Book Review: Crowns of Croswald by DE Night

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic––and her life––is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.

Release Date: July 2017
Age Group: YA (age of characters), MG in content, Fantasy, Adventure
Source: Review Copy from Author
Reviewed By: Maryn

It would be easy & cheap to compare The Crowns of Croswald  series to the Harry Potter series, that wouldn't quite do it justice. After reading the first few pages of this book, I initially expected it to be a copy of Harry Potter, with the magical school and all but that's where the similarities ended. 

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I liked The Crowns of Croswald just as much as I loved my first experience of Hogwarts when reading The Sorcerer's Stone. I can only dream that this series will grow even greater and surpass my love of HP because this was just book one and it is SO GOOD!
The storyline was so original and unpredictable. Just when I thought I'd  figured everything out, something unexpected would happen to change the course of the story. I really loved the characters. The way they use magic was so unique and interesting. I especially like the main character, Ivy Lovely.  She is so genuine and brave, making her the perfect heroine. Ivy is the kind of character who isn't afraid to speak her mind, and refuses to give up until she succeeds. I kind of want to be her.  Friendship was also a major element in the story, and the relationships Ivy formed were so so sweet. If I can't be Ivy, I'll settle with being her friend. 

I really have no complaints about the book, it was stellar from beginning to end. I guarantee I won't be the only person impatiently waiting for the next book in the series. Fans of HP, fantasy and strong female heroines are sure to love The Crowns of Croswald.

And a very special thank you to DE Night for sending me one of the coolest book boxes ever! You rock!


An Abomination

I was recently on a trip with my family when my daughter started describing her future husband.

 "I'm going to marry a guy with dark skin, like a Mexican because their skin is beautiful. I want my kids to have amazing skin! I want him to also be a skater or at the minimum know how to kickflip. It'd be cool if he was a doctor so he could to take care of all my injuries, because you know I'm never going to stop skating."  Kendra, 11 years old

You see, I am always worrying that I am really messing my kids up, I often think to myself after a mom fail, I wonder if they will tell that {fill in current #momfail} to their therapist. Like most parents, I want my kids to have a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for. I often think of the quote "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything". I want them to be strong enough to disagree with someone and still be kind. I believe children today are afraid or very hesitant to disagree or make a stand about issues that may be unpopular. Me... shoot, I tell it like it is but I can also accept that someone doesn't believe the same way as I do and that's OKAY.

With all that said, it occurred to me that I hadn't shared my Meeting the Klan story with my family. Why did my daughters comment spark this memory? You have to be hiding under a rock not to see all the hateful comments regarding race, etc. in the news. I have lots of personal beliefs, most of which I do not share on this blog. I've always wanted to keep it an open platform for everyone and anyone that shares the same love I do for a good story. I don't care about the color of your skin, your religion and I especially do not care about your political platform (really don't so don't share, please). I'm just here trying to make it in life with a smile on my face and a snarky comment or two in my mind, you know just to level things out. I never claimed to be perfect.

I love to share stories, basically my entire life is one big plot twist. And yes, Lifetime you can make a movie about me. But seriously, who's life isn't a Lifetime movie?! We all have such unique experiences that shape our beliefs, values and who we are at the core. We all have stories to tell. Here is one of mine. 

The first time I met The Klan, as we like to call them here in the South, was when I was 9 years old. 

It is important that I give a brief history of myself so that you better understand where I fit. The fact of the matter is I, like most Americans, don't fit any race category. I am a mutt. My Mom is white (Caucasian, predominately European roots) and my father is Mexican, with a little Norwegian ancestry. Basically, I am a smidge less than half Mexican. My maiden name was Natalie Martinez and I had bright blonde hair, blue eyes and an incredible little tan.

By the age of 7 I had spent the majority of my life in California but had also had a two year leave to the beautiful beaches of Hawaii, where I attended kindergarten on the island of Oahu. I was a new big sister and oblivious to race. Here is what I did know: I had white hair, I wore a necklace that said Mexican Princess, my dad refused to teach me Spanish (still not over that one) and my grandparents (my mom's parents) were from Texas.

