‘The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames’ by Lisa McMann is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames

In her new series, “The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames,” Lisa McMann creates an action-filled fantasy with children who have supernatural powers but must survive on their own after the last adult in their group dies. The five children have always lived in a secret hideaway far from civilization as their parents were master criminals who barely escaped with their lives after a heist gone bad. But gradually, the parents have disappeared after returning to civilization, the first few to gather supplies, and then others left to search for the first three adults who disappeared. The last adult, Louis, got sick and died, leaving his daughter a secret message.

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‘The Lock-Eater’ by Zack Loran Clark is an action-filled fantasy with plenty of twists

The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

In his debut novel, “The Lock-Eater,” author Zack Loran Clark presents us with a very unusual protagonist. Melanie Gate is an orphan, and she lives with other similarly situated girls at the Merrytrails Orphanage for Girls. Mrs. Harbargain is the kindly woman in charge of the orphanage, and she lives with the children and her cat, Abraxas, who is redeemed neither by his looks nor his personality. Melanie has the strange ability of being able to open any door or lock. Other girls in the orphanage have different abilities; one is a talented baker, another is unusually charming, another a gifted storyteller.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Unforgettable Logan Foster’ by Shawn Peters is a middle grade superhero fantasy kids will love

The Unforgettable Logan Foster
by Shawn Peters

“The Unforgettable Logan Foster” by Shawn Peters is a middle grade story that lives up to its title — it’s charming and filled with so much adventure and so many incredible characters that the book will be just that — unforgettable. It’s both rare and wonderful to find a middle grade fantasy which features a main character who is a very different kind of kid. The protagonist, Logan Foster, tells us his story as if he’s talking to us. In fact, he lets us know from the start that he is sharing this story for his younger brother—whoever and wherever he may be. Logan was found in an airport on the jetway of a flight that had just left for Boston. He was wearing a shirt that read “World’s Best Big Brother,” and on the tag of the tee shirt was written “L. Foster.” So Logan is sure that somewhere, he has a little brother, and he spends a lot of time online searching to try to find his sibling. Logan has an eidetic memory, and we realize that he’s very definitely neurodiverse. That makes his first person narrative interesting and humorous, as he will share his feelings and then repeat the dialogue that is practically identical to the thoughts that he shared. He admits, however, that he’s not adept at reading other people’s emotions.

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‘No Beauties or Monsters’ by Tara Goedjen is filled with surprise and mystery until the lovely ending

No Beauties or Monsters

“No Beauties or Monsters” by Tara Goedjen is the ultimate mystery novel. For most of the story, we have little idea what is happening. Why does main character Rylie lose track of time—for hours—and have no recollection of what happened? What is going on in Twentynine Palms and the nearby military base to which her mother was just transferred and where they visited her grandfather when Rylie was a child? And, in fact, what happened when Rylie was a child to estrange them from her grandfather?

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‘Grave Reservations’ by Cherie Priest is a cleverly amusing paranormal murder mystery

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

“Grave Reservations” by Cherie Priest is a perfectly charming paranormal mystery that features a slightly flaky but very personable main character. There’s nothing that says self-deprecating like a travel agent who calls herself “ninety-nine percent worthless as a psychic.” Leda Foley runs Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy, a travel agency. In the first chapter, she changes a client’s connecting flight without letting him know in advance. When he calls her as he’s rushing to get to the original gate, she tells him that if he wants to get home that evening, he must take the rebooked flight. Priest explains that Leda “didn’t know why she’d changed his flight. It’d been a feeling, hard as a fist in her stomach.” After being sorry in the past when she ignored those feelings, she doesn’t ignore them now. And when his original flight explodes, he’s thankful for Leda’s feelings.

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‘Flamefall’ by Rosaria Munda is the sequel to the thoughtful and thrilling ‘Fireborne’

Flamefall by Rosaria Munda

You don’t want to miss reading “Flamefall” by Rosaria Munda, the sequel to “Fireborne” and the second book in “The Aurelian Cycle” trilogy. In the first novel, Rosaria Munda created an alternate world populated by overlords and serfs. The overlords could do—and did do—anything they wanted to the peasant families they “owned” in Callipolis. These rulers were aided by their dragons, who were feared for their ability to shoot flames. The revolution that ensued was reminiscent of the Russian Revolution both for its ideals and the blood that was shed. The dragonlord families were slaughtered.

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‘Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)

Greek Mythology by Liv Albert

With this compendium of Greek myths, “Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)” Liv Albert presents an engaging and comprehensive book that provides information about both the well-known and some lesser-known Greek Gods and demigods and even just Greek royals. The language is very accessible. For example, each chapter begins with the heading “What’s Their Deal?” or “What’s His Deal?” The next part is “The Story You Need to Know” and then “Now You Know.”

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‘Willodeen’ by Katherine Applegate; because Nature knows more than we do

Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

Award-winning author Katherine Applegate’s last series, “Endling,” was about the near-extinction of a species. In her newest magical novel, “Willodeen,” she presents an alternative world with strange, exotic creatures. As in our own world, some creatures in this magical one are cute, and others are not only ugly; they smell atrocious. They are called screechers because of the sound they make at night. Main character and first person narrator Willodeen and her father had enjoyed watching them — from a distance — because if you get too close to them, you smell, too. They both loved creatures, and the yard of their cottage was filled with domestic animals and wild ones, like the “ancient river otter who could no longer swim.” Together, Willodeen and her father observed nature and enjoyed watching animals, both ugly and beautiful, until one of the ever-increasing fire events destroyed Willodeen’s house and killed everyone in her family but her.

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‘Pony’ by R. J. Palacio is a superb new novel about devotion

Pony by R.J. Palacio

While the plot of “Pony” by R. J. Palacio reminded me a bit of another middle grade book about a pony, “Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart, the stories are quite different apart from being historical fiction with both boys having a horse that they love dearly. Each story is beautiful in its own right, and “Pony” is one that will not be quickly forgotten. In “Pony,” Palacio forces us to think about love, loss, and the connections that bind us to each other.

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‘Tips for Magicians’ by Celesta Rimington is a superb middle grade book that deals with overcoming loss, family and friendship

Tips for Magicians by Celesta Rimington

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.

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Spidey stories will entertain your kids and teach them something, too

It’s not often that superhero books are more than light entertainment. I’ll be honest in that I was pleasantly surprised that the Spidey Amazing Friends series of books that I read with my grandson had life lessons in addition to the entertainment value. He’s almost five, and he loves superheroes, so when he saw the Marvel board book and early readers on my coffee table, he excitedly asked me to read them to him. We now read them each time he comes to visit.

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