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Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For by Sara Pascoe ⇉ Witches, Time Travel, and a #Giveaway (International)

Thursday, May 25, 2017
I picked this one up in the midst of finalizing student grades. During this time, I generally don't read much because my brain goes on break, but I always found the time and energy to read this book. Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a light, enjoyable read that has an underlying level of depth to it in the contemporary issues addressed.

A contributing factor to the lightheartedness of the novel is the youthful tone. At fourteen years of age, Raya is still a child and has much to learn about society. In the beginning, she comes off as bratty and unappreciative, but author Sara Pascoe makes her situation understandable. It may also be that I'm reading this from an older perspective; when I was Raya's age, I probably would have put more blame on the character for her circumstances.

I especially appreciate how Pascoe address contemporary issues through Raya's situation. Some issues addressed include foster care, the homeless, teen runaways, and social care. While I would love to discuss this in more detail, it may result in potential spoilers. Just know that I appreciate how, in the end, both the adults and the children are able to contribute to the discussion and seek mutual understanding. There are too few books out there where children are able to rely on adults or work together with them to a common purpose!

Being a Witch has the additional treat in that it takes place in the UK, both in the present day and in the historical past during the Essex Witch Trials. There's also a side trip to the Middle East. I'll let you find out the time and place when you read the book! Having grown up in the United States, I enjoyed taking a peek into the lives and culture of the people in these locations. It was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of Oscar the cat. Cats always spice up a story with their catty personalities and commentary!

Lastly, I want to once more acknowledge the constant presence of adults in Raya's life. I love that she's able to rely on them and receive support from them. Of course, as the heroine of a novel, she must step up and take action herself at times, but she is also able to be a child thanks to the adults who are there for her.

Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a magical story that I recommend to readers who enjoy a good fantasy, especially one with witches and (of course) a cat!

When you’re fourteen and life has been nothing but hurt and disappointment, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own. But after leaving the boring village and foster home for the excitement of London, Raya finds out she’s a witch, with this annoying habit of time-travelling – by accident. And this sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. But why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England? After being arrested by Matthew Hopkins, one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach with Raya’s powers still out of control when they find themselves in 1645 Istanbul/Constantinople. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed. Can she stay? And at what cost?


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If you were to travel to any time period, which would it be and why?

Publication Info
  • Being a Witch, and Other Things I Didn't Ask for by Sara Pascoe
  • Published by Trindles and Green
  • On February 6, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 380 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
  • N/A
  • Language
  • Teen runaway
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the author, I have the following to give away to a reader of the blog. The giveaway is open internationally!

Being a Witch and a Being a Witch pen

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The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb ⇉ Junior High + All the Feels + #INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY

Monday, May 22, 2017
You know those books that make you feel all sorts of feels? The books that make you want to share them with the world, but you don't know what to say?

That's how it feels putting down The History of Hilary Hambrushina.

To understand what I love about this novel, we need to start off with...


An Immature Heroine
To be honest, I was tempted to throw Hilary out the window after the first quarter of the novel. Hilary starts out as a terribly naive girl who thinks she's fat and desperately wants to be a part of the popular crowd. Her comments on her family, herself, and her wants broke my heart. I wanted to tell her that this is not what life is about.

What kept me reading was the belief that Hilary would learn and mature over the course of the novel. Not only did this happen, but I wasn't ready for the feels that would come with Hilary's growth.

Flat, Stereotypical "Villains"
Like many school-life stories, Hilary features stereotypical villains in the form of the "in" crowd. For the most part, these characters act in predictable ways.

That said, I like the nod to the insecurities that lead people to behave in "villainous" ways.

As Hilary learns, there are two sides to every story. (Now, does that mean everyone will grow up, hold hands, and frolick together through green meadows? No, but at least we can try to understand why people do what they do.)


Supportive Adults That Care and Are Involved
Too many stories feature incompetent or otherwise absent adults. Sure, like any other teenager, Hilary spends quite a bit of time upset with her mom and believes that her mom won't understand what she's going through. However, her mom and dad and a consistent presence in her life, and they're ready to step in when she needs them.

