Category: Book Reviews & Interviews (Page 2 of 2)

Book Review: The Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie

Another incredibly lucky day.  I don’t know.  I was overwhelmed this morning by Emma Hunneyball’s review of Exotics 1:

In Rachael the author De Kenyon has drawn a heroine who is intelligent, brave, fierce and loyal. Rachael is superb: she is an open-minded girl who is able to accept bizarre truths about her existence and the world around her, and uses her new-found knowledge to influence the situations into which she stumbles.

I liked the way that Rachael (who is after all only eight) is unable to deal with the enormity of her mother’s disappearance: she frequently “tries not to think” about it, and states early on that she can’t do anything about it. But when she is pitched into the world of the Exotics Rachael finds she actually can do something about it, and works relentlessly to free her friends and protect her mother’s secrets. Like so many of De’s child-protagonists Rachel is on her own, an outsider making her way in a world of the bizarre, often pitted against adults. De doesn’t write passive characters and Rachael is no exception. She’s faced with the smallest glimmer of hope in an otherwise impossible scenario and not only does she come up fighting but she learns how to win.

I often have a hard time when people say nice things.  But this series seems to cut particularly close to home for me, so I have an extra hard time not going looney-happy.  I’m a total sap.

Book Review: Peter Swift’s Fright Files: The Broken Thing

**** Excellent.

The main character is a boy, but a strong girl character is with him throughout most of the book.

About 100 pages.

Peter Swift’s Fright Files:

The Broken Thing

by Peter Swift

In short: Stevie likes horror movies and books…but when he discovers a real haunted house and a real haunting, he chickens out and has to be dragged into finding out more by his best friend, Angie.  What they discover is a threat to their lives and the ones they love.

Stevie, a big horror movie and book fan, is also the victim of bullies in Nohope, Vermont.  The bullies chase him into some woods that are supposed to be, if not haunted, then at least too creepy to be running around in.  While there, Stevie finds a broken doll-thing that almost seems to move in his hand–the doll is later stolen by the bullies.  Soon afterwards, Stevie’s mom gets into a car crash (she doesn’t die) trying to avoid a ghostly, broken-looking girl in the middle of the road…a girl who wants to get back something that was stolen.

Stevie and his best friend Angie, another horror fan, find out that the ghost used to be a girl who lived at a house just past the creepy woods…a girl who supposedly murdered her whole family, then killed herself.  Stevie’s teacher doesn’t believe in ghost stories (but likes local legends), yet recommends they talk to his dad, who has a different, even scarier opinion of the old house…

Okay, admittedly, with Goosebumps, sometimes you just have to laugh.  Some of the situations that people get into are just too funny, especially when compared with adult horror movies.  The Broken Thing, however much it may go in the Goosebumbs category, provides a few more chills than that.  What makes the thrills just slightly annoying is that there are so many cliffhangers that lead to fake-outs–it wasn’t the monster sneaking up on them, it was only his sister! kind of things.  But that’s a minor quibble.  The characters were fun, the action exciting, and the slow parts tinged with creepiness.  A couple of silly moments…but sometimes you just have to have a little cheese with your screams.

Book Description (from the author’s website):

Stevie Barton loves a scary story, until he finds himself living one! Two days before Halloween in Newhope Nohope, Vermont, Stevie discovers a mysterious antique toy sitting in the spooky forest the townspeople call The Grove. He pockets the abandoned toy, but a local bully drives him deeper into the dark forest. Soon, Stevie learns that the bully is the least of his worries. Something evil slept in those dark woods, and he woke it. Now the evil is after him! Along with his best friend Angie Lewis, Stevie must find and stop the horror before it finds him.

About the Author (from the author’s website):

What’s not to love about telling scary stories?  I work with kids, and I love writing horror and mysteries for them.  There’s a freshness and acceptance of the unknown that dulls in adulthood. That which adults too readily dismiss as implausible will run icy fingers along a child’s spine and send their imaginations off the deep end. That’s what it’s all about.

