Long Live the Pumpkin Queen by Shea Ernshaw

A cozy fun read with a nice twist!

Sally is the happiest she’s ever been, now that she’s Jack’s new bride. She is unsure of how well she will do as queen even though Jack reassures her. After their honeymoon travels, Sally ventures into Dream Town and accidentally leaves the door open. A monster travels to the different towns causing everyone to sleep. Even her beloved Jack, the Pumpkin King, won’t wake up. Sally feels guilty for causing this problem, especially because she had wished to be alone since she felt too inadequate to be queen. She goes to Dream Town hoping for the community to help her bring the monster, the Sandman, back but no one wants to talk about him. Then she’s summoned to the Governor’s house and her world changes. The descriptions of other towns are wonderful and fun! Each holiday has a town themed around its holiday. Dream Town is all about cozy sleep with its lavender crops, Dream Sand factory and Lullaby Library. I love the description of Dream Sand: a blend of stardust, moonbeams, and a pinch of yawns. Such a cozy, fun read with a bit of suspense and a nice twist! 4 stars!

No swearing.
Violence: PG- the Sandman ripping apart rag dolls and forcing everyone to sleep.
Mature content: PG- kidnapping Sally out of her window when she was twelve.

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

A clean read for upper elementary and middle school readers!

I love the cover because two images can be seen when you change your perspective, black outline of a girl tossing coins and black print of a gargoyle on a cathedral wall.
The opening is told in the gargoyle’s point of view and the statue sees a young woman carrying her baby while running from men. As they almost capture her, she jumps into the river while holding onto her baby. Eight years later, Duck is a young girl within a group of traveling thieves. She’s trying to prove that she’s helpful and ends up as a baker’s apprentice to infiltrate the bakery and steal from inside. She continues to give bread to her thief group, the Crowns, but doubts more and more that she’s doing the right thing because she’s feeling loved by the baker. As the stakes rise, Duck will have to make some tough choices and decide who her family is and who she’s loyal to. 4 stars for this sweet tale of finding your true self.

Ethnicity is predominantly white; it is a historical fiction fantasy.
Language content: no swears
Violence content: PG – men chasing woman and baby and she’s running for their safety.
Mature content: PG – thievery, grooming for a gang
Likes/dislikes: I like the baker. She’s tremendously generous and kind. I appreciate the author’s writing of Duck’s conflicts between right and wrong and in finding her sense of belonging. This is a clean read with a good message. Alternating timelines with a unique gargoyle and a young girl named Duck.

It Ends In Fire by Andrew Shvarts

4 stars for the writing and intensity of the story!

Sixteen-year-old Alka tricks a group of thieves into stopping a wagon for her. They think the wagon holds treasure but it holds a Wizard that is the senator’s powerful daughter. Alka wants revenge on the Wizards for killing her parents ten years ago and Lady Alayne is the key. After dueling with Alayne, Alka retrieves Alayne’s invitation to Blackwater Academy of Magic so she can go in her place and infiltrate the Wizard power. The next chapter explains what happened to Alka’s parents. Wizards arrive at their home so seven-year-old Alka and her six-year-old sister Sera hide under the floorboards like their parents told them to. Their father, Petyr, admits he’s a rebel to save his wife but the Enforcers kill them both. But before Petyr dies, he tells his daughters to run and then he sets off an explosion to kill the Wizards. Alka’s childhood ended that day. Her world completely changed. Now, she travels to Blackwater Academy to take Alayne’s place and exact her revenge. Fylmonela Potts befriends Alka and the two form an alliance preparing for the intense competitive Blackwater Academy where one third of the students will drop out or die instead of graduating. At the opening ceremony, Alka sees the man who killed her parents, Magnus Aberdeen, headmaster of Blackwater Academy. After a failed attempt to get close to Aberdeen, Alka meets the exchange student Prince Talyn Ravensgale IV. The story continues to alternate between young Alka and the present Alka, when she’s at Blackwater. She pretends to mess up a Glyph that distracts Aberdeen and the entire class so she can steal the last four Glyph pages from the master codex of the wizard spells to keep and learn on her own. She wants to be the most powerful so she can take down the wizards. When she was being trained by rebels, she was told not to feel remorse for killing wizards or others who stand in the way of her mission. Despite that, Alka gains allies and friends and when their order competes in a school challenge, they try a daring stunt to beat the competition. This makes the ruling order angry but the rest of the school feels empowered. The second challenge doesn’t go down as planned and when a friend dies, Alka knows the end is coming. She’s got to make a plan that will take the biggest toll of all. 4 stars for the writing and the intensity. Similar to a Harry Potter outline.

