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)

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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: 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!