Review: Kidnap on the California Comet (Adventures on Trains #2) by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Kidnap on the California Comet (Adventures on Trains, #2)Kidnap on the California Comet by M.G. Leonard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Another train mystery solved!!

The 2nd-book of my new favorite Middle Grade series didn’t disappoint. It was everything I wanted and more!

After his memorable trip on The Highland Falcon with his Uncle Nat, Hal Beck, is ready embark on another adventure. His Uncle, a travel journalist, is set to travel on the famous California Comet from Chicago to California and it just so happens, the trip coincides with a school break for Hal.

More than happy to have his nephew along for another trip, the two pack their bags and set off for the U.S. together; it will be Hal’s first time.

At first, Hal is anxious about being homesick and out of place in a foreign country, but soon enough he has made new friends and finds himself embroiled in another mystery.

In the first book, we had a thief aboard the train. Someone stealing objects of value from various passengers. In this installment, as the title would suggest, we have a kidnapping of a very wealthy young passenger, but how?

The kidnapped girl resided in her father’s own private car and she had her own security guard. How did the kidnapper get past security?

Hal and his new friends, Mason and Hadley, are intrigued, but they also want to help. The girl could be in very serious danger. Together the trio work around the clock to try to solve the mystery.

This was such a fun read. As with the first book, I became completely invested in this story quite early on. In fact, the first night I picked it up, I had to force myself to put it down so I could get some sleep.

Who knew a Middle Grade Mystery Adventure series set on trains would be my new favorite thing in the world!?

The writing is great, the set-up and mystery are intriguing as heck and I love the characters. I also love the inclusion of Hal’s drawings; seeing the world through his eyes and how they help him to puzzle out the mysteries. It’s fantastic.

Also, I love Hal as a main character. He’s always kind, brave, creative and has a genuine curiosity about everything that is so fun to read.

I definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys Middle Grade Mystery stories. It’s such a joy, pure entertainment.

I am super excited to continue on with the third book, which I will be starting very soon!

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Review: Fractal Noise (Fractalverse #2) by Christopher Paolini

Fractal Noise (Fractalverse #2)Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fractal Noise is set in the same world as Paolini’s 2020-release, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. I really enjoyed that fast-paced story of first contact, so was pretty excited when I heard of this release.

As with To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, I listened to the audiobook of this and it is incredibly well done. I cannot recommend it enough as a format choice for taking in this story.

Jennifer Hale is such a talented voice artist and truly is able to bring life to the characters and the story. Additionally, there’s great sound effects included, perfect for this high-tech SF-tale.

In a way, this is also a story of first contact. It’s not as intense, or action-packed, as TSIASOS. It has a lighter touch and focuses more on the philosophical side of our place in the universe, our purpose and what our relationship would/should be with other sentient beings.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still gripping, emotional and full of tense moments, just overall, it’s a different focus for the SF-elements, IMO.

In Fractal Noise, our main character is Alex. Alex is a xenobiologist, who has lost his wife and at the beginning of the story, to say he is struggling emotionally would be to put it mildly. What even is the purpose of his life anymore?

In spite of his depression, Alex is an active member of the crew of a ship called the Adamura and this crew ends up discovering a giant hole, an anomaly, on the desolate planet of Talos VII. Perhaps, Alex has a purpose after all.

It’s unlike anything that could occur naturally. It’s too perfect. It has to have been created by something, or someone, but for what purpose?

The crew of the Adamura agree to partake in a mission to investigate the hole first hand. The truth of the anomaly could help to fill in answers for some of the mysteries of the universe. Who wouldn’t want to investigate that?

Because of the nature of the hole, they can’t touch down too close. They have to land some distance from the hole and then traverse the planet on foot in order to even get close. It’s incredibly dangerous. The four member team is ready to take it on though.

The other members of the team are Talia, Chen and Pushkin. Each of them specializes in a different area of science and each brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the table.

These individuals cannot be more different and their personalities definitely clash at times. It ends up bringing quite a bit of tension to the story. If you think their only threat would be aliens, or the hole itself, you’d be wrong. Humans can be volatile, whether on terra firma or in space.

The coolest aspect for me though was the hole itself. Once they begin their mission on Talos VII, it becomes clear very quickly that the hole is emitting a pulse of some sort. It’s so powerful that it messes with their comms and they can feel it through every fiber of their bodies.

