Guest Book Review: Seven Spectral: Into the Red World by Valerie Wicks

sevenSeven Spectral: Into the Red World
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Valerie Wicks (October 13, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0615715567
ISBN-13: 978-0615715568
Rating: 4 stars
Age group: preteen upward

Emerald Drizzleweather Bogwater has an unfortunate name, unfortunate red hair, and an unfortunate tendency to rebel. When she escapes her small, dull, slow village (where everyone and everything is in shades of green) to see the world, she discovers something she wasn’t bargaining for…a whole new one. Now she must solve the mystery of the Egyptian-styled Red World (and its problems), before its dangers ensnare her forever. Escaping was relatively easy. Emer’s father (Alder Bogwater) tries to make her stay by bringing her back forcibly. She has even been married off to the kind of boy any sane girl would avoid—an oaf who drinks far too much lime ale. But Emer is on a mission to find her mother, Lore, with nothing but memories and an old turquoise compass, one of the pair that works in unison. However, if that means charting a dangerous course, so be it. With her green otter Samhain (aka Sam) as companion, she scales the wall separating Green from Red world and is catapulted into an adventure beyond anything she imagined. Deities, magic, death, blood and gore, intertwined worlds, weird characters and scary monsters, and a female Pharaoh determined to lock the Rainbow Gate, a mysterious set of ‘Keys’ that must be found, traitors, rebellions, and a boy that leads an army. Talking of boys, Shigeru is way more exciting and attractive than anyone Emer has ever met before. He comes from the Violet world, an element that hints at the other worlds in this planned series. Will Emer find her mother and is she ready for revelations that will shatter her beliefs?

Author Valerie Wicks has a way with words and a gift for world-building. She weaves a fantasy realm that intrigues with descriptions that unfold with the adventure. Emer is a feisty young woman who thinks on her feet as danger threatens and situations turn distinctly nasty. My criticism would be that although Emer is sixteen, sometimes she speaks and thinks like a younger person. The plot twists and turns in an interesting way, but in various sections I felt as if the plot and its myriad characters ran away from the author. Sometimes too many other elements (albeit fascinating) distract the reader from the main story theme and Emer’s character development. However, a great start to a series where the rainbow’s shades create new and different worlds.

First reviewed for Readers Favorite

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Hank Zipzer: A Brand New Me by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver


Hank Zipzer: A Brand New Me is the latest middle grade novel from Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. This New York Times best-selling series is about Hank Zipzer, a funny young boy with learning challenges. Currently in fifth grade, his teacher Ms. Adolf tells him he’ll never amount to anything. Principal Love spends a lot of time lecturing him. When Hank discovers he’s in danger of not graduating, fulfilling his community service requirement might be the key to a brand new Hank.

This is the first Hank Zipzer book I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. Though I tend to shy away from celebrity written books, I found this one at a school book fair and decided to give it a try. Like Julianne Moore did with Freckleface Strawberry, Winkler and Lin have created a memorable character in Hank Zipzer.  The Lil’ Diva (11) and Lil’ Princess (9) enjoyed this book for the drama and humor. As a parent who grew up watching the Fonz on Happy Days, I loved the little clues to where the inspiration behind the book and series comes from that the girls would never pick up. There’s a mean-spirited teacher that Hank describes as grey (hair, clothes, skin) with the last name of Adolf, and Winkler is Jewish. One of the teachers from the Professional Performing Arts School is named Garry Marshall, just like the producer/writer/actor who worked on Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Joanie Loves Chachi. Then there’s Hank’s father who wants him to learn a trade that will help him succeed, which is definitely a more traditional way of thinking than the spirit of entrepreneurship we see today.

I’m certain part of the appeal for me is in spying these clues the authors included in a series based upon Winkler’s childhood. But I can’t deny this is a book that will ring true with young people today. It’s great to see Hank succeed in an arena where he has always struggled. Kids will relate to that. Sometimes adults are too quick to judge a child’s abilities or discount less than superb grades as lack of motivation. A child who struggles with a learning disability, like the Lil’ Diva, will find a friend in Hank Zipzer and some sense of triumph right along with him.

I can’t wait to go back and read the other books in this series. I’m sure my girls are up for it, too.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Age Range: 8 and up
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (April 20, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0448452103
ISBN-13: 978-0448452104

I bought a copy of this book at a Scholastic book fair. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.

