Morning Glory (North Oak: Book 3) by Ann Hunter


Morning Glory (North Oak, #3)

Title: Morning Glory

Author: Ann Hunter

Publisher: Rebel House Ink

Date of publication: February 5th, 2016

Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade

Number of pages: 184

POV: 3rd person

Series: North Oak

Born to Run – Book 1 (review here)

Yearling – Book 2 (review here)

Morning Glory – Book 3

To Bottle Lightning – Book 4

Where you can find Morning Glory: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

Sequel to Born to Run and Yearling

Can Alex & Brooke help Morning Glory overcome her racing slump?

When a terrible accident shakes the Showmans, Alex finds herself questioning her place in the family. Feeling like a second class citizen, she turns once again to find her solace in horse racing.
With a new filly to manage with Brooke, and Venus Galaxies’s first foal on the way, the girls must rely on each other to make things work out.
But will a handsome, foreign newcomer split them apart once again?

Find out in MORNING GLORY

To learn more about Morning Glory, check out this cool video by former jockey, Frankie Lavato:

My review:

Morning Glory picks up shortly after the events of Yearling. What I liked is that instead of focusing solely on Alex, the book shifts focus to Brooke and examines her relationship with Alex (which had been touched upon in the first two books), Laura and her grandfather, Joe….who is the head trainer at North Oaks. I thought that it was great that Brooke’s story got to be told in tandem with Alex’s because they shared so many similarities. The only thing is that Brooke was raised with love and Alex, well, if you read Born to Run, you know what happened to her.

Alex was still the wise guy as in the first 3 books but she was settling in with Cade, Hilary, and Laura. She was part of a family, something that she never had before and she was coming out of her shell. She even had a best friend (and I will get into more of her relationship with Carol a little later). Then there was a horrible accident involving Laura, and Alex was there (she didn’t cause it). Even though she saved Laura’s life, she was still shunted off to the side while Cade and Hilary dealt with every parent’s worse nightmare. I felt awful for her during those scenes because she went from being included and loved to being ignored by the person she needed the most.

Speaking of that, I really wanted to smack Hilary upside the head. What the heck was she thinking and it was almost like she blamed Alex for the accident. No words of thank for Alex, who dragged Laura out of a burning car. Just a cold shoulder and she freaked out on Alex two separate times, almost injuring Alex once when she pulled Alex from Prom. I seriously got mad and Cade explanation didn’t cut it. It took Alex taking a personal item and giving it back to Hilary while freaking out on her to wake Hilary up.

Alex’s friendship with Carol was a beautiful thing to read. Carol loved her unconditionally and wasn’t afraid to tell Alex that she needed to face her demons before they got worse and consumed her. I just couldn’t get a grip on how Alex felt about Carol. I didn’t know if it was romantic love or friendship love. There were a few scenes where it seemed like romantic love (because of the way they were written) but then it would morph into a more friendship like love. Not that it had any bearing on the story but it was definitely something that I was wondering about as I read it. And for the record, even if Alex turned out to like girls, I would let my 11-year-old read the book. As I tell her, “Who a person loves doesn’t define them. Their actions do, so never a judge a person by who they love

Alex’s PTSD and her survivor’s guilt came across very strong in this book also. My heart bled for her when Carol found her in her room on the 4th of July, hiding from the fireworks. I could not understand why she wasn’t put into therapy after the first book. She was dealing with everything by herself, well with Carol’s help, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. But again, it goes back to the theme I talked about it Yearling, about her issues not magically going away and to be honest, it was refreshing to read a book where everything was out in the open and the character was struggling to come to terms with her traumatic events (and yes, I phrased something very similar in Yearling‘s review).

I like I said above, I liked that Brooke got some love in this book and I liked how similar she was to Alex, in ways. She was independent and was able to make adult decisions at the age of 16. She also took care of her grandfather, Joe and made sure that his drinking didn’t get out of control. She was also a great trainer in training (mouthful much). But she was a teenager and made decisions that are well, teenager like. Like taking her earnings and buying a racehorse who was a dud. While I thought Joe was a jerk, because of how he treated Alex but there is a back story there, I thought he was right in telling Brooke that she needed to find another place to board Morning Glory. I also thought that North was right to do what he did towards the end of the book.

