Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral by Darlene Foster #bookreview #childrensbooks #travel #mystery

Amanda explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, while being drawn into the mystery surrounding the destructive fire of Notre Dame cathedral.

Amanda is in love! With Paris – the city of love. She’s in awe of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral. While there, she gets to work as a volunteer and stay in a famous book store, along with her bestie, Leah, and Leah’s eccentric Aunt Jenny. A dream come true for a book lover like Amanda.

Except, while she’s at the Paris Opera House there is a bomb threat. Then the lights go out during their visit to the Louvre. Worst of all, a devastating fire blazes in Notre Dame. Why does a mysterious man, who claims to be a busker, writer and artist, show up every time something bad happens?

Join Amanda as she explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, all the time looking for clues as to who would want to destroy such a beautiful, historic cathedral.

Join Amanda as she explores the exciting streets and sites around Paris, all the while looking for clues as to who would want to destroy such a beautiful, historic place.

I’ve armchair traveled with Amanda a few times now, and I was thrilled to experience France with her this time around.

Even though these books are geared toward the younger crowd, I learn something about the different countries every time. Here are just a few examples from France: the purpose of gargoyles, there’s a lake beneath the Palais Garnier (just like Phantom of the Opera!), and the Louvre was originally a royal palace. Evidently I never paid much attention in history class.

Amanda has a talent for attracting trouble, and she’s not in Paris long before strange occurrences begin. Why do they keep running into the same man everywhere they go? Who went through Aunt Jenny’s belongings in their room at Shakespeare and Company? Can their new friend Pierre be trusted? Amanda and her friend Leah (who’s beginning to show signs of classic teen moodiness) find themselves in the middle of a mystery all while touring the wonderful sites (and food!) Paris has to offer.

This is a fast-paced story easily finished in under two hours. I highly recommend this series as a way to introduce kids to different countries and cultures. Solving mysteries with Amanda is just a bonus.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rise of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani #bookreview #MG #fairytale

The battle between Good and Evil begins.

Two brothers.

One Good.

One Evil.

Together they watch over the Endless Woods.

Together they choose the students for the School for Good and Evil.

Together they train them, teach them, prepare them for their fate.

Then, something happens.

Something unexpected.

Something powerful.

Something that will change everything and everyone.

Who will survive?

Who will rule the School?

The journey starts here. Every step is filled with magic, surprises, and daring deeds that test courage, loyalty, and who you really are. But they only lead you to the very beginning of the adventures that are THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL.

When I requested this from NetGalley, I didn’t realize there were seven books in the series and this is a prequel. Technically I guess it could be read as a standalone, but I’d have preferred to read the other books first to fully understand this world. Other reviews I’ve seen also recommend it.

Twin brothers Rafal and Rhian are headmasters for evil and good sections respectively at a prestigious boarding school where heroes and vilains are trained and taught. They also watch over the Endless Woods. As long as the twins love each other, good and evil are in balance. Previous students of the school are recognizable names – Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White – but this prequel features Aladdin and Captain Hook (James). The school masters are certain Aladdin is destined for Rafal’s school of evil, but when he’s dropped off at Rhian’s school of good, their world goes askew and the adventure begins.

The brothers’ relationship is challenged when feelings of betrayal, jealousy, and mistrust enter the equation. Add in a competition, pirates, and a bungled genie-granted wish, and you have a fun MG read. Although I enjoyed this book, I know I’d have appreciated it more if I’d read the others in the series, and it looks like a Netflix movie is coming. I know I’ll be watching.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady by Darlene Foster #bookreview #MG #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amanda in Alberta when I read it last year not long after visiting Canada. When I saw Amanda’s newest adventure on NetGalley, I thought “Let’s go to Malta!”

The author’s descriptions are vivid and detailed making it easy for readers to visualize the local sights Amanda visits. I drooled over some of the food, especially the pastizzi (but definitely not the rabbit pizza). As an animal lover, I adored the Cat Cafe where locals leave food out for the homeless cats in the city. The Popeye Theme Park was a fun addition. I had no idea the Robin Williams movie was filmed in Malta. With historical details sprinkled throughout the story, I always come away from these books learning something new and feel as if I’ve visited the locations myself.

