My Rotten Stepbrother . . . Did What???

Anyone who has ever read a fairy tale knows that step-family members are nothing but trouble. Wicked stepmothers, horrible stepsisters, the list just goes on and on.

Fairy-tale-loving Maddie has a stepbrother who is rotten. Horrible. Simply unbearable. Holden does whatever he can to ruin Maddie’s life.

You may remember that Holden ruined Maddie’s Halloween—and the story of Beauty and the Beast—in My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast. I’m delighted to have the chance to review the other books in the My Rotten Stepbrother series!

Cinderella

The series starts with My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella. When Maddie gives a class presentation on her favorite fairy tale, Cinderella, Holden points out to the class that Cinderella’s feet would be sore and swollen after walking home from the ball. He also questions whether someone’s foot size is a good way to identify them, demonstrating with a poll of raised hands that half the class wears the same size shoe as Maddie.

That night, Maddie and Holden discover that Holden’s pointed questions did more than ruin Maddie’s presentation. They ruined Cinderella! Maddie and Holden are magically sucked into the story of Cinderella. It’s the day of the wedding, but instead of marrying Cinderella, the prince is marrying one of her stepsisters! Cinderella’s feet were swollen from walking home and wouldn’t fit into the glass slipper—but one of her stepsisters had the same size feet as her. The prince mistakenly believes the stepsister is his true love. Can Maddie and Holden fix Cinderella?

I have to admit that, just like with the question raised by Holden about Beauty and the Beast, Holden’s questions about Cinderella never occurred to me. Holden is one of the most creative (and skeptical) kids I know!

Aladdin

By the time Holden ruins Aladdin (in book three of the series), Maddie and Holden are experts at the ruined fairytale! In fact, this time, Holden deliberately puts himself and his stepsister into the story of Aladdin.

Not only do Maddie and Holden have to share a home now, but they also share a birthday. Maddie is having a great birthday—her stepmother has helped create an Aladdin theme for her sleepover party. Holden, on the other hand, is having the worst birthday ever. To top it off, he doesn’t receive the hoverboard he really wanted for his birthday present.

After pointing out all of the problems in Maddie’s most recent annoying fairytale, Holden storms off to his room. A few hours later, he sees a picture of Aladdin riding a hoverboard. He realizes that if he and Maddie go into the story of Aladdin, he will get to be Aladdin.

Once magically sucked into the story of Aladdin, Maddie and Holden again have to work together to fix the fairytale Holden has broken. I have to say, this is definitely the funniest of the fairytale situations that Maddie and Holden have found themselves in!

Snow White

The fourth book of the series starts a little differently, with Maddie finding the plot holes to Snow White. Could it be that with Holden out of town, she is actually missing her rotten stepbrother?

Snow White gives Maddie and Holden a chance to examine their own family and their relationship, as they watch the way the seven dwarf brothers act together. They also compare the relationship between Snow White and her stepmother and father to the one they have with their parents at home and realize how fortunate they are.

Over the course of the four stories, Maddie and Holden’s relationship grows from intense dislike to grudging acceptance. They begin to recognize that they need each other, and they get better and better at working together to solve the fairytale challenges before them. (Of course, they still have a lot of work to do, leaving the door open for plenty more installments in this series!) Holden also goes through a journey of self-examination and maturation over the four books.

This series is one of my new favorites, and I’m looking forward to seeing many more from author Jerry Mahoney. Thanks to Mr. Mahoney and Capstone for the opportunity to read these books!

Have you read any great books lately?

The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart

It’s almost a week after Halloween—is anyone sick of chocolate yet? Well, I can assure you that none of the chocolate you’ve been sneaking out of your kids’ Halloween stash is as delicious or as life-changing as the chocolate in Stephanie Burgis’ new book!

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

Aventurine longs to leave her dragon family’s cave and explore the world. She is dismayed when her mother tells her that she must wait another thirty years for her scales to harden to a protective shell before she can venture outside. Feeling claustrophobic, and ready to prove that she is capable of taking care of herself, Aventurine waits until the adults are asleep and leaves the cave.

After hours of unsuccessful hunting, Aventurine finds a human singing by a fire in the forest. Prepared to strike and bring her prey home to share with the other dragons, Aventurine pauses when she smells the most delightful scent wafting up from a pot. The human prepares hot chocolate for Aventurine, but enchants it with a spell that turns Aventurine into a human around twelve years old.

Unable to return to her cave in human form, Aventurine travels to the nearest city. Once in Drachenburg, Aventurine searches for her place in her new human world.

