ARC: Jorie and the Magic Stones

Jorie and the Magic Stones is the beginning of a children's fantasy series by A.H. Richardson. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Marjorie went to live with her frosty maiden aunt, she couldn’t imagine the adventures she would have with dragons — good and bad — and all the strange creatures that live in a mysterious land beneath the Tarn. The spunky 9-year-old redhead forges an unlikely friendship with an insecure young boy named Rufus who lives with his crusty grandfather next door. When Jorie — for that is what she prefers to be called — finds a dusty ancient book about dragons, she learns four strange words that will send the two of them into a mysterious land beneath the Tarn, riddled with enchantment and danger. Hungry for adventure, the children take the plunge, quite literally, and find themselves in the magic land of Cabrynthius. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Jorie is a young girl with a lot of spunk, so when she goes to live with her strict, elderly aunt, of course she gets into mischief. Jorie teams up with the boy next door, Rufus, whom she drags along on her adventures. The two find a book full of dragons and words they can’t understand, which helps transport them to a world of magic.

Let me start by saying that I loved the characters in the real world. Jorie, her aunt, the housekeeper, Rufus and his grandfather–their interactions were so fun. Each character has a unique voice and personality, even the characters who don’t get enough page time to be fully fleshed out.

My one issue with the story is the fantasy world. Although the characters here are also interesting, I found the world itself a bit flat. The issue that I sometimes have with fantasy novels is that they fall quickly into cliches, and there was a bit of that issue in Jorie and the Magic Stones. I found myself looking forward to the time the characters spent in the real world, rather than in Cabrynthius. Still, the MG kids this novel is aimed toward may feel differently about that than I do.

For me personally, I thought this book was enjoyable but forgettable. But if you have a child who loves dragons and magic, they might want to give Jorie and the Magic Stones a shot.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lumberjanes

This fun series of comics follows the Lumberjanes as they fight supernatural creatures and build friendship to the max. | Review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are new friends at the Lumberjanes summer camp. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Throughout this fun series of comics, the girls and their reluctant counselor Jen battle supernatural creatures, solve riddles, and develop friendship to the max. Although the girls are very different and have their disagreements, they always end up working together to creatively solve their problems.

I love that the Lumberjanes are a diverse group of girls who love each other despite their differences. I also love that this is a girl power story without the stereotypical “strong woman” character. Each character is unique and complex: April loves cute clothes and mermaids, but she’s also ultra competitive. Ripley is small and scrappy with a ragged, blue-dyed haircut, and she loves giving out hugs. Each of the girls is a fun character on her own, but together, they are magic (sometimes literally).

Even if you don’t usually like comics (I don’t), you should check this series out. The artwork is great, the characters are awesome, and the story is super fun. I can’t wait for the next issue!

“Did you have a plan?”

“I thought adrenaline would take over but it did not.”

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can find the rest of the posts in this series here.

Middle Grades ARCs

A quick review of two fun middle grades books--one a mystery, one a fantasy. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Mistake Mystery

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a cute mystery for middle grades. Stephen and his new friend Renee must overcome their own mistakes (like losing Ping and Pong, the dogs Stephen is supposed to be caring for) to discover who is threatening their school.

Stephen is a likable character, and while the mystery is pretty forgettable, it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is super fun! When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle, he ends up meeting Smallbone, a grumpy old wizard who’s not as evil as he pretends. Slowly Nick learns to do magic himself and must defend the village from an evil wolf wizard and Nick’s horrible uncle and cousin.

The setting is great–who wouldn’t want a library that would offer up whatever book you need next?–and Smallbone and Nick are both great characters. It’s a fun, unique fantasy.

And as usual, I’m tying this post back to my Lovely Words series by sharing my favorite quote from this book:

Anybody who can get through March without breaking a glass, a friendship, a secret, a promise, or somebody’s nose is either a saint or on vacation in Florida.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the posts in the series here.

Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Quick reviews of Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received both of these books from a BEA giveaway. The publisher did not ask for a review in return.