Download the book (for free) at the author’s website or Smashwords.

Book Review: Jack Dervish, Super Spy

**** Excellent.

The main character is a boy, but a strong girl character is his partner throughout most of the book.

Abou 200 pages.

Jack Dervish, Super Spy

JC Andrijeski

In short: After Jack’s superspy parents go missing, he hides in their secret lair for years…learning how to be the perfect spy.  Now he has to face a terrible challenge:  in order to find his parents, he has to to learn how to act like a normal kid.

Jack Dervish’s parents disappeared when he was four years old.  He was smart enough to hide out in his parents’ secret lair under the house, even after new people moved in upstairs.  Living off his parents’ savings and by using the Internet, Jack survived more or less alone.

But on his twelfth birthday, Jack finally realizes that a) he cannot accept that his parents are dead and b) they aren’t going to be able to come back on their own.  He decides to go on a quest to rescue them; however, he has no idea where they could be, or what they were involved in when they left (well, he was four).

He decides that the only way to search for his parents is to go into the outside world.  And that means…pretending to be a normal kid.  After eight years in his parents’ secret hideout with nobody to talk to (except for a few people over the Internet), it won’t be easy.

Despite making a ton of mistakes (including deciding that “Rasputin” is a good name for a kid), Jack faces down bullies, fools the school into thinking he’s from a foreign country, and makes a couple of friends that like him despite his really weird way of doing things.

However, Isobel is one of the worst friends that he could have made; her father works for the Homeland Security Office…and is out to capture Jack and find the truth of where he really lives, and the source of all his gadgets.  The thing is, Mr. Spencer knows something about Jack’s parents…why else would he have a picture of them?

I had a lot of fun reading this.  Jack does not fit in, and that’s what fifth grade was all about for me: being smart and not fitting in.  If you enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society or the Artemis Fowl books, I highly recommend this book.  I thought the beginning was a little silly–a four year old living on his own?  Really?–but hey, why not?  This looks like the start of a fun series.  Lots of gadgets, traps, and sneaking about.

Book Description (from the author’s website):

Jack Dervish was just four-years-old when the nasty incident took place at 74 Eaton Place and his super-spy parents vanished. Now Jack is twelve, and after years of living in his parents’ super-spy lair, training in every manner of super-spy skills, he’s decided it’s time to attend school. After all, how can he foil the international crime syndicate and fight evil if he can’t pass as a normal, youngish Londoner? Unfortunately, Jack quickly catches the attention of the Homeland Security Office…along with the most dangerous bullies at St. John’s Preparatory School. His only hope lies in his new friends, Isobel, William and Squid, and the super-spy skills he’s never had the opportunity to test, at least not against actual people. When the evil mastermind following him ends up being linked to the disappearance of Jack’s parents, Jack is determined to find out what the man knows, no matter what it takes.

About JC Andrijeski (from

JC Andrijeski is a bestselling Amazon author who has published novels and short stories, as well as nonfiction essays and articles. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and webzines, and a children’s story in the illustrated anthology Ogner Stump’s 1,000 Sorrows by Wonderella. She also published a graphic novel set in the world created in her Bridge series, and has penned the occasional screenplay. Her nonfiction articles cover subjects from graffiti art, meditation, psychology, journalism and history, and have been published in online literary magazines as well as print venues such as NY Press newspaper and holistic health magazines.

Obtaining an MA in political science from the New School for Social Research (NSSR) in NYC, she did most of my graduate level studies in the areas of race and caste systems, slave and ex-slave systems, religion and its impacts on social systems, and historical weirdnesses she didn’t understand more generally, which fitted her surprisingly well for both fiction writing and being extremely annoying at parties.

She moved from NYC to San Francisco in 1997, and since then has lived or spent considerable time in India, Vancouver BC, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, San Diego, Prague, London, Berlin, Sydney and Swinoujscie, Poland. She currently lives in McLeod Ganj, India, a location she drew on a fair bit in writing the Allie’s War books.