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Horror adventure thriller!

Mattie is about twenty and lives with her much older husband, William, in the mountains in solitude. William is abusive in all ways. He treats her like a possession, not a person, and keeps her hidden on the mountain in a cabin. She’s not allowed to leave the area around the cabin. Mattie is having flashbacks and bits of her past are returning to her as memories despite William lying to her for so long. A strange, unknown creature has shown up on the mountain near the cabin and it’s killing animals and sorting their bones and organs into distinct piles inside its cave. When Mattie and William discover the cave, he believes it’s the work of a demon and that he’s destined by God to get rid of it. Hikers are searching for new animals when William threatens them to leave his mountain. They see Mattie’s injured face and one of the hikers recognizes her from news reports. She’s unsure of what he’s talking about and William denies anything about the reports and restates that Mattie is his wife and the hikers need to leave or he will harm them. Mattie continues to recall bits of her past and when William leaves for town, the strangers approach the cabin to talk to her, filling her in on who she really is. The mystery and danger are suspenseful and Mattie has great strength despite her confusion. Horror adventure thriller worth 4 stars!

*Information on book content:
language content: 23 swear words and 3 f-words
mature content: PG-13, mentions wifely duties and drugs are found and mentioned a small amount
violence: PG-13, bloody animal found dead, gore, abuse to main character with blood involved.

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

A fantasy full of conflict!

A thief, Abriella, breaks into the vault of a man who became rich from selling females into prostitution. She only steals enough to carry so he won’t notice it’s missing. On her way home, Brie (Abriella) stops at a friend’s home to pay for the contract her daughter has just signed with the rich man. She did this to get medicine for her mother. Now Brie doesn’t have enough money to pay her rent to Madam V., her greedy, horrible aunt who makes Brie and her younger sister Jas live in a basement storage room. Brie and Jas also have to slave away taking care of the house and two spoiled cousins. When Jas is sold to the Fae King, Brie travels through a portal pretending to be one of the many human women wanting to marry the Fae Prince Ronan. She meets an intriguing Fae male that keeps showing up wherever she goes but then she’s caught by the king and finds out he took Jas as bait to get Brie’s help. The king wants Brie to steal artifacts from Prince Ronan’s court. She sees Sebastian where she never thought she would and runs from him because she’s surprised and angry. Once she comes to terms with who Sebastian really is, Brie realizes that she can use it to her advantage in finding the relics and getting Jas back. She does care for Sebastian and feels guilty for using him. The intriguing Fae male is Finn and she works with his group to stop the king. They help her with the shadow magic she has. Brie feels trapped and alone throughout the story because she doesn’t know if she can trust anyone but she perseveres to get Jas safe again.
I enjoyed reading this book because of Brie, the main character. She’s strong, resilient and will do anything to save her sister. The conflicting two main male characters make the story interesting, especially since they’re both vying for Brie’s attention. 5 stars for this fantasy full of conflict!

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Inspiring!

Eva is Jewish and lives with her parents in Paris during World War II. Her father is captured and sent to a prison camp while Eva and her mother are away from home helping a neighbor. Eva’s father made her promise earlier that she would leave Paris and travel to Switzerland if he was ever captured. Eva convinces her mother to go. They stop in a town close to the border and meet people that are very interested in the documents Eva made for her and her mother so they could get out of Paris. She discovers they’re forgers and resistance helping Jewish children by creating false documents to help them get to Switzerland. The resistance members are impressed with her work and ask for her help. Eva meets another forger, Remy, who is French. He’s not Jewish but he wants to do everything he can to help stop the Germans and their genocide. Eva and Remy improve their techniques and create better documents faster. They help save many children until the group is betrayed by one of their own. Everything is looted or destroyed by German soldiers and most of the resistance members are captured and killed. This is an inspiring story that gives readers perspective to our times and struggles. I enjoyed reading the author’s notes and her acknowledgments and discovering the research she conducted and the nonfiction books she based her characters and their actions on. I’m interested in reading the author’s other books that also deal with World War II and the resistance groups. 5 heartfelt stars!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing!

