this is a fantastic story that will leave you feeling like magic is not only possible, but real.

Thank you so much to Rick Riordan Presents and Disney Hyperion for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review. It was such a wonderful experience, one I will be thinking about and dreaming about for some time to come. I really appreciate the opportunity and hope that this series is a big success and continues on!

Initial Review: YEEESSSSSS! ARC received – this story sounds amazing – I cannot wait to dive in!

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