They were California transplants and took me every summer to stay in Texas. I loved it! I got to see my country cousins. But the summer of my eight birthday I found out I wasn't returning to my home in California. My parents were divorcing and my life was about to drastically change. The details to that story are for another time and place.

Fast forward a year.

I had been living in the small Texas town known as Vidor. At the time I didn't know it had a racist reputation, after all I was a child and probably wouldn't have cared. When I enrolled into school my mom was shocked to discover that they did not have a school code for me, I was classified as Hispanic. Of course they knew what Hispanics were but it was an all Caucasian district at the time. 

If you are waiting for the build-up for me to tell you how racist the kids or community were, you are going to be disappointed. Yes, Vidor is a small town and yes there are small minded people who reside there but I can honestly say that I had a very carefree childhood in that little town. Yes, everyone knew everyone's business but no one went without.

The Ku Klux Klan, also know and The KKK or simply, The Klan did not hang around our town but one day they decided to invade and have a Cross Burning that received national attention. 

Were there racist in Vidor? Of course, there are racist, small minded people in Vidor. They exist everywhere, in every town.

You see, most of the people of Vidor had spent a lifetime trying to erase the ties that bound that little town to racism. This rally was just another step backwards. But alas, one of those small minded people, allowed the KKK to use their property to host their rally and burning. It was quite literally at my front door. 

I remember cars lining the highway. I lived on the major highway, there were no neighborhoods at the time. My church also happened to be right next door to this rally. I remember church members placing ropes across our two entrances to stop anyone from trying to enter and park. Men from church sat in cars in the parking lot to keep watch and to make sure no one walked to our building looking for a bathroom or just plain mischief. And the rest of us did what any good Southerner would do, we sat out on our front porch and watched, my porch was the hot spot.

I remember all the police cars that started parking all over the place and even all in the woods that I would play in with my cousins. We were not allowed to play that weekend. I remember asking my mom what was happening and I will never forget her response.

Natalie, these people are here because they hate. They act in pure evil. 

By this time I had already learned what the KKK was and had been taught that they were small-minded men that thrived on contention, attention and hate. I knew that they hated people like me, a half-breed, but that they really hated Black people (we said Black then for African American and not in a derogatory context. We also called people White instead of Caucasian).

At nine years old I knew what it meant to be half-something. But a cool twist of events is that throughout my first year in Texas it had become cool among my cousins that I was a White-Mexican, as they called me. I never burned in the sun, I still had a different accent and my mom was the cool California Mom. I was totally fine being a half-breed, I was proud in fact. 
But I also knew that these people that were coming into town were different. You see I might be a half-breed but I looked white with a good tan. My brothers look more half-breed'ish, they have more of our Mexican genes. I've never had anyone mistake me for being a Mexican, it's always been the opposite.  I've almost had to pull out my ID just to prove that I am a Martinez!

My mom made a decision, one that was one of the best teaching moments of my young life.

After hearing the chanting of WHITE POWER for what felt like hours, I asked my mom when it would stop. She told me to get my shoes on because we were going closer.

She was going to walk me, with my little brother on her hip, down to the outskirts just past the church. She told me that we were going to witness what pure evil looked like and that we would feel what hate felt like. She also might have called them a lot of names... I still support her cursing remarks.

*WARNING: Now before I go on, if you are feeling appalled at the choice my mom made, stop reading and move on. My mom, my story. Go write your own story about how superior you are, I won't mind... I'm sure you've only made the best choices.

So we marched down the road to the very edge of all the madness. It was after 9pm and dark so no one really noticed us. You could only see each other from the massive flames of the ginormous cross. 

As I remember that moment.

Just seeing that large cross on fire left me with such nagging feeling that I physically moved closer to my mom. The cross was supposed to reflect Christ and these people looked anything but Christian or even friendly, in all honesty they just made me nervous. As I looked toward the cross, I saw what appeared to be a semi-circle of men (I'm assuming all men) dressed in their white outfits with their faces covered and their fists raised chanting still, WHITE POWER. 

Then a man took the center dressed in a very fancy costume with his face unveiled, they called him the Grand Dragon and I can't remember if he was in a red or blue outfit for the life of me. He started to speak to the crowd but we were to far away to hear anything.  