If I am remembering correctly, it is emitted in a pattern, something like every 10.9-seconds. The closer they get, the more powerful it is. It gets to the point where it seems it is driving them a little mad.

Additionally, the closer they get to the hole, the higher and higher the tension gets amongst the team members. What is up, what is down? It’s hard to keep it straight. Who is in the right, and who is the evil one in their ranks?

I really enjoyed my time listening to this. I feel like Paolini is such a solid SF-writer. The story flows so fluidly and is full of fantastic sci-fi concepts and ideas, yet is so approachable and easy to understand.

I felt like I really got to know these characters and while I wasn’t crazy about all of them, or even most of them, I felt like I understood where they were coming from and why they made the choices they did. Their conversations did open up lots of avenue for thought into our place, and our greater role, as a species in the universe.

I would recommend this to people who enjoy SF-stories with a dangerous space-set mission, or stories of first contact. Especially if you like considering those types of scenarios for our own future, what that could mean. I felt really connected to this story and definitely hope Paolini continues writing in this genre.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I have nothing but the highest praise Hale’s narration and this audio production in general!

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Review: Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm (SEA #2) by Julie Kagawa

Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm (Fiction - Middle Grade)Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm is the second book in Disney’s Middle Grade Adventure series, Society of Explorers and Adventurers. I read the first book, Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl, just before its release last year, at the start of 2022. I absolutely adored it.

Unsurprisingly, Kagawa was able to capture my attention right away, as well as my heart, with her fun characters and pulse-pounding action. The vivid imagery can’t be beat.

As a side note, if you are unaware, Disney’s Society of Explorers and Adventurers, known as S.E.A., is a fictional organization sprinkled about various attractions at Disney Theme Parks. Google it!

The organization is said to be comprised of scientists, travelers and researchers, who traverse the globe continuing to explore the world’s oceans and exotic lands.

In this novel, Shinji is officially a member of S.E.A., along with his friend, Lucy Hightower and her mechanical mouse, Tinker. They are residing at S.E.A. headquarters, where Shinji is working to understand his new powers and struggling a bit to grow into them.

Before he is able to do that though, S.E.A. has another potential adventure on their hands and Shinji and Lucy are included as part of the team. Let’s go!

A sunken ship, thought to belong to the long-extinct Natia people, has been discovered in the South Pacific. It’s a race against the clock as the members of S.E.A. try to get there before their rival, the evil Hightower Corporation, can find it and plunder the artifacts.

Even though the kids are traveling along with veteran S.E.A. members, like Oliver Ocean and Phoebe Mystic, nothing goes as planned. It’s obstacle after obstacle as the team struggles to reach their final oceanic destination.

After Shinji accidentally awakens another guardian, a giant mythological storm boar, wild weather released by this boar threatens to ravage the coast of California.

Shinji needs to learn to control his powers and figure out how to appease the storm boar before its too late, but the odds seem to be stacked against him. Stress!!!

Kagawa knows how to deliver an entertaining sequel. Almost everything that could happen on this adventure does. There’s an erupting volcano, a nearly sinking ship, breaking into Hightower Headquarters, fighting off robot guards and flying into a storm, to name a few.

The humor Kagawa brings to the story too makes it charming and fun. I love these characters and it was interesting learning more about them, as well as more about the organization. We also meet some new characters and learn more about Hightower.

I thought the conclusion to this was heart-warming and it left off in a great spot to continue on with the series. I am really hoping for a third book.

I definitely recommend this series to Readers who enjoy an engaging Middle Grade Adventure. You cannot go wrong with Kagawa’s writing. Top shelf, beginning to end.

Additionally, the audiobook is fabulously narrated, so I do recommend that as a format. It was how I read it and I felt like I was there with these characters. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time!

Thank you to the publisher, Disney Hyperion and Disney Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. This was a ton of fun.

I love Shinji so much. He has all the qualities one would want in a hero. It fills my heart!

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Review: Rise of the Snake Goddess (Samantha Knox #2) by Jenny Elder Moke

Rise of the Snake Goddess (Samantha Knox, #2)Rise of the Snake Goddess by Jenny Elder Moke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Samantha Knox and friends are back and they’re going on another 1920’s antiquities-filled adventure, this time to Crete off the coast of Greece.

After the near death drama of the first book, Curse of the Specter Queen, Sam, Bennett and Jo headed back to their normal lives. Sam and Jo now joining Bennett at college.