Aventurine discovers there is much more to chocolate than simple hot chocolate, she learns about friendship and family, she finds there are humans who fit the stereotypes that her family described for her and there are those who do not, and, most of all, Aventurine discovers her passion.

This is a fun tale that weaves together the excitement of dragons, the thrill of solving a challenge that will help others, and the lessons of persistence, friendship, and loyalty. It has something for everyone, and keeps the reader wanting “just one more chapter.”

Stephanie Burgis is the author of many books and short stories, both for children and adults. Her other middle grade books tell the story of Kat Stephenson in a trilogy (plus a novella). One of the characters from The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart will appear in Ms. Burgis’ next middle grade book, The Girl with the Dragon Heart, coming in 2018. You can find Ms. Burgis online at her website and blog at www.stephanieburgis.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind – PLUS GIVEAWAY!!!

Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Darlene Foster, author of a series about a traveling twelve-year-old named Amanda.

In book six of the Amanda Travels series, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, the book follows Amanda and her class on a school trip from Calgary to New Mexico. Their exploration of different parts around Taos, New Mexico, is interrupted by a ghost. Ms. Foster’s description of the New Mexico geography, architecture, and artifacts is truly amazing! Ms. Foster brings New Mexico to life for readers as she details Amanda’s travels. 

Amanda in New Mexico

Welcome, Darlene!

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Elizabeth.

You asked me what drew me to Amanda as my main character. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you can create any character, place and situation you want. You are totally in control. Well almost, sometimes your characters take over the story. I know Amanda does.

Amanda Jane Ross seemed to pop into my head and wouldn´t go away. She is a spunky young girl whose love for travel takes her around the world to many interesting places where she meets intriguing people, learns a lot about the culture and always has an adventure. She is curious, brave and cares about other people, which sometimes gets her in trouble. I would have loved to be able to travel all over the world when I was her age.  I guess you could say Amanda is the twelve-year-old girl I would have liked to be.

My books are inspired by my travels. I have been to all the places Amanda goes to. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to travel as a young person, I have explored much of this amazing planet as an adult. Every time I visit a new place, I feel like a child experiencing something awesome.  I try to incorporate these thoughts and feelings into my stories which is why I like telling the stories from a tween’s point of view. My books feature places I myself have found fascinating such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, England, Alberta, Germany, Austria and Hungary. In recently released book six, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, Amanda visits the enchanting state of New Mexico. I spent some time in this state a couple of years ago and immediately knew it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda adventure.

The character of Amanda tags along with me everywhere I go now. I am constantly thinking about what she would like about the place and the adventures she could have. I take lots of pictures and keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. I have often said in my out loud voice, “Amanda would just love this!” My husband has got used to having my imaginary friend with us.

Where is Amanda planning to go to next? She is scheduled to visit Holland, a remarkable place with brilliant tulips fields, charming windmills, wooden shoes and many bicycles. While visiting the sites of Holland, she learns more about World War II and attempts to find out what happened to a great-uncle who went missing in action in that country many years ago.

The more Amanda travels, the more she learns about the world and herself. To me, that is what travel is all about. My wish is that my books will encourage readers of all ages to explore new places.

I have a question for you and your readers, if you could travel with any fictional character, which one would you chose and why?

Awesome question, Darlene! Can’t wait to see who folks say they would want to travel with (and why)!

Darlene is offering an amazing Amanda in New Mexico GIVEAWAY for U.S. and Canadian residents (if the winner is from a location outside those two countries, he or she will win digital copies of the full series)!

A little more about Darlene:

Brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of travelling the world and meeting interesting people. With a desire to write since she was twelve, her short stories have won a number of awards. She is the author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky twelve-year-old Amanda Ross who loves to travel to unique places. Her books include: Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube – The Sounds of Music and Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. Darlene, her husband and their dog, Dot, divide their time between the west coast of Canada and Orihuela Costa, in Spain. She was encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams and believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true.

You can follow Darlene on her website, on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Monster Or Die 2: Into the Shadowlands

Let’s get into the Halloween mood with a monster story! Into the Shadowlands is a fun middle grade adventure involving ogres, trolls, frankenstein monsters, and so much more!

Monster or Die.jpg

Monster or Die is a series set in Uggarland—a world full of monsters set apart from humankind. In Uggarland, there are Monsters, and then there are OMOs, or Odd Monsters Out.

The OMOs don’t act as monsters are expected to behave. Among the many OMOs in Uggarland are sixth graders Frank, the frankenstein who has blue skin and likes his clothes to be crisp and his hair neatly combed; Oliver, the mummy who prefers to be unwrapped; Vanya, the ogre who prefers sparkly, pretty outfits and things; and Stan and Dan, the two-headed gargoyle who likes humor over scaring people.