Wonder Women

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I so wanted to love this book! You know I like reading about smart, strong women, so I was super excited to pick up this book (written by author Sam Maggs, whose previous book I really enjoyed). And it does have interesting stories of amazing women, but it is written in such a flippant way that I couldn’t take it seriously. This could have been so much better. Disappointing.

Rating: Meh

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book had such a fun, unique idea. The characters were a bit cliche at times (if you’re a recent college grad, you’ll recognize these stereotypes), but that doesn’t keep the story from being an enjoyable urban fantasy. The “excerpts” from the book of magical mixology are probably the best part–so funny! But be forewarned–there is a fair amount of language in this book.

And of course, because all my posts this month tie in with my Lovely Words series, here’s my favorite quote from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge:

Those who read on will learn how to do the impossible: To fade from sight. To exert control over distant objects with only one’s mind. To justify the existence of the olive, which is the most loathsome of all fruits.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

June YA Roundup

This June YA roundup contains a few forgettable books and one really stellar one. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As I try to dig myself out from my stacks of books, I’m going to be doing a few roundups to give you some quick reviews on the books I’ve been reading lately (and a few books that I read months ago… oops). Today’s post is a YA roundup. Enjoy! (All summaries are via Goodreads.com)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

There’s no wonder that this book has become a modern YA classic. It has hilarious illustrations, a great writing style that captures the voice of a teenage boy, and it is sad and triumphant and angry and eye-opening. Junior faces prejudice both from the white school he attends and the people on the rez that he left behind. He watches many of his friends and family member succumb to alcohol, but no matter what happens, Junior keeps drawing. I know this book doesn’t cover all the varied experiences of Native Americans, so I’d love to read more books featuring Native American characters in the future.

There is a fair amount of swearing and sexual content in this book, so be forewarned.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Grounded

In Hemlock Hollow, life isn’t easy, but it is simple. Things in my community haven’t changed much in over three hundred years, since the time my Amish ancestors came to what is now the Green Republic. I milk my cow by hand, make fresh bread every morning, and hope to be courted by Jeremiah, a boy I’ve known since childhood.

When my father falls ill, the English doctor says a hospital outside the wall can heal him. Jeremiah convinces me to go on rumspringa, to experience the outside world as an Englisher in order to be closer to my father during his recovery. Others have gone before me. They claim it’s an adventure. But adventure turns to horror as an ordinary light switch thrusts me into a new world, and revelations about my personal history make me question everything I believe.

All my life I’ve worked to be simple. I can’t pretend anymore. Nothing about me is simple.

The idea of this book is great. Basically, the main character, raised Amish, suddenly finds herself in the outside (dystopian) world. While there, she discovers she has incredible powers that she can’t control. With little knowledge of the modern world or her own powers, she falls in with a boy who has a similar power and must decide who she can trust and how she can save her father.

Although I really liked the idea, I found the MC annoying and naive. (Honestly, I can’t even remember her name.) I won’t be looking into the rest of this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Alias Hook

“Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy.”

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game.

I have always hated Peter Pan and his eternal boyhood. So I was interested by this book, which presents Pan as the powerful dictator of Neverland and Hook as the selfish but exhausted appointed nemesis. Hook, cursed many years ago by a scorned lover, is basically there to satisfy the whims of selfish little boys. He works for years to discover a way out for himself and his men, but none is apparent–until one day Stella appears.

I enjoyed the twist on the old Peter Pan story, especially since it paints Pan as the villain (like I said, I’ve always hated him). Still, I wasn’t a big fan of the romance, and reading about Pan’s actions just made me mad.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

No and Me

Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?

I picked up this book without knowing anything about it, other than the fact that it was a book in translation (I read it for a book challenge). So I was pleasantly surprised by the story that I was given. Lou lives in Paris, and she surprises herself and her family when she asks them if the homeless girl she’s been interviewing can live with them. No has had a rough past (obviously), and it follows her and threatens the new beginning she’s been given.