Amanda is one well-traveled young girl and often finds herself in the midst of troubling occurrences. Malta is no exception. With jellyfish stings, kidnappings, chases, and a trip to the hospital, she and her friends Caleb and Leah encounter both dangerous situations and people several times over the course of the story.

I’d highly recommend this delightful series to young readers and those young at heart who enjoy captivating adventures and mysteries that take them around the world. Who couldn’t use some armchair travel?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1) by Amanda Foody #bookreview #MG #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods.

The last thing Barclay Thorne ever wanted was an adventure.

Thankfully, as an apprentice to the town’s mushroom farmer, Barclay need only work hard and follow the rules to one day become the head mushroom farmer himself. No danger required. But then Barclay accidentally breaks his town’s most sacred rule: never ever EVER stray into the Woods, for within the Woods lurk vicious magical Beasts.

To Barclay’s horror, he faces a fate far worse than being eaten: he unwittingly bonds with a Beast and is run out of town by an angry mob. Determined to break this bond and return home, Barclay journeys to find the mysterious town of Lore Keepers, people who have also bonded with Beasts and share their powers.

But after making new friends, entering a dangerous apprenticeship exam, and even facing the legendary Beast of the Woods, Barclay must make a difficult choice: return to the home and rules he’s always known, or embrace the adventure awaiting him.

I don’t read many middle grade books, but I make an exception when it’s written by one of my favorite authors.

Barclay Thorne carries the weight of many worries. He was orphaned after a beast killed his parents and now has to work as an apprentice to a mushroom farmer for meals and shelter. He worries about making his deceased parents proud of him. Dullshire (his village) regularly posts new rules he has to remember (sneezing is prohibited in the town square). And then there are all the creatures in the Woods that could potentially eat him. He’s also very determined not to have anything to do with Lore (magic), which is outlawed in Dullshire. When he accidentally bonds with a Beast in the Woods and is barred from his village, his worries become nearly overpowering.

Worldbuilding is richly detailed and full of whimsical appeal. The author has constructed a magical world full of creatively named creatures, plants, etc. The classes of beasts and their powers is clever and easy to understand, and a guide listing all of them is included at the end. I especially enjoyed that the author’s cat inspired one of the creatures (Mitzi is adorable!).

This is an absolutely delightful first book in a series I plan to continue. Barclay is a very relatable MC, and the supporting characters (especially Viola) are fun and well-developed. With plenty of humor, unlikely friendships, a thrilling adventure, and some heartwarming moments, this book is about discovering what truly makes you happy and finding where you belong.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Bridge of Souls (Cassidy Blake #3) by Victoria Schwab #bookreview #MG #supernatural #TuesdayBookBlog

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows … unless it’s the other way around?

Cass thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while travelling for her parents’ TV show.

But nothing can prepare Cass for New Orleans, which wears all of its hauntings on its sleeve. In a city of ghost tours and tombs, raucous music and all kinds of magic, Cass could get lost in all the colourful, grisly local legends. And the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.

Cass takes on her most dangerous challenge yet… 

I don’t usually read middle grade books, but when one of my favorite authors writes a MG series, you can be sure I’ll make an exception.

I listened to the first two books in this series, and it took only moments for Cassidy and her ghost best friend Jacob to charm me. Her parents are The Inspecters, a ghost-hunting team venturing to various haunted locations, but Cass’s mother is a believer and her father a skeptic. Being enchanted with the city of New Orleans, I was thrilled one of the most haunted cities in America is the setting for this novel. While touring the city with her parents and guide and experiencing music at Jackson Square, beignets at Cafe Du Monde, tarot card readings, and old cemeteries, it becomes apparent something has found Cass and is determined to take her beyond the veil permanently. Enter Lara, a new friend Cass and Jacob met in Paris in the previous book. She’s a Ravenclaw, an old soul, and a no nonsense type of girl who occasionally butts heads with Jacob. Soon the three of them are facing their greatest challenge, and the stakes have never been higher.

Schwab did a wonderful job at capturing the essence of NOLA and bringing it to life in the novel. I felt as if I revisited the city (sure wish I could have eaten a beignet while reading). If your MG (or young at heart) readers are interested in supernatural stories involving charismatic characters, a little bit of history, and a lazy black cat, this is a series I highly recommend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone by Darlene Foster #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #MG #mystery

Amanda is delighted to show Leah aaround Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her. 

