Mini Review: Magyk

Magyk, the first book in the Septimus Heap series, is a fun, magical adventure for middle grades kids. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is the first in the Septimus Heap series, a series that seems to have become popular right after I stopped reading MG books. This is a sweet magical adventure. I think of it almost as Harry Potter for younger kids. It’s funny and snarky, it has great characters, it’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t have the angst and drama of HP. The plot twists are a bit predictable (at least, they were to me, an adult reader), but that doesn’t take away from the fun of the story.

I’m very glad I picked it up this summer, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Septimus Heap series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: The Great Time Lock Disaster

A fun but forgettable time travel adventure for kids. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a digital copy of this book through Masquerade Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Becoming a wizard is hard work. For Pete Riley it’s almost impossible. He tries to follow the rules, but he’s impatient and being impatient only leads to trouble. Big trouble.

He messes with a time spell when he shouldn’t, and he and his bookish friend, Weasel, are swept into Victorian England, where they will be trapped forever if that wizard-in-training can’t find a way to reverse his bad spell by the next full moon. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I truly wish I had been able to read the first book of this series before I read this one! There are talking alligators, magic galore, and tons of relationships that I didn’t quite get because there wasn’t much backstory explained. Still, I gathered enough to enjoy the book for what it was.

Pete, an impatient young wizard-in-training, messes up a spell that he should have left alone and ends up transporting himself and his reluctant friend, Weasel, back to Victorian-era England. Once there, they get into all sorts of trouble, from being kidnapped to using the skills of their new friend to help them find the mysterious Dr. Dread Wraith. Even Pete’s alligator familiar (who is somewhat creepily referred to as Pete’s “special friend”) gets in on the act as Pete and Weasel attempt to fix the timelock and get back home.

I didn’t much enjoy this book for myself, as I found it pretty shallow in terms of plot and characters. However, it was a fun read, and one that I think middle grades kids would definitely enjoy. So if you’re a teen or adult, you’re probably better off skipping this one, but feel free to pass it on to your younger kids. They’ll enjoy Pete’s antics and his adventures through Victorian England.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

P.S. If you’re looking for time travel books more suited for adults, check out Blackout and All Clear, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and The Mine.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus is a beautiful, magical novel. | A review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I don’t normally enjoy books just for the atmosphere. The Night Circus was a big exception. Everything about this book is gorgeous, from the monochromatic circus to the colorful dresses to the magical displays of power that Celia and Marco produce. This book is everything I wanted Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to be–beautiful writing, delightful and magical atmosphere, and *actual things happening*!

Although, that being said, the plot was never really the focus of the story. Celia and Marco are bound to play a game which neither fully understands, and they have been trained from their youth to hone their magical powers. The circus is created as an arena in which these two can show their power, but it also becomes much more. The circus gets a life of its own, including lovers of the circus who follow it from city to city. The circus, which is only open at night (of course), contains incredible acts and experiences for the amazed attendees, and these are the real centerpiece of the novel. The game, high stakes as it may be, almost fades into the background at many points. And–I can’t believe I’m saying this–that’s a good thing. The atmosphere needs room to shine, and shine it does. Check this book out if, like me, you wanted Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to be a bit more beautiful and a bit less lengthy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

31 Days of All Things Books by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In Which I Feel There Must Be Something Wrong with Me: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

In Which I Feel There Must Be Something Wrong with Me: Newbery and Beyond reviews Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
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Sorry, JS&MN: I read all 800 pages of you, and then I was just… disappointed.  I gave you 20 hours of my life!  You couldn’t give me fireworks and rainbows, instead of just fading out??  After reading no less than three reviews from book bloggers whose taste generally matches up with mine (and hearing from a couple of real-life friends that this book was on their most influential books list), I picked this monstrous book up from the library and settled in with great anticipation of the awesomeness that lay ahead.  Except… it just wasn’t my thing.

Okay, so the story is set in England around the time of the Napoleonic War.  There are bunches of theoretical magicians wandering around, reading old books about magic and arguing about it amongst themselves, but when Mr. Norrell traipses in doing practical magic, England is amazed.  However, even though he can do real magic, and he wants to bring magic back to England, Mr. Norrell is a pretty tedious, selfish guy.  Mr. Norrell keeps other people from becoming magicians!  He buys every book about magic in the country (that really rankled me)!  He manipulates his friends and enemies, and is easily manipulated by them!  What a jerk.

Soon (and by soon, I mean about 200 pages into the book), another magician arises.  His name is Jonathan Strange, and he is everything that Mr. Norrell is not–open, willing to do magic for others, married (!).  Mr. Norrell is drawn to Mr. Strange, and he takes Strange on as his apprentice.

During the book, these things happen: A fairy comes to control the lives of a few people who were touched by magic.  Jonathan Strange uses magic to help defeat Napoleon’s troops.  Mr. Norrell is a jerk to Mr. Strange, and the two have a parting of ways.  Jonathan Strange tries to convince everyone to look to the Raven King, John Uskglass, as the originator of magic in England; Mr. Norrell strongly disagrees.  Very magical and awesome things take place in the last 200 pages of the book (where I got really excited that all the time I put into this book might pay off), and then they dwindle down to a quiet ending.

Things I loved about this book: Arabella (Jonathan Strange’s wife).  The footnotes (there are some great supplementary stories about magic and fairies there).  The subtle humor: “‘Tell her she must not thank me…’  Dr. Greysteel waved his hand vigorously as if a reputation for generous deeds adn benvolent actions were a little like a mosquito and he hoped in this way to prevent one from landing on him.”  The fact that the writing style is so similar to books that were actually written in the early 19th century.

Still, I feel like for the time I put into this book, I should have received a bigger payoff.  I can see why some people would love this book so much–the writing is beautiful, and the story is interesting–but it just wasn’t for me.  And I will spend no more time on this huge, lengthy book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle

Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle | Newbery and Beyond
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I really enjoyed this book.  It was cute, adventurous, and magical, and there is a castle that builds new rooms and rearranges its layout in order to help its occupants (or hinder them, if the castle doesn’t like them)!  Castle Glower is especially fond of adding new rooms on Tuesdays, which makes it difficult for the occupants of the castle to navigate to the throne room or the kitchen in their usual ways.  Celie is a princess in this magical castle, and she is the one who knows the most about the castle’s secret rooms and passageways, as she has spent countless hours exploring and drawing maps of the various room changes.

When Celie’s parents, the king and queen, and her older brother are supposedly killed, the council and a foreign prince turn on Celie and her siblings.  The three siblings have to team up with the Castle Glower to rid themselves of the council, now the regency to Celie’s fourteen-year-old brother, Rolf, and the foreign royalty who are circling the weakened kingdom.  Celie discovers a new tower in which she and her siblings hide as the council takes over the castle, and the children fight back with the help of the castle and some loyal servants.

Really, the only thing I disliked about this book was that there wasn’t more about Castle Glower and its magical abilities!  I wanted to read more about what kinds of rooms and passages the castle could create, and about the difficulties it caused toward its occupants.  It could have been even more hilarious and magical.  Oh, well.  There is a sequel, so maybe we’ll hear more about the castle in that book!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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