The end of the book was pretty standard and like Yearling, it did leave the book open for book 4. There are a few questions that I want to be answered that will, hopefully, be answered in book 4. Like, will Alex ever find out who North is to her? Will Joe ever accept Alex? Will Dejado make an appearance in book 4 and will he ever be more to Brooke? So many questions!!!

How many stars will I give Morning Glory: 4

Why: Complex characters and an engaging storyline kept me reading until late into the night.

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Early teen

Why: Mild language

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**

Yearling (North Oak: Book 2) by Ann Hunter


Yearling (North Oak #2)

Title: Yearling

Author: Ann Hunter

Publisher: Rebel House Ink

Date of publication: October 1st, 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade

POV: 3rd person

Series: North Oak

Born to Run – Book 1 (review here)

Yearling – Book 2

Morning Glory – Book 3

To Bottle Lightning – Book 4

Where you can find Yearling: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

A new year has come to North Oak and with it a new life for Alexandra Anderson. Will she be able to open her heart to others when it’s still battling demons from her past? Or will she go so deep into herself where no one can touch her, and risk losing Promenade in the Keeneland Yearling Sale?

Don’t miss this sequel to North Oak #1: Born to Run!

On the heels of Joanna Campbell’s beloved Thoroughbred Series, and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion comes a brand new young adult horse racing series that will sweep you away like a runaway Thoroughbred.

EXCERPT:
“I should be happy,” Alex sighed. “These folks, they’re real nice. For the first time in my life, I’m wanted. Well, they say that they want me. I almost feel needed sometimes. I don’t have to steal food anymore, or run away from what I’ve done, I’ve even got a warm bed. But the fact is… when I think of Ashley, I just want her back and nothing else. I want a life she exists in. And wanting that… it spoils what I have. I feel so ungrateful when I think of the life we could have made if we ran away from Haven together like we planned. I feel ungrateful because I would rather have a life on the streets with Ashley than a warm bed and you. I mean who in their right mind wants something like that? There’s something wrong with me.”

My review:

I am always on the hunt for a good middle-grade book for my 9 and 11-year-olds. Mainly my 11-year-old, who is an insatiable reader. So when Ann approached me to review Yearling, I gladly accepted. I am glad I did because this book was fantastic. There was no sophomore slump and honestly, that along with the vivid characters and background is what sold me on the book. Also, what sold me, was that it is a great book for anyone 11 and older (and the main reason I read it).

Alex, I wanted to reach through the book and give her a hug and tell her “It will be alright”. I am glad that the author made her as flawed as she did because it made her more relatable. I also liked that the author showed that traumatic events and losses (if you want to know what…read Born to Run) aren’t magically healed in between books. But, the author also showed how animals, in this case, a yearling named Promenade, can help a person with their healing….along with a support system and people who love unconditionally.

Now, saying what I said above, Alex was a very funny, sarcastic tween. Looking at my tween, I can say that the author is dead on with the mannerisms and attitude that Alex had. Gave me some really good laughs when I was reading. The biggest laugh was when Alex started her monthly and thought she was dying. I was outside and started laughing my butt off. Then when Hilary finds out and finds out that Alex doesn’t know anything about puberty or even had “The Talk“, she goes into Mom mode big time. Which included having Alex watch “A League of Their Own“(which personally is one of my favorite movies) and that becomes a running joke through the rest of the series. Also, Alex’s sex ed lesson was very interesting as was her reaction….lol.

The friendship storyline was fantastic and I like how the author took the time for Alex and Carol to build up their friendship. It went from Alex keeping her at arm’s length to embracing her as a friend and she was willing to do anything to protect her. Which meant standing up to Carol’s bully.

Now, I will be the first one to admit, I know nothing about Thoroughbred racing, racing farms or horses so I loved that the author explained everything in the book in ways that were understandable and interesting. From the stud services (see, I know that much…haha) to foaling to training the yearlings to training the racehorses, everything was explained in a way that never made you go “Eh”. Instead, it makes you go “Oh, well that makes sense”.

The end of the book really didn’t feel like an ending. While certain storylines were wrapped up, new ones were revealed and there are old ones that weren’t wrapped up. There was definitely an opening for book 3 (Morning Glory) and I will be posting my review of that soon!!

How many stars will I give Yearling: 4

Why: A wonderfully written middle grade book that actually brings to mind The Black Stallion series. I loved the plotlines, the characters…everything about the book.