This is my first time ‘meeting’ Amanda and while there are several books in the series, I chose this one because I traveled to Calgary earlier this year and visited some of the places mentioned in the description.

What a delightful story!  Amanda is excited to spend time with her friend, Leah, and show her around during her holiday with Amanda’s family.  I really enjoyed ‘re-visiting’ some of these places with them, while also learning new facts.  Being a dinosaur nerd (I love that great aunt Mary is a paleontologist), I wish we’d been able to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and see the World’s Biggest Dinosaur – maybe on our next visit.

Amanda is intelligent, feisty, and adventure-loving, and her inquisitive nature soon draws the girls into a mystery which results in some perilous situations.  They run into some pretty unsavory characters while trying to learn more about the markings on the stone.

The author does a wonderful job of blending educational facts with a mystery and adventure that will thrill young (and older!) readers.  These are quick reads I’d highly recommend, and I look forward to traveling with Amanda to more destinations.

#BadMoonRising: Saving Hascal’s Horrors by Laura Smith #ghosts #supernatural #middlegrade

Hanging out in a haunted graveyard or spending the night in a haunted house?  This author has no problem with either – she’s done both.  And if the Ghostbusters need a new recruit?  She’s ready – already has the proton pack.  Welcome Laura Smith!

Would you rather walk through a haunted graveyard at midnight or spend the night in a haunted, abandoned house?

I’ve actually walked through a haunted graveyard at midnight, and it didn’t really phase me. Cemeteries are pretty peaceful places at any time of day, and as long as your intentions are innocent, nothing should bother you.

I’ve also spent the night in old, eerie houses and even once slept over in a church as a kid which was pretty creepy, but as a horror fan, it’s also exciting. It’s everyday life that scares me, and having other people around me who are afraid of the paranormal always makes me feel braver not only to face a potentially scary situation but also to come out of my shell in response to that adrenaline rush that you get from being scared.

Would you rather spend a night in The Overlook Hotel with Jack Torrance or be in the high school gym during prom with Carrie?

While I’d love to experience the isolation of staying in a hotel during a blizzard, I’d be more in my element around Carrie. I feel like she would leave me alone, and I’d either be able to stop her from getting drenched in pig’s blood or at least get out of there before she freaks out. Also, Carrie is my favorite Stephen King book so that alone gets my vote.

Would you rather be part of the X-Files team or Ghostbusters?

Definitely the Ghostbusters. I watched both movies religiously as a kid, and my brother, sisters, and I had toy proton packs that we would use to play Ghostbusters while the cartoon played in the background. So, I feel like I’m really practiced in the art of busting ghosts. I’ve also never seen an episode of the X-Files. So, it was an easy choice.

What is your favorite cover of all your books?  Why?

Saving Hascal’s Horrors is easily my favorite cover. I drew the image myself and chose the font. It’s not perfect, but it’s personal, and each silhouette perfectly represents each of the main characters in the story.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to read, watch movies, draw, exercise, garden, watch YouTube videos, shop, and spend time with my family. I’m never bored. There are always projects or activities in progress in or around my house, and this year, I’ve taken on so many writing gigs, including starting my own blog, that there’s always writing to do. If I could freeze time or add more waking hours to my day, I would, but I always finish what I start.

What are you working on now?

In terms of novels, I’m working on a trilogy about a little girl who gets super powers after losing her eyesight in one eye in a freak accident. The series has a strong anti-bullying message. Each character is bullied for a different reason, and it’s populated with my most diverse cast yet. Two books in the series are finished. The first is in the process of being submitted to agents and publishers, the second is in the editing process, and the third is still being written. I’m determined to get this series traditionally published, even if it’s just by a small, independent press, but I’m still proud to be called an indie author.

Ten-year-old Mike Hascal loves horror movies. His family owns a horror-themed shop that his sister, Julie, inherited from their dad who died when Mike was only two. Before his death, the shop held a contest to see who could find and photograph a real live ghost. Two teenage boys went into some nearby woods looking to win this contest. One of the boys, Shawn Mackey, never made it out of the woods. Shawn’s father, a teacher at Mike’s school, then forced the Hascal family to close their shop to the public.

