Book Review and Giveaway: Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron

Today I’m reviewing a book I loved that’s great for readers aged 9 to 14. It’s called Dan Unmasked, and I have one copy to give away to someone who comments here. Just leave a note telling me if you have a favorite comic book character or series, whether it’s current or from your childhood. Be sure to comment by midnight (PDT), on Tuesday, August 14. U.S. addresses only please.

Here’s a little bit you may want to know about the author: Chris Negron grew up outside Buffalo, NY, where he spent a huge chunk of his childhood collecting comic books and loving sports. But it was the hours of playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends’ basements that first gave him the dream of one day writing his own stories. That dream kept him company through college at Yale University and years of programming computers for big companies. Dan Unmasked is his debut novel, and he now lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Mary. Visit him at Chris on Instagram or on Twitter

And here’s my review:

Dan Unmasked cover image

For Dan and his baseball teammates, Nate has always been the one they look up to, the one who keeps them steady when they get nervous about a game or something else in life. So when an accident leaves Nate in a coma, Dan is left floundering. He wants to find a way to help his best friend find his way back, but he’s not sure he can. He’s hoping that Nate’s younger brother Ollie, a new friend Courtney, and the comic book series they all love will help him find the answer.

Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron is a book about friendship, baseball, comic books, complicated family relationships, and so much more. In this debut novel for Negron, he keeps several story lines moving along seamlessly, sometimes throwing curve balls that keep readers guessing about how things will turn out. But he never loses sight of Dan’s coming of age story.

Throughout the long summer as Dan waits for Nate to wake up, he learns a lot about himself and the people around him. Without his best friend as a buffer, he can’t help but think about things that have been pushed to the side, including his relationship with his dad and how he’s always seen Ollie as an obstacle to get around.

I didn’t imagine an author could talk about comics without drawing them, but Negron describes the world of Captain Nexus vividly, and it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of his descriptions of the comic as well as how comics in general are made. It all adds up to an engrossing read that is satisfying to the end.

I highly recommend Dan Unmasked for readers of all types ages 9 and above.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

Batman Tales Once Upon a Crime cover image

Classic children’s tales like Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and more are retold with a twist, in the graphic novel by Derek Fridoles and Dustin Nguyen, Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime.

Each familiar story is adapted to the Batman universe. For instance, Pinocchio is Waynocchio, a young Robin who struggles with telling the truth and doing the right thing. The Princess and the Pea goes through a whole gang of Batman’s evil foes searching for the one who stole a green jewel. Alfred takes a prominent role in Alice Alfred in Wonderland, and Batman makes a daring rescue in The Snow Queen.

Graphics make whimsical connections between Batman characters and those from the original classics. It’s lots of fun and readers will be drawn back to the stories to reread again and again. I recommend

for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Dana Digs In by Laura Pederson

Dana Digs In cover image

When Dana is offered a salad for dinner at home, she’s not impressed by how tasteless the tomatoes are. Her dad explains that tomatoes are picked before they are ripe to make it easier to ship them to grocery stores. That gives Dana the idea to plant a garden and grow her own tomatoes. But when she realizes her own yard doesn’t get enough sunlight for a garden, she goes on a quest that will lead her to expanding her dream much further than her own back yard.

Dana Digs In by Laura Pederson shows how someone with an idea and determination can bring positive change for themselves and their communities. When Dana finds a large parcel of land she can use, she expands her idea to create a community garden. Everyone pitches in to grow things that many families will want to eat. She even finds a way to keep the garden growing and expand it to another location after the first season is over.

While Dana Digs In can inspire young gardeners to dream big about creating something beyond their own back yards, I also found it a tad unrealistic about the ease of setting up such a large enterprise and the abundance of food that could be grown the first year. Everything seems to fall into place easily for Dana and she seems to know exactly what she needs without input from others. That’s unlikely to happen in real life. It’s also unlikely that she would harvest an abundance of crops like strawberries that may need a season to become well established

Even so, I think Dana Digs In could be a great starting point and inspiration for young gardeners. Parents and their kids can talk about what Dana accomplishes and make a plan to grow something yummy for themselves. I recommend it for readers aged 8 to 11.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Batman Overdrive by Shea Fontana

Batman Overdrive cover image

Before Bruce Wayne became Batman he was a teenaged guy who wanted to avenge the death of his parents. And he thinks he knows who’s responsible: the major crime family in Gotham. When he discovers that Alfred had a long ago connection to that family, he jumps to conclusions and grows suspicious of Alfred, too. With the help of two friends, he uncovers the truth about his long-time butler and helps to foil a car theft operation.

Batman Overdrive written by Shea Fontana and illustrated by Marcelo DiChiara, catches up with Bruce as he is getting his driver’s license and becoming interested in the vintage cars beneath Bruce Manor. He wants to restore them, but finds he can’t do it on his own. When he opens up to others he knows, he begins to assemble what will become the Batmobile. Meanwhile he struggles with his own guilt over his parents’ murders. Ultimately, he finds out that trusting others is better than working alone to achieve what he wants.

Readers will appreciate learning more about Alfred and his backstory as well as meeting new characters in the Batman story. The graphic novel format brings the action to life and keeps the story moving at a fast pace. I recommend Batman Overdrive for readers aged 8 to 11.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: AntiHero by Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitra Lunetta

Antihero cover image

Piper is super powerful, but she doesn’t always know how to direct her strength without destroying everything around her. Sloane has a super brain, but when her mom falls ill she resorts to stealing and doing dirty work for her gangster grandfather to pay the bills. The two girls couldn’t be more different. But when a strange piece of technology switches their bodies then breaks, they get to know one another in unexpected ways. Working together they must find a way to repair the gadget, switch back and keep the gadget away from Sloane’s grandfather.