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Young Teen

Why: Mild cursing, no sex or violence

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**

Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light by Jaimie Engel


Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light

Title: Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light

Author: Jaimie M. Engle

Publisher: JME Books

Date of publication, September 24th, 2013

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

POV: 3rd person

Where you can find Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

Clifton Chase is the latest target for bully Ryan Rivales. But after he finds a mysterious arrow in his closet, he takes Ryan’s bet to see who can hit the target. Ryan nails the bull’s-eye, but Clifton’s piece of junk arrow sails out of sight and when he finally finds it, something isn’t right. Somehow, Clifton has been magically transported back to 1485 England, where he meets two princes bullied by their tyrant uncle who locked them in prison to steal their throne. Only after Clifton learns the true meaning of friendship, bravery, and sacrifice can he help the princes escape and find the courage to face his own bully. Befriended by a dwarf, a mythical bird called Simurgh, and a cast of comical characters, Clifton’s fantasy adventure through medieval times is perfect for boys and girls of all ages, and the young at heart. For those who like fantasy kids books like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

My review:

I was setting up to review Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light and my 11-year-old happened to wander over and was looking over my shoulder. She was very excited after reading the blurb and begged me to buy the book for her once I was done reading it. I asked her what made her want to read it and she said “Mom, just read the blurb. A bullied boy gets transported back in time and help other bullied boys. Sounds like something I would love to read.

I would have to agree with her about that. Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light was a book that I loved reading. Wonderfully written, I was taken on a journey of self-discovery and courage and Clifton realizes his worth and gets the courage to do what is right.

I will admit that Clifton was a little bratty in the beginning of the book. To be honest, I thought his first interactions with Ryan were more about jealousy than being bullied and he started to annoy me….big time. But the more I read, the more I started to understand that Ryan was being a bully and my annoyance with Clifton started to fade. By the time I got to the part of the book where Clifton’s parents were making him write an apology letter to the coach and Ryan, my annoyance faded and I felt bad for him.

I thought that the historical fantasy part of the book was fantastic. From the minute Clifton landed in 1485 England and met Dane, I was entranced. There were dwarves, dragons, sea monsters, mermaids, a magical arrow and a magical bird who has a human face. Add in that it takes place in 1485 England with real historical people, places, and events and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I did have a small complaint about the modern language that Clifton used with talking to Prince Edward, Prince Richard, and Lady Elizabeth. But, then I thought about it a bit and how was he supposed to talk. He was a visitor sent back in time….how was he supposed to talk? So my little complaint ended shortly after I had that thought.

The growth of Clifton in the book was great. He went from being an insecure little boy who didn’t know how to deal with a bully to a confident young man who had the wisdom to know when to walk away from his bully. While the transformation was gradual, it really showed at the end of the book with the choices that Clifton made both in his life in Melbourne, Florida and in 1485 England.

Speaking of the end of the book, I really liked it and I also liked that the author chose to leave it with the possibility that there could be a book 2. Which I hope there is because I can’t wait to see what adventures Clifton will go on next.

How many stars will I give Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light: 4

Why: This is a book that I would feel very comfortable letting both my 9-year-old and 11-year-old read. It has a great plot line with relatable characters.

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Tween

Why: mild violence but otherwise a very clean book.  I will add a trigger warning because of the bullying scenes.

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham


Real Friends

Title: Real Friends

Author: Shannon Hale

Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

Publisher: First Second Books

Date of Publication: May 2nd, 2017

Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Number of pages: 224

POV: 1st person

Where you can find this book: Amazon

Book Synopsis: 

When best friends are not forever . . .

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it’s worth the journey.

My review:

Real Friends is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a girl who is trying to find her place at school and at home. Dealing with subjects like bullying, anxiety, and OCD, Real Friends is a must read for any child or parent who is going through something similar.

I think that this should be a book that every parent should have their children between 2nd and 5th grade read. Shannon could be any child, in any school with these very real problems and I think it would do a child good to read a graphic novel where the character is going through the same things as they are. That way they can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that one day, those that were picking on them eventually end up in their shoes.

