Book Reviews for Middle Grades

and Young Adult Fiction

The Blameless


“The Blameless” is about a young princess named Briana who wakes up and finds that her kingdom has been overthrown. Briana is rescued by three men: Flinton, Derek, Kove. Her new protectors teach her about an ancient order of magical people known as “The Blameless” who receive gifts from the gods by acts of extreme selfishness. With the help of her new companions, Brie sets out on a quest to reclaim the kingdom from the evil Vaylec and seek justice for her family. 


"The Blameless" is a fantastic middle grade fantasy story for ages 8-14. One of the central themes of the story is “found family” and I thought that E.S. Christison did a wonderful job developing the characters and creating authentic connections between them. One of my favorite characters in the book was actually Valec, who is the antagonist. I thought he was just the right amount of mysterious, scary and well … a bit disturbing at times. The main protagonist, Briana, is extremely likable and one that any kid reading will relate to.

I have not read a lot of fantasy lately because I have found that a lot of fantasy authors spend too much time on world development and not enough on story and plot – but this was not the case with “The Blameless.” The author did a great job sprinkling bits of information throughout the story and only providing the essential information needed to understand the story and build the world. I know that the author will continue to build and expand the world as the series progresses. This author made me want to get back into fantasy stories!

The best part about this book is that Briana’s quest is not over. Without spoilers, I will say that the author certainly left you wanting more, and readers will be dying for book two to come out … which is hopefully soon.

Chandon Siman


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The Eye of Ra


The Eye of Ra is about two siblings, John and Sarah, who stumble upon a mysterious cave while hiking with their parents in the Colorado mountains. Separated from their parents, John and Sarah unlock a secret portal which transports them back in time to ancient Egypt. With the help of new friends, John and Sarah uncover Egypts secrets, catch a thief, and find their way home.


"The Eye of Ra" is a wonderful middle grades story for ages 8-12. I will be honest, at first, I was taken aback by the quick pacing of the exposition. The journey to the past happened very suddenly with little explanation. However, once I settled in, and realized that this is normal in many stories of its kind, like "The Phantom Tollbooth," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "Alice and Wonderland" to name a few, I accepted that fact and moved on. Also, uncovering that mystery was part of our heroes journey.

Like those classic stories, the main characters John and Sarah left home with an unresolved conflict that they were struggling to navigate. In this case, John and Sarah were moving across the country and were afraid to leave their home and friends behind, a story line that many readers can relate to. Throughout their journey in Ancient Egypt, John and Sarah learn to cope and accept the changes in their life with the help of the friends they meet a long the way, and the challenges they overcome.

I particularly loved how Ben Gartner focused on the kids, their inner conflicts, and telling their story. He also utilized parallel plot structure as one of the friends John and Sarah meet on their journey is in a similar position: his family is also moving, and he is afraid to leave his home and friends as well.

The "Eye of Ra" is part of a three book series. The second book is "Sol Invictus." In this story, John and Sarah travel to Ancient Rome. The third book, "People of the Sun" is a new release. In this book our heroes travel to the time of the Aztecs and are faced with their greatest challenge. They must confront the question of whether or not it is ok to change the past. I look forward to following this author and reading all books in the series.

Chandon Siman




Skyward is about a 17 year old girl named Spensa who dreams of following in her father’s footsteps to become a starfighter (pilot). In Spensa’s world, the remnants of the human race have been stranded on a desolate planet called Detritus where they live in deep underground caverns to protect themselves from a mysterious alien race called the Krell, as well as from dangerous falling debris that surrounds the planet. When Spensa was a young girl, her father fought in a historic battle against the Krell, but lore tells that her father fled the battle – forever labeling him a “coward,” and Spensa “the daughter of a coward.” Therefore, in order for Spensa to become a starfighter, she must overcome her father’s dark shadow and prove to everyone and herself that she is brave, worthy, and defiant.


Simply put, Skyward is amazing! I haven’t enjoyed reading a book this much since I read Harry Potter for the first time back in Middle School. The book’s pacing was flawless. Although I would not describe the book as fast-paced, the plot continuously developed in a way that never felt dull. There was always something new being revealed that intrigued me to continue reading, often not wanting to put the book down. Brandon Sanderson did a fantastic job using very clear and concise language. I never had to reread anything for clarity. In addition, despite being a Science Fiction novel, Sanderson did not bore the reader with too much technical language or jargon. He provided just enough explanation and details to allow the reader to understand or create visual images in their mind.


The best part about the book was its characters. Spensa was the most relatable and likable protagonist I have encountered. Spensa’s character had multiple layers of depth. Her layers were revealed by her narration, inner thoughts, interactions with other characters, and her dialogue. Oftentimes, Spensa would act or speak in one way to a character, but simultaneously reveal a completely different side or personal trait to the reader. This made her not only a complex character to the reader, but also complex to the other characters in the story. Another notable character in the story was Cobb, who is Spensa’s flight instructor and mentor. Although in many ways he is your typical hero’s mentor, he was also extremely relatable and likable. Oftentimes a hero’s mentor’s tactics, motivation and actions are kept a secret to the reader, and therefore may annoy the reader from time to time. This was not the case with Cobb. From the start, I felt that I completely understood Cobb and felt a deep sense of connection to him. 