When Mike finds out about this, he and his friends, along with his new friend and horror movie lover, Freddy Nickerman, spend the summer planning a search for Shawn’s body in the now forbidden woods. Will Mike and his friends make it out and save the shop, or will the ghost of Shawn Mackey keep them from leaving too?

Purchase Links



Laura Smith is an author, blogger, and freelance writer from Pittsburgh, PA. She has self-published three middle grade books, writes book reviews for LitPick, reviews movies for HorrorScreams VideoVault, and blogs for HubPages and her own personal blog. She is a life long horror fan, and her love of the genre led her to write her second novel, Saving Hascal’s Horrors, which is an homage to both the kid-friendly and adult horror books and movies that she devoured growing up. When she’s not writing, she’s usually watching movies, drawing, gardening, shopping, and spending time with her family.

Social Media

Twitter: @lsmith335

Indie Author Friday: Janice Spina #IndieAuthor #ChildrensBooks #YA #middlegrade

Happy Friday!  Today’s indie author has penned books for all age ranges – children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult – take your pick.  Oh – and don’t even think about challenging her to a hula hoop duel.  Welcome, Janice Spina!


 PS-Grade 3 (ages 0-8):
Louey the Lazy Elephant
Ricky the Rambunctious Raccoon
Jerry the Crabby Crayfish
Lamby the Lonely Lamb
Jesse the Precocious Polar Bear
Broose the Moose on the Loose
Sebastian Meets Marvin the Monkey
Colby the Courageous Cat
Two more children’s books coming in 2018

Middle-Grade: Grades 4–7 (ages 9-12):

Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Book 1 (The Case of the Missing Cell Phone)
Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Book 2 (The Case of the Mysterious Black Cat)
Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Book 3 (The Case of the Magical Ivory Elephant)
Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Book 4 (The Case of the Brown Scraggly Dog)
Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Book 5 (The Case of the Sad Mischievous Ghost)
A new mystery series for girls coming in 2018 with two of the character from Davey & Derek Book 5 (Abby & Holly).

Young Adult: Grades 8-12 (ages 13+):

YA fantasy book 1 coming in 2018 (series)

Novels: Ages 18+:

Hunting Mariah (thriller/mystery/crime)
How Far Is Heaven (paranormal/mystery/romance)
An Angel Among Us (Short Story Collection)
A new edition of Hunting Mariah in 2017
A sequel to Hunting Mariah coming in 2017

What are your favorite books in your genre?

I write in different genres for all ages and enjoy them all. I found my niche with the Middle-Grade/Preteen/YA group when I began my Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Series. It was my aha moment!

When I write any book I begin with a title and the story flows from there. I have changed titles occasionally when the story takes a different turn. Book 1 of Davey & Derek, The Case of the Missing Cell Phone, came to me after hearing about a cell phone that was stolen from a student at school. Of course, my story is purely from my imagination.

Writing these books has been a joy to me. They make me feel like a kid again. I plan to keep writing more.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would that be?

The one thing I would have told myself would have been – believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone discourage you from your dream. Do what you love to do and follow your heart.

I began writing at the age of nine with poetry and greeting cards. Stories came later for my children. My first fairy tale has yet to be published. I was first published in 2008 when one of my poems appeared in a local newspaper. My first children’s book was published in 2013, after I retired from an administrative secretarial school position, followed by 16 more books up to this time. I wish I had done all this sooner. I am not wasting another minute and plan to have 40+ books before I leave this world.

What do you love most about the writing process?

I love when ideas begin to form when a title pops into my head. As I hold my fingers above the keys of my laptop I can feel the energy flowing from my mind onto the keys as my fingers fly across them. It is an incredibly euphoric feeling! I feel alive!

I love the way the story and characters come to life. I am a pantser and write as the ideas come to me. I never know what is going to happen next, not even how the story is going to end. I do, at times, have to rein in the characters and move them in the direction I want them to go. I do take notes and list all the characters and their traits to keep them straight. For children’s books and MG this works well but for novels I need to take more control since they are longer. All I know is I love writing and will continue to create more stories for as long as I physically can.

What’s your favorite kind of cookie and why?