Well written (and well translated), unusual characters, and a powerful story. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Last Dragonslayer

A fun YA book about modern-day magic, dragons, and the teenage girl who finds herself running the business. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has been on my TBR list forever, and I finally picked up a couple of months ago. I wasn’t expecting much, but I found myself really getting into it. It’s a funny and sarcastic look at modern-day magic, in which magic has been outpaced by technology and is relegated to fixing clogged plumbing or bad electrical wiring. But when the last dragon in the world seems to be dying, teenage businesswoman Jennifer finds herself dragged into the controversy.

As I’ve said before, this book is sometimes touted as Harry Potter for young adults, but I don’t really see it that way. Sure, there’s the whole magic thing, but that’s about where the similarities end. This story isn’t sweeping or heart-wrenching the way Harry Potter is–but that’s not a bad thing. The Last Dragonslayer is hilarious and irreverent, and Jennifer is a fascinating character who has had to fend for herself from an early age. (I guess Harry did too, but he didn’t end up running a business because of it.) The magic itself, and the magical characters that inhabit this world, is different as well. So please, take this book on its own merits. It is truly fantastic, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARCs: If I Speak True and Pity Isn’t an Option

These two very different books by Jessica L. Brooks struck me in very different ways. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received an audio copy of these books from the author in exchange for an honest review.

If I Speak True

Dahlia Kennedy’s sixteenth birthday marks a decade of mysterious dahlias arriving and strange, lonely dreams of being in a forest. The only difference this birthday, however, is that for the first time, someone is there with her. And he’s practically from a whole other era.

The more often Dahlia visits Rowan in his land of Ambrosia, the stronger their connection grows. But… is Ambrosia real? Is he real? What is going on between the two of them, exactly, and why does he insist that she keep it to herself?

As secrets usually go, however, it’s only a matter of time before everything comes out. And when Dahlia finds out the truth of who Rowan is, who she is, and how he really feels — it’s beyond anything she could have ever imagined. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I had a few problems with this book. First of all, I hated the narrator’s voice, which made it difficult for me to judge the book fairly on its content. I found the plot interesting–Dahlia finds herself crossing over into another world and becoming involved in its affairs–but the romance was just not my thing. My aversion to fantasy is well documented, but it wasn’t too bothersome to me in this book. Still, it just wasn’t my kind of story.

If you like YA fantasy romance, you’ll most likely enjoy this one. Just maybe don’t listen to the audio version.

Rating: Not My Cup of Tea

Pity Isn’t an Option

Seventeen year-old Jonas Norton is trying to come to terms with what his blood disorder has robbed from him, including his two most favorite things: basketball, and competing in Hatchet Racket, Wanless’ annual hatchet-throwing contest. The facts that his father works constantly to pay for his blood tests and Jonas can actually see the disappointment in his eyes for being such a failure only make matters worse. And even worse than all of that? Jonas’ own twin brother, Micah, is perfectly healthy and becoming quite the basketball player himself. Also, Hattie, the girl Jonas has loved for forever? She has no idea how he feels. Sixteen year-old Hattie Akerman lives down the hill from Jonas. Though her father, Heath, tries to hide his lack of mental clarity behind the bottle and she’s pretty much given up on having any kind of relationship with him, she would still rather her younger sister, Lucy, not have to deal with the consequences of his behavior. Hattie helps her mother by baking food to sell at Market and looking out for Lucy. No matter what the rest of the town says about her crazy father, Jonas sticks up for them. He is, by far, her very best friend. As if things aren’t complicated enough already, Heath and Micah are unexpectedly drafted into President Kendrick’s army (an army from which no one ever returns) just days before Thanksgiving. When Heath disappears instead of arriving at the Meeting Place to check in, Hattie and Jonas decide they’ve had enough, and take matters into their own hands. And though nothing could have prepared them for what happens next, Hattie and Jonas learn that hope can be seen in every situation. You just have to know where to look. (Summary via Amazon.com)

This book, on the other hand, I really enjoyed! Dystopian YA is much more my cup of tea, and I found the alternating sections between Jonas and Hattie to be wonderful. They were both well-rounded characters, and I felt sympathy toward both of them. Jonas is struggling to keep healthy while his parents work overtime to try to pay for his blood disease care. Hattie’s father is starting to lose his mind, and her mother is left to care for her two children on her own. Both characters work well together, and their families, though not perfect, are also interesting to read about.