Life is difficult for the OMOs. Uggarland rules require them to purge themselves of their misfit ways and become more monsterly (“monster or die!”), or they will be exiled to a horribly sunny and warm island to live out the rest of their days.

Malcolm the troll is a classic Monster. He hates the OMOs, or misfits, as he calls them. So he is shocked to discover that his father, who he believed died a hero’s death four years ago, was actually living a life of exile with the misfits.

Malcolm already loathed the misfit Frank. But when Malcolm learns the truth about his father and Frank is there to see it, Malcolm decides both his father and Frank must be destroyed.

This is a wonderfully fresh book of middle-grade self-discovery and acceptance. It addresses differences in others and finding the best in people. It explores themes of the marginalization and exclusion of minority groups, and calls to mind the forced conformity and assimilation to European ways found in the Native American boarding schools of the early 20th Century.

The language in this book is entertaining. There are many monster words (such as the “slybrary” and exclamations like “snotfargle extremo!”) to keep readers entertained. The characters’ names all make kids chuckle (e.g., Mr. McNastee). And there is plenty of action to keep the story moving.

Ms. Reeg is a former librarian and author of both middle grade and picture books. She has many suggestions for games, crafts, and puzzles for kids available on her website, www.cynthiareeg.com. For parents and teachers, Ms. Reeg offers a number of resources, including grammar games, study guides, and book lists.

I didn’t read the first Monster or Die book, but that didn’t impair my ability to read and enjoy this one. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

Beatrice has always been just a little unusual. She sees the world with a different perspective—literally.

Beatrice Zinker

Beatrice does her best thinking upside down. Whether she is hanging from a tree limb, standing on her head, or swinging off the top bunk of her bed, Beatrice is happiest when her head is where her feet should be.

At the end of Second Grade, her teacher awarded her the “Best Upside Down Thinker” award.

But things have changed in Third Grade. Her teacher does “not tolerate upside down antics” in the classroom. And Beatrice’s best friend wants to play with a new student instead of be a ninja-outfit-clad spy with Beatrice!

This is a delightful chapter book that will charm readers from the first moment they meet Beatrice. Kids will root for Beatrice as she adjusts to life in a classroom with an unsympathetic teacher. They will cheer her on as she fights to win back her best friend.

The pictures on every page add to the story and give a little more insight into Beatrice’s character. In many pictures, Beatrice is hanging upside down in a tree. When she is not (or when the focus of the pictures is not on Beatrice), something in the picture often adds a little humor or a detail not found in the text.

Shelley Johannes is author and illustrator of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker. On her website, www.shelleyjohannes.com, Ms. Johannes tells the story of the “evolution of Beatrice Zinker” in a fabulous biographical slideshow that includes many of her early sketches of Beatrice.

I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I am looking forward to Beatrice Zinker’s next adventure!

Have you read any great books lately?

Puppy Rescue Riddle

Animal Planet has entered the world of chapter books with an adorable series called Animal Planet Adventures. Each book focuses on a different kind of animal (so far, dolphins, farm animals, puppies, and zoo animals).

puppy rescue riddle

The third book in the series is Puppy Rescue Riddle. One Saturday, Elliot Flynn goes to a dog shelter with his older brother and two neighbor girls. The girls are excited to be there, but Elliot is afraid of dogs and doesn’t even want to pet puppies.

Driving home from the shelter, they get caught in a rainstorm that has washed out the road. Worried about the dogs’ safety, they return to the shelter and take all of the dogs and puppies with them to higher ground. But they lose a puppy in the process. Can they find her again, or will she be lost in the storm?

There are two parts to this book. There is the story of Elliot and the dogs. The writing is aimed at early readers, and it is illustrated with color pictures. The action is exciting, there are fun riddles to answer, and puppies are always a hit in stories for kids!

There are also fact pages about pets sprinkled every few pages throughout the book. These pages are full-color pictures, and they teach kids about topics such as owning pets, puppy behavior, vets, and animal shelters. The facts are fun to learn and easy to remember, so kids come away with greater knowledge on the subject and can parrot the facts back at a later time.

Catherine Nichols is one of two authors creating the Animal Planet Adventures series. Ms. Nichols wrote both Puppy Rescue Riddle and book one of the series: Dolphin Rescue. She is the author of more than 60 children’s books. Her website is www.catherinenichols.com and her blog is The Cath in the Hat.

I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. The kids and I will be checking out the other books in the series to see what facts we can learn while reading a cute story!

