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The Quest for the Lost Map

The Quest for the Lost Map by Isabel Ricardo starts by taking you back to 1307. A secret order has just been given by King Philip IV to capture, imprison, torture, and kill all Knights Templar in France. However, Grand Master Jacques de Molay discovered word of the plan. He calls upon Templar Jean-Luc to escape before the captures begin, entrusting him with the safekeeping and safety of a very important map. Jean-Luc flees for safe land in Portugal where he cannot be captured, with the map tucked safely away. There, he lives the remainder of his life with other Knights Templar, safe from King Philip IV’s harsh sentence.

Fast forward to the present day. Gabrielle and her kids, Andy and Kelly, have just been given the opportunity to vacation in Sesimbra. The only catch is that they have to take on Mike, the troubled son of a family friend. On vacation, they meet the mysterious Sarah, a teenager with a dark secret.

At the same time, a group of men has been hired to seek out the secret map from so long ago. Through misfortune and a lot of adventure, the teenagers and the dangerous men all end up with the same mission; finding the map that will lead them to the Holy Grail. 

The author writes in a way that draws you into the story immediately. From the first line to the last, readers will be fully immersed and wondering what was going to happen next. The backstory of Jean-Luc and the Templars is based on factual events in history that will entice historical fiction readers. The author does an excellent job of describing the scene without becoming redundant. She tied up the backstory of the Kings Templar nicely without a lot of unneeded fluff.

The Quest for the Lost Map really started to pick up speed when it flips to the present time. Readers will laugh and relate to the relationship between siblings Andy and Kelly. Kelly is the typical sister, annoyed at everything her brother does. When it counts, though, they are there for one another. It was nice to see them grow in maturity, too, through lessons learned from Mike and Sarah. Sarah’s rough past made her grow up quickly, but she certainly taught her new friends some important life lessons.

This novel shows the strong bond of friendship among the teens, everybody comes together to help a girl in need. Sarah has not had an easy life, she is not use to anyone being willing to help her. Although they have only just met her, everybody really comes together to help get her out of her situation. The unity and close bonds remind you that there are good people out there. Of course, that isn’t to say that the kids don’t try to take matters into their own hands when things aren’t moving quickly enough for their liking.

When it comes to the group of men searching for the secret map, they are supposed to be dangerous. Instead, they seem more grumpy and irritated but not threatening. Isabel Ricardo does a great job inserting humor as the teens outsmart the men on more than one occasion.

The Quest for the Lost Map: The Port of the Grail Trilogy Book 1 will entertain historical fiction lovers, especially those that have a passion for the Knights Templar. Readers that enjoy young adult fiction will find enjoyment following the teens adventures and antics. This is a great start to the series.

Pages: 335 | ISBN: 1949868427

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The Mask

The Mask can be considered a children’s picture book, but I think it is much more than that. It shares a profound message to never judge a person by their looks, but it does so through a dark fantasy story that is beautifully creepy, with a seductively ominous atmosphere and a gorgeously grotesque protagonist. This is an intelligent and philosophical story that can be read by children, but I think will truly be appreciated by adults, because of some of the adult themes found throughout the story, but mostly because of its avant-garde storytelling.

This book reminds me of Alvin Schwartz collection of short children’s stories “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, but taken to a new level for middle grade readers. The art throughout this book is superb and does a fantastic job of setting the eerie atmosphere in the story that matches the feel of the book.

I found my self entranced with the story. Our protagonist, Mil, finds a mask that makes him beautiful but at a cost that is only found out later. I thought I knew where this story was going, but I was wrong. Not completely wrong, but wrong in that I could not have guessed what the mask could have wanted. The ending to the novel is…. well it leaves you on a cliff hanger, but it is absolutely perfect.

I’m glad I read this book towards the end of 2021 so that I could compare it to the rest of the books I have read this year and appropriately say that this is one of the most striking and thought-provoking children’s books I have read this year.

The Mask is a unique and thoughtful picture book with gorgeous illustrations that will leave you pondering long after you’ve closed the book.