My one regret from this book is that there wasn’t more description of the dystopian world in which they live. I think this is the first of a series, however, so there may be more in the books to come! I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series. (And I wouldn’t mind if this audio book narrator continued narrating the series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

31 Days of All Things Books by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Review Copy: The Dragon of the Month Club

When two kids find a magical book that invites them to conjure a different dragon every month, they are sucked into another world--literally. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

On the thirteenth of every month a new dragon conjuring spell is revealed and the two friends attempt to summon the latest Dragon of the Month. The varieties are almost endless: Air Dragons, Paper Dragons, Fog Dragons, Waterfall Dragons, Rock Dragons, Tree Dragons – not to mention special bonus dragons for all the major holidays, including a particularly prickly Holly Dragon for Christmas.

But one day when a conjuring spell somehow goes wrong Ayana and Tyler find themselves unexpectedly drawn into a fantastical world of adventure based on the various books scattered all across Tyler’s messy bedroom. Travelling from one book-inspired world to the next with nothing to rely on but their wits and a cast of strange and exotic dragons at their disposal they must try to somehow find their way home again. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’m excited to tell you about this new series from Iain Reading, author of the Kitty Hawk mystery series (see those reviews here, here, and here). In The Dragon of the Month Club, Ayana and Tyler discover a magical book that enrolls them in a special club for conjuring dragons. I love the idea of conjuring a new dragon every month! Each different dragon, from the sand dragon to the paper dragon to the fog dragon, is so creative.

But there’s more than just dragons in this book. When something goes wrong with a spell, Ayana and Tyler are suddenly transported to a different world, in which they must make their way through various stories and settings from the books scattered on Tyler’s floor. It has kind of a Wonderland feeling as the kids travel through their book world. This includes old-fashioned fairy tales, the sci-fi classic Dune, and the world of Sherlock Holmes. Any book lover will enjoy the mixture of favorite old stories and brand-new dragons. So neat!

Although I really enjoyed this book, I’m even more excited about the next in the series. I can’t wait to see what new kinds of dragons await!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC Roundup, Part 2

More recent ARCs--this time, ones I actually enjoyed. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received all of the following ARCs through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As I mentioned in my last ARC roundup, I recently went on a kick of NetGalley requests. The last roundup was full of meh books, but this one consists of books I actually enjoyed. Check out these recent releases! (All of the following summaries are taken from NetGalley.)

A Thousand Nights

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Although I do sometimes enjoy a good fairy tale retelling, sometimes they just don’t catch my interest. This story is a retelling of the Scheherazade myth, which would seem to be a book lover’s dream come true. A thousand nights of stories, told to save a young bride from certain death? Awesome, right?

Unfortunately, in this version of the story, we don’t really get to hear a lot of stories from our main character. Instead, she begins to have magical powers that she can use to see events which are occurring in another place or time, and even the ability to influence these events. She is fighting against dark, demonic powers that she doesn’t even understand, in a desperate bid to save her own life and the lives of the girls in her land.

I found this book interesting while I was reading it, but I didn’t think much about it once I put the book down. Look into it if you’re much more into fairy tale retellings than I am.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Spinning Starlight

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men shows up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word, and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back? Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans fuses all the heart of the classic tale with a stunning, imaginative world in which a star-crossed family fights for its very survival.

On the other hand, this is a fairy tale retelling I can get behind (even though I’m not at all familiar with the story of the Wild Swans). Set in a futuristic world full of incredible technology, this book explores the life of the most influential teenage girl in the seven realms and what happens when she is suddenly transported to a world she never even knew existed.

