Round-up of the Goodreads Reading Challenge 2020!

At the beginning of the year I had planned to read around 50 books (keeping in mind my work schedules and timelines). However, as a result of the pandemic and work from home situation, I was able to increase this number up to 74!

As per the Goodreads stats, the longest book I read was Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (671 pages), Edwards take on the events that occur in Twilight.

The shortest book read, with just 24 pages was a delightful children’s book titled Dinosaur Adventure: A Field Trip to Remember (Let’s Learn While Playing #2) by Kelly Santana-Banks

It also turns out that my average rating is 3.5 stars!

I love how Goodreads has summarized the books and my year. Check out my list here.

MY 2020 BOOKS
The Tower Lord by Anthony RyanA Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid KemmererShadow Trials by Isla FrostFirstborn Academy by Isla FrostFirstborn Academy by Isla Frost
The Selection by Kiera CassThe One by Kiera CassThe Elite by Kiera CassHouse of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasTwo Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
Inebriated by Katey TaylorLegendary by Stephanie GarberDragon Connection by Ava RichardsonFinale by Stephanie GarberSunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten WhiteQueen of Corvids by J.C. McKenzieRescuing Lord Inglewood by Sally BrittonPrejudice Meets Pride by Rachael AndersonA History of Hexing by Evie Wilde
Keep Forever by Alexa KingaardThe School for Good and Evil by Soman ChainaniThe Girl in the Corner by Amanda ProwseA Torch Against the Night by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa TahirAsh Princess by Laura SebastianLady Smoke by Laura SebastianEmber Queen by Laura SebastianWrong Place, Right Time by E.B. Roshan
Summer at Hope Haven by Kristin HarperLucy's Last Chance by Elle SweetMidnight Sun by Stephenie MeyerWho Threw Draco Down the Chimney? by Smita BhattacharyaThe Damned by Renée Ahdieh
The Beautiful by Renée AhdiehThe Guilty Die Twice by Don HartshornThorne Bay by Jeanine CroftProject Hackathon by Arushi AggarwalTwo Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey
Return to Virgin River by Robyn CarrThe Pigeon Whisperer by Motaz H MatarHinterland by L.M. BrownThe Tech by Mark RavineDinosaur Adventure by Kelly Santana-Banks
Aunt Ivy's Cottage by Kristin HarperPrism by Nina WalkerThe Pageant by Leigh WalkerThe Gala by Leigh WalkerFracture by Nina Walker
The Finale by Leigh Walker337 by M. Jonathan LeeTen Days with a Duke by Erica RidleyThe Guardians of the Halahala by Shatrujeet NathRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Winter of the Wolf by Martha Hunt HandlerBeyond Belief by Ronald CrouchThe Eye of Ra by Ben GartnerSol Invictus by Ben GartnerThe Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson
Murder at the Lakeside Library by Holly DanversThe Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie MidwoodNever Say No by Elizabeth NeepA ​Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir58 Farm End by Natasha Murray
Across the Lake by Nancy LiPetriWedding Bells on Victory Street by Pam HowesForever Your Duke by Erica RidleyChronicles of a Spell Caster by J.J. SingletonSummer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman
Midnight Train to Prague by Carol WindleyThe Lost Village by Daniela SacerdotiAlessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden VialMurder in the Snow (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #4)

Do share your thoughts on the books I’ve read and don’t hesitate to leave recommendations for books to read in 2021!

Book Review – Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial by Nathalie Laine

About the Book:

A fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Keeper of the Lost Cities and His Dark Materials

It’s not unusual for twelve-year-old Alessia to lose control of her emotions and create a scene at school. It is unusual for her to be attacked by a giant frog monster and plunged into the underwater realm of Atlantis in an overturned boat.

On arriving in Atlantis, she learns that her long-lost father may have been from there. Determined to investigate, she stays and enrolls in Atlantide school: The Octopus’s Garden.

But uncovering the truth is not easy when the tyrannical Atlantide Emperor forbids asking about missing people. With the help of her newfound school friends, Alessia will have to steal evidence from a grumpy teacher, escape from rebel merfolk and make rhymes with menacing blue people of Minch to discover the key to her past.