Pages: 48 | ASIN: B09J16W8DR

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Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress (Skylar Robbins mysteries Book 3) by [Carrie Cross]

The Skylar Robbins Detective Agency isn’t quite turning into what its creator hoped. Skylar is beginning a new semester and had hoped her budding career as a private detective would have taken off by now. After all, she solved one of the biggest cases around when the pros couldn’t. But Xandra Collins is missing. She’s an heiress, and her case just might be what Skylar needs to push her career in the right direction. There’s only one problem–the only clue Skylar has is a message that seems almost impossible to decipher. With her best friend, Alexa’s help, Skylar is going to give this case everything she’s got.

Skylar Robbins and the Mystery of the Missing Heiress, by Carrie Cross, is a fantastic young adult novel centered around the title character, Skylar Robbins. She’s your average seventh grader with all the headaches of growing up. She has a best friend she would do anything for, and she has a crush on the most popular boy in the school. What sets Skylar apart is her innate ability to solve mysteries. She outsmarts most every adult around and has made a name for herself. Being asked to join ACE (Accelerated Courses and Experiments) has given her an edge over her classmates, but she isn’t so sure about being a part of this exclusive group of high achievers.

As a mother and teacher, I love that Cross has incorporated a key character with a learning disability. The author accurately portrays Alexa, Skylar’s best friend with dyslexia. Each school day is a struggle for Alexa, and Skylar has been a huge force in her life since second grade–the two are inseparable. Skylar’s move to ACE classes leaves a hole in Alexa’s life. Facing her most difficult classes without Skylar to lean on, Alexa dreads each day. She is a relatable character and one readers will remember long after they finish the last chapter.

The mystery of Xandra’s whereabouts makes for a great storyline, and Skylar’s determination to find answers and still live a seventh grader’s life give Cross’s book an interesting element. She is a modern day Nancy Drew with all the technology to keep young readers engaged and invested in seeing her succeed.

I can’t recommend Cross’s work enough to young mystery fans. Skylar and the crew will draw readers in with their daily teen drama, but their ability to reason through situations when adults can’t will keep them hooked. I can see Skylar Robbins playing a huge part in young adult literature for years to come.

Pages: 315 | ASIN: B076GSJ95X

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Every Skylar Robbins Mystery

Carrie Cross
Carrie Cross Author Interview

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol follows a teen sleuth who uses her gadgets and wits to face a dangerous enemy and solve an enigmatic mystery. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

At the end of every Skylar Robbins mystery, I try to set up her next adventure. I love exploring tropical islands and foreign cultures. After visiting Bali, Costa Rica, and Barbados, I thought a tropical paradise with a hint of danger and threatening natives would make a wonderful back drop for a mystery.

Skylar is a fun and well-developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character’s development?

When I decided to create a teen detective series, I wanted to start a new trend: that the smartest kid in class can also be the coolest. The one kids look up to and want to follow. So I created Skylar Robbins: a rational 13-year-old sleuth who methodically pieces together clues until she finally solves each challenging mystery. Very often smart kids in books, television shows, and movies are portrayed as nerdy. I wanted to create a protagonist who kids could relate to, empathize with, and look up to. One who was quick-thinking, courageous, and determined, while also funny, cute, and cool.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

One major theme is based on the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And in the case of The Mystery of the Island Idol, this refers to the characters. While cute and quirky teen sleuth Skylar Robbins is super intelligent and apparently fearless, deep down she’s somewhat shy and insecure—and admits her fears to the reader. Homeless youth Morgan Michaels teaches Skylar what is really important in life through the use of the valuables box they are given in their hut on Koma island. Skylar begins to fall in love with bespectacled Daniel Gannon due to his brilliant mind. Another theme concerns my protagonist: Skylar Robbins. For young readers, I wanted to create a strong role model who promotes intelligence over looks, strength over weakness, confident leadership, and the courage to face your fears and do the right thing.

This is book 5 in your Skylar Robbins mystery series. What can readers expect in book 6?