Shannon did come across as someone who would do anything to stay in “The Group”. Anything and when I was reading those chapters where she was doing that, I wanted to cry for her. She was trying to so hard and they just treated her like she was invisible. But as she got older and more mature, she slowly began to realize that it wasn’t her. I think that when she broke up with “The Group” and started making friends with the older kids in her grade (she was in a 5th grade/6th-grade split class), that she realized her worth.

Adrienne and Jen annoyed the ever-living out of me. Adrienne for not being a true friend to Shannon. She allowed those girls, well mainly Jen, to bully Shannon, spread lies about her and just make Shannon’s life miserable. What really got me annoyed with her was when she allowed her brother to scream at Shannon and then agreed with some of what he said.

And don’t get me started on Jen. What a miserable, unhappy girl. She found an easy victim in Shannon and took every opportunity to let her know how unpopular she was or how lucky she was being allowed to hang out with them. I will say that I agreed with Shannon’s decision at the end of the book. I know the author had some reserves about writing that part of the story the way she wrote it and I will say….I agreed with the way it was written.

The drama at home was pretty hard to read too. Shannon’s sister, Wendy, was portrayed as a bear for most of the book and she was so mean to her. I was a little shocked that there was physical violence shown. That being Wendy smacking Shannon around and I started to get angry at Wendy. But, the more the story went on, the more that the author let little things slip about Wendy. About her struggles with bullies and making friends at school. Which made me understand why she acted the way she acted.

The end of the book was very well written and I loved the afterward that the author wrote.

How many stars will I give Real Friends: 4

Why: I enjoyed reading this book and thought that the message that was included in it was one that every child should read. This was the 2nd graphic novel that I have read and I really liked it. The illustrations were fantastic!!

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Child

Why: This is a middle-grade book, written for children between 8-12. There is some slight violence in the book but it is going with the storyline about bullying and drama at home.

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic: Book 2) by Joshua Khan


Dream Magic (Shadow Magic, #2)

Title: Dream Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Date of publication: April 11th, 2017

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grade, Fantasy, Young Adult

Grade level: 3-7

Number of pages: 352

Series: Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic – Book 1

Dream Magic – Book 2

Where you can find this book: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

A fabulously exciting sequel to the fantasy adventure SHADOW MAGIC.

People throughout Gehenna are disappearing, even the feared executioner Tyburn. Many of the nobles believe the kidnappings to be the work of the northern trolls, raiding south for the winter, and when Baron Sable and others head off to fight them, Castle Gloom is left guarded by only the squires.

Lily is struggling with her growing necromantic powers. The castle fills with ghosts, drawn like moths to a flame by the brightness of her magic. Zombies roam the country, some left over from those raised in SHADOW MAGIC, others awakened by Lily. Families are troubled by the returning dead, so Lily tries to incorporate them into day-to-day life, much to the resentment of the living.

Then Lily is attacked in her own castle by a mysterious sorcerer known as Dreamweaver, a young man determined to conquer Gehenna using jewel-spiders, strange crystalline creatures whose bite doesn’t kill but sends victims to sleep. Lily soon discovers that Dreamweaver is harvesting dreams to fuel his magic.

Lily enters the realm of sleep known as the Dream Time, in an attempt to awaken all the captive dreamers. Instead, she finds herself trapped within a dream, one where her family is still alive. With the help of Thorn and the ever loyal Hades, she must somehow overcome the evil Dreamweaver by using his own magic against him – and reclaim her kingdom.

My review:

I really, really, really wish that I had read book one of this series. Not that I didn’t like the book (I did) but I felt kinda lost during the first couple of chapters. But, besides feeling lost, which really only lasted a couple of chapters, I loved the rest of the book. Like I had mentioned in another blog, I have reviewed a fair amount of middle-grade books lately. Like I also mentioned in that blog, my two oldest children are in 3rd and 5th grade. I am always scouting out new books for them to read and again, with this book, I have found a book that I think that they would like. Scratch that, I know my son, the 3rd grader, would love it. This book is right up his alley. My daughter, the 5th grader, is difficult to find books that she would read.

While this book has some darker elements in it, they weren’t completely dark….if you know what I mean. Zombies are featured predominately in the book. While they are scary and they do want to eat brains, they aren’t typical zombies. They can communicate, they can work. Their other urges are nulled by being in Lily’s general area of power. Which I thought was very cool and it toned down on the creepiness factor.