Hilary is blessed with adults outside of the family as well. Kallie's mother provides an exemplary role model of a pretty woman who also has a job in the math and sciences. Kallie's father is an artist. (Both parents are involved in Kallie's life, and they have a loving relationship.) Kallie's grandmother gives Hilary advice, albeit through tarot card reading.

Terrific Teachers: Recognizing Everyday Heroes
As a teacher, I teared up over Miss Stephanopoulos's support and care for her students. I'm also a teacher, and I love how she involves her students in fun projects that make them think about who they are and where they came from. I love how she lets Hilary (and other students) know through her words and actions that she is there for them.

Most of all, I love that she doesn't play favorites but reaches out to those that she knows is in need. (Read to the end to find out more. I can't say more on this because of potential spoilers.)

When We Find What We're Looking For in a Likely Yet Unlikely Source
Hilary spends much of the novel trying to fit life into her expectations of it. As veterans of life know, "life happens." It doesn't always turn out as we planned, and sometimes, the best things have always been there waiting for us to find them.

Hilary Grows Up, and She Isn't Perfect
Even after all she's learned, Hilary has a lot of growing to do. Because narrator Hilary is reflecting on events from five years into the future (I'm guessing around the end of high school), she recognizes her flaws. She is able to comment on the mistakes that she made and the flaws in her thinking, which she thought justifiable at the time of the story.

I believe strongly in being a lifelong learner. I love how events do not wrap up neatly but instead challenge us to think about how we ourselves may continue growing.

In the end, Hilary's story presents a realistic portrayal of life.

That's what I love most about it. It's why we can all relate in some way to Hilary's story. It's why we rage, weep, and finally rejoice when the heroine makes it through her trials at the end of a novel. Because we've been her, and we understand what she's been thought.

Themes: Friendship, Insecurity, Bullying, Family, Love (not in the romantic sense), Forgiveness


Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.


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What do you think is the key ingredient in a friendship?

Publication Info
  • The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb
  • Published by Iguana Books
  • On May 31, 2017
  • Genres: ContemporaryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 206 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
  • N/A
  • Bullying
  • Name calling

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the author Marnie Lamb, I have two giveaways for you.

(1) U.S. / CANADA
- Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
- A signed copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)

- Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
- An e-copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)


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Keeping the Tree Upright ⇉ Guest Post by Marnie Lamb + International #Giveaway!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Society in the United States, Canada, and many other Western countries today is highly polarized. On one hand, difference is increasingly celebrated. Intermarriage, gay couples parenting children, and friendships between people of different faiths are becoming possible in ways not imagined even twenty or thirty years ago.

On the other, a lot of hatred, judgment, and suspicion of those who are different remains. People continue to be pigeonholed into categories based on race, religion, and gender, and are expected to behave in ways stereotypical to those categories. Movements against these stereotypes have produced their own extremes. For instance, until around the 1960s in Western culture, women were generally expected to be modest and subservient to men, remain out of the public eye, and put themselves last. Now, a self-promotional, “me first” ethos predominates in some circles, with naked selfies shared with the Internet the norm for some celebrities. But what if you’re a woman who, like many of us, wants to be thoughtful and caring towards others without being dominated by them? Or someone who is happy with her body but doesn’t necessarily want an intimate shot of it immortalized for posterity to click on, download, and share?

Navigating this terrain as an adult is difficult enough. What about as a tween or teenager? If I had a daughter or niece, I’d give her a few hard-learned tips about how to navigate today’s social biosphere.

1. Be choosy about who you listen to. There are many self-proclaimed “experts” out there, but what are their credentials? What makes them experts about vaccines or nutrition? Practise a healthy suspicion of the celebrity culture. If you feel like you shouldn’t really be spending your time following someone, that’s a good indication that this person is an addiction rather than an inspiration. What is important to you? What qualities do you admire in others? Knowing the answers to these questions, you can find and follow people who display your values. Are you passionate about the environment? If so, check out Canadian crusader Severn Cullis-Suzuki. About education for girls? Look to Malala Yousafzai.