It was at this exact moment that my mom started to whisper to me what she had just previously said at the house but she didn't get to finish. A middle-aged man spotted us, he too was hidden in the woods. He took the opportunity to introduce himself and explained that he was standing in the outskirts to avoid the media camera's. He was a supporter and felt he had the privilege of mingling and making sure everyone was having a good experience but did not want to be captured on film.

This is where it gets good.

After this man shook my moms hand he examined my brother and me. He began to tell my mom how beautiful we were and how lucky she was to have such pure, beautiful children. At that moment I looked toward my mom and I was worried and remember thinking, Who was this guy? He likes all this yelling? Why was he talking to my mom?

After making sure my mom knew how fortunate she was, he went on to tell her the message of  "Redeeming the Dream" as that was the motto they were using for the rally. He handed her some pens and pencils for us to take home too, as a gift for coming. My mom placed them in her back pocket and the man carried on with his message of white purity. 

Oddly, I remember almost everything that man said that night. Before writing this I called my mom and told her how I remembered it, she said I was spot on followed by "that man was such an idiot".

After all the compliments regarding us beautiful, white children he went on to tell her that mixing races was an abomination. Marriages between races was an abomination. Children born of mixed races were abominations. The white race needed to band together and stop mixing with the impure. I've always hated the word abomination and I think it goes back to that very moment.  

My mom remained silent for the entire conversation. My mom remaining silent means one thing, she is LIVID. I knew this man was close to finding out just how pure she was feeling in her white skin. That did make me smile, and still does nearly 30 years later.

The only time I remember her speaking to that man was when she asked him if he lived in Vidor. He replied, with "oh no, none of us organizing this live here". 

My thoughts at that moment were something close to this: Good thing weird dude. If my mom found out you lived in this town you would be running to leave after she was done with you. 

Finally, the stranger opened the door and walked right into the swift justice that was my mom's wrath. He said, "Oh I didn't get your name" with his hand extended for a second time.

My mom didn't miss a beat. And she didn't extend her hand either. Her reply:

Well, the WHITE way is Martinez (Martin-ez). And the Mexican way is Martinez (emphasis on the i, Mart'ee'neZ).
You see these beautiful children you were talking to me about are my half-Mexican abominations. I am a trader to my race and had little abominations of my own. 

That man immediately turned on his heels without another word and took off. My mom looked down at me and said two words, Let's Go.

If fist bumping existed then I would have been pumping the air so hard. My mom verbally slapped that man and I was a proud little girl. Yea, I was an abomination. But at that moment, I knew I didn't believe in his dream and my mom made it clear she didn't either.


To My Children,
I want you to know that hating people for their heritage is wrong. Who and where you come from is a celebration of your uniqueness and you should cherish all the many "colors" that created you. If you bring home someone with black skin, dark skin or really white skin, it will not matter. 

Don't be mistaken, we will judge who you bring home. We will judge their character, their faith and their ability to love & cherish you as we do.
Don't settle, ever.
And to My Only Daughter, 
I'm sure your love story will be epic, just like you! If you find your Mexican, skater-doctor, he better have a strong handshake & only speak to your Papa in Spanish, that will surly win a father's approval. If you happen to fall in love with a white guy, it's cool too, after all your Papa is a pretty cool white dude.
And remember, Papa wanted to marry a Mexican and he ended up with his very own abomination. ;0)
He's pretty happy about it.
Momma, the woman that will always love you the most.

Series Review: The Ones & The Equals by Daniel Sweren-Becker

Cody has always been proud of being a One. She and her boyfriend James were two of the lucky babies from the 1% of the U.S. population that were randomly selected to benefit from genetic engineering. Now, she and the rest of The Ones are excelling. They are healthy, beautiful, and talented. They aren't otherworldly, just perfect. And to some, that's not fair. The Equality Movement, capitalizing on the growing fear and jealousy, gains political traction and actually outlaws their existence. Society shows its darker side as The Ones are marginalized. The line between right and wrong blurs in the face of injustice and Cody becomes closer to a group of radical Ones intent on fighting back. James begins to fear just how far she is willing to go for the cause.