Meanwhile, someone knows exactly who she’s the daughter of, and is ready to kill her for it.

My Thoughts:

I was approved a copy of this book via NetGalley.

I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to read this book! Alessia in Atlantis is a wonderfully written middle grade fantasy fiction that takes the reader into the depths of Atlantis. We are introduced to Alessia, a twelve year old who doesn’t seem to always have control over her emotions and who finds it difficult to make friends. When she hears a sirens call (quite unusual for humans) and ends up in Atlantis, she makes the decision to stay in hopes of finding out more about her father.

I loved reading about the lost city and the creatures who inhabit it. The author has done a wonderful job with the descriptions and paints a lovely picture. The characters in the book are fun to read about and I love how Alessia’s friends move in to help her in her search. As the story progresses, the reader is taken on a journey through Atlantis as secrets are revealed and all is not as it seems!

The book is gripping and absolutely worth the read. This book though aimed at middle grades, is a wonderful read even for adults! I do hope to read more by the author about Alessia’s adventures.

Round-up 2020 – Books with a lasting impact!

Hey guys!

As you might have observed, I have been doing round-up posts with a focus on genres read this year.

However, in this post, I wanted to focus on books that left an impact on me that lasted well after finishing the book. This year, I discovered a lot of new books spread across various genres, but a few were just amazing! These books gave me something to think about, brought out a lot of emotions or just sent me on a wonderful adventure filled with fun and learning!

Click on the book image to read my review of the book

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Historical Fiction

The Violinist of Auschwitz The Lost Village

Fantasy Fiction

A Heart So Fierce and Broken (The Cursebreaker Series) Finale (Caraval, #3) A ​Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes, #4)

Middle Grade Fiction

 Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra, #2)

General/Contemporary Fiction

337

 

Do share your thoughts in case you have read the above books. If you have recommendations for such reads, please leave a comment so that I can add the book to my ever growing TBR pile!

Book Review: Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman

I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review. Read on to know more about the books and my thoughts.

Summer of L.U.C.K.

 

Summer of L.U.C.K., a magical middle grade fantasy novel for ages 8 to 12 by Laura Segal Stegman, was released by INtense Publications on September 15, 2020, and will be followed by a sequel in 2021. Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author. Summer of L.U.C.K. is her debut, and it is available wherever books are sold.

THE STORY

Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids finding their way to self-acceptance with the help of a ghost who haunts a magical carnival.

View Book Trailer on YouTube HERE

Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.

As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.

CONTACT:

INtense Publications
Laura Segal Stegman
Twitter: @LauraStegman
Instagram: @laura_stegman
Facebook: LauraSegalStegmanAuthor

My Thoughts:

Summer of L.U.C.K. is a wonderful story that focuses on three children and their problems. Darby speaks with a stutter and has a low self-esteem. Naz moves to America from Morocco and is trying to learn to speak English and mingle with children his age while dealing with missing his father. Justin is dealing with the loss of his father and his inability to voice his feelings or talk about his situation.

The three of them meet at summer camp, brought together by mysterious music that only the three of them seem to hear. On investigating, they end up at the adjoining property which used to be a carnival. The author brings to us a mix of magic and delight in this book as the children meet with the ghost of Mr. Leroy Usher, the owner of the carnival. Spurred into trying to save him and reunite him with his wife, the children are forced to confront their problems and try to come out of them, try to move forward and grow.

This is a story with a strong message which is woven very well into the story. The focus is on self-discovery and healing as well as forging friendships and creating bonds. A story of learning, the author brings to us a delightful set of characters who overcome their fears and inhibitions to help a whole lot of people including themselves! The story also pushes the reader to imagine a world of magic and all possibilities as anything can happen if you just believe.

This book is a great read not just for children, but for adults too! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I hope everyone else does too!

Round-up of 2020: Middle Grade and Children’s Fiction books!

Having read a whole lot of books this year, I have decided to do a sum up of the different genres and list my favourite books among those read in 2020! These posts will help me with the final round-up of favourite books read in 2020 at the end of the year (in another 15 days! :D)

                          —————————————————————————————————–

In this post, I am summarizing the list of middle grade fiction and children’s books that I read and enjoyed this year! They are not listed in any particular order and I truly enjoyed all of them.