I love macaroons! Just saying the name makes my mouth water! I love all kinds of nuts, almond being my favorite. The smell, the taste and the crunch are wonderful!  I don’t eat cookies now because of my dietary restrictions but I can still eat almonds.

Any unusual talents or hobbies?

When I was a child I remember getting a hula hoop. I practiced daily and could keep it going for long periods of time much to the chagrin of my friends who struggled with it. In my twenties and thirties, I won some contests at local dances and on cruises being the longest standing hula hooper on the floor. To this day, at 69 years young I can still hula hoop and keep it going for as long as I want until I want to stop.

Book you would want with you on a desert island?

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is the book I would choose. This book inspired me to write numerous poems and some of my early children’s stories. When I need inspiration, I peruse its pages from time to time. It’s a small book packed with ideas and knowledge if the reader reads between the lines.

As the book description states: The Secret contains wisdom from modern-day teachers—men and women who have used it to achieve health, wealth, and happiness. By applying the knowledge of The Secret, they bring to light compelling stories of eradicating disease, acquiring massive wealth, overcoming obstacles, and achieving what many would regard as impossible.

I think anyone who reads this book obtains a different perspective. I found my creativeness peaked and flowed freely without much effort.

Thank you, Teri, for the kind invitation to guest on your blog. It was a pleasure to answer your eclectic and intriguing questions and share a little bit about myself with you and your readers.

Author Bio

Janice Spina aka J.E. Spina is an award-winning author with seventeen published books. She has been writing since the age of nine. Janice always dreamed of being an author but did not realize this dream until after she retired from an administrative position in a school system. She is also a copy editor, blogger, book reviewer and supporter of fellow authors.

In 2013 she published her first children’s book, Louey the Lazy Elephant, (which is one of her most popular books today), along with another children’s book, followed by three more children’s books and one novel in 2014, two children’s books, and two middle-grade/preteen detective books 1 & 2 in 2015 and one novel, a children’s book, and Book 3 and 4 of her MG/PT series in 2016. In 2017 at this writing she has published a short story collection, Book 5 of her MG/PT series and a children’s book.

Her goal is to write for all ages and encourage children to read which will cultivate a love of reading and carry them through their lives. Janice’s books range from PS-Grade 3 to 18+. Janice’s motto is Reading Can Give You Wings to Fly. Her logo is Jemsbooks – Books for all ages.

Janice plans to write more children’s books, middle-grade, young adult fantasy and novels over the next two years. As the author says, “There is always another story running around in my head just waiting to be written down.”

Janice’s hobbies are crocheting, exercising (walking, hula hooping to keep in shape), and reading, reviewing books, blogging, traveling, going out to the movies and dinner with her husband, and spending time with her five grandchildren who are her inspiration to write.

Social Media

 FB Children’s books:
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Buy Links

Amazon Author Page:

Novel Hunting Mariah:

Amazon Author Page:

 Davey & Derek Series page:

 Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble: Children’s Books –

Barnes & Noble: Novels –

far far away – by Tom McNeal

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn’t even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he’s able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it’s been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn’t been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of16030663 Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings. . .

Young adult veteran Tom McNeal (one half of the writing duo known as Laura & Tom McNeal) has crafted a novel at once warmhearted, compulsively readable, and altogether thrilling–and McNeal fans of their tautly told stories will not be disappointed. –

This was probably not a book I’d normally read, but with all the remakes of fairy tales these days in TV and movies, I thought, “Why not try it?”  Plus, there was a ghost.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I’m glad I took a chance on this book.

The plot was well-paced and took me in unexpected directions.  As with fairy tales, especially Grimm, there were some very dark moments, but it was also a wonderful tale of adventure, fantasy, mystery, a little romance and comedy.

The characters were odd, quirky, imperfect, and hilarious.  I laughed out loud more than once and although ambivalent at first, I quickly added Ginger Boultinghouse to my list of favorite characters.  She was straightforward, sometimes inappropriate, mischievous, and although misguided at times, attempts to do the right thing.  The relationship between Jeremy and Jacob was heartwarming.  Jacob came at a time when Jeremy very much needed someone in his life and although a ghost, Jacob acted as both a friend and paternal figure.

This was an entertaining read and I would highly recommend it to 10+ age middle grade and adults who love fairy tales.

This review was based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.