Please visit JC Andrijeski’s website at: or her blog at

To buy the book or read the beginning:

Barnes and Noble


Review for Tales Told Under the Covers

Liz Barone has a lovely review of Tales Told Under the Covers up:

Tales Told Under the Covers features ten short stories for middle graders, but they definitely entertained me on an adult level. I liked that almost every main character had some sort of problem that all kids have, and that they resolved those problems after overcoming things so fantastical, the adults in their lives wouldn’t believe them if they hadn’t been there, too. These kids rolled with the punches and took things into their own hands when the grownups were too scared to move. These kids were underdogs — like I was as a kid. They inspired bravery and made me laugh out loud. The stories themselves are a blast, even at their creepiest; De has the coolest imagination.

Take Neil, the hero of “Zombie Girl Invasion.” He thinks girls are gross, and he likes running around pretending to shoot things. He gets in trouble all the time for being too loud while pretending to shoot zombies. When the zombies invade for real, he has to save his parents and help a zombie girl. I’ve noticed that zombies are becoming more and more popular, which is cool but also a little unnerving, because no one wants to see zombies become nauseating the way vampires and werewolves have. De’s zombies are so hardcore, they even eat each other. No one is safe, and that’s just the way I like it.

That’s right…it’s no fair if the zombies can’t get eaten 🙂

Book Review: Echo McCool, Outlaw Through Time

*** Not my favorite but it might be yours.

The main character is a boy throughout the book, but Echo, a girl, has just as strong a part.

About 190  pages.

Echo McCool:  Outlaw Through Time

by Roger K. Driscoll

In short: a magical girl from the distant past, trapped in a tree throughout centuries, is awakened by a boy to help avenge the murder of his mother and rescue his sister.

The story starts out with Echo’s story in the past.  Her entire family, rebels against powerful nobility (like Robin Hood and his band of thieves), have been killed, except for one sister.  Echo is half-dryad; her mother is one of the spirits of the trees.  Poisoned by a pursuer and near death, she hides inside a hollow tree.  The tree heals her, only to leave her sleeping for centuries.

Her distant relative, Jason Fleeting, has been orphaned and lives at a school after the murder of his mother, the disappearance of his father, and the kidnapping of his sister.  He’s playing in a tree when he falls out, conks himself on the head, and goes into a coma.  While in the coma, he’s visited by Echo’s dryad mother, who will help him find his sister if he rescues her daughter, Echo, whose tree is about to be cut down and cut into firewood…which will mean Echo is chainsawed in half.

Jason saves Echo, and the two of them go on the adventure of a lifetime to save his sister.

Good characters, very readable.  I had two things that bothered me to the point where I can’t give it a personal woo-hoo  of a rating.

One, there was a bit too much talking and explaining.  It was only in a couple of spots and I read past it, but I wished things had moved faster at times.

Two, I play some role-playing games.  One of the things that happens in those games is that you have to make sure that no one power is so strong that it makes the game unfair.  I think that Echo has such a power:  the ability to see anything that happens in the past, and to spend no time in the real world to do so.  That means in a story where there’s a mystery, like here (what happened to Jason’s sister?), the characters can instantly know the answer.  Sure, there’s a lot of adventure involved in actually rescuing his sister, but I was disappointed.  It felt like there was no chance that the bad guys would win, because the good guys always knew their secrets.  I like the illusion that the bad guys might win, even when I’m pretty sure they probably won’t.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a fun read, because it was.  Lots of fighting, adventure, sneaking around, getting blamed for things they didn’t do, and wearing amusing disguises.  A lot of kids liked the book a lot, and I can see why.  I just can’t say that I loved it 100%.

Book description (from Amazon):

Echo McCool is a magical, medieval girl with attitude. Don’t get on the wrong end of her jump kicks, flick-flaks and open-palm strikes. In her own time, Echo escapes death from a poisoned arrow and hides inside a hollow oak tree. She lies dormant for hundreds of years but in the present day she is awakened by Jason Fleeting, a twelve-year-old runaway from a children’s home. Together they set out to solve the murder of Jason’s mother and to rescue his kidnapped sister Lauren.