Reading all these books took me back to my childhood and growing up with Enid Blyton’s novels! It’s wonderful to see how many authors have come out with such wonderful stories and even as an adult, I am glad that I have had the chance to enjoy these books!

The Eye of Ra by Ben Gartner

Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra #2) by Ben Gartner

The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson

Beyond Belief: The Adventure Begins by Ron Crouch

Dinosaur Adventure: A Field Trip to Remember by Kelly Santana-Banks

Project Hackathon (Coding Supergirls Book 1) by Arushi Aggarwal

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or book recommendations in this Genre!

In Conversation with author Ben Gartner!

It is my pleasure to host author Ben Gartner on the blog.

His middle grade fiction books have been doing the rounds and I have had the privilege to read and review them on the blog! They are quirky, fun and full of historical adventures that speak to imaginative minds!

Read on to know more about Ben and to connect further with him!

What prompted you to start writing?

Like many writers out there, I’ve been living in the world of my imagination since I was a kid. I’ve always loved to read—anything I can get my hands on, pretty much. I’ve often said the day I stop learning is the day I die, and I think we can learn a lot from both fiction and nonfiction. I think that is why, in my writing, I tend to meld the two. Fantasy, science fiction, but with some historical trivia that makes it interesting to learn.

How did the book “The Eye of Ra” happen?

This is a fun story. J I had been working on an adult thriller at the time. Around the dinner table, my kids kept asking me about it and, well, it wasn’t exactly suitable for them. I mean, I could discuss the overall process and such, but not the nitty gritty plot details and the more fun stuff like that. So we decided to work on a new story together! They helped outline and brainstorm and sketch out the characters, their motivations and quirks, and the overall storyline. Then I went and wrote out a draft, all while discussing challenges over dinner. They were great sounding boards. I could run an idea by them and tell immediately if it hit or not. They do NOT pull the punches! Which is exactly what I need, their absolute candor. So it started as a fun “side” project, but then in writing it, I realized… well, I think that dovetails into your next question. 😉

Why did you choose to write middle grade fiction?

How it started: As a fun bonding activity with my sons.

How it’s going: The more I got into the middle grade niche, I realized I really have a passion for this age group and this time in our lives. Not only for my own personal reasons, but also for scientific ones. I love neuroscience and to think about thinking, and the middle grade time period is one of immense growth in the brain. In fact, I wrote another blog post about that here: https://mgbookvillage.org/2020/03/25/why-mg-books-and-the-authors-that-write-them-are-so-important-by-ben-gartner/

But mostly, because it’s FUN (more on that later).

Why did you choose to base the books on historical events/settings?

I really enjoy the nooks and crannies of any subject. The ones that make you go “huh!” And our own human story (history) is full of those, so there is plenty of material that spurs ideas. In looking at the archaeological record left by those who came before us, we can find a lot of commonalities, a lot of intriguing differences, and—most importantly for a writer—a lot of mystery. Holes. Gaps in our understanding where we can only make speculative, educated guesses. Those gaps give birth to story.

What inspired the book titles?

Well, as you read them you will see there is a running theme around the sun. Not only because it is a source of reverence throughout different cultures and eras, but also because it is a powerful force! Ra was the ancient Egyptian sun god (book 1 title being The Eye of Ra). And Sol Invictus translates to the “Unconquered Sun,” which was the Roman god of the sun (John and Sarah travel to an ancient Roman frontier town in modern-day Switzerland called Aventicum). Book 3 will carry on this tradition when John and Sarah travel back to the time of the ancient Mexica people (now commonly referred to as the Aztec). I have a working title for book 3 too, but I’m going to save that for now. 😉

How much research went into the writing of the two books?

The setting for both is quite different and in different time frames.

Lots! Fortunately, I love research rabbit holes. I am a proud researcher, Word Nerd, and lover of etymology. The research often gives rise to the core story itself, but also fleshes out the time and place and characters with idiosyncratic details of that era. So, while I do take artistic liberties, I also try to make the details realistic. The clothes, the culture, the games, the daily life—I try to make those as authentic as possible and even enlist experts in the field to verify my writing. (There is one tiny inaccuracy in The Eye of Ra. Email me if you find it and I’ll give you a bonus prize!)