To narrow the definition of “society,” extend this choosiness to your friendships. Sometimes, “friends” appear to have your best interests at heart, but they’re actually looking out for themselves. Beware of anyone who tries to push their way on you, even if they appear to be doing you a favour. I’ve had friendships where the other person insisted on paying my way every time we got together, despite my attempts to reciprocate. Sounds nice, right? It was until I realized that these friends had been subtly controlling me for years, always choosing where we went and how often we met and putting down any opinions of mine that differed from theirs. Paying my way was simply a beautifully clothed example of this manipulation, like new silk curtains hiding a dirty, cracked window. Anyone who tries to control you isn’t allowing you to be free to be yourself. They’re warping you into someone who serves their needs. Be alert to these patterns and prepared to take action if necessary. Society often still tells us girls to be nice, but you have to draw boundaries.

2. Have one day a week without social media. We’re bombarded with myriad pieces of information every day. The more information that gets in, the more confused we become, especially because much of the information is contradictory. Not so long ago, a slender body was the norm to which Western girls were taught to aspire, and girls with rounder bodies were belittled. Now, “thin shaming” has entered the English vocabulary. Yet fat shaming still exists. What does that mean? Are all of us, slender or round, deficient in some way?

Coming as it does via a website, this advice might seem counterintuitive, but we all need to take regular breaks from the too-easily accessible online world. Read a book. Get outdoors and walk. And turn off your phone. Unless you’re on call for work, you don’t have to always have your phone on. “But I might miss a text from a friend,” you say. So? Unless you’re meeting the friend immediately and need to know whether she’s still coming, the text can almost certainly wait. If you open it, you might decide to check your Facebook account and then see a link a friend has posted and click on that link, and before you can say Zuckerberg, you’ve been sucked back in, surfing the net and ending up who knows where reading who knows what. I have a rule that I don’t turn on my computer on Saturdays unless I have to work that day. If people want to contact me, they know that they have to phone me on my landline (yes, I still have one!).

3. Find your container. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron talks about the need to find “containers,” spaces of nurturing that provide an escape from the stresses of daily life. Everyone, highly sensitive or not, needs such spaces, which include places away from the online world, with its rapid stimulation. Not being glued to a screen on Saturdays frees me to bask in the comfort of some of my containers, like biking on recreation paths on a sunny summer afternoon or catching up over a scrumptious brunch with a friend I haven’t seen in ages. These containers ground me and help me simply be, without worrying about becoming.

Following this advice won’t free you from the woman vs. world conflict. But taking a moment to consider, step away, and recharge will help you steady yourself, like breathing deeply, fixing your gaze on a single unmoving point, and looking away from the other yogis as you’re trying the tree pose in yoga class. You’ll still wobble or even fall over every once in a while. But if you can block the outside distractions and focus inward as much as possible, you’ll be more likely to stay upright.

What is your favourite container? It could be physical or mental.

About The History of Hilary Hambrushina

Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.


Though she once dreamt of heading to Hollywood, Marnie Lamb decided that writing, not acting, was the better outlet for her creative impulses. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor before embarking on a short but glorious career as a globe-trotting ESL teacher. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, will be published by Iguana Books on May 31, 2017. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at the One of a Kind Show.

For more information visit her website. You can also connect with her on Goodreads and Facebook.


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The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht ⇉ A Creative Imagining of Animal Life

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
As a young reader, I loved books with animals. One reason is that I loved animals and would have loved to live a life surrounded by different species of animals. Another reason is that such books gave me the opportunity to explore different worlds. The Mysterious Abductions is reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood reads. I enjoyed my stay in this world.


Characters with Personality
The Mysterious Abductions is filled with characters with personality. Each character has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. Consequently, though many different characters are introduced, it's fairly easy to remember who is who based on their personality. (The downside is that we only get to know the characters on a superficial level.)

Creative Imagining of Animal Lives
Tracey Hecht provides a creative imagining of animal lives in The Mysterious Abductions. I enjoyed following the adventures of nocturnal animals and their interactions with each other in this novel.

Blurs the Lines Between Good and Evil
When the lines between good and evil are blurred, the author opens the way to look into different perspectives and examine the reasons for characters' actions. This provides children an opportunity to learning how to be empathetic and consider why someone might act or talk in a way that seems inappropriate to us.

Plot Twist
As the Brigade investigated the abductions, I found myself wondering why the animals were being abducted. The end result was something that I was not expecting at all. I would love to share more about this experience, but that would be a major spoiler. Read the book to find out!