Torn between her need to help her brothers and her growing love for Tiav, Liddi must decide how much truth she can tell her new friends–all without the use of her voice. She has to overcome her lifelong inability to live up to her brothers’ genius and the revelation that her parents manipulated her genes, all while coping with her new and disorienting surroundings. Recommended for those who like their science fiction light on the science.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Gone but Knot Forgotten

Sorting through the estate of a wealthy recluse may sound like a fascinating task, but when the skeletons in the closets turn out to be real, Martha and her quilting pals wish they’d stuck to basting and batting. . .

Martha Rose is stunned when she hears that her best friend from high school has passed away. Her shock doubles when she learns that Harriet Oliver made her the executor of her estate. But when investigators determine that Harriet was murdered, Martha recruits her fellow quilters to help find the culprit. She’s mastered the art of piecing together blocks to create intricate quilts, but piecing together her friend’s murder will prove far more challenging. . .

I have to admit, sometimes I love a good cozy mystery. And while this mystery was nothing mind blowing, I’ve read enough terrible cozy mysteries to know that this one was very well written. Martha is an interesting, curious character, but she’s never so reckless or irritating that I had to roll my eyes at her. Her quilting buddies are likewise upbeat, fun characters who may not be fully fleshed out, but at least they aren’t stereotypes.

Martha’s investigation of her high school friend’s death held my interest until the end. Though the solution wasn’t shocking, I didn’t find it too predictable. Definitely an enjoyable read for cozy mystery fans like myself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Joint Review: Redwall

I take my first foray into Redwall with my husband, who was a childhood fan of the series. | A book review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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What can the peace-loving mice of Redwall Abbey do to defend themselves against Cluny the Scourge and his battle-seasoned army of rats? If only they had the sword of Martin the Warrior, they might have a chance. But the legendary weapon has long been forgotten-except, that is, by the bumbling young apprentice Matthias, who becomes the unlikeliest of heroes. Teeming with riddles, humor, unforgettable characters, and high-bounding adventure. (Summary via Amazon.com)

After receiving this book in a giveaway (thanks, Reading to Distraction!), I decided to read this book aloud with my husband. It’s a childhood favorite of his, so I was excited to see how our reading experiences lined up, since I was pretty unfamiliar with the Redwall series. My husband has agreed to help me review this book (you can read his previous review here), so I’ll let him tell his story first.

Peter’s thoughts:

Redwall was a staple of my literary diet for many years during my middle and high school life. I have fond memories of being enthralled by Brian Jacques’ storytelling, amused by the characters’ antics, excited by the fantasy battles betwixt furry armies, and made ravenous by the vivid descriptions of lavish feasts. Even now, reminiscing on such thoughts elicits feelings of the happiness and simplicity of curling up in a corner and reading for hours on end without care. However, I would hazard to guess that it’s been at least seven or eight years since I’ve gone back and re-­read any of Mr. Jacques’ works.

When Monica and I sat down to read through Redwall, I did feel the need to warn her about a few things before we got started. While my memory was somewhat fuzzy, I didn’t recall enjoying Redwall as much as the later books in the series, since it did take a few books (in my opinion) for Mr. Jacques to polish his formula and establish consistency within the “rules” of his fantasy world. As we read through the first several chapters of the book, I was surprised at how often I found myself saying some variation of, “I remember this being better, he must have really improved over the next several books…” as if I needed to defend in some way the level of enjoyment that justified my nostalgia. If we have the time and inclination, I would like to read through at least one of the later books in the series and see if Mr. Jacques’ more recent works holds up better than his inaugural novel.

As for this book on its own, I do have several points of criticism that are a lot more glaring than I seem to remember from my younger days. Subtlety is not this book’s strongsuit. Its foreshadowing is clumsy and awkward, the puzzles and riddles (a Redwall series cliche) are simple to the point of being insulting or else entirely forgettable, the villains are a perfect caricature of pure evil, and the heroes proudly display their two or three character traits on their sleeves. Perhaps I ask for too much from a children’s book, but there were several times during this recent read through that I simply couldn’t suspend the disbelief that rational creatures would act in such one dimensional ways (though this could explain why a shockingly large amount of the Redwall series’ villains are, or become, insane).