How much does your day-to-day life inspire your characters?

It is important to note that I have two boys, who are now thirteen and ten. They were eleven and nine when I started this process. In some important ways, I wrote these characters so that they would be relatable to them (they did help create them, after all!). In other equally important ways, I did NOT want these characters to be mirror copies of my own children. I’d say that both John and Sarah share some attributes from both of my children, but myself as well, and others I’ve met. They are definitely fabrications of their own. But the more I write and think about them, the more realistic they become to me. I can easily imagine having them over to sit at a dinner with us.

What do you like best about writing a story?

The immersion of imagination. Time skips by faster when I’m writing than any other thing because I become so engrossed in the world and the plot. I am the creator and it is a powerful feeling. Mwahahahaha! Plus, I love a good turn of phrase. Words are powerful.

What kind of impact do your stories have on you?

This is a great blog question, and one I’ve never been asked before. Nice one. I’ve done a lot of therapeutic writing over the years. Journals, stories that I knew would never be shown to another person, that sort of thing. For me, I love to think (often, over-think, but that’s a different topic), and writing is a very helpful way for me to process my own feelings and thoughts, whether they be emotional or more concrete. So, I’d say that my stories and I have a symbiotic relationship. We both need and feed from the other.

Finally, what message do you want to share with us readers?

I hope that reading is FUN for you. That doesn’t mean it can’t cover difficult topics. That doesn’t mean escapism is bad. But if you are enjoying a book, that is the best. And if you’re not having fun with it, then you should probably pick something else. My sincere wish is that you have FUN with John and Sarah on their adventures through time.

And I love to hear from my readers, so don’t be shy about contacting me at ben@bengartner.com!

My website is https://BenGartner.com.

I’m active on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BGartnerWriting.

I post occasionally on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/BGartnerWriting and even less so on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BenGartnerAuthor.

Don’t forget that book two, SOL INVICTUS comes out on Groundhog Day, 2.2.21!

Or you can pre-order now from your local bookseller here: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781734155235 or from everywhere else like Amazon and Barnes & Noble here: https://books2read.com/sol-invictus-ben-gartner

And thank you so much for having me, Namrata! Always fun to talk shop. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson

The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse (The After School Detective Club Book 1)

My Thoughts:

This book, written for children by author Mark Dawson under a pseudonym, is a fast-paced fun read! The story focuses on 4 children and a dog who initially don’t know each other very well, but form a special bond eventually. The children are inquisitive and get caught up in solving a mystery. This book reminds me of Enid Blyton’s Mystery series, but where the children have access to modern amenities and gadgets! A well-written book, this is definitely a series that children will enjoy reading!

Book Review: Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra #2) by Ben Gartner

I was provided with an eARC by the author in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book:

Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra, #2)

Siblings John and Sarah barely made it home last time, but in their next time traveling adventure the challenge really heats up. Surrounded by clashing cultures on the ancient Roman frontier, they must fulfill their quest to unite the emperor with his enemy, an Alemanni barbarian, or risk being stuck in time forever.

An action-packed fantasy full of sword fights, chariot chases, fearsome wild animals, and high mountain survival. For graduates of the Magic Tree House looking for a thrilling middle grade page-turner, read Sol Invictus, book two of The Eye of Ra series!

My Thoughts:

Oh my my my, this book takes the reader into the heart of ancient Rome! The second book in The Eye of Ra series, follows the siblings, Sarah and John, as they get pulled into a new adventure this time starting at the Museum! This time though, they go into it knowingly, having been told that the fate of the world rests on them. They are told that they are on a quest to unite the emperor with one of his enemies.

The story is action-packed with a lot of fights, chases and hiking! Once again we have a reference to the Sun God, but as perceived in the eyes of the Romans. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and I think that it was even better than the first book. The story is a delight and once again the reader is treated to some historical facts mixed in with some sections where the author has taken creative liberty! There is another delightful recipe at the end, something that John, ‘the Little Chef’ learns during his adventure. The author makes certain references to Book 1 which helps remind the reader of some happenings or experiences from it. However, this book can also be read as a stand alone!