Chapter Images (in Color!)
At the beginning of each chapter, there is a colored image of one or more of the characters. Since there were some animals that were unfamiliar to me, these images were helpful to my understanding of the novel. These pictures, and the story itself, can be used to jumpstart a look into the lives and nature of the animals' real-life counterparts.


Superficial Characters
While the characters all have distinct personalities, they stay stuck within their personalities; there isn't much depth to their characters. I understand that this is a book for younger readers and that, with three main characters, it can be difficult to balance out their roles.

Given that Tobin seems to be given a more focus, I still feel like more could have been done to develop his character and, subsequently, the other characters through him so that they could be given more depth.

Bismark's Over-the-Top Personality
Bismark was by far my least favorite character given his over-the-top personality and egoistic tendencies. I hesitate to say that all of this is because he's just Bismark and wish that he shows more development in future books.

I'm sure young readers will enjoy his antics, but as he is, I wouldn't use him as a role model for children. If I were reading this with a child, I would use his character as a jumping point for conversations on topics such as friendship, how we should treat others, and how we might act differently in relationships.

Where is the mystery?
The Brigade goes around asking questions and following the trail of abductions. However, we don't see as much brainstorming over possibilities or even a red herring. I've read children's books with more mystery to the mystery. Given the interesting nature of the disappearances (screams but little to no clues at the scene of the crime), I would have enjoyed seeing more detective work going on.

Thick Pages
This is a more personal comfort point: The book pages are much thicker than normal pages (and uneven at the ends). This caused discomfort as I would constantly question whether I had not turned two pages instead of one. I would have preferred thinner pages and possibly a larger book size so that it has more of a young readers' feel to it.


While The Mysterious Abductions does have its moments of humor, it also provides a learning opportunity for children through its themes of friendship and unity. The animals may be from different species and walks of life, but they are able to unite through a shared cause and desire to live in harmony.

One of the reasons I love children's books is that they tend to blur the lines of good and evil in a way that gives hope to the world (as compared to strictly adult books, which tend to portray the world in a hopeless light). While someone may seem like a bad guy right now, it doesn't mean that they were always bad or are beyond saving. The Mysterious Abductions does just that.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!


The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival.


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If you went to battle against a dark and mysterious force, who would you include in your dream brigade? (May include real-life or fictional characters.)

Publication Info
  • The Mysterious Abductions by Tracey Hecht
  • Published by Fabled Films Press
  • On April 19, 2016
  • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 232 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Nocturnals
  1. The Mysterious Abductions
  2. The Ominous Eye
  3. The Fallen Star
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton ⇉ A Sweet Tribute to Motherhood

Thursday, April 20, 2017
Everyone who's heard me talk about my mom knows how much I love and respect her. Mothers do so much for their children. As I age, I'll only keep learning more of these things. When Mommy's Home with Me is a book that both young readers and older readers can appreciate.


Diverse Mothers
Because the story doesn't focus on one family, it was able to portray mothers in different roles. There are mothers of various occupations spending time with their children. From the wording, it seems that some have decided to quit their jobs to stay at home with their children; others are still working.

Diverse Families
The families look different as well. There are diverse ethnic groups as well as families with children of different numbers, genders, and ethnicities. One thing in common is that the focus is on the mother, so the fathers are not portrayed.

Learning Opportunity for Children
Children will learn that mothers come in different shapes, colors, and occupations. They will learn about different types of occupations and what they may learn from someone in that occupation. There are also some words they may not know and will have the chance to learn.


Quick Pacing
Because the book features different mothers, each mother is allotted two pages. We zip through the different features, so the book moves quickly.

Lack of a Storyline
Also because the book doesn't focus on a single family: there is no coherent storyline. I could open the book to any page and read the two open pages on their own. That said, a young reader would enjoy learning about different types of occupations.

One Job / One "Role"
Such books do run the risk of stereotyping. Each mother is shown teaching or playing with their children in relation to their occupation. For example, scientist runs science experiments, the artist draws with her child, and the teacher teaches her child. The book doesn't teach children that a person's hobbies may differ greatly from his or her occupation.