I liked Lily a lot. She was dealing with the aftermath of her parents’ and brother’s murders by her uncle, trying to run a country at 13 and trying to keep her magic (necromancy) under wraps because of superstitions of her people about a woman doing magic. On top of it all, she has to deal with an arranged marriage to a boy who is the total opposite of her, she is trying to find out who is behind the abduction of her people and the trolls have amassed an army and is marching on Castle Gloom. She also found out that using her magic, a lot, can cause some unforeseen issues with her body. Poor kid was dealing with a lot and she was dealing with it the best that she could.

Thorn, I loved. He was exactly what Lily needed. He was trustworthy, loyal to her and he was willing to do whatever he could to protect her and to protect Castle Gloom. Plus, he had a pretty cool bat mount named Hades. He was the one who found out where the crystal spiders were coming from and he was part of the group that stayed at Castle Gloom when the rest of the army went to fight the trolls.

Now, I will say that the storyline surrounding Weaver, the bad guy, was very dark and I actually felt bad for him….which is rare for me. It was a tragic story and I did like the small plot twist that took place when his story was revealed. I was shocked, along with Lily, when it was revealed who Weaver was. But my feeling bad for him lasted exactly two chapters and then I didn’t like him again….lol. The crystal spiders were an interesting aspect of the book too.

All of the storylines were merged beautifully and there was no lull in the chapter between the author doing that and the ending chapters. I will say that the couple of plot twists in the book (one that was mentioned) got me. The one at the end absolutely had me fooled and I was surprised when it ended up not being what I thought (and feared) it was. I also liked how the author left the book open for a book 3.

How many stars will I give Dream Magic: 4

Why: I think that this will be a great book for kids in 3rd grade through 7th grade (as mentioned above). The characters were fleshed out and likable (or unlikable…depending on who you were reading), the potential scary characters were made not so scary by humanizing them and I really liked that the book had a strong female main character. I would be very comfortable letting my 3rd and 5th graders read this books

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Child

Why: Mild violence. Potentially scary characters for younger readers (trolls and zombies)

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker


The Star Thief

Title: The Star Thief

Author: Lindsey Becker

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Date of publication: April 11th, 2017

Genre: Middle Grade, Children’s Fiction

Number of pages: 408

Where you can find this book: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

Honorine’s life as a maid at the Vidalia mansion is rather dull, dusting treasures from faraway places and daydreaming in front of maps of the world. But everything changes when she catches two brutish sailors ransacking Lord Vidalia’s study, and then follows a mysterious girl with wings out into the night….

Suddenly, Honorine is whisked into the middle of a battle between the crew of a spectacular steamship and a band of mythical constellations. The stars in the sky have come to life to defend themselves against those who want to harness their powers. Much to her surprise, Honorine is the crux of it all, the center of an epic clash between magic and science, the old ways and the new. But can this spirited young girl bring both sides of a larger-than-life fight together before they unleash an evil power even older than the stars?

My review:

When I saw the cover for this book on NetGalley, I thought it was cute. I mean, two kids sitting on the back of Pegasus in star constellation form? Adorable!! When I read the synopsis, I went “Hmm”, would this be a book that my 9 and 11-year-old like?”. So, I requested this book and I was thrilled when I got selected to review it.

What I liked that there was a bit of steampunk in the book. If you have followed this blog, you all know how much of a fan I am of steampunk. So I was thrilled when I saw that there were airships and other steampunk elements in the book. The bees were probably the coolest part of the book. They were all mechanical and acted like real bees. Except they didn’t make honey, they tracked down the Mordant’s and reported where they were to Captain Nautilus.

I loved the use of the constellations in The Star Thief. What a great way to get kids to look to the stars and track the constellations. I even got into it, googling the names of the various characters and seeing what constellations they were attached too. There were a lot that I wasn’t aware of (not that I know a lot about constellations). Like I said, it was truly fascinating.

Honorine was a very spirited girl. She had been raised in the Vidalia (yes, like the onion…lol) household with her best friend, Francis, and worked there as a maid. She loved inventing and dedicated her free time to doing so. She was also very spunky and knew her own mind. So when the Mapmaker showed up to “save” her, she questioned him. And she questioned his motives during the entire book. She was a very smart girl.