One part of the story that stood out to me was the bond between the siblings. Sarah is struggling for some amount of independence and does not want to have her younger brother trailing her all the time. However, when thrown into adverse situations or faced with a reality where she is separated from him, she starts to appreciate John more. This is wonderful to read about as the siblings rediscover their bond and learn to trust one another again while making new friends in ancient Rome and fighting off the enemy.

This series so far is filled with adventure, mystery and a lot of learning! The author leaves quite a bit to the imagination and through the books encourages us all to indulge in the impossible and enjoy ourselves! And finally, there is a hint that there is more where these books came from, more adventures for Sarah, John and all of us readers, children and adults alike!

Book Review: The Eye of Ra by Ben Gartner

About the Book:

The Eye of Ra (The Eye of Ra, #1)

 

Exploring a mysterious cave in the mountains behind their house, John and his sister Sarah are shocked to discover they’ve time traveled to ancient Egypt!

Now they must work together to find a way back home from an ancient civilization of golden desert sand and a towering new pyramid, without parents to save them. The adventures abound—cobras, scorpions, a tomb robber, and more! The two kids have to trust each other, make friends who can help, and survive the challenges thrown at them . . . or be stuck in ancient Egypt forever.

For readers graduating from the Magic Treehouse series and ready for intense action, dive into this middle grade novel rich with meticulous historical detail.

 

 

My Thoughts:

The Eye of Ra is a fun-filled adventure that will take the readers into Ancient Egypt through a mysterious cave. The story is well-written and the characters are realistic and inquisitive. I thoroughly enjoyed this story as it took me back to the days when I would read Enid Blyton’s adventure series.

The author keeps the story light while giving us a glimpse into Ancient Egypt and the way of life, a history lesson without being obvious and preaching. This first book in the series introduces us to some wonderful kids and their thoughts related to friendship and family. As the story progresses, through shared experiences and support, they find their way back to the present day, having learnt a great deal out of the experience!

I highly recommend this book for everyone, no matter their age, as everyone has a child waiting to explore and let their imagination run loose!

Look out for Book 2, SOL INVICTUS, which will release in February 2021!

Book Review : The Piraroo by Marko Kitti

About the Book: (taken from the back cover of the book)

The Piraroo (Tales from Puffington Hill, #1)

Dear Reader,

I’m afraid you’re soon going to meet a tarantula the size of a kitten. You’re also going to bump into a whopper of a seagull who is the British Champion in Poop Bombing. Not to mention an extraordinary, furry creature whose ancestor once belonged to a notorious pirate captain.

You’re also going to meet a ten-year-old boy called Max, the owner of the tarantula, whose life is about to turn upside down in this nail-biting adventure that includes petnappers and disgusting healthy smoothies!

So I am warning you, Dear Reader: Should you decide to read about Max and his animal friends, your life will never be the same again.

Yours sincerely,
MK

My Thoughts:

The Piraroo, a new book by author Marko Kitti, is another delightful read for not just children, but everyone. The story follows Max, a ten year old, as he deals with the loss of a pet, the acqusition of a new one and an unexpected adventure. The story comes with illustrations by Ant Carlos which are wonderful and expressive. They complement the story and make it more interesting to read.

The most wonderful part of this book is the way in which it is put together, right from page colors to match the environment upto the plot, the whole concept is different and enchanting. I enjoyed the effects of these colors and the way they matched the story. I am not sure that it is wise to expand upon this point since it is worth the surprise when you get to those pages!

The story brings out the importance of friendship and belief as well as love towards animals and other beings. It also brings out a contrast between greed and deception with love and kindness. The animals and birds are fascinating in this story, becoming the main characters towards the middle. Max’s interaction with them is delightful to follow. We also meet Max’s dysfunctional family and are thrown into the midst of a fascinating smoothie contest!

Bringing together all these plot lines, Marko once again crafts a fun filled story which will leave the reader in splits. He also ensures to mix in a little seriousness and emotion with a strong message, a newer concept as compared to the general humour filled Jesper Jinx novels. As always, this new book by Marko Kitti is worth the read!