About Roger K Driscoll (from Amazon):

Roger K Driscoll lives in a little house near the old oak tree and disused railway line where he used to play as a boy in the 1970s. He believes that the most important part of any book is its reader. Without a reader, a book can never come alive. Please visit Roger’s website

Click here to read the beginning of the book.

Click here to buy the book or to find out more.

Book Review: The Magic Carpet by Jodie Brownlee

The Magic Carpet

by Jodie Brownlee

**** Recommended.  I read it all the way through in one evening.

About 140 pages.

In short: Harry Potter meets the Arabian Nights.  The main character is a girl, but boys play a strong role in this adventure as well.

The story starts out with Ruby, whose mother wants her to grow up to be a normal person, despite the fact that she has an obviously magic purse and gets mail from her mother by having the wind blow it to her.  But red-headed Ruby isn’t cut out for a normal life (some people aren’t), and when her mother forbids her from going up to the attic the same day that her grandmother tells her that her birthday present is up there…well, goodbye normal.

I won’t be giving too much away if I say her birthday present strongly resembles the object in the title of the book.

However, the first thing that Ruby does with said present, after being magically and wonderfully (and thirstily) transported to a mysterious country in the desert, is LOSE it.  It’s not her fault–she had no idea that magic carpets were so picky–but it’s her job to get it back from the evil half-genie madman who stole it from her.

Book description:

Ruby’s life is a relentless timetable of classes, but it is turned upside down when a magic carpet (with attitude) whisks her to a Persian oasis. Here she makes two friends from very different backgrounds but a bold misadventure through an underground labyrinth has them hunted by a cunning lawyer. In an effort to save each other, the abducted magic carpet, and the entire genie population, their friendship and courage becomes their only hope. For the first time in her sheltered life, Ruby’s powers are tested to their limits, including those powers she still doesn’t know she has.

About Jodie Brownlee:

Jodie wanted to be a genie when she grew up. Then she discovered they could spend centuries locked in a bottle and now writes about them instead. When not writing about Ruby’s adventures, Jodie has adventures of her own. She’s crossed the Rajasthan desert on a camel, plied Asian rivers on an elephant, driven a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, dined in a haunted Scottish castle, swam horses in the sea, dived with sharks in Sydney Harbor, parachuted from an old Cessna biplane, visited a witch doctor in Africa, and explored overgrown temples in Cambodia. Jodie has now settled in Colorado with her husband and their adopted cat, Lola.

AND the beginning of the book:

WANTED: One Spontaneous and Unexpected Adventure

Zola McQuirky signed the letter with a flourish, slipped it inside an envelope and held a candle over the flap, sealing it with a few blobs of red wax. “Ruby girl, this will put some spice in your life.” Chuckling, she stamped the letter and flung it from the window. Her hair, a jumble of copper curls, swirled as the wind carried her letter away. This was no ordinary wind. It circled the world, sweeping through every street and town, and was known to those who used it as the Mail Wind.

For two days and two nights Zola McQuirky’s letter tumbled high above land and ocean, over deserts and mountains, cities and villages, until one evening it blew into a tidy street of a well-to-do suburb. Here the roads were shaded by ancient oak trees, the brass door knobs were polished until they reflected your face, and the hedges were trimmed into perfect boxes.

A beige Volvo pulled into the drive of number 12 Paddington Street. The car door was flung open and a girl leaped out. Her tutu jutted from beneath her duffle coat like a pink duck tail, and her red curls bounced as she stormed to the front door.

“They were all whispering. I heard them. They said I should just give it up, that I’m clumsy and that my red hair clashes with the tutu.” Ruby waited on the door mat for her mother. “And the worst thing is that it’s all true.”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs Rosemont, fishing in her tiny handbag for the front door key.

Ruby folded her arms. “I don’t even like ballet.”

Buy the book and find out more at The next  book in the series, The Traveller’s Telescope, is available now, too.

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