Have you read any great books lately?

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine

If you’re writing a chapter book for girls, you really can’t go wrong adding in a unicorn or two. There’s just something magical about unicorns.Unicorn PrincessesEmily Bliss’s new chapter book series, Unicorn Princesses, captures that magic for young readers to enjoy. The Unicorn Princesses series tells of the Rainbow Realm, which is ruled by seven unicorns. They need help from a human girl who believes in unicorns.

Book 1, Sunbeam’s Shine, opens with a wizard-lizard casting spells—poorly. With a slip of the tongue, he causes a jewel that hangs around the neck of one of the Unicorn Princesses (Sunbeam) to disappear. That jewel is the source of Sunbeam’s magic, and now she can’t make the sun rise over the Rainbow Realm. Only a human girl who believes in unicorns can reverse the spell.

Sunbeam travels to the human world and finds Cressida Jenkins, who can only be described as obsessed with unicorns. She agrees to travel to the Rainbow Realm to help find Sunbeam’s jewel and return Sunbeam’s magic to her.

This book was a lot of fun to read. My little one did not want to put it down, and we read it any time we had a spare minute until Sunbeam’s jewel was found. The unicorns and magic were both definite selling points, but the pacing and action were also perfect for my little chapter book reader.

My only warning with this book is that when Sunbeam finds Cressida, they have a long discussion about needing a human girl “who believes in unicorns” and how hard it was to find one. Cressida mentions that her mother keeps telling her that unicorns are imaginary, but that she believes anyway. If you are not ready to plant that seed of doubt about the existence of unicorns, magic, and other whimsical matters in your little one’s mind, you may want to wait a bit on this one.

According to Ms. Bliss’s page at Bloomsbury Publishing, there are already six books planned for the Unicorn Princesses series. The first two were released earlier this month, two more will be released in December, and then another two in April 2018. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. We’ll be on the lookout for the next ones!

Have you read any great books lately?

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

A hotel is often said to be a “home away from home.” This is how the animals of Fernwood Forest see Heartwood Hotel. In A True Home, Kallie George brings this adorable new chapter book series to life and introduces us to Mona the mouse.Heartwood HotelFlooding drives Mona the mouse out of her newest home. With her suitcase in hand, she heads out into the storm. Fate sweeps her to the door of the Heartwood Hotel.

Mona discovers a ballroom full of animals—rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, hedgehogs, birds, a lizard, and even a badger. They are dressed up, dancing, eating, and laughing. These are the guests (and some staff) of the Heartwood Hotel. A bird band is providing entertainment, and there is a table stacked with food.

Gilles the front-desk lizard intercepts Mona and regretfully informs her that the hotel is fully booked due to the Acorn Festival. But Mr. Heartwood, the owner, takes pity on Mona. He offers her a temporary position for the night as a maid and a place to sleep in the staff quarters.

The next day, Mr. Heartwood offers to extend Mona’s single-night job through the fall festivals. Mona is grateful for the hospitality and pledges to “give her all” to the hotel.

Although Mona works hard, she can’t win the friendship of the other maid, Tilly the squirrel. Mona also attracts trouble over and over again—with skunk guests, with Tilly, and even when a bug tries to stay at the hotel!

Mona is sure to become a much-beloved character in many young readers’ homes. Her hard work on behalf of the hotel, her penchant for mishap when she is trying to help others, and her creative solutions to problems will make her a favorite among little ones. Those young readers will be spellbound by Mona’s tale, as they worry with her about where she will go after the fall festival season is over.

Kallie George is the author of a number of children’s books, including both picture books and chapter books. Her picture books include The Melancholic Mermaid and Duck, Duck, Dinosaur. In addition to the Heartwood Hotel chapter book series, Ms. George is the author of The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. Her website is www.kalliegeorge.com.

Heartwood Hotel also has its own website, where you can check on the availability of rooms, apply for a job, learn more about the rooms and staff of the Heartwood Hotel, and take quizzes. The Magical Animal Adoption Agency’s website tells about animals available for adoption, assists people in making adoptions, provides “tips and alerts” and “pet care” information (“Owning a unicorn is a big—and wonderful!—responsibility…”), and offers a downloadable “Magical Egg Handbook.” Lots of fun!

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review and am looking forward to the next books in this series! Book 2, The Greatest Gift, was released July 11, 2017, and Book 3, Better Together, is planned for February 6, 2018.

Have you read any great books lately?

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast

The Beast kidnapped Belle and held her in the castle against her will. She fell in love with him because she had Stockholm Syndrome.