Sam has been looking forward to possibly being involved in a field expedition to Crete lead by her Archaeology Professor. Unfortunately, the Professor has other opinions and Sam is ultimately excluded from participating.

She’s definitely disappointed, but have no fear, you know Sam is going to get all up in it nonetheless.

After Sam, Bennett and Jo discover a letter asking for help with an ancient artifact, as luck would have it, located in Crete, the trio packs their bags and heads out.

Sam will prove to her sexist Professor one way or another that she is worthy of her position in school. As a matter of fact, she just may be the most valuable student he has.

Following a series of clues, Sam ends up discovering the artifact in question, the golden girdle of the Snake Goddess, buried deep in a tomb. Taking the girdle and proclaiming her find is not going to be easy though.

In fact, dangerous incidents begin occurring almost immediately upon the object’s retrieval. It’s even stolen from Sam and she needs to get it back; to protect it and its legacy.

The Snake Goddess has awakened and she’s not happy.

I’m happy to report there’s no second book syndrome here!

I actually enjoyed this more than the first book. To me it felt faster in pace and the writing has definitely improved. Overall, a good showing by Elder Moke.

In this installment, I felt like I got to know Sam’s character a lot more. Her motivations, aspirations and her steadfast dedication to her education and tasks.

Jo again brought such humor. I love her as a best friend and sidekick. Bennett frustrated me a little bit in this one, but I still like the idea of his relationship with Sam. I also like how their romance doesn’t overshadow the other plot points.

I also enjoyed the themes of women’s rights and power that Elder Moke brought to this story. The Snake Goddess was the perfect device for allowing that conversation to be had naturally.

I loved the growth Sam displayed in this one as well. She’s not a scared, uncertain little girl any more. She’s a woman truly coming into her own and I’m here for it.

I really hope we get to go on further adventures with Sam and her friends. I’m not sure how long this series is slated to be, but I’m truly hoping for more.

Thank you to the publisher, Disney Books and Disney Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I really enjoyed this one!

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

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

**4.5-stars rounded up**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring on more SEA!!!

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

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Review: Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke

Curse of the Specter QueenCurse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Curse of the Specter Queen is an YA Archaeological Adventure story set in the 1920s, written by Jenny Elder Moke.

Samantha Knox works at an antique bookshop where she repairs damaged books. She receives an extra-special volume one day from the Professor of a childhood friend, Bennett.

The diary is said to contain secrets to an occult ritual that could possibly raise the Morrigan, a goddess from Celtic folklore said to be a harbinger of war and death.

Sam doesn’t think too much of the diary at first, but when dangerous men break into her shop looking for it, she begins to realize its greatly powerful value.

Pairing up with her estranged best friend, Joana, and Joana’s brother, Bennett, Sam flees from Illinois to Ireland in order to reunite with the Professor and try to solve the mystery of the diary.

Of utmost importance, is keeping the diary out of the hands of any evil-doers who may be seeking it for their own diabolical purposes.

On the steamer journey from New York to Ireland, Sam, Joana and Bennett meet up with Philip, a classmate of Bennett’s, and the four spend the trip chumming around, bickering and trying to decipher the message they found hidden within the diary.

It is clear after someone breaks into Sam’s room that the villains are still hot on their trail.

Once the foursome arrive in Ireland the stakes get higher as they come into contact with even more individuals seeking the diary.

It’s a race against time as Sam and friends try to decipher the clues and prevent the baddies from summoning the Morrigan.

This was a fun story. It took me a long time to read it, I’m not really sure why, but upon reflection I don’t think it was the book’s fault.

I enjoyed watching Sam decipher the clues. It was nice to have a heroine use her mind as her number weapon, versus swords and fists.

At times, I felt like the characters were a little lackluster, but overall, it was a compelling adventure. The ending definitely leads me to believe there may be further books in this world.

I would definitely be willing to pick up more stories featuring Sam as a protagonist. While she did gain a lot of self-confidence over the course of this story, I think there is still so much more room for her to grow.

If you are interested in ancient Celtic folklore, legends, archaeological artifacts, ciphers, books featuring books and mysterious orders, you should absolutely check this one out. It may be the perfect adventure for you!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and hope to see more Samantha Knox in the future!

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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: Fable (Fable #1) by Adrienne Young

Fable (Fable, #1)Fable by Adrienne Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Four years ago, 17-year old, Fable, was abandoned by her Father on a notorious island full of dangers and thieves. Her mother had just died, the victim of a terrible storm, and Fable was truly alone.