Finally, the book’s themes were clear and consistent throughout the story. These themes also raised great questions about what it means to be courageous? What does it mean to be a coward? What does it mean to be defiant? Again, Sanderson establishes these themes and questions early in the book, and they are the same questions that our protagonist is navigating throughout the novel.


In sum, this book was a perfect blend of characters, plot, action, humor, suspense, and some young adult romance. I highly recommend anyone who is into adult fiction, science fiction, young adult literature, or simply anyone who just loves a great story to pick up a copy of Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. 

Chandon Siman


Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls


Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls is about twelve-year old Will Wilder who discovers that he has the ability to see the forces of evil (demons), which appear to him as dark shadowy figures. Through mischievous behavior, Will learns of a powerful relic that has been passed down and protected by his family line. He sets out on a quest to recover the relic for good intentions, but unknowingly unleashes an ancient evil on his home town of Perilous Falls. With the help of his Aunt Lucille, the wise Tobias Shen and his family and friends, Will must set things right, and save his town before it is overrun by the forces of evil.


From the start, I had a difficult time getting into the story. The story begins with a very silly and childish scene which introduces Will as being a bit of mischievous child. I could have moved past this scene, except that it turned out to be an intricate part of story. From there, our protagonist makes a series of poor decisions resulting in him unleashing a powerful evil set on destroying his hometown of Perilous Falls.

Although the author does a fair job at using figurative and descriptive language to engage the reader, often times it leads to a lot of confusion. The action is fast-paced and difficult to follow. This resulted in me skimming large portions of book. The author also frequently substituted the characters names for descriptions and articles like "boy" and "child" and even some elaborate ones like "The woman with taut, glistening skin ... " or "The shaky boy ... " I couldn't understand the purpose of these descriptions as they were characters we already knew by name. They often made me stop and ask myself, "Who are you talking about? You mean Will?"

My biggest challenge with the book was the lack of character development across the board. The main character Will did nothing to progress the story. Everything in the story sort of just happened to him. The only thing he actively pursued in the story was stealing the relic which turned out to be a major blunder. Not only did he fall for an obvious trap, he put his friends in extreme danger and even abandoned them in the end, leaving them to die. This lack of heroism is not even addressed in the story, and it's his family that ultimately rescues his friends for him.

Throughout the story, the author also weaved in a number of side stories with characters that had no relevance to the hero's quest. Not only did they serve no purpose in advancing the plot, the author would often cut away from the action scenes to update us on these side stories.

By the end of the book, I felt exhausted and barely finished. I do hope that the sequels are stronger. Hopefully, now that Will has learned about his gift and his role, he can be a more active protagonist, and fully develop into the hero he is meant to be.

Chandon Siman


The Blackthorn Key


The Blackthorn Key is about a young apothecary's apprentice named Christopher Rowe who must solve a series of murders at the hands of a mysterious cult that is preying on London's apothecaries. With the help of his friend Tom, and the skills and knowledge he has gained as an apothecary's apprentice, he follows a series of complex clues given to him by his Master Benedict Blackthorn. These clues are his only key to discovering the truth about the cult and the power that they seek.


The Blackthorn key is a beautifully written and well crafted story. Based on the age of the protagonist (twelve years old), it should be considered a Middle Grades book; however, it reads more like a Young Adult Fiction. Not only is the language and dialogue more complex, the story has some adult themes. There are some graphic scenes that include multiple instances of children being abused by adults. Much of this is related to the setting of the story, and its purpose is to help transport the reader to a different time period where the cultural norms are very different from today's society. With that in mind, I would recommend this book to ages fourteen and up.

From the start, Kevin Sands grabs our attention and doesn't let go. There is not a slow or dull moment in the book. Although the story is not Fantasy, Sands has a way of making the world feel magical. I was enthralled by the premise and setting of the story. Like most, I would assume, I knew little or nothing about the practice of apothecaries. This focus on apothecaries was truly unique and might be the part I loved most about the book. The story also includes elements of a historical fiction as many of the characters and groups of people in the story are real.

The Blackthorn Key is full of suspense and mystery. Our protagonist must decipher clues and solve complex puzzles in order to achieve his goal. In that way, it reminded me of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code;" including its historical and religious undertones. There are a number of twists throughout the story. All of which were fun and exciting -- though I don't think I was ever truly shocked by any of the revelations. Another part of the story that I truly adored were the characters and their deep and complex relationships, especially that of Christopher and his Master Benedict. This love and bond between master and apprentice is unparalleled and one I have not experienced before as a reader.

If you love fast-paced adventures, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Blackthorn Key. It is a perfect time to begin the series as the 6th book, "The Raven's Revenge" will be released on June 28, 2022.

Chandon Siman