This is how Maddie’s Rotten Stepbrother Holden “Ruined Beauty and the Beast.”Rotten StepbrotherEleven-year-old Maddie loves fairy tale princesses. For Halloween, she decides to dress up as Belle. Her new stepmother suggests that Holden should dress up as the Beast. After creating a truly horrifying costume, Holden presents his Stockholm Syndrome alternative to Maddie’s true love fairy tale.

Holden is forced to change out of his costume before they go to the school Halloween party. Maddie’s dad suggests that he wear a suit and tell people he’s a lawyer.

After the party, Holden notices that his tablet (what lawyer goes anywhere without one?) is still turned on. He looks at it and calls Maddie over. They see pictures from the story of Beauty and the Beast, but the tale doesn’t end the way they remember. They realize that Holden has somehow changed the story. Before they know what’s happening, they are transported into the story so that they can fix it.

Maddie is transformed into Belle. Holden is. . . the lawyer.

Maddie and Holden enter Beauty and the Beast just as Belle is marrying the Beast. But the Beast hasn’t changed back into a human. Before they can be married, he is arrested for kidnapping.

Holden is the Beast’s lawyer. He has to overcome his feelings about the fairy tale and work with the Beast to find a strategy to fight the kidnapping charge.

Meanwhile, Maddie has her own challenges. Holden’s statements have her questioning whether Belle’s love for the Beast is true love or the result of brainwashing. She sets out to find out the truth for herself and for Belle!

Jerry Mahoney has created a hilarious new spin on the classic fairy tale. His story combines a wonderful step-sibling dynamic and adds in the natural language barriers inherent in transporting two 21st-century kids to a secluded French village “once upon a time.”

Jerry Mahoney is the author of Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, his memoir. After reading just a few posts on his blog, I bought a copy of the book—it looks like it will be just as entertaining as his children’s books! His website is http://www.jerry-mahoney.com.

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast will be released on August 1, 2017. I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. Three other titles in the My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Fairy Tales series are being released on August 1 as well. I can’t wait to read My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella (the first book in the series), My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Aladdin, and My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Snow White!

Have you read any great books lately?

Binny Bewitched

This was my introduction to Binny and her family, and I was bewitched from the start. This is the third Binny book by Hilary McKay, and I hope Ms. McKay has many more tales to tell about this enchanting character!BinnyTwelve-year-old Binny (Belinda) Cornwallis lives with her mother, her seventeen-year-old sister Clem (Clemency), and her six-year-old brother James. They live in a small house, where they had to move after Binny’s father died four years ago. Money is tight, but fortunately they have some help fixing up the house from a handyman named Pete.

Binny is walking home from school one day, wishing she had money to buy her mother a birthday present. As she passes the bank, she spies a pile of money left in the ATM. It appears her wish has been granted! Magic or miracle, Binny is glad to accept the gift.

She soon decides that the witch who lives next door, Miss Piper, knows about the money. Guilt begins to gnaw at her, and Binny realizes that she has to return it to the bank. But when she looks for the money, she discovers she’s lost it.

Binny asks Gareth, her best enemy and most loyal friend, to help find the missing money. They create a list of suspects and then begin an investigation so that they can cross names off the list. Against her better judgment, Binny allows herself to be convinced to include friends and family as suspects.

Through her investigation, Binny begins to mistrust even people closest to her. She finds out how easy it can be to hurt those she cares about, and learns how wrong she can be about people. She has to work to repair her relationships, and even starts to like Miss Piper. She concludes that money can’t solve all of her family’s problems.

Although I haven’t read the other two Binny books, I suspect that this is not the only time that Binny’s wild imagination and impetuous nature has gotten her into hilarious situations. Binny is the kind of kid who makes you smile—or laugh out loud—as you root for her. And yet, you know that if you were her parent, you would simply shake your head and sigh, “Oh Binny!” before pulling her into your arms.

Hilary McKay is the author of a number of children’s books, including the Binny books, the Casson Family series, the Lulu chapter book series and the Meet Charlie—He’s Trouble chapter book series. Ms. McKay explains on her website (www.hilarymckay.co.uk) that she left a job as a biochemist so that she could devote more time to her writing (and her children). Thank-you Ms. McKay!

Ms. McKay describes the first stage of writing a book as “a bit like cooking.” I love her analogy, and am adding the whole recipe to my “Ingredients for Cooking a Book” page!

I received an advance reader copy of Binny Bewitched in exchange for my unbiased review of the book. But I’m on the lookout for other Hilary McKay books now—starting with the first two Binny books! I’m so glad to have been introduced to this fantastic author!

Have you read any great books lately?