In book 6, The Mystery of the Clues Cruise, Skylar Robbins plans a trip with her Assistant Detective, Alexa, and several members of her Accelerated Courses and Experiments class, ACE. Impressed with her detective skills and ability to bring down a deadly gang during the Mystery of the Island Idol, the FBI contacts Skylar and asks her to go undercover to help them solve a new mystery. As usual, things don’t turn out as planned, and Skylar quickly realizes that there is something nefarious going on behind the scenes on the cruise ship. Stuck at sea with a dangerous cast of characters, Skylar and her friends soon realize they are in for much more than they bargained for.

Author Links: GoodReads | Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Thirteen-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins is about to take on her most dangerous case yet. The challenge: braving a savage enemy while solving the mystery of a strangely frightening idol.

Skylar’s new high-tech detective gadgets give her intelligence an extra edge. A canister of Invisi-powder is vital when she and her assistant detective, Alexa, suddenly need to disappear. Earbuds and a small high-powered microphone make up a Soundtrap: perfect for eavesdropping on her crush while he plays My Secret Kiss, or on the boys in the next hut while they devise a terribly risky plan. Her Supalight, visible from half a mile away, enables Skylar’s crew to message her during a midnight attack. Night vision goggles might save her life when she’s chased through a dark jungle with her brilliant partner, Daniel Gannon.

Fierce island natives will stop at nothing to prevent the teens from discovering the true meaning of the idols. Will Skylar’s team survive to return to middle school? Or will this field trip be their last adventure?

Skylar Robbins mysteries have won multiple awards, and more than one have been Amazon #1 Bestsellers in Children’s Detective Books. Accolades include being voted Book-of-the-Month by LASR readers, three 5-star Reader’s Favorite awards, and one was a Top Ten Finalist for an Author Academy Award in the YA/Middle Grade category.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol (Skylar Robbins mysteries Book 5) by [Carrie Cross]

Skylar Robbins has been preparing for this for months. Daniel made a promise to be her partner in the next ACE adventure, and she believes he meant what he said. As part of the elite group of students who take part in the Accelerated Courses and Experiments program, Skylar and Daniel are no strangers to adventure and mystery. The only mystery right now, however, is how Hannah Hilton made it into the program and why Daniel seems to have forgotten that Skylar exists. What promised to be a fantastic summer is now looking like a huge disappointment. Will the trip to Koma Island turn things around for Skylar or will it be more than they all bargained for?

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol, by Carrie Cross, is centered around young Skylar Robbins–gifted and talented and a member of ACE. With all the angst and stresses of late middle and early high school years, she is the perfect protagonist for today’s young readers. It is refreshing to still see writers placing an intelligent and forward-thinking female lead in their stories, and Skylar rivals and surpasses the budding detectives many of us are used to–Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Kudos to Cross for putting motivated and capable young women at the forefront of her series. Our middle school readers need to see this more regularly.

Mysteries need to pop. They need to move quickly and hold the reader’s interest, especially when younger readers are the group toward which a series is aimed. Cross is a master at this. Skylar thinks quickly on her feet, and her friendship with Alexa provides a nice sounding board for her ideas. There lies within Cross’s work an amazing little cast of characters that provides readers with plenty of opportunities to visualize a vast array of personality types. It’s nice to see such a well-drawn cast of characters–all having wonderful quirks and offering their own contributions to Skylar’s role in the story.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol, by Carrie Cross is a rip-roaring young adult adventure/romance story that will keep readers on their toes. Centered around current technology and full of references younger readers will appreciate, this book has everything needed to engage readers and keep them coming back for more from Skylar and her gifted cohort.

Pages: 237 | ASIN: B08P5VXBQ5

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The Fae Princess

The Fae Princess (The Pacific Princesses Book 2) by [Ektaa Bali]

Prepare for magical delights and dark creatures in The Fae Princess by Ektaa Bali! The second book of The Pacific Princesses series follows 10-year-old faery princess Vidya. She resides deep within the Bushlands of Australia in a hidden faery realm that oversees and communicates with plants. Everything is fine until the first day of Spring. Their annual feast is put to a sudden halt when a mysterious darkness begins to overtake the land and puts the adult faeries to sleep. The fate of the kingdom is on Vidya’s shoulders. Can she save her kingdom?