Kya lives in the marshlands of North Carolina with her poverty stricken family. Her father is abusive and, one by one, her siblings leave and, eventually, so does her mother. Her father stays and he seems better for a time, even kind. Then he falls back into his old ways again and ends up leaving too. Kya tries school for a day but after being bullied, she doesn’t return. She makes it completely on her own and digs mussels to sell to the local store to bring in money for food. Tate, a boy a few years older than Kya, loves to explore the marsh. They become friends and he teaches her to read. With reading, she discovers and teaches herself to be literate and all about the marshlands and its nature. She illustrates and collects samples of everything she finds in her marsh area. Tate leaves to attend college and becomes a biologist and works in the marsh. He submits Kya’s illustrations and notes to a publisher and she becomes a published author several times over. She adds comforts to her house and lives well by her own wealth. She lives simply but she gets electricity and running water and other basic comforts that she’s never had. When Tate went away to college, he realized that his life would be difficult for Kya. So, he doesn’t visit her for years. While he’s away, the local and popular Chase moves in on Kya. He tricks her into thinking he’s going to marry her, all the while dating other women. Kya eventually sees his engagement article in the local newspaper and ends it with him. Later, he attacks her, trying to rape her and he beats her up. She fights back and escapes. His body is found later and it looks like he fell from the fire tower in the marsh. Since he was a local celebrity, the police are pushed to investigate for foul play. Kya is arrested and faced with a murder trial. The whole time I’m reading the part after Chase attacks Kya, I’m hoping she killed him but I also don’t want her to be found guilty. The suspense builds to intensity and I couldn’t put the book down! Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing! 5 stars!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

The perfect spooky thriller!

As a child, Maggie lived at Baneberry Hall with her parents for twenty days before leaving for good under the claim that the house is haunted. Her father wrote a book about their experiences and Maggie is still recognized for the book, even though she’s now an adult. Her father left her the house in his will and he recently passed away. Her parents never would talk about the house or book even though Maggie had many questions. Her parents divorced soon after the book was written. Now that she’s inherited the house, she’s planning on restoring it to sell because that’s what she does for a living. Maggie has no idea what’s in store for her once she returns to Baneberry Hall. She finds old Polaroid pictures and hears odd noises. A record player randomly plays a song from The Sound of Music and then skeletal remains fall from the kitchen ceiling. Maggie talks to town residents, reads articles about the house’s past and even talks to Marta Carver who lost her husband and daughter in Baneberry Hall when they were living there as a family. Every time I thought I had it all figured out, something else happened to reveal more secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!
A perfect spooky thriller, 5 stars!

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch

Her survival skills might keep her alive!

Zara’s father is a survivalist that lives on a compound. Zara and her mother used to live on the compound too, until seven years ago. Now she lives with her mother and attends public school far away from her father’s compound. Her father’s survival lessons are drilled into Zara’s head and she replays them often. When there’s a widespread blackout, Zara uses her survival knowledge to get away from a strange man chasing her, to find her mother and to help her friends. As they travel looking for safety and to reach her father’s compound for protection, they come across a lot of danger and strange, sometimes creepy situations, cult communities, religious communities, families stealing supplies from them and people that will do anything for self preservation. Interesting, unique dystopian story, 4 stars!

Crown of Bones by A.K. Wilder

Action packed with many hidden secrets!

Ash is non-savant which means that she doesn’t have an alter that gives her powers like savants have. She’s friends with the heir Marcus who will be heading to Aku for training. Once his alter finally appears, it surprises everyone with its strength. On the group’s journey to Aku, they sail on a ship until the captain turns on them. The only way they survive is because of Kailyn, a shipmate who steps in and protects them from harm. He also helps them get to Aku despite several dangerous situations they find themselves in. Ash and Kailyn become friends and maybe a bit more and Marcus realizes he’s jealous. Their voyage comes full circle when they arrive back home to warn about an attack but things have changed. This action packed story alludes to many secrets being hidden by several characters and this first book of the series only gives readers a sneak peek into the mysteries surrounding them. 4 stars!