That said, this is a book for younger readers, so it is helpful to teach in small chunks. The focus of this book is on mothers and their different occupations (and how children may learn from them). I would supplement this book with one that delves more deeply into the life of a single family; it would allow young readers to learn more about the complexities of life.


When Mommy's Home with Me is a sweet tribute to motherhood and the different kinds of mothers out there. This book provides a good learning opportunity for younger readers and will allow them to grow an appreciation for the different things that mothers do. I will be sharing my copy of the book with parents that I know.


With rollicking rhymes and fanciful images, this adorable picture book celebrates the special relationship between mothers and their children. Filled with stories of all kinds of mommies--like pilots and artists and scientists--this book shows how modern mothers still treasure that precious time spent together at home. A perfect book for moms and kids to enjoy this Mother's Day or any time of the year!


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What did you enjoy doing with your mother growing up?

Publication Info
  • When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton
  • Published by Sweetwater Books
  • On March 1, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  • N/A
  • N/A

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Dream Thief by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ Everything I Loved in the First Novel

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As I mentioned in my review of book 1, I was drawn to the Momotaro series because it features an Asian hero and mythology and because I love children's books. Xander's adventures remind me that people go through growing pains and become stronger individuals for them.

Note: If you haven't read the first book, there will be spoilers from that one!!


Everything I Liked from the First Book
Asian MC, Japanese mythology & culture, good family dynamics (minus the entrance of the mother figure), beautiful artwork . . . Momotaro #2 remains true to the elements that I enjoyed from book one. For more details, click here to read my review of Momotaro #1.

Character Growth
Xander is still a pubescent teen dealing with tween issues, and now he's one with special powers. He's quite the handful. That said, this provides much room for character growth, and Xander does just that. Young readers can relate to Xander's problems and learn how to work through issues.

Follows Events of the First Novel
I love how Xander of the Dream Thief follows through with events of the first novel. For example, the primary conflict in the novel is spurred by the after-effects of Xander's last adventure. Also affected are his relationships with friends, classmates, and family. (I'd talk more about these details, but that would go into spoilers!)


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving (Once More!)
In my review of the last book, I explained how it's unrealistic that children would be the ones saving the day without help from any adults. This still holds true. However, I do appreciate how Xander is able to work through his issues and mature as a character. Sometimes, we do need to learn the hard way outside of parental guidance. And I appreciate his parents' love and understanding through it all.

Quick, Not Well Developed Resolution
Some of the issues are wrapped up too quickly. In particular, there is one big issue that was introduced at the end of the last book and which proves a problem at the beginning of this book. I was expecting to see more development on this issue; however, it was resolved at the end without us seeing Xander work through it. I wish that more attention had been paid to this issue.


Overall, Xander and the Dream Thief is an enjoyable followup to the first novel. As long-time readers know, I always appreciate a novel with good family relationships and Asian characters. I especially love how this novel isn't another episodic adventure in Xander's life but incorporates elements from Momotaro #1. I'm looking forward to seeing where Margaret Dilloway takes us next!


Xander Miyamoto should be feeling great. It's the beginning of summer vacation, his mother has returned from a long absence, and he has learned that he is a warrior with special powers. Xander never would have guessed that the old Japanese folktale about Momotaro, the hero who sprang from a peach pit, was real, much less part of his own heritage.

But instead of reveling in his recent victory against the oni, monsters bent on creating chaos, Xander is feeling resentful. What took his mother so long to come back? Why does his father insist on ruining the summer with study and training? And why is Xander plagued by nightmares every night? Maybe this whole Momotaro thing is overrated.

Xander's grandmother gives him a special baku charm to use to chase his nightmares away. He just has to be careful not to rely on it too much. If he does, the baku will not only take his dreams, but those of everyone in the house, forever. Without dreams, there is no hope, no motivation, no imagination, no Momotaro. And then it would be far too easy for Ozuno, king of the oni, to wreak havoc. . . .

On his second quest, Xander explores new surreal landscapes, encounters more strange and dangerous creatures, and faces even higher stakes as he learns whether or not he has what it takes to be Momotaro.


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Would you rather have both dreams and nightmares or no dreams at all? Why?

Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 18, 2017
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 336 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
  • Bullying
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.