I was a little shocked when it was revealed who Honorine’s parents were. Actually, a little shocked wasn’t the word for it. I did feel a disconnect when she actually met her parents. Maybe because they weren’t like “Oh my baby girl, I have searched for you” and smothered her with kisses. Instead, her father wanted to use her for his own agenda and her mother, well, she wasn’t very motherly….lol.

The end of the story was full of action and I liked how everyone had an HEA….including the bad guys.

How many stars will I give The Star Thief: 4

Why: This is a perfect story for any child between the ages of 8-12. The storyline is great and keeps your attention and the characters are likable. The drawings at the beginning of each chapter are beautiful and I can’t wait to see them in paperback (I am pre-ordering for my son).

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Child

Why: some very mild violence and one scene where Honorine is hurt that might upset some younger readers. Other than that, a perfect children’s book.

**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**

Strange Lands (Heros of Distant Planets: Book 1) by Anderson Atlas


Strange Lands (Heroes of Distant Planets #1)

Title: Strange Lands

Author: Anderson Atlas

Publisher: Synesthesia Books

Date of publication: August 1st, 2016

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Number of pages: 236

POV: 3rd person

Series: Heroes of Distant Planets

Strange Land – Book 1

Return to Lan Darr – Book 2

Immortal Shadows – Book 3

Where you can find this book: Amazon

Book synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ripped from his wheelchair by a massive flash flood, Allan drags himself through the dense forest only to find himself surrounded by strange and ruthless creatures who are not from Earth. Allan can’t run away and has no means to defend himself. Instinct overcomes his terror and his cleverness blossoms, which is all he needs to survive the dark jungles, poisonous plants, Shadic hunters and the vile slave trader Killian Crow.

Follow Allan’s path of self-discovery, and watch him take back what he’s lost. Surviving the Improbable Quest is a spine-tingling adventure, with exciting twists & turns. A perfect and inspiring read for 10 and up.

My review:

I have found myself reviewing a lot of middle-grade books lately. Which is a good thing because I have two children that are within the age range and I am always on the lookout for books that they would like. After reading Strange Lands, I think this would be a book that my 10-year-old son would like.

The plot itself is pretty straightforward. Allan, a boy in 8th grade, was in a horrific car accident that not only paralyzed him but took the lives of his parents. What made the accident even more tragic, well at least to me, was that Allan had been disqualified from a swim meet, after winning it, because of failing a math test and his parents come to find out that he is missing work in other areas of school as well. So, when the crash occurred, his mother and father were lecturing him. I could see why he was rendered mute as well. Poor thing was living with the guilt that he caused the car accident.

I don’t know if I would class Allan as likable at first. He had a lot of issues due to the accident and was definitely taking it out on his uncle. I was glad when Rubic forced Allan to go on the fishing trip. It took Allan out of his comfort zone and got Allan somewhat out of his funk. Of course, something goes wrong and that is where the book took off.

Rubic and Allan were caught in a surprise flash flood when fishing in the creek. Rubic snatches Allan out of his wheelchair and runs for it and almost makes it. But a boulder knocks Rubic out and leaves Allan helpless in the mud beside him. After damming up the water, so Rubic doesn’t drown, Allan starts crawling to get help. Along the way, he crawls through a field of flowers and ends up somewhere else and that is the start of his adventure.

What I liked is that the author didn’t downplay Allan’s disability at all. Allan wasn’t miraculously cured of being paralyzed (but he did get mechanical legs to help him out with part of his quest). Allan learned to work with his disability when he was in Lan Darr. What I also liked is that his mental issues were addressed too. The speech given by Mizzi about the accident touched me and brought me to tears.

The storyline with Rubic was interesting too. I saw him grow, even in that day, from the uncle who was forced to take care of his nephew to a parent searching for his child. He was willing to do anything to get Allan back…even if that meant getting even more hurt.

I will say that both storylines were brought together beautifully. While Asantia’s identity was kept under wraps, it still surprised me about who her mother was. How it was revealed was a huge surprise too. While not a cliffhanger, the ending did leave it open for another book.

How many stars will I give Strange Lands: 4

Why: This is a book that I could see both of my kids reading. The overall message was fantastic, as was Allan and Rubic transformations. I enjoyed reading it and I am an adult.

Will I reread: Yes

Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes

Age range: Child

Why: A middle-grade book for kids over the age of 10. There are some mild violence and some creepy characters but nothing that wouldn’t give a kid nightmares.

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**