Interview with Paul Barra, Author of The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp

Paul A. BarraPaul A. Barra is a decorated war veteran, a teacher and a freelance journalist. He previously was a reporter for local newspapers and won numerous awards from the South Carolina Press Association. He was the senior staff writer for the Diocese of Charleston and won numerous awards from the Catholic Press Association, a national organization. Earlier publications include four independent science readers (Houghton Mifflin), a novel (“Crimson Ring,” Eagle Press) and a nonfiction book about the formation and success of a Catholic high school, despite diocesan opposition (“St. Joe’s Remarkable Journey,” Tumblar House). He is under contract for the publication of a historical novel called “Murder in the Charleston Cathedral.”(Chesterton Press).

His latest book is the children’s/middle grade novel, The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp.

Visit Paul’s website at

Thank you for joining us today, Paul. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

I’m an old guy in the throes of a second career as a novelist. I retired from teaching two years ago and no longer freelance as a feature writer for newspapers and magazines; I now concentrate on book-length fiction. This is a path I recommend for writers.

Age gives a writer time and perspective. In this time of long lifelines, when men are entering seminaries at 50 and women are opening businesses after the kids go off to college, writing is the perfect second career for people who found that the practicalities of life got in the way of their authorial plans when they were younger. I recommend it; it’s a lot easier on the back than laying cement blocks.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

I wrote stories for my mother when I was small, but when one of my short stories was accepted by the university literary magazine as an undergraduate I decided that I could write for a living. It was decades later before I got around to that dream – and then it was feature writing for magazines and newspapers that helped feed my family. I always wanted to write book-length fiction full time, but never managed that until I retired.

Why did you decide to write stories for children?

My wife reminded me several times that my children and now my grandchildren like the stories I tell them for entertainment. She suggested – insisted – that I write one up and see if I liked it.

Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?

I certainly thought so before I began Maggie’s Swamp. There are many restrictions to worry about, such as age-appropriate vocabulary and sentence structure and content. And how to write about real-life issues without scandalizing their little consciences. And how to create scenes a young mind would like to read.

I found out that children can comprehend more than I thought they could and that a competent children’s book editor knows how to smooth out the rough spots in a manuscript. My second book is going a lot easier than the first. Children’s books are also much shorter than adult books.

So, I would say, no – at least not with middle-grade readers. I would be afraid to write for teens, even though I taught them chemistry for decades.

What is your favorite part of writing for young people?

Creating tension and drama is what I enjoy writing most. I can imagine little guys fretting over sounds from the dark woods or feeling for a friend being wronged, so those kinds of scenes seem to jump out of my mind.

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?The Secret of Maggie's Swamp

It’s an adventure that is set in the South of 1980 and features a twelve-year-old girl who discovers that a neighbor with young children is not only living in the woods surrounding her family home but that he has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit. She and a couple of unlikely comrades decided to right the wrong. Their main problem is that the responsible adults in their lives don’t see the wrong, at first. And the real criminal is not happy about their interference.

What inspired you to write it?

We lived on a swamp as my children were growing up; the natural beauty and secrets of the place intrigued me. Plus, I am always telling stories, as I mentioned earlier, so writing a book with a black-water swamp as a sort of character in it caught my fancy. It seemed a good place to hide a secret.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp is available in bookstores, from and from the publisher ( It costs $12 in paperback. An e-book version is also available for Kindles and such appliances.

What is up next for you?

I have an historical mystery coming out this Spring from Chesterton Press and am writing another children’s book, about a fifth-grade boy and some friends who discover that the Yankees knew about the attack on Ft. Sumter  beforehand. They try to catch the spy, who might even be their teacher at Hampton Common School, before their world devolves into the Civil War. There’s plenty of drama and action, some of it in Devil’s Hole precipitated by the notorious Bluebottle Bart and his big red horse.

Do you have anything else to add?

I’m grateful for your kindness in inviting me to do this interview, and I hope that other writers will think about second careers behind the monitor.

Thank you for spending time with us today, Paul. We wish you much success.