Author Ektaa Bali has created a fun and imaginative children’s fantasy story. Her ability to craft a story that both meaningful and easy to read is something I greatly appreciated. From the imaginative world-building to the intriguing characters, Bali has set a high bar for indie middle-grade authors.

Bali introduces us to a majority of the ideas and concepts of the fae kingdom within the first three chapters. We see her describe who the fae are, where they are from, and what they do within the confines of only 43 pages.

I also enjoyed her magical descriptions of both real and mythical plants. She did not go into overt detail but gave you just enough to be satisfied and understand what you were reading – which is a great writing style for younger readers.

Watching Vidya come into her own as she has to save her kingdom added a beautiful message to an already magical story! We see her become braver, use her intelligence, and rise to the occasion. Young girls everywhere will find a wonderful role model within Vidya. Although I thought Vidya is a rousing character that I loved following, I felt that she sometimes sounded mature for her age.

The Fae Princess by Ektaa Bali is a story infused with adventure and creativity. This is an exceptional book for young girls everywhere, but any young reader will surely get swept away in the story. This is a fantasy story that is empowering as well as entertaining.

Pages: 236 | ASIN: B08X3YPZL4

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Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Island Idol – Book Trailer

Thirteen-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins is about to take on her most dangerous case yet. The challenge: braving a savage enemy while solving the mystery of a strangely frightening idol.

Skylar’s new high-tech detective gadgets give her intelligence an extra edge. A canister of Invisi-powder is vital when she and her assistant detective, Alexa, suddenly need to disappear. Earbuds and a small high-powered microphone make up a Soundtrap: perfect for eavesdropping on her crush while he plays My Secret Kiss, or on the boys in the next hut while they devise a terribly risky plan. Her Supalight, visible from half a mile away, enables Skylar’s crew to message her during a midnight attack. Night vision goggles might save her life when she’s chased through a dark jungle with her brilliant partner, Daniel Gannon.

Fierce island natives will stop at nothing to prevent the teens from discovering the true meaning of the idols. Will Skylar’s team survive to return to middle school? Or will this field trip be their last adventure?

Skylar Robbins mysteries have won multiple awards, and more than one have been Amazon #1 Bestsellers in Children’s Detective Books. Accolades include being voted Book-of-the-Month by LASR readers, three 5-star Reader’s Favorite awards, and one was a Top Ten Finalist for an Author Academy Award in the YA/Middle Grade category.

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Unlikely

Unlikely by [Wynsome Peters]

Every abandoned building holds a bit of mystery. At one time or another, all of us have had that moment when we imagine the life that used to inhabit the old homes and businesses in our communities–it’s just part of their charm. On the other hand, those same buildings can be homes to some truly sinister activities. When Nate and his friend, Zachary, notice something amiss with the abandoned building in their neighborhood, they make it their mission to discover the truth. What begins as an innocent exercise in eavesdropping quickly turns into an adventure neither of the boys will soon forget. 

Unlikely, by Wynsome Peters, is the realistic urban fiction story centered around two middle schoolers making their way into high school and finding adventure along the way. Nate and Zachary, curious and eager to prove themselves, begin their own investigation after seeing shadows and overhearing a disturbing conversation behind the walls of a dilapidated building. The young boys make it their mission to solve the mystery and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Peters has managed to create an engaging story which will appeal to adolescent readers who enjoy mystery plots with relatable characters. The move from middle school to high school is one that causes mixed emotions and a host of opportunities to meet new people. The author has given young readers two main characters who both feel and act like them and have their own unique families full of quirks. Readers will find themselves just as invested in Nate and Zachary as they are the mystery unfolding before them.

While I enjoyed this adventurous romp, I noticed a few grammatical errors which affect the flow of the story. With a bit of proofreading, and an editor to keep the story focused, this could easily be an exceptionally fun novel.

Unlikely is an intriguing middle school adventure story that builds up and unravels a mystery in entertaining fashion. The author’s choice of characters and storyline work well and provide a relatable and engaging story for younger readers. 

Pages: 137 | ASIN: B07MRF18HH

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