The main character, Matthias, is not a very pleasant individual. That was probably the point in the first several chapters to allow for growth and a personal journey, but, as an adult re-­reading the book for the first time in years, it took me by surprise how self-­absorbed, whiny, and borderline abusive he was (spoiler: at one point he threatens to murder another character by throwing her from the top of a building because she was being sassy). While there was certainly growth over the course of the book, the core personality issues that made him such an unlikable character were not really addressed, but were more often glossed over as, at worst, necessary unpleasantness.

Lastly, in a similar fashion to J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, there is an inescapable ethnocentric undertone to this book that is much more offputting as an adult than I remember from my first readings. This is largely due to the lack of subtlety and the cartoonish nature of the book’s antagonists. The simple forest folk of Mossflower woods and Redwall Abbey are described in such a way that they appear to be in some sort of Anglo­saxon paradise that is interrupted by the invasion of a barbaric hoard of “vermin” (spoiler: no rat, weasel, stoat, fox, or ferret is ever good in these books). Tribes of sparrows and shrews, both of whom have cultural traits and practices that vary quite differently from “normal Abbey behavior,” are introduced later in the book, and they’re treated with, at best, patronizing inferiority by the main characters.

In spite of these criticisms, I still enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it, especially as a gateway to the rest of the series. The story is engaging enough to get one past its shortcomings, and even if the characters are a bit one note, at least it’s a fun and exciting note. Mr. Jacques is certainly a very descriptive writer who knows how to make the world come to life as his characters trek through the forest and delve the halls and corridors of the ancient Abbey. For kids, it’s long enough to prove a challenge, but the chapters are short enough to keep it from being too daunting. I would even venture to say that it would be an excellent book to engage in serious discussions with children about adult topics, such as war, death, honor/duty, the afterlife, and ethnocentrism. It’s fast paced, it’s exciting, it’s fun. Check it out if a long YA fantasy series about anthropomorphic woodland creatures is your kind of thing.

Monica’s thoughts:

I enjoyed this book, despite my spotty track record with fantasy novels (and animal books, for that matter). I didn’t come into the reading experience with any past memories of Redwall like my husband did (I actually read part of the book as a child, but I was bored stiff by it and apparently wiped the entire experience from my mind), so I didn’t have any nostalgia associated with the story or characters. Still, I found the characters to be super cute (but occasionally annoying). My favorite character was Constance, the badger. She actually helped the war effort when Cluny attacked Redwall, unlike some other characters I could mention (*ahemMatthiasahem*).

My main frustration with this book, as you may have gathered, was the main character. Matthias is a young mouse living in Redwall Abbey. At the beginning of the book, Matthias was a lovable but bumbling goofball. But as the story goes on, he becomes irritating, pompous, and seems to not take the threat of an attack on Redwall seriously at all (like the time he falls asleep in the woods and follows a mute baby squirrel [???] back to safety). Fortunately, the story does not follow Matthias the entire time, but when he is the focus of the story, he is usually mistreating or looking down on other animals, or possibly going on a side quest that really keeps him from protecting Redwall, which is what he should be doing as the reincarnation (yep, he’s the Chosen One) of Martin the Warrior.

I had a few other minor irritations with this book, such as the suspiciously ethnocentric treatment of other animals, the terrible riddles, the confusion over animal sizes (a mouse riding a horse?), and the overuse of exclamation points!, but despite its flaws, I really did enjoy my first Redwall adventure. The details of the food, the setting, and the characters give this book a cozy feeling, like a lazy late-summer day. Bad guy Cluny is over-the-top evil, and the Redwall mice and their associates are pure and good, in that simplistic good vs. evil way that, at the end of the day, we can all enjoy once in a while.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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