The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp Tour Page:

The Secret of Maggie's Swamp banner

Guest Book Review: A Pirate, a Blockade Runner and a Cat by Beverly Stowe McClure



File Size: 410 KB

Print Length: 265 pages

Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited

Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing (January 9, 2013)

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Language: English


Age group: 12-13 (tweens)


Just how bad can one kid’s life get? When 13-year-old Erik Burks discovers a black lace bra in the glove compartment of his dad’s car his life falls apart. Totally! His mom leaves his father and drags Erik from being king of the hill in Texas to the bottom of the pits in South Carolina. No Dad, no baseball, no friends, just Starry Knight (a girl who reads minds) and her equally weird brother, Stormy, the twins that live down the block.

Just when Erik thinks life can’t get any worse, while hanging out at the beach one evening, he and the twins notice lights radiating from an old, deactivated lighthouse. Stranger still, a ship materializes in the moonlit harbor. On closer inspection, the kids discover the ghost of a blockade runner, a phantom cat, and a pirate who prowls Charleston Harbor, all searching for rest. The ghosts may be the answer to his desire to return home. Erik wants his old life back and he wants answers from his dad. He makes a deal with the ghosts. He’ll help them find what they’re looking for so their spirits can rest in peace. In return, the ghosts will scare Erik’s mother so she’ll be on the next flight back to Texas.

What a great tween adventure. This book has everything for kids who like action, mystery, pirates, and ghosts. Author Beverly Stowe McClure very cleverly intersperses real piratical and nautical facts between her fictionalized account of the feud between (historical figures) Major Stede Bonnet and Edward Teach aka Blackbeard. Danger abounds when Erik and his friends board the pirate ghost ship and set sail on their quest to resolve the ghosts’ issues. Magic and mayhem keep the action going, without being too scary. I liked the author’s handling of Erik’s inner turmoil, his confusion over his father’s behavior, and his longing for his life and friends back in Texas. A subtle theme is how children deal with parental break-ups. The author creates a lovely character in Erik, which kids will relate to very well. Storm and Star were less well-developed, but no less entertaining. Very enjoyable. Recommended.

First reviewed Fiona Ingram for Readers’ Favorite

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Guest Book Review: Stranger Moon by Heather Zydek

Paperback: 170 pages
Publisher: Moth Wing Press (November 6, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615564232
ISBN-13: 978-0615564234

Moths, mystery, and growing up are the focus of Stranger Moon. Twelve-year-old Gaia (and she hates her name!) is not your typical tweenager. Anyone who can recite screeds of information about moths, and in particular the elusive Luna moth, just has to be labeled ‘nerd.’ Gaia finds refuge in her love of unusual insects and her little gang of equally geeky friends. Her dad is glued to his computer, her mom died when she was little, and she is bullied by the ghastly duo, ‘The Emmas,’ at school. Could life get any worse? The night she and her friends go on a moth hunt, they find a bug-eating, scary wild woman living in the woods, in an abandoned ice cream van. They spend the summer spying on her, as they investigate her history, as well as defending their tree house from invasion by the Emmas. They discover the identity of the crazy lady, and must decide if they should use the information to exact revenge on Gaia’s worst enemy.

This book is so much more than a story about kids growing up. Gaia and her friends display typical tweenager idiosyncrasies as the author taps right into what makes a tween tick. Each character is well drawn and believable. As the story unfolds, the gang finds themselves tested on several levels. They need to learn friendship, compassion, and basic kindness: to boring Leonard with his yo-yo and his crippled hand, and to the mad woman herself. The ultimate challenge comes with how they deal with the vital information about the woman’s identity. Gaia’s strained relationship with her emotionally distant father also changes, bringing some interesting revelations. I loved the tone of thinking that author Heather Zydeck instils in Gaia’s inner narrative. As in most tween lives, everything is Dramatic and Tragic, with some Big Words to enhance the seriousness of it all. I laughed aloud at various points.

The fragile and sometimes uncertain life cycle of the Luna moth resembles the rite-of-passage that Gaia and some of the other characters experience. The completion of the cycle offers redemption, understanding, and acceptance as they move onto a happier level. There are moments of great sensitivity as Gaia tries to understand life and people, and wrestles with conflicting emotions and ideas. A sensitive and humorous look at the angst and conflicts of tweenagers and their issues. The author impressed me with her perception and insight. I found the resolution and tying up of loose threads a little rushed at the end. However, a great book for tweens, and for parents to learn how tweens think. Highly recommended.

First reviewed by Fiona Ingram for Readers’ Favorite.

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.