What happens when your own government turns against you?

The Equality Team continues to round up and subject The Ones--the 1% of the American population who were genetically engineered in vitro--to a vaccine that will level the playing field. Desperate to save her boyfriend James from this fate, Cody flees into the wild to seek assistance from a shadowy rebel group dedicated to equal rights for the Ones at any cost.

But when she grows closer to a radical named Kai, she's brought deeper into the fold, only to realize the group's leader has a secret plan more dangerous than Cody could have imagined--something that could change the course of the Ones' future.

Release Date:  September 2017
Age Group: YA, Dystopian
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Reviewed By:  Nat

I was really excited to get my hands on this new dystopian set! It took me a minute to get vested in The Ones, the pacing was a bit slow for me, but once I became familiar with the society I was all in and ready to fight.

I liked Cody but I never really fell in love with James, I tried, he was just too good. Now Kai, hands down #yass The love triangle was centered on Cody. There really wasn't any beating of the chest between the guys and it kind of let me down a bit. We need some real teenage angst here!

As soon as I finished The Ones I rolled right into The Equals

I loved the fast-pace of The Equals and all the grit that came from a deteriorating society. This book had a better plot and I felt like it really carried the story-line better than The Ones. As far as dystopians go, there were some real crazy story arcs that were almost Neal Shusterman worthy (almost) but in the end I was left wanting closure. This felt more like the middle book of a series.

I still feel like there is more to the story. It can't end so cut and clean for Cody, you don't get your cake and eat it too! I feel like she never made her choice and was just dealt her cards and was happy to be done. Let's just say she ain't no Katniss Everdeen.

Now if there is another installment, I'm interested! Count me in, sign me up.

Book Review: A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

Summary: The unrequited love of the girl next door is the centerpiece of this fiercely funny, yet heart-breaking debut novel.

Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.

Humorous and heart-wrenching, A Short History of the Girl Next Door is perfect for readers who fell in love with All the Bright Places' Finch or Stargirl’s Leo.

Release Date: September 2017
Age Group: YA, Contemporary
Source: Review Copy from Netgalley
Reviewed By: Nat

Review: I remember spotting this cover and thinking "yes, I need a good contemporary right now" which translates to I need a break from the paranormal. So, like I always do, I didn't read the synopsis and just dove right in... dang. I was not prepared for such an emotional rollercoaster! Darn you Jared Reck.

As a general rule of thumb I don't read self-help books, autobiographies OR books that make me cry. But sometimes I stumble on one that I think is worth the cry and A Short Story of The Girl Next Door is one.

I really loved the plot twits and turns. I honestly thought I had it figured out with sweet Tabby, I just knew who she was going to choose in the end and I even predicted her moment of realization.

I found that I was siding with Matt and fell right into his thinking that he was the only person worthy of heartbreak. The lesson or theme of this book was just beautiful; we can't simply comprehend the value of a single person in the lives of all the people they knew. I tend to be like Matt and want to shout "I FEEL THE WORST PEOPLE" but we know that isn't really fair and we have to share our grief with others.

The innocence of first love, loneliness and loss hit all of us and this is a great story that forces you to accept the unexpected and cherish what you are given. I would recommend this book to both contemporary and YA fans. I even think this is a god fit for high school literature classes because of the themes that it covers and there are several avenues for class discussions.

If you liked these, then you will enjoy A Short Story of the Girl Next Door.

Unlit Star by Lindy Zart
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Book Review: The Principals Underwear is Missing by Holly Kowitt

Summary: When you're a sixth-grade nobody, the last person you want to accidentally zonk with a volleyball is Sloan "Selfie" St. Clair--the eighth-grade glamour queen of the school. But that's what happens to Becca Birnbaum, and it only gets worse when she tries to do Selfie a favor. She grabs the wrong shopping bag from the principal's office -- one containing a very personal item. and even that might not be so bad, if only Selfie didn't immediately lose it.

If they don't get it back ASAP, they're toast. They try not to panic--until they hear that the Biggest Prank Ever is about to happen. Can the school's oddest couple stop the disaster of a lifetime?