Antihero (written by Kate Karyus Quinn and Demitria Lunetta with illustrations by Maca Gil) is a graphic novel that introduces two teenaged superheroes and follows along as they forge a friendship and go on their first adventure. It’s fun to see them work on costume designs and struggle with what they want to be called. Their challenges with family, friends, and school feel real, and because they switch several times in the story, readers get the opportunity to see their challenges from two different perspectives.

Antihero is fun and fast paced and great for readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Virtual Learning Opportunities from Books Forward Authors

As parents and teachers work to keep children engaged at a time when they can’t be in school, Books Forward wants them to know about its efforts to provide at-home learning activities and resources for kids (some for adults too!). On offer are more than 30 virtual learning sessions with authors from diverse genres.

Opportunities include custom writing instructional videos for classes from YA novelist J. Elle, virtual writing groups hosted by USA TODAY-bestselling author Jenny Milchman, STEM storytimes and invention exploration with the author of Dr. Brainchild, exercise sessions for kids or adults with fifth-degree blackbelt Tori Eldridge or Pilates instructor Dani Alpert, and much more! Storytimes, workshops and classes cover everything from writing & poetry, self-care, nature & science, history & literature, business, and even humor! For the complete list of opportunities, check out the website:

Interview With Dr. Rachel Kowert, Author of Pragmatic princess: 26 Superb Stories of Self Suffiency

Rachel Kowert photo

Inspired by her own frustration as a mother of two seeking reading content featuring female leads who weren’t superheroes or male-companion dependent, Dr. Rachel Kowert wrote a children’s book that presents tales of empowerment and self-reliance.

Pragmatic Princess: 26 Superb Stories of Self-Sufficiency offers stories of everyday girls, solving everyday problems, with their everyday abilities. And the 26 stories represent children of all backgrounds, abilities and family types – each with a distinct personality.

Here’s what she had to say about her book. Learn more about Dr. Kowert at

What inspired you to write “Pragmatic Princess,” and why is it so important to you?

As a psychologist, I know that the characters in our childhood stories are some of our earliest teachers. As a mom, I wanted books for my daughter that celebrated the powers and abilities of the everyday girl. However, when I went to find those kinds of books, they were few and far between. I wanted my daughter to have a storybook with characters that looked like her, reflected the world around her, and showed her what she was capable of doing with the skills and abilities she has right here and right now. Since that wasn’t available, I decided to write it myself.

How did you come up with the different characters and their names?

This was one of the most fun parts! More than half the characters are named after people I know or people I admire. For instance, Valerie is named after my mother, Gina is named after one of my dear friends, and Xena is named in honor of Xena the Warrior Princess (one of the very first strong and powerful women in the media that I was exposed to as a child).

We know that your daughter partially inspired this book, as you were looking for the kind of book you would want to buy for her. Is this book only for girls? What is your target audience?

This book is absolutely not just for girls! It is just as important that boys see girls solve their own problems as it is for girls to see girls solve their own problems. We read books to our daughters with male protagonists all the time and do not think twice about it! We should do the same for our boys (my son loves the book!). My target audience is those aged 3 -10+. The length is well-suited to keep the younger readers engaged whilst the topics become increasingly relevant for the older readers.

What does your daughter think about the book? Does she have a favorite princess?

My daughter loves the book! And despite the fact that “Zoe the Zealous” was named after her and designed to look like her, “Danielle the Daring” is her clear favorite. Though, I guess it is hard to compete with a girl who rides a motorcycle!

How does your background as a research psychologist inform your work?

I drew from my background to develop stories that would be fun, entertaining, but also maximize learning. Childhood stories provide an incredible opportunity to teach children a range of skills and behaviors across various categories of human development – intellectual, social, emotional, and moral. I wanted to make sure to take advantage of this opportunity by enlisting diverse characters and storylines that reflect everyday situations. My educational background also allowed me to develop characters to model effective skills and strategies to navigate some of the more difficult situations in childhood – such as fear of missing out, feeling left out, and constructive confrontation.

We know some of your past work has more of a parental audience; how was your process different when writing for children? Did anything surprise you?

It is definitely more fun writing for children! I was surprised at how much I was really able to integrate what I know about human psychology within the stories themselves. Being able to integrate a lesson or skill that I have picked up throughout my education and research career was a fantastic experience in walking the line between creative and technical writing.

Can you explain to us the science behind this book and the research that went into it?

The science behind the writing is a mix of media studies and learning theory. There is a lot of research that has found that the stories we are told as children through the media, whether it be television, movies, or books, have a long-lasting impact on our development. Knowing this, I wanted to create stories that demonstrate self-reliance but also maximize the potential for the transfer of learning through social modeling. The diverse cast of characters makes it more likely that readers will relate to any particular character and research has found that people are more likely to emulate role models of the same sex, ethnicity, and skill level of any particular activity. The book also rhymes, which helps make the content easier to memorize for younger children, which can help transition them into the pre-reading stage of development. Rhyming has also been found to encourage the development of writing skills.

Book Review: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Misadventures of a Magicians Son cover image

Twelve-year-old Alex is grieving for his father and finding it hard to fit in to the town of Orchard, Maine, where his mom moved the two of them after his dad’s accident. The one piece of furniture that feels like home to him is his dad’s old desk, where he kept his magician’s tools. But when Alex finds a hidden deck of magical cards, he learns unexpected things about his dad and himself.

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera is a story that delves into issues of grief, friendship, self-confidence, and more. Alex must figure out who to trust in his new environment, and how to honor his father’s legacy while being true to himself. I recommend it as a fun read for ages 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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