All her Father left her with were the parting words, you’re not cut out for a life on the sea. Fable disagrees, however, and has spent her time in the proceeding years trying to figure out a way back to him and into her rightful place on his crew.

She finally secures her means of escape with a companion she has met through trading, a young man named, West.

Him and his crew allow Fable to come aboard their ship, the Marigold, for the journey across The Narrows. As we all expect with a sea-faring tale, dangers lurk around every corner and the crew must band together in order to survive.

Fable is definitely a slow burn. It’s quite character-driven, but I did enjoy my time learning about Fable, West and the other characters on the Marigold. There’s a nice found-family element to it that I liked quite a bit as well.

This reminded me a lot of Daughter of the Pirate King. There’s actually more than a few similarities, although I do feel this story feels a bit more mature than that one. I do think if you enjoyed that book, you’ll enjoy this one too.

There are some light magical elements to this that I hope are built out a bit more in the second book. Fable’s ability at reading gems is unique and I want to know more.

This left off on such a great cliffhanger. I have already picked up the second book, Namesake and am excited to see how Fable’s story concludes. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys an adventure on the high seas!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it very much!

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Review: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass IncidentDead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dead Mountain is an eerie recounting of the Dyatlov Pass Incident exceptionally well-told by Donnie Eichar.

I find this to be one of the most haunting unsolved mysteries of all-time.

In February of 1959, nine experienced hikers set out on a challenging back-packing expedition in the Russian Ural Mountains. One hiker survived and only because he departed early due to medical complications.

The young people involved were all college age, with the exception of one, and were members of a hiking club at their university.

Led by Igor Dyatlov, their goal for this particular hike was to receive a Grade III hiking certification, because of this the mountaineers kept copious notes and took photo documentation of their journey.

When they didn’t return home on the date expected, people naturally assumed they must have run into complications that delayed them, but they would arrive any day.

That day never came. A search party is sent out and what they find is extremely shocking and mysterious, spurring numerous theories as to what caused the hiker’s demise.

I won’t go into the horrific details of the discovery of the bodies, just know everything from government conspiracies, armed men, chemical attacks to aliens, were considered.

Donnie Eichar became interested in the case, like many of us, after hearing of the mystery by chance. As a documentary filmmaker, his natural instincts are to do whatever it takes to learn more.

Eichar connects with individuals inside Russia still interested in the case, travels there, pours over the old travel diaries and photos, interviews people involved, including the sole survivor and even hikes the same path the group took.

With the book, we alternate between Eichar’s historical retelling of the incident as he understands it, and his journey over the course of his investigation.

Even though I had read and watched quite a few videos on this incident, I found Eichar’s theory behind the mystery to be wholly unique, interesting and quite possible. While there is no way to say this is definitely what lead to their deaths, it is a very strong theory.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about unsolved mysteries; bonus if you are a hiker, mountaineer or rock climber. Eichar’s writing is engaging and he truly presents this tale with respect and grace.

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Review: Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Siren Queen (Daughter of the Pirate King, #2)Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Daughter of the Siren Queen accompanied me on my holiday travels this past weekend and I finished it up yesterday. While I won’t be adding it to my all-time favorites list, it was definitely an entertaining weekend read.

Picking up where the first installment left off, we find Alosa back on her ship with the best crew in the business. Her old enemies are now her captives and she feels successful having gathered the pieces of the map leading to the treasure of the Isla de Canta

She plans to work alongside her father to recover the spoils, however, all of this is changed when a giant secret is revealed. Alosa is devastated to learn her father has been lying to her for her entire life. She feels betrayed and oh, so very angry.

With this new knowledge of her father’s true nature in mind, she decides to set out on her own to claim the booty for herself and her crew.

Her skills as a Captain are put to the test but no one can deny, Alosa is fierce. Struggling to gain control of her Siren powers, she grows closer and closer to Riden when she realizes that something about him makes that easier. I did enjoy their relationship and reading about the Siren’s and their nature.

This was action-packed but I did find my mind wandering from time to time. I am not sure if that is because of the circumstances under which I read it (on vacation) or whether it was because I just wasn’t engaging fully with the narrative. I think for me personally, it read a little young.

Definitely a solid story however, so if you enjoy a good pirate tale, go ahead and pick up this duology and give her a go. We could all use a little more swashbuckling in our lives!

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