Release Date: May 2017
Age Group:  Middle Grade
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Reviewed By: Maryn

Review: Even though this isn't my typical read, the title was just too funny to pass up. I can't tell you how many funny looks I got for carrying this book around, my copy was an ARC and was titled The Principal's BRA is Missing, how can you not snicker. 

Straight up, this is an easy plot that is silly & exactly the kind of life altering situations that middle schoolers are plagued with; being awkward and trying to find where they fit while getting into one pickle after another.

Becca Birnbaum is a sixth grade girl who has trouble fitting in. Associating with the most popular 8th grader, known as Selfie, was the last thing she could have imagined doing. When the two girls accidentally misplace the principals bra, they are determined to do anything and everything to get it back and it gets silly fast. The relationship between the two main characters was unlikely, but it was fun to see two polar opposite people work together to avoid middle school humiliation.

It made me think of how different two people can be and yet still be the best of friends. There was an underlying theme of friendship and stepping out of your comfort zone. I think this is a fun read for girls entering middle school who might be a bit nervous or timid to change, I know I was nervous.

And I don't want to get anyone too jealous but I have been waiting to get an ARC that made a major change before it published and I finally got it! I have the coolest copy everrrrr.

Book Review & Blog Tour: Mighty Jack & the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2) by Ben Hatke

Summary: Jack might be the only kid in the world who's dreading summer. But he's got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It's a lot of responsibility, and it's boring, too, because Maddy doesn't talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom's car for a box of mysterious seeds. It's the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

This was my first introduction to Ben Hatke's work and I am blown away! This graphic novel series has the recipe for success >>> whimsical, adventurous, fearless characters and imagery that are just so darn vibrant! This series is sure to please middle grade connoisseur's of graphic novels but I venture to say that it will likely catch reluctant readers and even the well weathered book worm too.

The Mighty Jack made me laugh like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series albeit they come from two completely different genres, Jack & Lilly still gave you the deep belly laugh! And some of the situations really made me wince... the rats... ew but it was so awesome.

And we can't forget that Jack has a superb partner in crime, Lilly... Oh Lilly you are just too cool for school! I hope that Lily will eventually get her own adventure but in the meantime these two are a dynamic duo.

It is no secret that I love the feel of an actual book but I would totally recommend this series in a digital format simply because of the beautiful illustrations. This would be an ideal ebook to gift to a teacher or tech savvy middle grader.

I am officially a Ben Hatke fan and you will be too {this is an instance where it is okay to fall to peer pressure, your mom will understand. :)


Want more Jack? Follow along with this blog tour for fantasy adventure you just can’t miss!

 Librarian’s Quest, 8/18
Trisha Jenn Reads, 8/21
Undeniably Book Nerdy, 8/22
Expresso Reads, 8/23
Paperback Princess, 8/25
Books and Ladders, 8/28
Page Turners Blog, 8/29
Reading Nook Reviews, 8/30
The Novel Hermit, 8/31
A Backwards Story, 9/1
Bridget and the Books, 9/4
The Plot Bunny, 9/5 
The Caterpillar Corner, 9/6
Meet Ben! He is the author and illustrator of the New York Times–bestselling Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, the picture books Julia's House for Lost Creatures and Nobody Likes a Goblin, and the graphic novels Little Robot and Mighty Jack. He lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and their boisterous pack of daughters.

Back to School Giveaway! Clean Yo Shelves

It's time... for the alarms, the bed-time battles and the tardy slips. But one thing is certain, I will get some of my best reading done the first few weeks of school. How? Well it's simple, as I sit for "don't you dare leave your bedroom" patrol I will have my kindle handy. As my kids fall into their beds the first week begging for sleep, I will be cozy on the couch reading. This is seriously prime time reading people!

But I must purge some of my book stash too. So I am sharing an oldy but a goody copy of Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre {ARC copy}. Participate in as many entries as your little heart desires! I will mail the copy out the day after the giveaway closes.

Review HERE
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to win more?! Visit these other blogs for a chance to win lots of good stuff, we all want stuff (...even though we are claiming to clean our shelves).